Debates of May 18th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.
- Canada Day Poster Challenge
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- Craig Manufacturing
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- Speech and Hearing Awareness Month
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- The Budget
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- Sponsorship Program
- Transfer Payments
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- The Budget
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- Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
- Clothing and Textile Industry
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- Presence in Gallery
- Points of Order
- Chief Electoral Officer
- Government Response to Petitions
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Income Tax Act
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- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 122
- Question No. 123
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 124
- Motions for Papers
- Business of Supply
- Budget Implementation Act, 2005
- Committees of the House
- Treaties Act
Budget Implementation Act, 2005
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois expectations of this budget included some major financial impacts for Quebec. Among other things, we expected recognition of the fiscal imbalance by this government, but this has not happened. We expected improvements to employment insurance, and were told these would be in the budget. We also expected something to be done in the budget to improve the softwood lumber situation and the promised assistance to the farmers, including the floor price. Our main expectation was to see some respect for Quebec's jurisdiction over certain areas, such as child care and parental leave. As well, we expected a government announcement of 1% or the equivalent for social housing.
Unfortunately, those things are not to be found in the present budget. One day, the present government—or the next, if there is an election—will need to acknowledge the existence of the fiscal imbalance.
All of the provinces, and in Quebec in particular, all parties, including the Liberals—and goodness knows they are federalists—and the Parti Québécois agree, and here in Ottawa, three out of four parties acknowledge that there is a fiscal imbalance between the federal government and Quebec in particular, and with the other provinces as well.
Piecemeal solution of these issues is not the way to solve the fiscal imbalance, which is the approach this government has been taking in recent weeks with its injections of millions and billions of dollars. This is not the solution. An agreement between the parties, between the provincial and the federal levels, would be required to remedy the imbalance.
For those who are listening, I should point out that there is nothing complicated about the fiscal imbalance. The expenditures are in the provinces, and the money is in Ottawa. What are the key expenditures at this time? In Quebec, mainly education and health services.
At the present time the federal government is trying in every way possible to buy its way into provincial jurisdictions, with a million dollars here, a million dollars there. This is particularly the case with health. That is not what solving the fiscal imbalance is all about. What they are creating now is no longer a fiscal imbalance but a social imbalance between the needs and the means the federal level has for meeting those needs.
We expected to see measures in this budget to counter that, or at least to find a solution, if only for certain amount of time. With the right measures, the fiscal imbalance could have been resolved in a year or three or five. This was not the case.
Despite unanimous recommendations by a committee of the House on employment insurance, we still do not have an independent fund or the measures that should be implemented so that workers in Canada and Quebec can finally receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
We are currently experiencing a crisis without precedent in the employment insurance fund. The government has been in power since 1993 and has cleared the deficit, but it did so on the backs of workers and the unemployed. It took $47 billion from the EI fund at the expense of workers and the unemployed. The government need not tell us there is not enough money, because there is. We expected to see an EI fund to help workers.
I think my time is running out. I imagine we will soon be called to vote. I will continue my speech later on.
The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion.
Committees of the House
The Deputy Speaker
It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made Tuesday, May 17, 2005, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International trade presented by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
Committees of the House
I declare the motion carried.
It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.
Private Members' Business
May 18th, 2005 / 6 p.m.
Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC
moved that Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-260 this evening. It concerns international treaties to be adopted.
I remind this House that this is the third time the Bloc Québécois has presented such a bill in order to democratize treaty and international relations practices.
I recall that, in 1999, my former colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry, Daniel Turp, now a Parti Québécois MNA, presented Bill C-214, on which this bill is based to a large extent. The bill reached second reading, but, obviously, the Liberals opposed it.
In 2001, my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who supports my bill, also presented a similar bill. Her bill, C-313, used the wording of Mr. Turp's bill, but added a section providing for hearings to be held in committee with respect to treaties.
Bill C-313 harmonized how treaties are considered with how the House considers bills, meaning that treaties are treated—pardon the play on words—the same way bills are. We demanded that treaties be considered in committee. Unfortunately, the bill introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île never reached second reading.
Bill C-260 is identical to Bill C-313. What are the objectives of this bill? First of all, there is transparency. Our aim, by introducing this bill, is to ensure that treaties are tabled in the House and published so that this process is transparent.
Second, we want to make the process more democratic, by having the House of Commons vote to approve important treaties and by introducing a process of committee consultations similar to that for approving bills.
We also want to respect provincial jurisdiction because, currently, the federal government alone signs treaties and the provinces are not consulted, as we would like. In fact, consultations with the provinces would mean that the federal government could not use its authority to negotiate international treaties to give itself a role in jurisdictions other than its own.
The free trade agreement is a perfect example. Obviously, many areas are affected by the free trade agreement. Many provincial areas of jurisdiction are also affected. Culture is one example of an area we had to defend and which, fortunately, has not yet been affected by the free trade agreement.
