House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.


Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

moved that Bill C-284, An Act to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act (Canada access grants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On May 31, you invited members to comment on whether Bill C-284 would require a royal recommendation. Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, it is the government's view that this bill requires a royal recommendation since the bill proposes the creation of an entirely new category of grants, which would modify the purpose of the existing act.

The Speaker has previously ruled that the creation of a new purpose for legislation, which involves costs, requires a royal recommendation.

On February 8, 2005, the Speaker stated:

Where it is clear that the legislative objective of a bill cannot be accomplished without the dedication of public funds to that objective, the bill must be seen as the equivalent of a bill effecting an appropriation.

Bill C-284 would add an entirely new category of financial assistance to the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act by creating a special access grant for students with permanent disabilities and students from low income families.

The requirement for spending is clear in the text of the bill itself, which specifies that grants for disabled students not exceed $2,000 and that those for low income students not exceed $3,000.

Some members might argue that the original act provided students with financial assistance and that the new original royal recommendation covers this new bill. However, the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act was enacted to provide the authority for repayable loans. In creating an entirely new non-repayable grant, this bill changes the purpose of the bill and involves a new and significant appropriation.

Therefore, I believe that the bill, in its entirety, requires a royal recommendation.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, it will not surprise you that I do not share my hon. colleague's view about the bill.

I am disappointed to get this kind of reaction from the government benches to a bill that is very important. He talks about non-repayable loans and so forth. This is about the Canada access grants program. It is a program of grants, not of loans. These are grants that are already paid to students.

I believe his statement is inaccurate, Mr. Speaker, and I think if you examine the nature of the present program and the nature of my bill you will find that all it is talking about is extending the program over the course of four years. The government has various flexibility in terms of how it does that and I do not think, therefore, that it does require a royal recommendation.

However, what is disappointing this morning for me is to see this reaction from the government which indicates a lack of interest in supporting this bill as it is. Raising this objection indicates its lack of desire to provide the support that our students in this country so badly need. I look forward to speaking to the substance of the bill in a moment.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank both the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the hon. member for Halifax West for their submissions. The Chair will take both under advisement.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning to my bill, Bill C-284, which I hope hon. colleagues will support.

Even though I note there has been an objection from the government in terms of the question of royal recommendation, I still hope that hon. colleagues from all sides of the House will find favour with the bill and will recognize the importance of this issue. I think the bill could have a dramatic impact on the future of not only students across this country, young people, particularly those from low income families and those with disabilities, but also on our country and its future prosperity.

I am well aware these days of the issue of post-secondary education because my oldest daughter has joined the many thousands of young Canadians who go off to university and community colleges across this country every year. This fall she started at Acadia University. I wear what is called an X ring, which indicates that I am a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University. Although I did point out to my daughter the odd time that in fact St. FX was selected over and over, and again this year, as the number one undergraduate university in the country, that did not seem to persuade her. Sometimes we parents do not get our way, but I must acknowledge that Acadia is certainly an outstanding institution as well. I know she will enjoy herself there. She is a good student and I am sure she will do well.

Mount St. Vincent University is located in my riding of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as are many others in my province. We have St. FX, as I mentioned, Cape Breton University, St. Mary's University, Dalhousie University, Acadia University, King's College University, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Nova Scotia Community College. We do have a large number of universities and post-secondary education institutions in my province where this issue is particularly important.

One of the concerns people in Nova Scotia have had for many years is that funding for education is provided not on a per student basis, but on a per capita basis. When many students immigrate into a province to study then that province incurs the cost of educating those students who from other parts of the country. The real concern is that funding is not provided in relation to the fact that a province has all those additional students. It is a real challenge.

At the national level and in my region there are some disturbing trends at the post-secondary education level. First year enrolment is starting to go down a bit now that the double cohort from Ontario has passed through its first and second year and is moving on. For instance, first year enrolment at St. Mary's University is down 7%. This is expected to continue at many schools and universities across my province and across the country over the next decade. Acadia also reported this year that first year enrolments were sluggish, at least in August, although I think they may have picked up since.

Surveys have found that as many as 36% of high school graduates cite financial reasons as a barrier to going on to university or community college. This bill would help to eliminate some of those barriers. Let me go through some of the highlights of the bill.

Bill C-284 would expand Canada access grants, which is a program that already provides financial assistance to students from low income families or those who are disabled. Currently, the grants under this program are available for the first year of study for those who are from low income families and for those with disabilities. The bill would extend the availability of this grant to all four years of study. This is an important measure for low income students and those students facing the challenge of having disabilities.

The bill would also create a statutory base for the Canada access grants, making it, in my view, much more difficult to cancel or change without Parliament having a say in the process.

Investing in education is not about promoting the individual wealth of those lucky enough to be able to afford to go to higher education. It is about creating a stronger, more prosperous, more personally enriched, in a sense of enriched with knowledge, society. We do that by providing opportunities to all Canadians. As government, as Parliament we have a responsibility to improve our country by improving opportunities for all our citizens, and this bill would help to do that.

Education is a nation-building investment. We have an education deficit in this country that needs to be addressed through measures like those in Bill C-284.

It is important to note that nine million working age people, or 42% of Canadians, have literacy skills that are below the level considered necessary to function in our society today. This relates to the whole question of education and higher education. I was quite alarmed last week, and colleagues on both sides of the House should be alarmed as well, at the government's decision to cut $17.7 million from funding to literacy groups across the country. That funding is very important for those groups to train the teachers, to develop curriculum and to keep the programs going all over the country that helps adults to learn to write and read.

If Canada is to be productive in the future and have a more competitive economy, I believe, and I think most hon. colleagues will agree, we need to invest in those people and in those kinds of programs. I think cutting that program is a huge mistake. I hope my colleagues on the Conservative side of the House will work to persuade the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance to rescind that cut. It is wrong to write off these adults who are working hard to learn to read and write. It is not the answer at all. I was alarmed by the Treasury Board president's comments in that regard last week

So far we have seen no indication from the government that it intends to help low income students or those with disabilities to obtain higher education and to pay for it. Otherwise, if the government were really interested in these things, it would not have cut, for instance, the summer career placement program, a summer employment program for students. Next year that program will be cut in half. Many employers in the country are already saying that if they do not have that kind of funding to assist them in paying the salaries of these students that they will not be hiring those students.

Many students will be affected by that program being cut because they will not have the income they need next summer to return to school in the fall. This program is being cut in half. I hope my hon. colleagues will be lobbying the ministers and pushing them to rescind that cut as well. I think it is an error. It is not a huge amount of money in terms of the overall budget of the government. I think the government could certainly afford it in the excellent financial condition in which it has been left.

The Canadian Federation of Students estimates that up to 25,000 summer jobs for students are being eliminated by that cut. As the Canadian Federation of Students has pointed out, university and college is already beyond the means of thousands of Canadian families and cutting the funding for that program will mean that many students will not be able to go back to school next year and those who do return will be saddled with even more debt.

We all know that tuition fees have been rising dramatically in recent years. Nationally, the average undergrad tuition is $4,347 for the 2006-07 academic year, which is a big hike from the $1,464 average in 1990-91. This is another reason for us to provide more assistance to students. We should be keeping the pressure on the government to move forward and keep its promise of a dedicated education transfer. We have not seen it. We did not see it in the budget. We have not seen any indication of that promise being kept. It is important that we see some action on this important point.

It is true that the government is holding post-secondary education and training consultations but who is it consulting with? A number of student groups, such as the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the College Student Alliance, have written to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development to express their concern about not being invited to take part in this process. That seems an odd decision. If the minister is going to consult about post-secondary education, surely the students should not be totally ignored. Surely that should be corrected.

The government has also cut or eliminated a series of youth and international internships, such as the Fulbright scholarships, which provided the opportunity to study between the U.S. and Canada, for students to go to another country and have exposure there and learn about that country. Those are very important programs for our students to get exposure to the rest of the world and to develop a network for the future. As a trading nation, a nation that exports so much of its goods and services, it is absolutely important that we continue to develop the contacts we have and the understanding our young people have about other countries. Cutting these kinds of international scholarships is a grave error. Again, I hope that the government will reconsider this approach.

