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House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have one very simple question. Bill C-16 purports to be a bill about fixed elections and purports to provide the security that in the future there will be elections every fourth year in the month of October, starting in October 2009, and that the only time there would be a “pre-election” would be if the government lost confidence.

So on the one hand, in saying that, the party sitting opposite me, the government, the Conservative Party that forms the government, is admitting in fact that it is not quite fixed election dates, because the Prime Minister can go to the Governor General at any point and recommend that the Governor General dissolve Parliament. The Governor General has full authority to dissolve the government at her discretion.

My question, then, is this. Given that, and it is a fact, would the hon. member be in favour of amendments to Bill C-16 that would clearly describe on what kinds of votes of confidence a prime minister would be able to go to the Governor General and recommend premature dissolution of Parliament and limit those occasions?

Would the member opposite be in favour of such an amendment? It would state, for instance, that only votes of confidence on a budget would provide justification for a prime minister to go before the Governor General and ask for a premature dissolution of Parliament under Bill C-16? Would the member opposite be in favour of that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, to correct my hon. colleague's preamble when she said that the bill purports to be a bill about fixed elections, I would not want Canadians to think that we were fixing elections. I think that was a direct quote of what she said. We are talking about fixed election dates, not fixed elections as the Liberal member opposite stated. Perhaps that is something she would like to work on, fixing elections, but it is certainly nothing that the Conservative Party of Canada would support.

To the serious part of her question about defining what constitutes confidence, earlier today in kicking off this debate on Bill C-16 my colleague the hon. government House leader talked quite extensively about the problems inherent in trying to put a fence around the definition of confidence.

There are traditional confidence measures in the House of Commons. The hon. member quite correctly stated that the budget is one that over a period of years has been deemed to be a confidence measure in a government, whether it is a majority or a minority government. It would also include any bills dealing with taxation or money bills, whether they are ways and means motions or main estimates. Those types of bills are generally accepted as being confidence or if the government was defeated on them, a vote of non-confidence in the government and the government would fall.

Over and above that I would suggest to the hon. member that it would be very problematic for us to clearly define what constitutes confidence and what does not. My colleague the government House leader gave an example earlier today. What if there was a motion before Parliament of such importance and he used the example of Canada going to war. It is my belief we are in a war right now. But if there were a motion before the House, would the government not want that motion to be a motion of confidence, something so important where we would be sending young Canadians into harm's way? That would be a motion of confidence because if the government were purporting to participate as a nation in a war somewhere, it would only be right that if the government lost that vote that the government would fall.

There are things over and above money bills which the member mentioned that have to be confidence measures. We are going to deal with one tomorrow, the ways and means motion on the softwood lumber agreement. I agree it should be a confidence measure because it is of such importance to our nation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important piece of legislation. I want to thank the member for Prince George—Peace River for giving me the opportunity to do so by sharing his time with me.

On May 30, 2006 the hon. member for Niagara Falls introduced in the House of Commons Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, providing for fixed election dates every four years. I know how hard the member for Niagara Falls works as he is in the riding next to mine and how much his constituents appreciate and realize the hard work he does in his riding and the Niagara region.

The establishment of fixed elections is another key campaign commitment the Conservatives made. It is an important step in improving and modernizing Canada's democratic institution and practices. This bill is another step toward restoring Canadians' faith in the political process. First, we are making the timing of elections fair and more transparent; second, we are fixing election dates in October, which will maximize voter turnout; and third, the Canadian taxpayer will save money in two respects.

Currently, Elections Canada must maintain a high state of readiness at all times because there is always the potential for either a motion of confidence or a government to fall. Elections Canada never knows when that will be and basically that costs taxpayers money.

Second, it will prevent governments from calling unnecessary elections and wasting taxpayer dollars for their own political ends. It is tough to accept for the party opposite that called two early elections when it was in power, but that is the fact.

I would like to outline where we have come from as a country and the direction that we are now headed. From an historical perspective, our Constitution does not contain many provisions regarding elections. It is limited to section 50 of the Constitution Act, which in 1867 stated:

Every House of Commons shall continue for Five Years from the Day of the Return of the Writs for choosing the House...and no longer.

Section 4(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was preceded by the Bill of Rights introduced by Prime Minister Diefenbaker, provides as follows:

No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years--

It also states:

--a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons...as the case may be.

A five year constitutional limit of the life of Parliament has only been exceeded once since Confederation, and that was in 1916. This bill provides for what we have all been talking about, and that is fairness. It removes the advantage that the government possesses in being able to decide and determine the date for an election. Currently, the Prime Minister is able to select a date for a general election. This allows for a governing party to potentially manipulate the timing of a general election for its own advantage.