For example, a new free trade agreement might be negotiated in the near future, and our partners might ask us to include education, culture, universities and so forth, although these are provincial responsibilities. So the provinces must be able to have their say, oppose such inclusions and have the right to veto, if necessary.
The fourth objective, is to adapt current practices of ratifying treaties to the modern day. We are aware that there are many many treaties now that influence our lives but are negotiated in secret. These impact on our lives daily. I am referring to all of the international trade treaties, as well as to the free trade agreement. If there is one thing that really impacts on people's day to day lives, it is a free trade agreement between several countries, in this instance Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
If that agreement were expanded, it would have a very definite impact on people's daily lives. People must be aware, and well informed, of the impact of these treaties on their lives.
I should perhaps point out that, where international treaties are concerned, democracy is totally absent. There is no complete compilation of such treaties. Governments release them when and if they see fit, and people cannot be sure they are all being disclosed. There may be secret treaties we know nothing about.
At present, the treaty section at the Department of Foreign Affairs does not even have a list of signed treaties that could be made available to the public and the House of Commons, to at least know what they are about.
At present, the government is not required to table treaties in the House of Commons. This, in my view, denies the elected representatives of the people an extremely important power, the power to vote on these treaties and to relay to the government the message the people want to send through their representatives.
As I said earlier, the House does not even get to approve treaties. The government can sign and ratify any treaty it wants without consulting the representatives of the people. At the very most, treaties requiring legislative changes are brought before Parliament before ratification.
In Quebec, since 2002, a vote by the National Assembly is required. This means that only when the federal government has to amend its legislation does the House of Commons get to vote. It does so, however, only on ad hoc matters. We want to correct this approach, which we feel is totally undemocratic.
Being in no way involved in the negotiation of treaties, the House of Commons cannot consult the public. That is why we would like a process similar to the one for passing bills to be used. Obviously, a parliamentary committee can consult the public and those stakeholders who are directly or indirectly concerned by how a treaty signed by the federal government could change their lives.
It is therefore not surprising to see people increasingly expressing their opposition in the streets. In fact, there is no other place for them to be heard. This has become more pronounced in the past few years at world summits like the one held in Quebec City or others throughout the world. Many demonstrations are held at such events, especially on the issue of globalization. People revolt and demonstrate, sometimes quite aggressively, precisely because they are not informed of the content of the treaties and do not know what is happening during the negotiation process.
Obviously, when you do not have the information, and especially when it is being hidden from you, it is easy to assume that the outcome will not necessarily be positive. That is what provokes many demonstrations. People are opposed to globalization, among other things, because they know very little about the content of international treaties or the consequences, since they have not been explained.
The Bloc Québécois hopes that Parliament will give the public the chance to know about the treaties and to be consulted. This would not take any power away from the government. On the contrary, in my opinion this would only enhance it. If this power is based, as it should be in a democratic system, on public opinion, on citizen involvement in the process, then this strengthens democracy and our democratic system of governing.
Allow me to summarize the situation and the bill. The government is not required to consult the provinces. Earlier I gave the example of culture. If, in the future, our U.S., Mexican or other partners wanted to include culture, for example, in an international treaty, Quebec would be in a difficult position since the provinces are not consulted. The francophone population of Quebec, which is a francophone island in North America, could be threatened if culture were included in a treaty such as the free trade agreement.
We think it is absolutely vital, so long as Quebec remains a part of Canada—and I hope it will be a little longer—that we be consulted as is our right, as francophones and Quebeckers. It would be a way to protect our rights, in education, culture or any other area uniquely ours that is distinct from those of other provinces. We could talk about health care and privatization, which were issues at one point.
There is also university education. Reference has been made to the desire of certain American universities to establish campuses here. The public has to be consulted. People have to be able to object if they wish to these sorts of processes and requests from our partners.
Obviously, we want all treaties to be put before the House of Commons, approved by the House and put to civil society by a parliamentary committee before Parliament decides on important treaties.
I may have failed to mention one point. Important treaties are treaties that require the passage of federal legislation, that change government powers, that generate significant financial commitment, such as Kyoto, for example, that change a border, which could obviously happen, or that impose sanctions or the transfer of jurisdictions to international institutions.
In Europe, for example, this type of transfer occurs, given the creation of the European Economic Community, as defined. A new constitution is to be voted on, and certain powers are transferred. In my opinion, this is the best known and perhaps the most obvious example at the moment of transfers of jurisdictions to international institutions. We should therefore be entitled to vote on them. Important treaties are treaties of this kind or treaties that involve government jurisdiction or international trade.
We also want, as I mentioned—and these are the objects of the bill—any treaty to be published in the Canada Gazette and on the Internet site of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is one way to democratize the process, one way to give to citizens access to the texts that are submitted, so that they can consult them. The bill also provides for a mandatory consultation process with the provinces, before negotiating a treaty the content of which comes under their jurisdictions. Earlier, I mentioned education. I cannot think of a more striking example.