I think we saw a very different approach a year ago when our government was prepared to, for instance, expand the Canada access grants to cover all four years of study and to have the fifty-fifty plan, which would have paid for half the tuition for all Canadian students for both the first and the last year of study. Of course, what we need to see here is a comprehensive review of student assistance in total. That is an important step to take. We should not just look at some small aspect of this, but at the whole picture of how students are paying for their education and what government can do to assist them, because Canadian students need more support if they are to be able to afford their education.

In last fall's fiscal update, we did see additional funding for Canadian students studying abroad and a 50% increase in funding for graduate scholarships. However, forcing students from low income families to shoulder heavier and heavier debt loads to get their education is unconscionable. It is not in the interest of our country. It is not in the interest of our economy. Those people need to be able to get a good start in life as they come out of university. If they have huge debt loads, it is a lot harder for that to happen.

Again, in terms of our future productivity, the imminent retirement of the baby boom generation demands that we train and educate as many Canadians as possible to replenish our workforce. This is an absolute priority. I think we need to see more recognition of that from the government side.

Without a comprehensive grant system, the kind this bill would create, thousands of Canadian students who qualify for post-secondary education and have the marks to get in will not be able to attend. We should be gravely concerned if that occurs, whenever it occurs, and it is occurring now.

Expanding the Canada access grants is the most effective and efficient way, I believe, to provide support to Canadian students who need it most. The average debt for university graduates with a bachelor's degree is $20,000. That is according to the latest information available from Statistics Canada. The average debt for college graduates is almost $13,000. Fourteen per cent of university graduates have $25,000 or more in student debt.

Providing a statutory base for the Canada access grants, as the bill would do, would make it much more difficult to end or change the program without parliamentary scrutiny. I think it is important that this be the case. It should not be the case that the government can simply scrap this willy-nilly. I think this Parliament has supported this idea or concept of support for students with the Canada access grants. I think we need to put this into law and make sure it is a permanent program, because education and training are clearly a fundamental cornerstone for building a sustainable economy.

How are we going to have a competitive nation? How are we going to have a competitive economy and a more productive economy if we are not prepared to invest in these areas?

In fact, the Council of the Federation recently reported that 70% of the jobs created in the coming years will require a post-secondary education. Let us imagine that. It seems to me that one of the challenges we face with high school and pre-high school students is to make more of them aware of what it means to have a university or community college education and what it can mean for future income. There is the fact that one's chance of being unemployed if one goes on to higher education is dramatically lower and one's income will be dramatically higher. We see that in study after study.

It is true that when we see a situation like the boom in the petroleum sector in Alberta, for instance, there are a lot of jobs right now that may not require a higher education, but more and more of them do. When we look at the skilled trades, for example, we see that those trades are becoming more and more complex. Reading the manuals alone is becoming complex. Higher levels of reading, arithmetic and mathematics will be required. Higher levels of education will be essential for for all those things. This bill would help those students who are facing the challenge of being from low income families or the challenge of disabilities to afford to go. I think it is an important measure. I hope my hon. colleagues will support the bill.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan


Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on a statement that the member for Halifax West made about Canadian students and budget 2006, which he called rhetoric and said would be helpful to only a few students. Does the member realize that this government has indeed put forward good, concrete measures? What does he think about the measure to assist Canadian students with the textbook tax credit? We also did an expansion of the Canada student loans eligibility. As well, we have the exemption from taxes of scholarship and bursary income. We also have the post-secondary education infrastructure trust. I am wondering if the member recognizes that this new government has in fact been working hard to make education a priority.

We have had good reaction from across Canada on our measures. An editorial in the Newfoundland media called the exemption of scholarship and bursary income good news that was long overdue and also praised the expansion of the Canada student loans program. It noted that many families that do not qualify for such loans could easily take exception to the member for Halifax West thinking that the budget helps only a few students.

I would like to have the member comment on our positive measures and ask how he can be so negative in some of his comments and not realize that we put together some very good, constructive measures.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, let me talk for a moment about the textbook tax credit that we saw in the budget earlier this year. This tax credit would provide students basically about $80 toward their textbooks. I do not know if my hon. colleague has children in university. She is probably much too young to have children in university yet, and I can hear my colleagues agreeing with me, but she undoubtedly eventually will have students in post-secondary education. Many of us here have been students, of course, and we know that it is pretty rare for students' books not to cost a lot more than $80 a year. Eighty dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the real needs that students have. I do not think that credit responds.

Moreover, my bill is trying to deal with particularly those students who come from low income families and those students who have disabilities. I think we should focus on aiding them with this bill. There should be other measures like a dedicated education transfer, which was promised but not delivered by the government. There should be an overhaul of the Canada student loan program. We are not seeing any of that happening. We are talking about consultation, but we are not seeing results. It looks like the government is not even talking to the students.

My hon. colleague mentioned infrastructure. We saw a drop in the bucket in that regard in the budget this year, but it is a long way from what is needed and it is a long way from what we in our party proposed in the election campaign. We proposed a $1 billion fund. In fact, we need more than that.

There are universities in this country that have absolutely enormous maintenance deficits, because for many years they have been putting off maintenance in order to look after other things, to pay for the groceries, basically. I understand that. It is quite understandable that they have to look after the education of their students first. At times it has meant that they have put off repairs to and the maintenance of important buildings and other systems. It is absolutely critical, of course, that they have more funding for that.

Those are other measures that I think the government should take, but the bill today is talking about one measure, and that is the Canada access grants. I did not hear from my hon. colleague that she supports this bill or the idea of the Canada access grants. I hope all colleagues recognize the value of supporting these kinds of students, the students from low income families and those with disabilities, to help them get into university and pay for the cost of their education.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member, but I want to let him know that I appreciate his piece of legislation and I will be supporting it. I think this is part of the puzzle, but I want to ask him why, when the Liberals were in power, in the last Liberal budget the only measure for students was loan forgiveness for dead students? The only measure of support for students was for dead students, but there were huge corporate tax cuts. Why?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, first of all, let us remember that in regard to the fiscal update last November that party did not support it. The NDP of course made sure it defeated the government. It threw away its principles--

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan


Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-284, a proposal to extend the Canada access grants for students from low income families from one year to all years of students' first program of study. Additionally, Bill C-284 would repeal the Canada access grant provisions in the Canada student financial assistance regulations and incorporate them into the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

Before I begin I would like to acknowledge that there is a common consensus in the House, indeed among all Canadians, on the tremendous value of post-secondary education, for a high quality education represents a crucial stage in tapping the potential of future generations of Canadians. Not only will it provide them with the knowledge, skills and experiences to acquire well paid jobs and fulfilling careers, but it will provide Canada with the skills and the imaginative human capital we need to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy.

As Sir Winston Churchill so accurately forecast over half a century ago, “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind”. In this spirit, I join with the member for Halifax West in recognizing the need to support students from low income families in access to post-secondary education.

However, as we endeavour to pursue these objectives, we must ensure that we do so in a manner that achieves the desired results through the most effective and efficient methods possible. As a result, I welcome the opportunity to engage in today's discussion on Bill C-284.

Before getting into specifics, I believe it is important to frame the discussion in the larger context of the Government of Canada's current support for post-secondary education. It is important to recall the substantial overall investments the Government of Canada makes in post-secondary education in a variety of interrelated ways.

First, it should be noted that we cooperate closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts in this area. For instance, in the last fiscal year the Government of Canada transferred $15.5 billion to the provinces and territories for post-secondary education and social services.

Furthermore, the government provides another $1.8 billion through various grants and loans to help students obtain a post-secondary degree. For instance, through the Canada student loan program, we provide $1.6 billion annually in loans to nearly 340,000 students.

Moreover, in addition to this direct assistance, the Government of Canada also has a range of other incentives to help Canadians finance their post-secondary education. These include tax measures such as the student loan interest credit, the tuition tax credit and the education tax credit, all of which help cover non-tuition costs.

We also have incentives to help Canadians save for post-secondary education, such as the Canada learning bond and the Canada education savings grants.

The ongoing support, in all of its many forms, reflects a broad commitment to post-secondary education, but Canada's new government is not content to stop there. In budget 2006, we brought forward tangible measures and made a substantial investment to help Canadian students and their families meet the rising costs of post-secondary education.

These measures included the introduction of a new textbook tax credit, the expanded eligibility for students seeking Canada student loans by reducing the amounts parents are expected to contribute toward their children's education, and the creation of a tax exemption for all scholarship and bursary income.