This bill would create a level playing field for all participants in the electoral process by removing two things: uncertainty and the perceived bias to the governing party. The fairness part of this bill also allows people who are considering running or working on a campaign to get prepared.

As I indicated, elections are expensive and according to Elections Canada the 2004 general election cost taxpayers $277 million. It was an election that was called early.

There are so many examples of where fixed election dates are already in place. Municipalities across this country and provinces including British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario have legislated fixed election dates, and other provincial governments have indicated that they are considering recommendations for similar legislation. Even Premier McGuinty in Ontario, who not only endorses the softwood lumber deal, endorses fixed elections. He stated, “And that’s why today we’re embracing the change that is central to our democracy by introducing legislation to fix the dates of elections in Ontario”. That should be no different than here in our country.

This morning I spoke to a constituent of mine, Mr. Mel Chivers, who told me that it was time to straighten out these federal elections and help move the democratic process in this country forward. I agree with Mr. Chivers. It is time that the bill be moved forward and that we take that step forward to real democratic reform.

Canadians went to the polls in 2004 before learning all the details of the sponsorship scandal because it was better for the former government to do that. It was not better for Canadians. Canadians wanted to wait but that did not matter; however, it should have.

Bill C-16 will ensure that election timing serves the needs of Canadians and not politicians. It just makes sense.

For all those reasons I believe that fixed election dates are a change whose time has come. Fixed election dates show that the government is focused on a higher degree of accountability and governments are best held to account when people can vote them in or in some cases vote them out.

I did a little research in history and referred back to the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada which deliberated from 1970 to 1972. Interestingly enough the members travelled all over the country and found at that time, over 35 years ago, that it was indeed also a topic and suggested nine times over that the potential for fixed election dates should be in fact sought.

I smiled a little. When I think about 1970 to 1972, those discussions and those debates would have happened in smoked filled rooms not just the back rooms. During that time in every building, whether it was public or private, everyone could smoke if they wanted to in those rooms. Since that time municipal governments, provincial governments and indeed the federal government determined that the health of Canadians with respect to the issue of smoking was important enough to change.

Thirty-five years later democracy is also important to the health of Canadians. That democracy needs to be changed and needs to move forward. It can always get better. Sometimes it steps back in the opinion of Canadians and gets a little worse, but then we need to take two steps forward.

Bill C-16 takes two steps forward and says to the people of this country that indeed it is about accountability, indeed it is about election reform, and indeed it is about taking action in the House of Commons.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, we definitely cannot oppose virtue. It is very clear that holding elections on a set date, every four years, is an excellent and marvellous idea. We have been told about all the other countries with such a system. However, at present, is it realistic to think about having elections every four years when election results in Canada—and I might add throughout the world—are closer and closer and result more often than not in minority governments?

I would like to know if the honourable member who just spoke truly believes that, in a minority government situation, we could have elections every four years. How would he do that? If the government lasts three and a half years, two and a half years or one and a half years, would we go as long as four and a half years and change months? If elections are always held in October, then that means we will have elections in three and a half years or in four and a half years. I would like some clarification on this because I do not believe we will be able to have elections on set dates.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member has made an important point. We have had in the history of our country a number of minority governments. I believe the average length of those minority governments has been 18 months.

Throughout the history of our country and Parliament we have never had fixed election dates. Therefore, to suggest that a minority government could not last four years is a bit premature. I think it is possible with the understanding that we would need to work together, as all parties in the House should do with a minority government. It would take that effort.

I would also point out that even with a majority government and no fixed election dates, we have not always lived true to that four year timeframe. In fact, the last two majority governments have not lasted throughout the four year period of time.

I think we could suggest on the one hand, with a minority government, that we need to work together obviously to reach that point. As my colleague mentioned earlier, there is rationale built in upon us as to why a motion of confidence may come forward, but I would not like to rule out the fact that a minority government could work within the process of a four year mandate.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member and some other hon. members who have spoken about the issues and the importance of fixed elections. This is a very important principle that I certainly support in terms of the cost savings effect and the importance of a day in October that would actually allow more people to vote because students are in school.

Although I support the legislation and the concept of fixed election dates, I am concerned about the fact that the Prime Minister has stated constantly in the House and before the public his willingness to have an election at any moment on any given issue. The Prime Minister seems to be almost going against the spirit of the legislation. I do not want to use the word bullying but he seems to be constantly threatening the House with an election. That goes against all the arguments we have been making in this House about cost savings and about making sure that an election is held at the right time of the year so all people can participate and not just students who are at school.