Currently, in Canada, Parliament and parliamentarians only play a minimal role in the negotiation and ratification of international treaties. We keep making requests in the House of Commons, but we are constantly turned down. We also asked to vote on certain treaties, but that too was rejected. Yet, it is precisely the role of Parliament to convey the public's wishes to the government's executive branch. In reality, it is the executive branch of the federal government, namely cabinet, which controls all the stages in the treaty ratification process.
This control also applies to the content of negotiations which, as I mentioned earlier, are often secret. In fact, this secrecy is an important tool in the federal government's negotiating strategy. Nothing, or hardly anything, is made public before the parties have reached an agreement in principle on the content, or even on the wording of a treaty.
A few years ago, we got our hands on treaties that were being negotiated at the World Trade Organization, and that might have jeopardized our agricultural sector and supply management system. When farmers managed to get their hands on these documents, they literally rebelled. This was a top secret negotiation process. Of course, when people found out about it, the government had to back off.
Unfortunately, I only have one minute left and I have barely touched on this issue. However, I know that when the hon. member takes the floor later on, she will be able to say more on this topic.
Private Members' Business
Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for having introduced this bill, despite the fact that I completely disagree with it. Although I am unable to give a factual summary of the bill in a few short seconds, it is clear that the member's efforts build on work done in the past by other members of the Bloc Québécois, in order, for one, to give the provinces powers that are clearly federal ones under the Constitution. Not only is this set out in the Constitution but it was confirmed too by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1930s.
I want to ask the member a question. It is very important to be clear about our position on this. He is implying that international treaties arising out of international situations completely ignore the needs of the provinces. Does the member not agree that, in terms of culture, an example he used, the provinces clearly have the ability to take part in the process and work with the federal government when their jurisdiction is affected? This has been the case with regard to Canadian heritage.
That is my only question, and I think the member has a great deal to say about this. Could he point out the flaws that prevent the provinces from intervening in their own areas of jurisdiction? I do not believe there are any.
Private Members' Business
Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to start with a little history lesson for my colleague. According to him, Canada has been responsible for international treaties since 1867, and this is in the Constitution. I regret to inform him that it was not in the 1867 Constitution. They were the responsibility of the British Crown, since we were still a dominion under the British Crown. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 brought about the change. I would remind my colleague that this gave no power whatsoever to the provinces. Today they still have no power to intervene in treaties.
At the present time, only the federal government can sign an international treaty. It has no obligation whatsoever to consult anyone at all. Moreover, it most certainly does not consult either the House of Commons or the general public. The only treaty in the past 100 years that involved any real public consultation—and that indirectly, since it was via an election campaign—was the free trade agreement in 1988.
The Conservative Party campaigned on the free trade agreement, which it made public in layman's terms so that people could have access to it and form an opinion. That opinion was expressed as part of an election campaign. The free trade agreement could very well have been presented first, with a referendum to follow after a parliamentary committee had consulted the public. This procedure could be used for certain treaties that are challenged by one party or by the majority of the population.
My colleague must realize that the world has changed in the last 100 years. It is highly unlikely in this day and age for a treaty to remain secret long, with the technological advances now available to us. We can see what is happening internationally. People always manage one way or another to get their hands on part of what is under negotiation. Often what leads to a lack of understanding of international events is that people have incomplete information. If they were fully informed, they could make the proper decisions. Then there might be fewer problems when it came time for agreements to be signed.
Private Members' Business
Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his brief historical overview. I would also like to mention two points he missed in his little account. First, it was the Chanak crisis, in 1922. Second, with respect to the Supreme Court convention, I did mention that was in the 1930s, not in 1867, the year of Confederation. I think the hon. member misheard me. I just wanted to set the record straight.
After listening to the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, his remarks are causing me to ask myself the following questions. Is the Canadian practice with respect to treaties really as bad as the hon. member suggests? Does it necessitate the radical overhaul he is proposing? Does our current practice prevent us from playing our role and defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene? My answer to all these questions is unequivocally no.
The current Canadian practice, through its flexibility and adaptability to change, already allows the government to respond to change in fulfilling the international policy objectives it has set for itself, while recognizing the essential role of Parliament and the provinces in implementing treaty obligations in accordance with the distribution of jurisdictions under the Constitution.
The bill affects the constitutional system in a number of ways and raises serious questions. The harmonious balance that has existed for decades would be compromised if the proposal that Parliament be entitled to approve treaties before their ratification were implemented.
It would have a significant impact on our ability to conclude treaties and to guarantee our international commitments. It would have a negative impact on Canadian foreign policy, which serves the interests of Canadians first and foremost.