What is more, our government is acknowledging the groundbreaking research on Canada's university campuses, and to support further breakthroughs and innovations, budget 2006 provided an additional $100 million on top of the $1 billion the Government of Canada already provides for post-secondary research and technological development, including $40 million per year for the indirect costs of research programs, $20 million per year for the leaders opportunity fund of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, $17 million per year for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and $6 million per year for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

These measures are concrete examples of our new government's recognition of the importance of research to increasing Canada's productivity and our standard of living. Claire Morris, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, stated:

We are pleased with the budget’s support for university research, as well as the government’s recognition of the important role that research plays for Canadians. These increases in research funding underline the government’s commitment to promote a more competitive, more productive Canadian economy.

Even more, budget 2006 strengthened the entire post-secondary sector with an allocation of $1 billion to the provinces and territories for pressing investments in post-secondary education and infrastructure such as libraries and laboratories.

It is important to keep these substantial investments and incentives in mind when assessing the merits of the proposals contained within Bill C-284. It is also critical to remember that any legislation affecting education by definition involves a cooperative approach with the provinces and territories. It is also important to recall the bleak record of the defeated Liberal government after 13 years in power.

Listen to the Canadian Federation of Students which noted it was the Liberal government that was:

--responsible for cutting funding for post-secondary education...and driving up tuition fees...trying to give the impression of responding to students and parents, while delivering no serious commitment to accessible post-secondary education.

Or better yet, listen to Liberals themselves. Listen to their aspiring leader, Bob Rae, bemoan that even after 13 long years of Liberal governments:

Our education system is not nearly what it could be. The cost of post-secondary education has been rising rapidly for years and shows no signs of abating.

Or listen to another aspiring Liberal leader, the member for Kings—Hants, who slammed a Liberal government that:

--slashed transfers to the provinces to such an extent that it created a tremendous vacuum in funding for universities throughout the country. As a result of the deficit that existed in the funding...we saw, for instance, the doubling of the average amount of student debt after a four year program in Canada.

Notwithstanding such realities, today's discussion is about moving beyond the squandered promises of the past 13 years.

Bill C-284 in that spirit merits an objective assessment. To begin with, it has been suggested that due to the fact the grant under discussion is merely one year old, the availability of comprehensive data to inform our decision is somewhat lacking which as a result may hinder our ability to properly determine whether additional measures are needed. We must be mindful that such proposed changes would require consultations with provincial and territorial governments.

An additional issue that merits mention is the fact that Bill C-284 proposes to repeal the Canada access grants provisions in the Canada student financial assistance regulations and integrate them into the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. This amendment essentially means that Parliament itself would have to make future changes to the program through legislation.

What is more, since other grants under the Canada student loans program would still be governed through regulations, the proposed bill would create a two tiered approach to governance. As a result, the management of the Canada student loans program may not be as efficient as we would consider appropriate.

I believe the issues I have highlighted today should be important considerations in our discussion of Bill C-284.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about Bill C-284, an Act to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act (Canada access grants). I will begin by giving an overview of the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

First, I will remind members that, in keeping with its unconstitutional tendency to intrude into the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, the federal government has already stuck its nose into the field of education by providing Canada access grants.

There are two types of Canada access grants: assistance for students from low-income families and assistance for students with permanent disabilities. These grants are a type of bursary, and the grant amount depends on a number of criteria.

Let us consider, for example, the first form of grant: the Canada access grant for students from low-income families. The Canada Student Financial Assistance Regulations, adopted under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, provide that the federal government or its intermediaries can provide initial Canada access grants to students from low-income families who are in their first year of post-secondary education.

The regulations also specify that the Canada access grant paid to a qualifying student can cover up to half of the student's tuition, based on need, but must not exceed $3,000.

The regulations set eligibility conditions that applicants must meet. They are as follows: the applicant must be in the first year of a program of studies and must never previously have been enrolled in a post-secondary program; the applicant must enroll in a post-secondary program of studies within four years after leaving secondary school; the program in which the applicant is enrolled must be offered by a recognized institution, must be at least two years in length and must lead to a certificate or diploma; the program must be full-time; the net income of the student's parents must fall within the range that qualifies them for the national child benefit supplement.

The second type of grant is the Canada access grant for students with permanent disabilities. Just like the Canada access grants for students from low-income families, it is the Canada Student Financial Assistance Regulations, passed under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, that defines the list of criteria for being considered a student with a permanent disability. One of the conditions is the requirement to provide proof of the permanent disability by way of a medical certificate, for instance.

The regulations stipulate that the grant to an applicant with a permanent disability corresponds to the student's assessed need, up to a maximum of $2,000 a year, for every year he or she is eligible.

And now comes Bill C-284.

This bill is simple: it extends the availability of grants for low-income students from the first year of post secondary education to all years of post secondary education.

Since the criteria and terms for granting the Canada access grants for students are set out in the regulations, Bill C-284 integrates these criteria and terms directly in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and, accordingly, repeals them from the Canada Student Financial Assistance Regulations.

Bill C-284 is almost a carbon copy of sections 40.01, 40.02 and 40.03 of the Canada Student Financial Assistance Regulations. These sections are to be included in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and set out the conditions the students must meet to be eligible for a Canada access grant, as well as information on the size of the grants.

When the regulatory provisions were incorporated in the legislation, some words were changed in such a way as to renew the Canada access grants for students from low-income families. Subsection 14.2(2) shows this change. It says:

The amount of a grant made under this section to a qualifying student in a loan year shall not exceed the least of—

Subsection 14.2(1) would also be amended to remove the requirement that students be in the first year of their program of studies.

These two amendments make it possible to renew Canada access grants for qualifying students. These students may receive up to $3,000 for each year of their post-secondary program of studies.

Nevertheless, Bill C-284 has a number of flaws that should be reviewed in committee. I would like to point out some of them.

First, by incorporating regulatory provisions into an act, Bill C-284 would make subsequent amendments more difficult. Although an ideological Conservative government that cuts programs for under-privileged citizens might see this as a good thing, it would make it much more difficult to improve measures. Furthermore, changes to the access grant program for students, especially amendments affecting the indexation of amounts granted, would have to be legislated.

Second, there is no indexation mechanism for the amounts set out in the act. This is significant because $2,000 today will no longer be worth $2,000 in four, five or six years. Students' needs are of vital importance, but the money the federal government gives to education, primarily through the Canada social transfer, is not nearly enough, nor does it not enable Quebec to finance its post-secondary education system as much as it would like. We must ensure that the funds provided are adequate and take into account the rising cost of living. The lack of an indexation mechanism is therefore a serious shortcoming.

Third, Bill C-284 is just a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Until the fiscal imbalance is resolved, and until Quebec can count on additional own-source revenues of $30.9 billion per year, the post-secondary education system will continue to be underfunded.

Our position is simple. The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-284 in principle so that it can go to committee for further discussion of the amounts to be offered to students and the absence of an indexation mechanism.

The Bloc Québécois is fully aware that Bill C-284 is acceptable only because the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act contains a clause for opting out with compensation. This legislation constitutes an infringement on a jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Yet Bill C-284 does not help Quebec and the other provinces provide quality education, because it does not give them the means to do so. It makes students pay for part of the cost of their post-secondary education, but does not improve the quality of instruction.

The best solution to help students, and the solution recommended by the Bloc Québécois, involves a considerable increase in direct federal transfer payments to Quebec and the provinces until the fiscal imbalance issue is resolved. In Quebec, the government, students and educational institutions issued a joint statement to the effect that transfer payments must be increased to $4.9 billion a year. It is because of the fiscal imbalance, created by the federal government itself, that Ottawa must now help students financially so that they can access post-secondary education, since transfers to the provinces for education have been considerably reduced.

To conclude, I would remind the House that, fortunately, section 14 of the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act gives those provinces that wish to administer their own loans and scholarships program the right to opt out with compensation. This is the case for Quebec, which has its own program.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-284 at a very dark time for post-secondary education in Canada. Last week we saw cuts to student employment programs and literacy. Over the summer we saw a consultation process that was really not a consultation process at all. It seemed to exclude many student groups which are most concerned by the issue of post-secondary education. It seems as if the Conservatives want to leave us a paper country.