I would like to have a comment from my hon. colleague on how he feels the Prime Minister has been acting toward the legislation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would extend my compliments to my colleague for his support of the legislation. He has done a very good job in the time that he has had to explain that the legislation is necessary and that it is something he supports. I think that suggests in a minority government that good legislation will be supported and should be supported by any member of the House.

In terms of responding to his question with respect to the Prime Minister's position, the Prime Minister has stated over and over again that he has no intentions of having this government brought down for any reason whatsoever. What he has indicated, if the opposition is prepared in a motion of confidence to not support the government, that he is prepared to call an election and go to the voters of this country again. However, let us be clear that his mission and our mission as a government has been stated very clearly and directly: We are here to govern, not to bring governments down. We are here to build governments up.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act. The bill would institute fixed election dates for Canadians. This is an item that has interested me for a long time and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the bill with the House.

However, before I do that, I hope I will be allowed to mention a couple of other activities that I have been involved in that are worth sharing with the House.

First, I want to acknowledge my constituents in the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. I attended a number of events during the summer in every corner of the riding and it is always a pleasure to meet and talk with my constituents.

On October 11 in Oak Ridges—Markham, Public Works and Government Services Canada will be giving a seminar presentation on how to do business with the Government of Canada. This seminar presentation--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I beg to ask the hon. member to take relevance into account. We are talking about Bill C-16 which is about fixed election dates not about seminars on how to work with the Government of Canada in the hon. member's constituency. When he asked me for permission at the outset I did not know what he was talking about, but in my opinion he is clearly not speaking to the bill and I would ask you to do so.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will move on to the business at hand which is the second reading of Bill C-16.

I support the idea of fixed election dates but I am not happy with the way the government has gone about bringing in the legislation and certain parts of it concern me.

I am confident that with further study and amendments at committee fixed election dates can be achieved in a fashion that is sound and well thought out. After all, no reform should ever be taken lightly, especially when our system of government has worked so hard and well, all things considered, since before 1867.

The Westminster system of government that we inherited from the United Kingdom dates back hundreds of years. It is a remarkable system of government in that it has adapted itself to changing times. This system has also adapted itself to a number of countries, such as Singapore, Malta, India and Jamaica. We have a strong system of government that is innovative and flexible. Fixed election dates are yet another reform that is coming along and that, if implemented correctly, can only serve to make our system stronger.

I will speak to why I support the idea of fixed election dates and then I will raise my concerns with the government's course of action on this file.

Canadian history was made on May 17, 2005, when British Columbia had the first election date set in law.

In December 2005, the McGuinty government in Ontario passed a bill that set fixed election dates for Ontario. This means that the next election in Ontario will be on October 4, my birthday, 2007, and subsequent elections will be held on the first Thursday of October every four years.

Other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, have considered fixed dates as well.

This is not a novel move at all. We tend to take fixed election dates at the municipal level for granted. Why should things be any different at the provincial or federal level? There has been a movement toward reforming assemblies that use the Westminster system of government.

When the British Parliament created new assemblies in Scotland and Wales in 1998, the acts proclaimed that elections were to take place on the first Thursday in May every four years.

In 2005, the New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark, voiced support for fixed election dates in that country. It is time that we consider such a move here in Canada.

On balance, the fairness and administrative efficiency of fixed elections outweighs the added cost due to potentially longer campaigns. With the financing laws and third party advertisement laws we have in Canada, the nightmare scenario of a four year election campaign should be avoided.

Fixed election dates can actually be more efficient in that since everyone knows when the election is coming there may be more cooperation to get bills passed in Parliament. Bills that enjoy the support of most parties in the House may be prioritized and there may be agreement to extend sitting hours to get bills of common interest passed. I think here of the animal cruelty legislation that has been constantly removed from the order papers for the past few Parliaments.

There have been examples in Canadian history when everyone thought there would be an election but one turned out not to be called at all. Party workers prepared signs, pamphlets and databases and then all of a sudden there was no election.

This would be a waste of resources in that all the campaign material would need to be updated at a later date. There has to be a leaner, more efficient way.

Moreover, the duration of the formal campaign could be shortened under the fixed election date system since the work of the electoral office could begin before the election was called. This could save money and result in better planning all around. Similarly, unnecessary byelections could be avoided.

There have been examples in Canadian politics where election campaigns have been underway when a writ was dropped for a national election. Also, there have been examples of byelections held just before the writ was dropped for a national vote. In both cases there was an inefficient use of resources, both financial and human. This sort of waste and inefficiency could be avoided if the date of the national election were known and a determination could be made on whether a byelection is necessary or it could wait until the national election.