As many have already noted, Bill C-260 ignores the role currently played by Parliament, a fundamental role in treaty practices. Not only is Parliament actively involved in treaty implementation, but consultations are currently taking place in committee on a number of our major treaties, before the government acts.
The provisions of Bill C-260 suggest that the roles of each of the federal and provincial governments in treaty ratification need to be clarified and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultation on treaty negotiation and ratification are required in order to improve Canadian practice.
In my opinion, the answer to that question is no. Such consultations have been held since 1937, and the Canadian government takes them seriously. Consultations take place usually during treaty negotiations and sometimes last for years. They must take place and they do. There is no point in reinventing the wheel.
The bill before us creates nothing new in this regard, but forces a straitjacket on the Canadian government in having it consult its provincial partners.
The requirement to negotiate individual agreements with each province under the pressure of an artificial timeframe, which this bill would create, is not only useless, but the cost of it would be prohibitive and could produce unexpected results. It could, potentially, oblige us to replace an efficient system with something less flexible, creating uncertainty that does not currently exist.
The bill before us raises another major concern in constitutional terms. Its provisions would limit the government's power to conclude treaties in areas of federal jurisdiction without consultation with the provinces. Canadian constitutional law has provided for over 60 years that the power to negotiate and conclude treaties lies exclusively with the federal government. This power is essential to Canada's speaking with a single voice internationally.
Among the proposals made by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia in Bill C-260, one of them mentions the royal prerogative in right of provincial governments with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the provinces.
I have to say, in no uncertain terms, this provincial prerogative does not exist at this time.
As I already mentioned, the prerogative to negotiate and sign any international treaties belongs only to the federal executive branch.
In that sense, Bill C-260 would violate the provision in the Constitution on the allocation of jurisdictions. It bears repeating that the power of the provinces to negotiate and conclude treaties simply does not exist.
An amendment of this scale to the constitutional order would require more than a debate in this chamber. It would involve significant and lasting changes to the Constitution.
I must say that Canada's current system for concluding treaties, thanks to its inherent flexibility and respect for our constitutional order, responds best to the interests of Canadians.
The most fundamental point of what the hon. member is trying to express is that somehow there arrives from the potential of international treaties being signed, being concluded, being negotiated without consultation from all our partners from coast to coast, provincial and yes, although they are not respected formally in our Constitution, municipal players and other NGOs.
It becomes clear to me that what the hon. member is proposing very much mirrors what a former colleague of his party, Mr. Turp, proposed many years ago and that is to do indirectly by this bill what they cannot do directly, which is to manifestly provide treaty powers and to give in effect greater powers to one particular province that has an obvious interest in doing more than simply engaging in international policy.
The practical implications long term would be to recognize or to have a province then move one step further and say that the Canadian government, this Parliament, is in effect giving the right of that province to exercise a particular sovereignty which it currently does not have.
It is critical for us to understand that while we want to see more participation, the fact that there is a suggestion that there is no participation by the provinces, particularly as it relates to their areas of jurisdiction, is simply wrong and it is simply a false message to give.
We know in many domains there is a provincial interest. We see premiers attending international conferences with the presence of the federal government, usually with a flag and with someone from the mission. This is not new. Some provinces have gone as far as to open up trade offices.
To suggest somehow, as the bill does, that there is provincial frustration or worse that Parliament is not consulted on matters of treaty is simply off base.
More important, it is not just the power of the executive, and we talk of this executive in the context of democracy, it is important for us to essentially understand that the power of entering into treaties and making decisions on behalf of the country rests ultimately with an accountability. That accountability is here in the House of Commons.
That is why the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he gets up and speaks in the House of Commons, is accountable each and every day for what he does, whether it is entering into treaties or making decisions that affect the policies of the country externally. It also means that the minister understands the difference, unlike the opposition did just a few minutes ago when it suddenly said that in the case of Burma it was okay to recognize governments, not countries.
Imagine, if we start simply throwing international law up in the air and making rules on the fly, what kind of country we would be and how we would probably be considered the laughing stock of the world.
I understand what the member is trying to do. It is sugar coated. It is soft. It is talking about regional implications. However, let us not be beguiled by what the opposition, particularly the Bloc Québécois, is trying to do. It would certainly like to have those kinds of powers conferred because there is no example that it can give where the province has not been effectively consulted.
If a province is not effectively consulted, we know that it has participated in international fora and under many opportunities where it has been engaged on issues that are somewhat in the area of shared jurisdiction.
The honourable thing to do in this case, and members of Parliament must be certainly aware of this, is to stand up for a united Canada and to ensure that this power remains within the executive power and that it remains the power of the Canadian government, as recognized by the Constitution and as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, as is our reputation internationally, which is unblemished.