In my opinion, there are ways to meet the unique cultural needs of Quebec while providing equitable treatment for all parts of Canada. It is upsetting to see young people mortgaging their lives—the result of many years of cuts to provincial transfer payments by the former Liberal government.

That government had 13 years to implement the type of progressive legislation introduced by a member this morning. The situation could deteriorate with the Conservatives' “every man for himself” policy.The goal in Canada should be for all graduates of secondary schools to have access to post-secondary education or training. Bill C-284 is a first step in that direction. It would ensure that Canada access grants for students from low-income families, presently available for only the first year of education, would be available to eligible students for each year of a program of studies . Low-income families are not benefiting from current programs.

This bill does have significant shortcomings but it represents the most progressive and effective way of putting money directly into the hands of students who do not have the means to pay their tuition fees, that is at the time they most need these monies. This approach would allow us to increase access to post-secondary education in contrast to the number of disparate federal and provincial programs presently labelled as student financial assistance such as tax credits, savings plans, the Millennium Scholarship Foundation and the very unwieldy Canada student loans program.

The NDP will support this bill because, as I stated, it is the first measure—one we have been awaiting for a long time—to help students and their families with rising education costs, which have become prohibitive in many of our provinces.

I want to go back to this grant. In its first year, Canada access grants for students from low income families were for the first year of study only, the lesser of $3,000, assessed need or 50% of tuition. The Canada access grant for students with permanent disabilities was for each year of study, but the lesser of $2,000 or assessed need. This was clearly inadequate.

We have to look at who is benefiting from our existing policies.

In their first year, Canada access grants were awarded to roughly 3% of full time college and university students, 22,000 students from low income families and approximately 9,100 students with permanent disabilities, costing almost $52.6 million.

Let us look at the other programs. During that same period, $462 million was paid as matching Canada education saving grants, CESGs, to 1.8 million children in families who could afford to invest in RESPs many years before their children's studies. In contrast, the new Canada learning bond for low income families to invest in RESPs, helping 7,271 children in families who could not invest in RESPs.

In 2001 individuals with income over $70,000 claimed over $164 million in federal education and tuition tax credits. As Ross Finnie, a research fellow at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University said, “These huge chunks of money are going where it's not needed. It wouldn't be so bad if there was enough money going into where it's really needed, but there isn't”.

The millennium foundation is set to expire in 2009. There are a number of lessons to be had from its work, in particular: its focus on grants over loans; its needs-based assessment rather than income-based; its experience collaborating with provinces and territories; and its high ratio of direct assistance to operating costs. We should examine these experiences and best practices in developing a national needs-based grants system.

Clearly, the patchwork of student assistance in Canada does not adequately target those students and families in greatest need. This is why we support the bill.

The Canadian Federation of Students, which has sent over 50 student leaders to the Hill this week, will look very closely at the support for the bill as expressed around the House. The Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association of University Teachers have both called for a simpler, central system of needs-based grants to replace this patchwork assistance that we call financial aid.

The NDP vigorously opposed reliance of Liberal and Conservative governments on tax credits instead of real investment in post-secondary education. Research substantiates our concern. Through this debate, I will reiterate our alternate vision of a national needs-based grants system.

Bill C-284 could be the building block of such a national system, with a number of changes to address its flaws. Let us look at some of the amendments that will be necessary. One is a needs-based assessment rather than an income-based one, Others are removing exclusionary clauses against mature students, introducing a mechanism to include financially independent students and including targeted grants to account for the realities of rural and aboriginal students.

The bill is about the role of the federal government in post-secondary education. The Conservatives would have us believe that there is no role for the federal government in social programs and in post-secondary education, and that seems to suit the Bloc Québécois. However, let there be no mistake. Under the Conservatives, we are returning to the pre-1950s, where provincial governments had sole responsibility for post-secondary education, with the horrific inequities that existed between provinces.

By turning post-secondary education back entirely to provinces, as the Conservative government seems to be leaning toward, many Canadians will begin to wonder just what it means to be Canadian.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-284, introduced by my hon. colleague, the member for Halifax West.

For centuries now, the importance of a sound education has been one of the hallmarks of public policy, not just in Canada but across the nations of the world. A sound and fulfilling education not only serves the interests of the students who benefit from their studies, but the society in which they choose to practice the skills they have learned.

By ensuring that our young people receive the best possible education, we are also ensuring that our society thrives, grows and prospers. It was the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, who stated: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. In providing young Canadians with the opportunity to obtain a thorough and balanced education, we are, as a society, lighting the fire of wonder in their hearts and minds, a fire that will illuminate our country for generations to come.

It is in this vein that I support my colleague's bill, which would amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

The bill would provide for Canada access grants to eligible Canadians who have permanent disabilities. It recognizes, implicitly, the unique challenges faced by persons with disabilities in their efforts to obtain a post-secondary education.

No one in the House will be unfamiliar with the very real challenges that face students in contemporary Canadian society. It is truly heart-rending to hear the stories of so many young Canadians who simply cannot afford to pursue their education to the extent that they would like, simply as a result of financial barriers.

This challenge is particularly real for persons with disabilities, who may not have the same opportunities to supplement their incomes while attending school as other students might find available to them. Furthermore, I believe we, as Canadians, have an obligation to assist those with disabilities to ensure that they have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens to choose whatever career path they wish to pursue.

I join with my colleagues in wishing to see this bill pass, but fear that it might not succeed. This is because the government seems to have decided to abandon the important role of the federal government with respect to education. The delivery of education may be a provincial responsibility, but as the last government demonstrated, there is much that the national government can do as well.

When the members of the New Democratic Party decided to bring down the previous Liberal government, they chose political expediency over the best interests of Canadians. As a result, much was lost for students.

Members might recall the financial statements of the then Liberal finance minister, the member for Wascana, as he outlined an enormous progressive plan to assist young Canadians to realize their full potential in terms of educational opportunities. This plan committed $2.2 billion over five years to improve financial assistance by making post-secondary education more affordable for lower and middle income Canadians. This was an incredible commitment to help ensure that all Canadians, regardless of their means, had the opportunity to obtain a sound education.

The Liberal fiscal plan also called for $550 million over five years to extend Canada access grants, the subject of our discussion here today. This would have covered 55,000 students from lower income families in all years of undergraduate education. We would also have seen $265 million over five years for Canadians with disabilities to assist them in participating in the workforce.

These commitments were real and they would have gone a long way toward assisting young Canadians with their educational objectives. Members of this caucus have and continue to hold a solid and real commitment to Canadian students.

In keeping with the Liberal commitment to education, I was myself pleased to introduce in the House Bill C-316, an act to establish a national literacy policy. It is truly disheartening that upwards of 38% of Canadians have difficulties reading and writing.

We all know that the most fundamental requirement for education and career advancement is the ability to read and write at a reasonable level of proficiency. The reality is that illiteracy in this country costs the economy approximately $10 billion annually, not to mention the ongoing daily struggles of those who have to contend with limited skills when it comes to reading and writing.

Similarly, it is also true that there is a serious lack of funding for literacy programs in Canada and an even more pressing need for a coordination of services. We need to implement a national literacy strategy with long term programs designed to assist all Canadians who need this kind of help in realizing their full potential both in their academic and professional careers.

Members of this House have acknowledged that without proper educational training the future of many young Canadians is less than bright. There are fewer and fewer jobs available to those who do not possess the kind of skills now required in the workplace. The quandary many young Canadians find themselves in is that they cannot access those jobs without the needed education, yet they cannot afford to obtain the skills that are needed.

It is important that we act on this issue of the need for literacy programs and financial assistance for students, particularly those with disabilities. We must also ensure that we recognize the need to make a real commitment to adequate funding of education in this country.

Education is the foundation upon which the future of this country will be built. There is no benefit to shortchanging our future by failing to adequately invest in the education of young Canadians. The reality is simply that in creating the kinds of programs that will encourage support and sustain our young people in their educational journey, we will be ensuring that the workforce of the future will be able to meet the needs of our economy.

Bill C-284 recognizes the need to assist those who need the help the most in realizing their full potential as students and future employees. In providing this kind of support, we are truly inviting all Canadians to the table. We need to expand programs such as those proposed in this bill, as well as those put forward in Bill C-316 which would promote literacy across Canada.