There are examples in Canadian history of premiers and prime ministers trying to avoid the electorate by waiting five years before having an election called. The playing field must be level so all may participate fairly.

Another reason to consider a fixed election date is for convenience. I do not think anyone in the House wants to go through another winter campaign any time soon. With the fixed date, everyone is on the same page and, with an election date fixed at a convenient time of the year, headaches could be avoided.

While there were no serious glitches in the 2006 election other than the outcome, this does not mean that a winter date does not cause headaches and inconveniences for senior citizens, those with disabilities and the snowbirds.

A number of my constituents, both men and women, have raised concerns about the lack of representation of women in the House of Commons. In January's election, only 64 women were elected, which is actually one fewer than in the 2004 election. A number of ways exist to address this but one way is to ensure adequate child care spaces so that women are more able to pursue a career in a field such as politics. We all know the government's record on child care. Its child care initiative has proven to be a poorly thought out plan but I will discuss that a bit more in a few minutes.

Another way to improve the representation of women in the House might be through fixed election dates. If women were able to know ahead of time the date of the election they could better prepare, plan and make all necessary arrangements. It is certainly something worth considering. The same approach might also encourage more ethnic minorities and new Canadians to run for Parliament.

I have spent the last few minutes discussing why I support fixed election dates. As a result, I support sending the bill to committee where members will be able to analyze it, debate and discuss it.

The bill could be improved in a number of areas so that it could truly accomplish fixed election dates. First, I cannot help but think that the bill was introduced in a hasty and rushed fashion. We have Bill C-16 before us but the Prime Minister also has proposals for Senate reform.

The Prime Minister should know that the functioning of Canada's Parliament has not changed much since 1867.

Reform in this country can be slow and rather than take this sloppy, misguided and unfocused approach to parliamentary reform, he should better focus his proposals. I support reform. Fixed election dates is an example, but only if it is carried out in a responsible manner. This ensures that the reforms can be well implemented and bring forth results.

Bill C-16 was introduced on May 30, less than two months after the opening of Parliament. I wish the government would have truly considered fixed election dates, then we might have a better bill than we have here today.

In the bill, the prime minister still retains the ability to advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at any time he believes he has lost the confidence of the House. This is understandable if the vote he has lost is a true confidence one, but what if the bill is only one that the government deemed to be a vote of confidence? This sort of confidence out of convenience could defeat fears of fixed election. I am apprehensive that an over-zealous prime minister could purposefully lose a vote; deem it one of confidence, even if it is not, and then have an election called. This is one example of how the bill was introduced in a sloppy fashion.

I am confident that with the hard work of the official opposition, the bill can be made into a good one that will serve the purpose and bring Canadians fixed election dates. However, the way the government has proceeded with the bill is indicative of how it has handled most of its files since taking office.

The government has boasted that it has worked hard on a handful of priorities, but in reality it has only left a trail of disillusionment and deception. The GST cut is a prime example. It came into effect as promised on July 1, but Canadians also noticed an increase in their income tax as of that date. The government gave with one hand and took even more with the other, especially for low and middle income Canadians. Cuts to sales taxes are not the best kinds of tax cuts to introduce as they do nothing to encourage people to enter the workforce or to invest more money from their paycheques. The GST cut only benefited wealthy Canadians to spend more money on consumer goods.

Of course, child care, as I mentioned before, is a file that the government has not handled well at all. It is with great glee that the Prime Minister cancelled signed child care agreements. The Conservatives have eliminated the national child care program and distributed monetary gifts. In so doing, it fails to build more social policies that will benefit Canadians for generations to come. Moreover, the payment to parents is taxable, so families are not even receiving the full amount they were promised. Again, bad policy was carried out in a hasty and sloppy fashion.

What about the health care guarantee? Where is that? How does the Prime Minister plan to accomplish his wait times guarantee? How will he improve health care for Canadians? Unfortunately, the government has once against introduced government policy on the fly, out of pure politics.

Bill C-16 is yet another hastily drawn piece of legislation. I support fixed election dates, but it needs to be worked at in committee to truly bring democratic change to this institution and to help us realize fixed election dates.

Some of the members across have mentioned that I had a different speech. Yes, I wanted to speak about my riding a bit more and talk about Oak Ridges—Markham, what we are doing there and what I am hearing from people on fixed election dates.