Private Members' Business
Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC
Madam Speaker, I was expecting the parliamentary secretary to conclude with praise for the spirit of the Constitution of 1931. He does not seem to understand that the bill was first introduced by Daniel Turp, whom I can name because he is no longer an MP. Then I introduced it, but it was rejected since it had already been voted on. This bill, introduced by my colleague, seeks to modernize democracy.
We all know that, in Canada, senators are appointed, not elected. There are still a number of other clear signs of a British past. Curiously, however, they have not been so lovingly maintained in Great Britain.
I want to start by saying that what my colleague referred to as the royal prerogative and its preservation by the current executive branch is not exercised in the same way in Great Britain and Canada. On the contrary, the parliaments in Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia have been empowered to adopt international treaties. The argument that this royal prerogative has been transferred to the executive branch of the Government of Canada does not hold water.
There are objections about the need to maintain flexibility. Yes, of course. However, the fundamental principle is not hard to understand. Laws regulating the conduct and actions of citizens are multiplying and are being decided by a higher power. Individuals are not told in advance and sometimes are not even told until a decision has been made. This happens over their heads, possibly despite their wishes. These rules are being adopted by governments that are meeting more and more often, it is true. I have often witnessed these endless international meetings.
So, governments are communicating with each another. We must ensure that these governments, which are meeting frequently, cannot form a small supranational clique that determines the laws no matter what public opinion says. Governments might believe that public opinion needs to evolve. Perhaps. But they should hold debates and provide information. Otherwise, this spirit of globalization will be rejected if that globalization ignores what the public wants or fails to put the public's interests first, but instead benefits large enterprise at the public's expense, as is often the case.
This bill is not a dirty separatist trick. It is merely a proposal for bringing part of Canada's democracy up to the same level as all the industrialized countries, and some others. New countries that become sovereign are held to much higher standards than those that exist, in some respects, in Canada. No new country could be admitted if it did not elect its senators, if it had any. That is just an example.
Far from preserving a democratic tradition that allows Canada's international action to be effective, we feel it is an anachronism to uphold this exclusive power of the executive branch, which does not report to Parliament unless it needs legislation to implement a treaty. By the time any treaty gets here it is already ratified and Parliament is usually faced with a fait accompli.
Hon. members will recall what happened during the early stages of the negotiations regarding the Free Trade Area of the Americas. A rather extraordinary public mobilization was needed just to be informed of the content and to obtain, after the fact, the text of the initial negotiation. We have not heard anything about it since. Given what was planned, perhaps that is for the best. Nonetheless, if the negotiations had been conducted with respect for rights and with a view to improving conditions in developing countries in order to enhance their development and wealth, we could have been satisfied.
I will conclude by saying that Canada today is in fact less democratic than Mackenzie King's Canada. In 1926, King said that Canada's approval needed to be obtained before Her Majesty's Canadian ministers recommended ratification of a treaty or convention involving Canada.
Later on, in 1941, he said the following:
With the exception of treaties of lesser importance or in cases of extreme urgency, the Senate and the House of Commons are invited to approve treaties, conventions and formal agreements before ratification by or on behalf of Canada.
It is crystal clear that a responsible government cannot permanently commit the interest of its citizens—committed for a specific period as soon as a treaty is ratified—without their being able to express their informed opinion before ratification, through their Parliament, as to whether or not it is appropriate for the treaty to be signed in its present, or some other, form. It is completely possible, I repeat, for the efficient mechanism that exists in many other parliaments and countries to be put in place. The presence of efficiency does not mean the absence of democracy.
I would invite the members of the government—we do not know how long they will be over there, but the debate will continue in the next legislature—to reflect on the fact that this bill should be passed in order to enhance transparency and democracy.
Private Members' Business
Wajid Khan Mississauga—Streetsville, ON
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties.
Under our Constitution, the power to conclude treaties belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. This means that it is the federal executive that negotiates the treaties and agrees to commit Canada to international obligations.
On the other hand, the constitutional power to implement treaties is divided between the Parliament and the legislatures of the provinces and territories under the distribution of powers established by our Constitution. This division of powers has been confirmed by our highest courts for many years and ensures a healthy balance between the executive and the legislatures.
The bill raises major constitutional concerns. It would alter the careful equilibrium between federal and provincial governments in treaty matters with its proposal to recognize a provincial treaty-making power. The implication that the bill is needed to guarantee consultations with the provinces on treaties in areas of provincial jurisdiction is simply wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The practice of the Government of Canada is well established. There are consultations with the provinces at every stage in development of a treaty in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This practice stems from a decision handed down by the courts in 1937 and the federal government takes these consultations very seriously.
Simply put, the federal government would not be in a position to ratify a treaty if it could not be reasonably sure that the treaty will be implemented. Thus, when Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving obligations within provincial jurisdiction, the federal executive necessarily consults the provinces.
In addition, before such treaties are ratified, the federal government requests the provinces' written confirmation that they will implement those treaties and that their legislation is in conformity with the obligations contained in those treaties.