These programs are investments in the future of our young people, the future of our country and in reality, the future of our planet. There is a role for Canada in the world. When encouraging our young people to strive to reach their maximum potential, we by implication do the same for our country itself.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business



Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the government to this private member's bill.

I thank the member for Halifax West for bringing forward this important topic for discussion. I also congratulate the member opposite whose daughter is now going to Acadia University. Acadia is an excellent university; however, if he is looking for second options I would suggest the University of Alberta is a top university in this country.

The bill seeks to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act in order to extend the provisions of the Canada access grants. This bill raises two important questions. The first is whether or not this is the appropriate time to be making changes to this relatively new student support measure. The second is whether or not amending the act is the right way to proceed. Let me address each of these in turn.

On the question of extending the financial support now provided by the Canada access grants, the member opposite has identified a concern which Canada's new government definitely shares. We want to make sure students from low income families and students with disabilities have access to post-secondary education and can receive the financial support that they need.

Indeed, this government wants to look at the whole issue of how post-secondary education is financed in this country. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development has indicated that she will be initiating discussions with the provinces and territories to discuss the overall objectives for post-secondary education and training appropriate roles, while at the same time working toward developing a framework for ensuring measurable results and accountability in respect of funding support. Issues like those raised in Bill C-284 may very well be considered during the course of those discussions.

Expanding access to post-secondary education to students from low income families and those with disabilities is a concern Canada's new government recognizes and is sensitive to. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Canada access grant is not the only way the Government of Canada helps finance post-secondary education in this country.

A brief overview of the current measures in place clearly demonstrates the Government of Canada has a broad commitment to investment in education and training on behalf of all students. Budget 2006 is a demonstration of this commitment as it included concrete measures in support of post-secondary education.

Having the lowest debt to GDP level in 24 years is bound to help all aspects of our economy, including children looking to obtain post-secondary education, but this government did far more. There are investments such as $15.5 billion annually to the provinces and territories for post-secondary education and social services through the Canada social transfer; $1.7 billion to fund research in post-secondary institutions; $1.8 billion in loans and grants for post-secondary education; $1.5 billion in tax credits and education savings incentives; and another $1 billion in federal funds to help provinces and territories make urgent investments in post-secondary infrastructure.

Additionally, we also introduced a new textbook tax credit, a measure expected to benefit millions of students over the next two years. We expanded eligibility for the Canada student loans program, meaning an additional 30,000 students will now be able to access this program. That is right, I said an additional 30,000 students.

Clearly, when it comes to supporting post-secondary education and helping Canadian students and their families with its costs, Canada's new government has demonstrated its willingness to make the necessary--

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul will have six minutes left in debate when Bill C-284 is taken up again.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba


Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to lead off the debate on this important government initiative, Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Canadians want a law-abiding peaceful society. They believe in secure streets and neighbourhoods where children can play in safety and where families can go for evening walks. In doing our part to protect our communities, roads and highways, the Government of Canada is taking the issue of street racing head-on.

There have been far too many examples of Canadians being injured or killed because of street racing. On a regular basis there are reports of deaths across the country relating to this dangerous activity. We have seen horrific deaths recently in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg. These risks, injuries and deaths are senseless and do not need to occur.

The criminal law seeks justice, the protection of the public and the establishment and maintenance of social order. Ultimately the purpose of the criminal law is to contribute to a just, peaceful and safe society through the establishment of prohibitions, sanctions and procedures to deal fairly and appropriately with blameworthy conduct that causes or threatens serious harm to individuals and society. Street racers must be explicitly subject to such sanctions and prohibitions.

The criminal law can be, and in this case should be, a tool for shifting public perception. In this regard the message needs to be made clear: street racing is not a game, it is not carefree and it is not harmless. Pure and simple, it kills.

In establishing such a system we must first examine the existing legal scheme on which Bill C-19 would build, namely the way the Criminal Code currently deals with street racing.

The Criminal Codes does not specifically identify street racing as an offence, although certain of the code's offences can apply to fatal and injurious collisions where street racing is involved. These offences are: criminal negligence causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment; criminal negligence causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment; and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm, with a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. In addition, the offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, with a five year maximum imprisonment on indictment, can be applied in cases where a street race has occurred but no one was killed or injured.

In addition, under the Criminal Code, if convicted of any of those five offences, currently the court may order a period of driving prohibition of up to three years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, of up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition.

Despite these existing provisions and the discretionary driving prohibition orders, street races are still occurring and Canadians are still being injured, and tragically, killed.

For this reason the government is doing its part in reinforcing the criminal law in this area and sending a strong clear message that street racing is a crime with real and significant consequences. Creating a separate offence in the Criminal Code will specifically denounce this form of crime. In addition, these proposed amendments permit increased punishments with regard to minimum driving prohibitions and increase periods of imprisonment in street racing situations.

Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act proposes the creation of a specific street racing offence in the Criminal Code based on the offences of dangerous driving, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and criminal negligence causing death. The bill proposes key reforms that would increase, in street racing situations, the maximum punishments for dangerous driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm from 10 years to 14 years, and for dangerous driving causing death from 14 years to life.

The government is taking a holistic approach to criminal law reform. In this regard, it is significant to note that the government's conditional sentencing bill, Bill C-9, if passed as is, will eliminate the use of a conditional sentence in those street racing cases where someone is either injured or killed. As we know, conditional sentences are essentially house arrest.

The street racing reforms would also provide minimum driving prohibitions that would increase on each subsequent offence, instead of the present discretionary prohibitions. In particular, the mandatory driving prohibitions range from a minimum of one year on a first offence, all the way up to a maximum of a lifetime driving ban. The minimum driving prohibitions increase to two and three years for subsequent offences.

Of note is the proposed mandatory lifetime driving prohibition. This mandatory lifetime minimum driving prohibition will apply if an offender has two convictions, where someone is injured or killed as a result of street racing, and at least one of these offences causes a death. For example, if someone is convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm while street racing and then convicted of criminal negligence causing death while street racing, the lifetime mandatory driving prohibition will apply.

Therefore, Bill C-19 would provide judges with discretion in setting the appropriate length of prohibition, in some cases, all the way up to a lifetime ban, but in every street racing offence, the offender would have a period of mandatory driving prohibition.

Following the introduction of Bill C-19, some have asked, What is street racing and how will the courts interpret such a definition? Clause 1 of the bill defines “street racing” as:

--operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;

The term “race” is an undefined term in the bill and is therefore meant to be applied by the courts, based on existing common law principles, after an examination of the trial evidence. The courts will turn to context in which the term is used, dictionary definitions of a race, as well as Canadian jurisprudence defining this term. At the end of the day, all sources of interpretation generally point to the common theme of a race amounting to a contest of speed, which will be determined on a case by case basis on the evidence presented at trial.

By the structure of the proposed reforms, the prosecution will be required to prove a race; that is a contest of speed plus dangerous driving or criminal negligence. This construction responds to fear that revving one's engine would amount to an offence. The driving must also meet the existing standards of dangerous driving or criminal negligence in order to attract criminal liability.

Furthermore, by the design of the scheme, if the court is not satisfied that a street race was involved, then the law of included offences would apply. Therefore, if the prosecution has not proven a street race but has proven all the essential elements of either dangerous driving or criminal negligence, then the offender may be convicted of these included offences.

It is important to note that the Criminal Code contains an offence, at section 259, prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle while a person is disqualified from driving. This driving while prohibited offence would also apply if a person drives during the prohibition period imposed for the offences in Bill C-19.

Many provinces have used provincial highway traffic legislation to combat street racing, including provincial fines, licence suspensions and vehicle impoundment. In British Columbia, for example, the province introduced legislation that gave the police the authority to impound, immediately, any vehicle used in a street race. In some matters, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority, and each level of government may properly enact legislation. In the matter of street racing the provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing, using its constitutional legislative authority for criminal law.

There have been a number of earlier bills directed at combatting street racing. During the 37th Parliament, the late Mr. Chuck Cadman, M.P., introduced private member's Bill C-338 and reintroduced it as Bill C-230 in the 38th Parliament aimed at this form of crime. These bills provided that the existence of street racing was to be an aggravating factor in sentencing and provided for mandatory minimum driving prohibitions, increasing on second and subsequent offences. I think the Prime Minister said it very when he described Mr. Cadman as “a selfless man who devoted his years in Ottawa to fighting for safer streets”.