There are numerous examples of this consultative process, including regular consultation mechanisms in some sectors and ad hoc mechanisms designed for the negotiation of specific instruments on uncommon or specialized topics of provincial or shared jurisdiction.
For example, the advisory group on private international law is composed of officials representing the provinces and the federal government. This group has been operating as a mechanism of federal-provincial-territorial consultation for some 25 years. It is a major mechanism for setting Canada's priorities in private international law, and it works well.
These priorities cover both the negotiation of new instruments and the ratification and implementation of existing ones.
There is also the extensive federal-provincial-territorial consultation process in the area of trade policy and trade negotiations, known as C-Trade. Members of C-Trade include senior officials responsible for trade policy matters in the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Agendas are developed jointly by trade officials from these various governments and discussions include matters such as the exchange of information on the negotiation of trade agreements, including Canada's position in such negotiations and the negotiating positions of our trading partners. C-Trade dialogue, which has been ongoing for 15 years, is critical to ensuring that Canada's position reflects provincial views in areas of provincial jurisdiction and gives full recognition to matters of shared jurisdiction, as mandated by the courts.
A third example is the federal-provincial-territorial continuing committee of officials on human rights that has been meeting ever since we have been party to human rights treaties. As in the case of C-Trade consultations, the group meets during the negotiation of human rights treaties prior to signature to obtain provincial and territorial input in the formulation of Canadian positions. This input is crucial to the formulation of our positions in order to obtain a treaty with clauses in areas of provincial jurisdiction that the provinces and territories will want to implement.
There are numerous other examples of federal-provincial-territorial consultation mechanisms, including ongoing consultations in the environment area such as the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and the National Air Issues Coordinating Committee, which are instrumental in developing Canadian positions on a whole range of important environmental issues.
It is not uncommon for representatives of provinces and territories to join Canadian negotiating delegations on treaties involving provincial and territorial jurisdictions. The list of examples is extensive and I will only mention a few here.
The negotiations currently underway at UNESCO on a cultural diversity instrument offer a perfect example of a major confluence of interests between Canada and the provinces. Quebec was represented by no fewer than seven members on the Canadian delegation at the second round of these talks in Paris last February.
Provincial representatives joined the Canadian delegation negotiating the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its subsequent Kyoto protocol, which imposes stringent limits on the emission of greenhouse gases.
In the case of private international law negotiations, where provincial areas of authority are concerned, Canadian delegations always include provincial representatives, such as on the Canadian delegation to negotiate a convention on jurisdiction and recognition of judgments.
As part of the ongoing negotiations on a Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, the Ontario minister of citizenship and immigration took part in the fifth round of negotiations in New York last January.
There are also scores of bilateral treaties between Canada and other countries dealing jointly with areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction for which the provinces and territories are invited to join the Canadian delegations.
In one example, there was extensive cooperation between the provinces and the federal government to conclude a treaty with Vietnam aimed at resuming international adoptions between our two countries. Quebec was part of the Canadian delegation that travelled to Hanoi.
Bill C-260 would alter our constitutional order in several significant ways: it recognizes a provincial power to make treaties they do not have; and it alters the balance of power between the executive which negotiates treaties and Parliament and provinces which implement them.
Our current system, with its inherent flexibility and its respect for our constitutional order, best meets the interests of Canadians. We have the treaties and the regulations in place. We have the executive which has been functioning effectively for a number of years. The highest courts in the land have proven that. There is no need to change that. I urge members across the way to abide by that within Canada.
Private Members' Business
Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC
Madam Speaker, first, I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
I support the spirit of his bill because I absolutely believe in the powers of the provinces and I respect these powers inherent in the Constitution. The same cannot always be said of the federal government, which thinks of itself as the major leagues, with the provinces being the minor leagues.
I do not believe that is the case. According to the Constitution, both levels of government are equal. Their powers are different, of course, but both levels are equal.
That is why I can support the spirit of what my colleague is saying.
If we had a federal government that more properly understood the sensitivities of the provinces, especially the province of Quebec, and acted on that, then my colleague might not have been provoked to bring forward this particular piece of legislation.
This is the policy of the Conservative Party should we be honoured to win what is hopefully the upcoming election. We have stated our policy very clearly. When it comes to international treaties there would be a fully consultative process in place, not just token consultation but genuine consultation, regarding the times and the moments when the rights of provinces are being affected.
Those times of consultation would include a number of things that in fact my colleague has articulated in his bill, which I believe a responsible federal government would do without having to be forced to by law. We would in fact integrate the proper use of committees of the House in a process of discussion related to international treaties.
As other opposition parties have, we have argued consistently for a far more democratic process when it comes to committees in the House of Commons. Issues would not be constantly bantered about based on partisan politics. What is good for the country and what is good for provincial rights would be the factor, and voting and discussion could be across party lines. We would activate that type of committee process. It would be genuine. It would be truly consultative.