Mr. Cadman's bill was built upon the existence of a repeat aggravating factor. However, the dependence on the aggravating factor in the sentencing hearing that involves a prior conviction, in order to trigger an increased penalty for a subsequent offence, raised some concerns. First, there is no reference to street racing in the substantive offence. Second, the CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre, does not report the existence of aggravating factors. Therefore, the Crown would have no consistent way of knowing that a prior offence had involved street racing.

In the 38th Parliament, the previous government introduced Bill C-65, an act to amend the Criminal Code, street racing. It also provided that street racing, if found by the sentencing judge to be present, was to be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing and included mandatory driving prohibitions, although repeat offenders were not subject to increasing driving prohibitions. All these bills eventually died on the order paper. However, given the efforts made by Mr. Cadman and by the former government's response, we are now counting on everyone to support Bill C-19.

The government's bill, Bill C-19, unlike its predecessors, proposes the creation of separate offences and would increase driving prohibitions for repeat offenders. I believe these are necessary components to deliver the message that street racing threatens the safety of Canadians and criminal law consequences, therefore, will be serious.

The frequency of and the conviction rate for offences involving street racing are presently not available at a national level as there is, currently, no systematic way to identify the cases that have involved street racing. One of the indirect benefits of the reforms proposed in C-19 is that the creation of separate offences will allow such data to be captured and monitored in a systematic national way.

As I have noted, in some matters, and street racing is one such matter, there can be federal and provincial constitutional authority and each level of government may properly enact legislation. The provincial legislature has constitutional legislative authority to enact highway traffic and driver licensing legislation against street racing. Parliament may enact legislation against street racing under its constitutional authority for criminal law.

The complementary provincial and federal tools would provide a strong and effective response to the scourge of street racing on Canadian roads and street. I, therefore, compliment the efforts of local police forces in getting street racers off our streets on to closed race tracks. These efforts will no doubt contribute to public safety on Canadian roads and highways.

Safe streets and safe communities are a hallmark of life in Canada. The government is doing its part, through a number of important bills currently before Parliament, to ensure that this fact remains true. The government has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to work toward a safe and secure Canada. This Canada is one in which its citizens can walk the streets without fear of being struck by reckless street racers.

I conclusion, Bill C-19 is a targeted, measured and balanced response to the numerous tragic incidents of street racing occurring on our roads and highways. Although not in and of itself a panacea, this proposed reform will send a clear message that driving is a privilege and that street races are not acceptable. Bill C-19 would also ensure that those prosecuted for street racing would not be permitted to drive for a significant period of time.

I urge all hon. members to join me in support of Bill C-19 and to work together to put an end to this dangerous phenomena of street racing on Canadian roads and highways.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House share the minister's desire to make Canada's streets as safe as possible. However, many have indicated that branding or terming a new section of the code “street racing” is rather superfluous when, as the minister has indicated, multiple sections are already in the Criminal Code, dealing with dangerous driving, dangerous operation causing bodily harm, causing death, criminal negligence, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, causing death. There are already a number of sections within the Criminal Code that speak to this type of activity. We on this side are concerned about the deterrent aspect of the proposed legislation.

Are there any instances in which a judge has said, “The factual situation before me falls short of dangerous driving, falls short of criminal negligence and what a shame that there's nothing in the Criminal Code which talks about street racing?” Does such a situation exist? I would be pleased to be educated in that regard.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, in respect of the issue of why it is necessary to have a separate section dealing with and targeting specifically this issue, it is important to note that often law can also be an educational tool, a tool that specifically denounces certain types of conduct. For example, we can ask why do we have the hate laws that were passed after the second world war in Canada? There are adequate laws to deal with that issue in the Criminal Code, yet it was seen as important to specifically denounce that type of conduct.

This is a similar type of situation where given the frequency of this type of occurrence, there needs to be a specific section denouncing that type of conduct. The member's party in the last Parliament agreed with us and brought forward that type of legislation. In that respect I do not think there is anything different.

As for the comment whether there has been judge who has said that it is a pity there is not something less than dangerous driving, street racing, this is more than that. Dangerous driving and criminal negligence causing bodily harm will be included offences in the street racing offence. Therefore, street racing is a higher offence. The dangerous driving and criminal negligence will be a lesser included offence in that scheme, so the situation would not arise.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we recognize the importance of the problem raised by the government, but I have two questions.

First, would the minister comment on the fact that the bill seems to put judges in a peculiar situation of having to determine whether there has been an offence to define what racing is, but no leeway in determining the penalty that will come?

Second, has the government given any thought to providing more education and changing the advertising regulations around car sales in Canada? For example, there was a very strong educational program about impaired driving and changes in the advertising of the product had to occur. From all available research, this is the part that seems to have been most effective in addressing the problem of impaired driving.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the issue of not having a specific definition of street racing is not unique to this legislation that is presently the case in other provincial legislation. When I was prosecuting provincially under Manitoba's highway traffic act, I recall there being no definition at that time. The definition was based on common law. Judges often determine definitions on the basis of precedent or common law.

In fact, throughout the Criminal Code there are many situations where a judge will actually have to define what falls within the meaning of a particular term. Even a term like sexual assault is not as clear as it might seem to the member and I. If there is no specific definition, a judge has to determine what a sexual assault is as opposed to another type of assault.

I do not think there is anything unique here. This is the kind of discretion we allow judges to have on a regular basis and they can rely on past precedents in terms of defining what something means. I gave some suggestions in the course of my speech.

I think there was a second half to my colleague's question in respect to the educational issue and not allowing discretion in terms of sentencing for prohibition periods. Quite frankly, there are many sections in the Criminal Code that deal with periods of prohibition that are mandatory upon conviction. I just need to look at the impaired driving sections for example. There is no real definition of what constitutes impaired driving and yet precedent is used liberally to determine actual impaired driving.

The educational issue is a very important point. It is something that we as members might want to consider in another context. It is not in the context of this particular legislation, but I do not see anything stopping members from discussing this particular issue.

Education is certainly a very important component, but I want to stress that even with the area of impaired driving, as important as the educational component was, it was as a result of many provincial initiatives that resulted in automatic administrative licence suspensions roadside for periods of six months. The automatic seizure of motor vehicles led to a real downward spiral in impaired and suspended driving situations in many provinces.

To simply attribute it to education would not be accurate. Administrative procedures as opposed to criminal procedures that provinces took in the last decade have had a tremendous positive impact on the rate of impaired driving and suspended driving.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister bringing forth Bill C-19 and what he and his government are trying to accomplish here.

Clearly, this phenomenon is a problem in Canada. Street racing is a crime that can result in death or serious injury not just to the street racers themselves but as we have all seen tragically, to innocent bystanders. In my opinion, this bill would send a clear message to offenders and would-be offenders that street racing is a crime. Clearly, there is an educational component to it.

Does the minister believe that the bill would send that message? Would it be a deterrent to offenders if they knew there would be mandatory, tougher penalties and driver prohibitions? Does he believe this bill would help to reduce the number of street races? Would it reduce the carnage that street racing can cause? Would this bill be a deterrent?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do believe it will be a deterrent by sending out the specific message that street racing is against the law.

Not only would this be a deterrent in terms of this particular legislation, but it would dovetail very nicely with other provincial legislation. Members of my caucus from southern Ontario tell me that they receive complaints about this very regularly from constituents. Street racing is by far and away one of the most leading complaints made by constituents. In certain provinces, like Ontario, there are some provincial laws against the driver but also against the vehicle. It can be seized and destroyed.

This bill could complement existing provincial legislation and work very effectively.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of bills targeting street racing have been placed before this House over the past few years.

Most Canadians will remember the work of a former member of Parliament, the late Chuck Cadman, on the subject. Mr. Cadman, a respected and respectful parliamentarian, submitted private members' legislation three times. The former Liberal government also introduced Bill C-65 to amend the Criminal Code regarding street racing. Mr. Cadman's private member's bill and the proposed legislation of the former government died on the order paper when on November 29 last year the government fell.

Today we are talking about another variation on how we as a society will attempt to deal with this serious scourge on our streets, something that can and does end tragically for some individuals, both the participants and, even more tragically, the bystanders who are innocent.

Bill C-19, unlike both the prior government's Bill C-65 and Mr. Cadman's private member's Bill C-230, includes new street racing offences. Also differing from the former government's bill, Bill C-19 now includes a graduated increase in the length of the driving prohibitions for repeat offences.

In the first half of 2006 in Canada, 10 deaths can be attributed to street racing. More and more we have been alerted to the menace on our streets. Over the past year, street racing, with its deadly consequences, has affected communities across the country.

As many would realize, education is an important tool to help alert the public, especially younger Canadians, to the dangers of street racing. I do not believe that education of itself will be sufficient to effect the necessary change in this dangerous behaviour. I do believe, however, that education on this matter should continue to be used in schools and other media, such as movie theatre trailers, to counteract the increasing sensationalization of street racing now found in some video games and movies.

Not all street racing is a spontaneous event, though this is the type of thrill-seeking activity many would immediately think about when the words street racing are used. Some street races are spectator events, with people being alerted in advance and police lookouts. Therefore, I am not talking about the supervised venues where racers test vehicles on closed tracks. I would also say that it is not only young people who are engaged in street racing, although many of them are, unfortunately.

Bill C-19 and predecessor bills are attempts, using the Criminal Code, to further address the problem of street racing. Members may ask how this has been dealt with in the past. Obviously and unfortunately, street racing is not new. Most would understand that the provinces and territories are involved with their own legislation and statutes respecting the operation of motor vehicles and road safety, and some even have some street racing offences. However, the provincial legislation applies, for the most part, to the less serious offences.

This is in contrast to the federal Criminal Code's more serious offences of criminal negligence and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. These Criminal Code sections have been successfully used to charge and prosecute serious street racing offenders in the past throughout Canada and may in fact continue to be the most efficient choice for prosecutors.

In Bill C-19, proposed clause 1, street racing is defined similarly to the previous bills:

“street racing” means operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;--

Thus we see that two or more motor vehicles must be involved, not a lone vehicle speeding. Since motor vehicle is already defined in the Criminal Code, the definition in Bill C-19 would capture motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. If two or more of them were racing in public places, this would include, for instance, public lots, frozen public waterways, as well as streets, roads and highways that we normally would think about. Bill C-19 would create five new street racing offences which would all require the same fundamental elements in law: a criminal mind and a criminal act, mens rea, actus reus.

These are the same elements that are required to obtain convictions for the existing offences of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle. Both the previous Bill C-65 and Bill C-230 were more focused on street racing as an aggravating circumstance to be taken into account in sentencing by the judge after conviction.

The five new offences created in Bill C-19 would require the same constituent elements as do dangerous operation and criminal negligence, in addition to the new element of street racing.

In other words, the five offences will apply if the offence can first be categorized as criminal negligence or dangerous operation. To clarify for those who still have difficulty with this, the five new sections are new subsection 249.4(1), dangerous operation of motor vehicle while street racing; new subsection 249.4(3), dangerous operation causing bodily harm; new subsection 249.4(4), dangerous operation causing death; new subsection 249.3, causing bodily harm by criminal negligence (street racing); and new subsection 249.2, causing death by criminal negligence (street racing).

Thus, one can easily see that we have a referencing of a new element to existing Criminal Code sections. Is this really a serious attempt to underscore the denouncement of street racing, as the Minister of Justice has just suggested, or is it, as some critics have stated, merely something to show that we are serious, the denunciation just by the statement?

Note that the offences that are needed are already in the Criminal Code. How difficult will it be to prosecute the new element of street racing on top of the two elements already required? Therefore, will it be used more to obtain conviction or be used to plea bargain on the included offences? Will the charges still be laid under the old offences despite the options now provided in this new bill, if passed?

These are important questions and some critics have gone so far as to say that this is a totally unnecessary or window dressing bill. However, I do think that the subject area is one that all Canadians are concerned about and the previous government was also acting in this area. I do not think that anyone believes street racing is a good idea, rather it is dangerous and a menace to public health and public safety. There is an appetite in the land to address the problem and stem the occurrences.

I should also address the other elements that this bill has added to the debate. Bill C-19 adds, where street racing is proven, the mandatory driving prohibition minimum of one year whether or not bodily harm has been caused and where it was discretionary in all charges before.

The bill does propose higher maximum terms of imprisonment in three of the five street racing offences. The bill does not make any minimum terms of imprisonment. Currently, we know that conditional sentences have been utilized under section 742.1 of the Criminal Code. Judges are permitted and in fact encouraged to utilize, under the sentencing principles of the Criminal Code, less restrictive punishments than incarceration where other factors are not in play.

Case law has developed across Canada on point, going both ways I might add. I raise this because we are currently having a conditional sentencing bill which is now before the justice committee. If enacted as is, it would impact on Bill C-19 if it were passed as is. Essentially, there would be a consequential effect if the higher maximum penalties were passed in this Bill C-19, with the exception of dangerous driving not causing bodily harm or death. Unfortunately, mid-process this is speculative, but I do flag the potential now, as has the Minister of Justice.

It is not entirely clear the intention or message to the courts of how Bill C-19 has been set out. On a scale of seriousness, criminal negligence is considered higher than dangerous operation. The difference between the offences is the degree of carelessness or recklessness in the offence. This is one area that needs to be properly examined if this bill ends up in committee after a vote in this House, which I believe will end up happening.

Bill C-19 puts street racing that constitutes dangerous operation and street racing that constitutes criminal negligence on the same footing. Fine tuning is required here, as has been pointed out by some others. When we try to limit judicial discretion, as would appear to be the pattern of this new Conservative minority government, it creates other, perhaps wholly unintended, consequences. Many authorities, some would say, consider criminal negligence more serious than dangerous driving and we will look at this.

Bill C-19 also holds that when a person is convicted of street racing, the judge would prohibit the offender from driving. This is a mandatory order for a specific period of time. Also different from previous bills and the current Criminal Code is the introduction of a minimum period of one year in the case of each of the five street racing offences. This is driving prohibition.

Under Bill C-19, the maximum and minimum for driving prohibition orders would increase each time a subsequent street racing offence is committed.

Bill C-19 would provide a prohibition of driving orders of the same length or longer than periods now in the Criminal Code of Canada. Further, new subclause 259(3.4) proposes the creation of a mandatory life prohibition on driving. This would apply when the offender has two or more convictions of street racing where someone was injured or killed and one of the street races resulted in a death.

I should note that the driving prohibition order will come after the period of imprisonment. I should also note that the maximum and minimum for driving prohibition orders increase in a very similar fashion as the rules governing driving prohibition orders in cases of drinking and driving.

There is a lot to digest in the details of this bill. This is the initial stage of discussion. It is not the place for any of us to come to firm conclusions. There is obviously agreement that street racing needs to be dealt with by Parliament. The fact that there have been two different governments and continued private members' bills, underscores this to all of us.

Always it is a question of degree. Is one approach better or more practical than another? Can the officers on the ground, the judiciary and the system of justice be given better or more flexible laws for Parliament to utilize? Do some of the clauses in Bill C-19 go too far? What is most important is will this help with community safety? Those are the questions that need to be answered.

We should also examine whether there are some situations that are captured that were not intended. I have already heard from the Canadian Association of Rallysport with suggested amendments since it is concerned that this will negatively impact on its sport activity held across the country.

What about when roads are closed for major professional racing events which normally occur annually in cities like Toronto and Montreal? Would we need to consider specific exemptions or exceptions or do we rely on the charging officer's discretion and judgment, as has been done in the past? Do we really intend to capture racing snowmobiles not close together traversing a frozen lake, for example?

I would like to listen to the comments of other parliamentarians in the House. I believe we come here to do positive work for our electors. We can do the measured work required of us in a respectful manner I would hope.

I am personally inclined to send the bill to committee for further discussion but wish to hear from my colleagues. It is a bill that is not perfect and has some issues that need to be addressed. Not all of the provisions will help the situation and may in fact cause some confusion. The stages for amendments in this House and in the other House are available to us to clear up any of these ambiguities, whether they are real or just misunderstood. Also, we will have the benefit of our witnesses and, hopefully, some experts.

I know from the short briefings I have received from others that there was no wide consultation on the bill. I asked if there were formal studies but was told by officials that none had been done. I am also aware that on January 25, 2005, at the federal, provincial and territorial meetings of all justice ministers, they had agreed to study the matter of Criminal Code amendments affecting the theft of motor vehicles, as well as penalties for those who steal vehicles and drive recklessly.