My colleague talks about public meetings. We would absolutely look at the potential of public meetings and how we could hear from the grassroots, the citizens, in terms of how various international treaties might affect them where they live.
As a matter of fact, in the prospective legislation there is a designation as per the number of days that something would have to sit before the House if related to international treaties. The member is proposing that this be designated in law. We would not be subjected or cemented to a particular number of days. If something had to be before this Parliament for discussion, there would not be an attempt by a Conservative government to abbreviate those discussions if there were concerns from one or more provinces.
A strong country comes about when the provinces themselves are strong and when the provinces are having their rights according to the Constitution respected. We would see any number of days, whatever would be required, before Parliament itself while these various elements were being discussed.
The federal government often talks about consultation or wanting to hear from the provinces. Our policy goes farther than that. We would want the consultation with the provinces to be intensive and extensive. We would want provinces to take the initiative, do the necessary study and bring forward areas of concern related to international treaties and the impact upon them.
This is a partnership based on equality. It is not based on the federal government having the sense that it somehow has a greater constitutional weight than the provincial parliaments. We would want what is in the best interests of the provinces. If the provinces' interests are being respected and cared for, then in fact the country's interests are being respected and cared for.
I might add that we would not pursue the provinces just before potential non-confidence votes. We would be there at all times, on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, working closely with provinces, not just when our future as a government might be in peril because of losing a vote here or there or possibly gaining one in the House of Commons in facing a non-confidence vote. That kind of activity on the part of the federal government actually causes provinces to lose confidence in the House of Commons. We would see a Conservative government being genuine and being constant in its attempts to work with provinces in all areas, really, but especially as related to international treaties.
There is some history here, which I can reflect on to show what I believe would be a responsible approach to international treaties. In the development of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Conservative government of the day, and I will give it credit for this, recognized that there were varying jurisdictions between Canada, the United States and Mexico in terms of responsibility of governments.
For instance, in the area of labour law, in Canada that was clearly a provincial jurisdiction. The Conservative government of the day made a point of surveying the provinces before NAFTA was signed to explore what differences there might be from one province to another and what problems might evolve if the federal government were to assume responsibility for labour law.
At that time I was a provincial minister of labour. The other provincial minister who had some difficulties with what was being proposed in NAFTA was in fact the minister of labour from the province of Quebec. We worked very closely together to make sure that labour laws which were a provincial jurisdiction would be protected and respected. We worked out a proposal and took that forward to the federal government.
The federal government of the day said, “We respect that and we will have side agreements, not just in the area of labour but in the area of the regulatory regime related to the environment”. That was also a provincial jurisdiction. Thus, there is some history of past federal governments acknowledging and respecting the areas of constitutional jurisdiction that fall to the provinces. That is the approach we would take. For a country to work well, to be cohesive and to recognize that there are differences in different parts of the country, there has to be that kind of flexibility at the federal level. We need to have a federal government that respects the areas of provincial concern.
At times, concerns in the province of Quebec may be different from those in the province of British Columbia. In the province of British Columbia, I can tell members, there would be respect for the differences and the concerns related to Quebec of how an international treaty might affect it, just as I am sure the people in Quebec would respect that from time to time there would be international treaties which would have different implications in the province of British Columbia.
That is the key. It is the spirit of recognizing the intent of this type of legislation. That is why I can say we support the spirit of the legislation. When we get down to the study of this legislation itself, there may be particular technical items on which we would obviously have some differences of opinion.
I believe that if we had had a federal government in place that truly understood what it was to respect provinces, then we would not have had the provocation and we would not have had the motivation and the causes for this type of legislation to come forward.
We would have a far more cohesive, cooperative, coherent and principled approach to dealing with the provinces, recognizing them as equals in the Constitution, not as the federal government lording it over them. I look forward to listening in future debate to my colleagues on this and to advancing the concerns that are expressed in this bill.
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.
Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow up on the questions I asked in question period on April 7 of this year regarding a public inquiry into the Air-India bombing. At that time I asked the government to launch a public inquiry to determine how our justice system failed to bring justice to the victims of the Air-India bombing and their families, many of whom live in my part of Canada.
I accused the Deputy Prime Minister of dithering in making this decision. She claimed she needed independent advice to determine whether such an inquiry was necessary. Yet I note that even after making such comments, it took the dithering Deputy Prime Minister over three weeks just to appoint an adviser.
The Liberals simply are not taking this issue seriously. We have heard the expression, “the Mounties always get their man”, but the fact is that when it comes to the most serious crime in a generation committed in Canada, we simply do not know if they got their man. We certainly did not get a conviction.
We owe it to the families and the victims and indeed all Canadians to find out what went wrong. The longer it takes to get the inquiry going, the less likely we are to get the answers. After all, this crime happened 20 years ago. Those who investigated this crime are dealing with fading memories and some have even passed away. Justice delayed is justice denied, and that is ever more true in this case.