Bill C-19 is before us now with a limited priority area of street racing and does not address these other issues. However, it is important that we all do our job, as I know we will, and I look forward to working on this bill with my colleagues.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-19. As we have already heard in this House, this bill addresses a marginal yet important phenomenon, namely, street racing on public roads, streets and highways. This problem is very worrisome. According to statistics provided by the Library of Parliament, since 1999, 35 people in the greater Toronto area have died as a result of this practice.

Furthermore, in the course of this year, which is drawing to a close, there have already been approximately ten people who have unfortunately lost their lives because of this practice. I do not know what drives people to engage in street racing. Are they seeking thrills? Are betting, material gain or jackpots involved?

The government certainly has reason to be concerned. I have been a member in this House since 1993 and I remember very well the work of the hon. member from British Columbia who, sadly, has since passed away. That member introduced a bill in this House on three separate occasions. I understand that he became aware of this issue as the result of a tragedy in his own life, since he lost his own son in an incident involving street racing. I am referring of course to our late colleague, Mr. Cadman.

The Bloc Québécois therefore supports this bill's referral to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Of course, it still needs some work, but we agree with the principle that the Criminal Code should be amended to add a distinct offence to punish those who engage in street racing, especially in urban areas. This bill is somewhat different from the bill introduced by the previous government, since the previous bill proposed the use of all provisions in the Criminal Code concerning dangerous driving or criminal negligence to make street racing an aggravating factor.

With respect to the principles of sentencing set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code, there are aggravating factors in cases where, for example, someone commits a crime, infraction or assault by intentionally beating someone up because of their sexual orientation. If we interpret section 718 of the Criminal Code correctly, a judge would have to take this principle into account when sentencing.

According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the principle of proportionality must apply in all cases. Clearly, a person who commits a horrific, violent crime that causes death cannot receive the same punishment as a 15-year-old who steals something for the first time. Clearly, the principle of proportionality is central to section 718 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Speaker, you practised criminal law, so you must be familiar with these concepts.

The Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill before us should be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This bill does not take aggravating factors into account. The bill focuses on five infractions that already exist, redefining them and assigning specific penalties when they are committed in a street racing context. I would like to list these infractions to ensure we all understand. Bill C-19 says that dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm, as set out in section 249.4 of the Criminal Code, when in a street racing context, must be subject to a specific charge.

A second new offence is created. Dangerous driving causing bodily harm—when someone injures someone or the car hits another car and causes injury—which is covered by subsection 249.4(3) of the Criminal Code, will give rise to a separate charge when street racing is involved.

There is a third offence. The punishment for dangerous driving causing death, which is obviously more serious, will be much more severe and can go up to life in prison. This is the third separate offence created in connection with street racing.

The fourth new offence that is created is criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which is covered by section 249.3 of the Criminal Code. When street racing is involved, this offence would give rise to a separate charge.

The fifth offence is criminal negligence causing death. This is not dangerous driving causing death, but criminal negligence causing death. It is the fifth new offence. It is already covered by section 249 of the Criminal Code and will give rise to a separate charge.

As an aside, hon. members know how prolific this government is when it comes to creating new offences. This government clearly wants to address a number of social problems by creating criminal law. But we must always ask ourselves whether a given problem warrants creating new offences.

In some cases, obviously, we do not agree with this approach. Penalties and sentences already exist. For example, I am very concerned about Bill C-9, which amends section 742 of the Criminal Code. This section was created in 1996, when Canada's current ambassador to the United Nations, Allan Rock, decided that the judiciary would have the option of a new alternate sentence, which was the possibility of serving a sentence in the community, at home. However, very specific conditions that we are all aware of applied to sentences under two years and cases where there were no minimum sentences. Clearly, the judge had to be convinced that the person serving the sentence did not pose a threat to the community.

The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel knows that this is one case where it is certainly not helpful to take this tool away from the judiciary.

In the case before us, the Bloc Québécois is prepared to engage, in committee, in the serious exercise of considering whether it is appropriate to add specific provisions to the Criminal Code to put an end to the practice of using the public roadways for racing, which, marginal though it is, can have tragic consequences.

I am going to speak a little about the options that will be available to the courts when they sentence people convicted of street racing. Obviously, the entire question of sentencing is a sensitive issue in criminal law. We must know that there are very entrenched schools of thought: the “retributionists” and the “utilitarians”. Some people say that sentences have exemplary value, that they have deterrent powers, and accordingly that the more severe the sentences, the less people are likely to engage in that type of offence. Obviously, that reasoning is not immune to criticism, because it starts from the premise that individuals, ordinary mortals, are familiar with the Criminal Code and therefore with the type of offence and the type of sentence associated with it.

Obviously, we might doubt that this is so.

Some people say that sentences have very limited deterrent powers. It is not so much the sentence that matters, it is the efficacy of the sanction, because people will be arrested by the police and locked up, put in prison. Regardless of what school of thought one belongs to when it comes to sentencing, BillC-19 proposes the following sentences.

Speaking still of street racing, no minimum sentence is provided for dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm or death—simple dangerous driving—but there is a maximum sentence of five years. When dangerous driving causes bodily harm, the maximum sentence is 14 years.

It is interesting to compare this with the previous bill. This is not a pointless exercise. When the Liberals were in power and Bill C-65 was introduced in this House, for the same offence, the Liberals proposed that there be a maximum prison term of 10 years. The Conservatives had—let us admit it—a more right-wing vision, one that took a more law and order approach, and they wanted the maximum to be 14 years.

When it comes to dangerous driving causing death—an extremely serious offence—nothing more needs to be said about the maximum sentence, which is life in prison. The judge can decide to impose a lesser sentence.

For criminal negligence causing bodily harm, the bill provides for a term of 14 years in prison, while in Bill C-65 the Liberals provided for a term of 10 years.

For criminal negligence causing death—also an offence that is of great concern—the proposal is for life imprisonment.

There are two approaches. The current bill proposes that a specific offence with specific penalties be established. The Liberals had proposed that it be treated as an aggravating circumstance, as per section 778, which must serve as a reference when considering the issue of sentencing. It is never easy in a society to know how to handle these cases. In fact, at the end of their mandate, Brian Mulroney's Conservatives—and this will be a pleasant or unpleasant memory depending on the allegiance—had established a commission of inquiry on sentencing, headed by Mr. Justice Archambault, which had dissected the issue of sentencing. The commission recommended that there be no minimum sentences. Since then, minimum sentences have been introduced for all offences pertaining to impaired driving; there are about forty. Minimum sentences have been added to all pornography offences and offences of a sexual nature.

Another clause of the bill deals with a mandatory order prohibiting individuals found guilty of street racing from operating a motor vehicle. At present, drivers' licences can be suspended. In some cases, the judge does not have the option of suspending the driver's licence of the accused before him. I am thinking of all those cases where an individual is found guilty of having the care of a vehicle or driving while impaired.

In other instances, power was more discretionary. The judge could, according to his or her discretion, order that a driver's licence be revoked for a minimum of one year, for a first offence in particular, for reckless driving causing bodily harm.

In Bill C-19 before us, it would be mandatory to revoke the driver's licence.

I can appreciate the logic, since having a driver's licence is not a constitutional right; it is a privilege. It is only natural for the legislator to provide that a driver's licence holder must exercise the privilege of using a car on the highway with extreme caution, vigilance and prudence.

It will also be possible to revoke driver's licences when people are fined for street racing and judges will be able to give a ruling.

And with every additional crime, the harsher the punishment. I will give you some specific examples. For reckless driving without bodily harm or death the judge can give a ruling at his or her discretion, as I was saying. The government would like to withdraw this discretionary power from the judge. For a first offence, it will be impossible to get a driver's licence for a year; for a second offence the suspension will last at least two years; and a third offence will result in a minimum suspension of three years. Maximums are also added to that.

We understand the logic. I am sure my colleagues understand it. We can agree with this, knowing that it is a matter of context and that judges will have to weigh the evidence accordingly.

For reckless driving causing bodily harm, again the judge will no longer have discretionary power. This discretion is being cut back. Let us be frank, the Conservatives have been using every power at their disposal in every bill presented so far to challenge this prerogative.

Are you indicating that I have one minute left or two, Mr. Speaker?