An even larger question remains. Could it happen again? Are our airports and airplanes secure? Are Canadian intelligence and police services equipped and organized to deal with potential terrorist actions? If terrorists do strike, is our justice system capable of bringing about justice?
The Deputy Prime Minister is also the Minister of Public Safety. She is personally responsible for this. Yet the findings of the 2002 Senate committee examining airport security indicate that huge gaps remain in Canadian airport security.
Anyone who has flown in recent years cannot help but be aware that the airport check-in security has majored in the minors, confiscating toenail clippers and the like. While such measures are visibly reassuring to some passengers that security is being taken seriously, the bigger question is: what is being done behind the scenes to screen baggage and mail and to ensure that those who have access to the tarmac and to planes are not a security risk?
A glance through the Senate's report indicates that security gaps, even at Canada's busiest airports, are more than wide enough to allow incidents similar to the Air-India bombing to occur. This situation is simply unacceptable. It has still not been taken seriously by this government and this minister.
I can say with certainty that problems of a similar magnitude exist at Canada's border crossings as well. The importance of a secure border to protect against the threat of terrorist action was made clear in recent years by the arrest of Ahmed Ressam, the would-be bomber of the Los Angeles airport. He was caught only through the actions of an observant U.S. customs agent, although he spent years living in Canada as a petty criminal.
Again the minister has budgeted millions of dollars more for our borders, yet front line officers have yet to see any real improvement in terms of their personal security. Neither have they seen the resources needed to actually crack down on the smuggling of drugs, guns and other contraband that terrorists and other criminals might use.
Canadians demand justice for the Air-India victims and they demand that we do everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack. When can we expect to see action from the minister?
Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address the question from the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, who has suggested that the government should call a public inquiry into the Air-India Tragedy.
At the outset, I want to extend my deepest sympathies to all the family members who lost loved ones in this tragedy. What occurred on June 23, 1985, on board Air-India flight 182 was a shock to all Canadians and a great tragedy for the friends and families of the victims.
Our country lost some of its innocence when that attack took place, because that was the worst terrorist bombing in all of Canada's history.
Terrorism was no longer something that happened in some faraway land. It was something that occurred right here at home in Canada.
Recently the minister, along with officials from CSIS, the RCMP and Transport Canada, met in Toronto and Vancouver with family members of Air-India victims to listen to their concerns. Additionally, the government has appointed Mr. Bob Rae to continue the dialogue with family members and provide advice to the government on whether there are questions of public interest that remain unanswered.
In response to the member's question, the government remains open to all options, but will await the recommendation from Mr. Rae on how best to address the questions of public interest from family members.
Important changes have taken place since 1985 in the Government of Canada with respect to the security policy.
Over $9 billion has been invested to strengthen existing security measures since the time of the Air-India tragedy. We have seen an improved level of coordination within the Government of Canada on security related matters over the past numbers of years.
The creation of the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada is one example of how the government is better positioned to coordinate the efforts of security related agencies. This coordination among security agencies is absolutely essential in the fight against terrorism.
In this vein, the government has created integrated national security enforcement teams, or INSETs, which focus on national priorities involving any threats to national security. These teams are made up of representatives from law enforcement, intelligence, customs, immigration and military agencies. The mandate of these teams is to work together in order to leverage the knowledge and expertise of each individual unit. This integrated approach between intelligence and enforcement is critical as we move forward in our efforts to combat terrorism. INSETs do not represent the final solution in the fight against terrorism, but they are one example of a renewed emphasis within the government to a coordinated approach to ensuring the security of our country and our citizens.
Another key component of this coordinated approach to fighting terrorism and protecting Canadians is Canada's first comprehensive national security policy that was tabled in Parliament on April 27, 2004. The minister recently reported on the progress which has been very significant since that report was released. The government will use this report as a blueprint as we continue to explore ways to protect Canadians and Canadian values.
We have invested billions of dollars in additional security related measures and formulated a national security policy. Does that lessen the pain experienced by family members who lost loved ones in the Air-India tragedy? Absolutely not. That is why we are serious about investigating the existing issues that are outstanding according to the victims and their families. We plan to listen very carefully to Mr. Bob Rae and the advice that he brings back to the government.
Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC
Madam Speaker, it is clear from that response that the Liberals just do not care about the victims and their families. Where is the justice for the families of the 300 victims? Why is the government waiting? Why is it hesitating?
Twenty years of justice delayed is justice denied. The minister dithered in appointing an adviser and she is dithering in launching an inquiry. She has dithered on airport security and on border security. She really takes after the Prime Minister in that respect.
Just because the funds have been budgeted, and the member talked about billions of dollars, does not mean that they have been spent, or even spent wisely. That is the failure of the minister and the failure of the Liberal government.