This was not something that was drawn up by the Conservative Party. This legislation has been in front of us a number of times in the House in private members' bills. I was also thinking of putting a bill forward at the beginning of the year, but I had other priorities in my riding such as rural mail delivery, which was ceased by the current government.

When I spoke with my constituents about a fixed date for elections, I was torn between the two bills. My constituents convinced me that rural mail delivery was more important. Since the current Prime Minister had put this forth as a private members' bill in the previous Parliament, I knew that it would come up one way or another. I wanted to ensure that I commented on that in my speech.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Conservative Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member across the way as he gave his speech and made his comments. Certainly, I am not surprised that he is supporting the bill that has been put forward in the House. This is a good bill and it is part of our strategy as a new government to fix some of the wrongs of the past. I look forward to more progressive legislation coming forward in the House.

I want to ask the member a question in relation to fixed election dates. The member talked about different issues in his constituency and the concerns he had. When the member talks with his constituents, does he feel that they would like to see fixed election dates and this legislation passed? What feedback is the member receiving from his constituents?

When I talk with my constituents, they want to see fixed election dates. Many of them think that having five elections in seven years is a waste of taxpayer dollars. People look at this as playing games.

What feedback is the member getting from his own riding? Is that the type of feedback he is getting? Is that why he is here today supporting the bill and hoping to see the bill pass in the House?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken with my constituents and most of them want fixed term election dates.

The problem arises that there are many issues that could stop that. For example, I have been here two years and we have had two elections. Most of my constituents do not want to spend a billion dollars of Canadians' hard earned dollars within three years for elections that produce an ineffective minority such as that.

They are looking for a long term election date. When we talk about a fixed date, my comments were that we want to send the bill to committee to ensure that we have an opportunity and the government has an opportunity to have the good work of the opposition to improve the bill that has been put forth.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Oak Ridges—Markham for a tremendously passionate speech. I wanted to hear more about what was upcoming in Oak Ridges—Markham and I might catch him in the lobby and find out about that event in October.

On this issue I agree with him. I am a fan of fixed election dates for many reasons. We all recall when we first get elected, when we first run for office. It is hard, particularly for people in business who do not know when the next election will be, to plan our life and our family's life around an election. Being a nominated candidate is not always easy. It is easier as a Liberal than as a Conservative, I suspect, but it is not always easy identifying one's colours in advance and it is hard planning.

The bill closes the gap between the incumbents and the challengers. I like it for that reason. In general it is democratic, but I do have a concern that has been expressed before that the bill has to be amended so we know what confidence means. If we have elections every four years because we believe that they should be, then what determines confidence? What matters determine confidence? Is it a money bill, a budget bill? Who determines what confidence is?

Could my colleague give us his thoughts about that. Would it make it a better bill if we knew exactly what would trigger an election from the government's point of view? A clear vote of confidence on a budget we understand. What other issues should be considered matters of confidence?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, October 4 is a good day to have an election date. That is my birthday and I do not mind taking the day off to cast my ballot.

In terms of my hon. colleague's question, I believe that if there is a vote of confidence, it should not be hastily taken in the House at any time at the whim of the prime minister whether it be the current Prime Minister or any prime minister in the upcoming years, hopefully soon.

I consider budget bills as a vote of confidence as well as money bills, but there is more. When the prime minister goes to the Governor General and asks her to dissolve Parliament, it leaves a lot more than just us voting here and having the government overturned or not giving it the vote of confidence. We need to pay particular attention to that and defining it in committee. In all sincerity we need to have the wisdom of the opposition to make the bill a great one.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have three quick comments related to the month of October. In my riding we have fixed municipal elections in October and I know the objective of the bill is not to overlap, so I want to have that on the record.

Also, if it is the first week in October and go back to the beginning of the election, that would take away Labour Day. Summer is short enough in my riding and I do not want to lose another holiday. People would not want to lose the Labour Day holiday.

Finally, because summer is so important in our ridings, having the date in October at least does not take away the rest of the summer. Maybe the member could talk about some of the important things that happened in his riding this summer.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my riding we were working on rural mail delivery with Canada Post. Canadian business owners in my riding are interested in finding out how to do with business with the Canadian government. I have asked Public Works and Government Services to hold a seminar in my riding. We are trying to work with businesses interested in emerging economies. However, in terms of October, in some parts of the country October is a--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The time for orders of the day has expired, but I congratulate the hon. member for working as a team with his members to try to do indirectly what I asked him not to do directly.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The EnvironmentAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this evening, we are revisiting a question from June of this year that still remains unanswered by the Minister of the Environment, although of utmost importance, regarding the relationship between this government and the provinces that believe in the Kyoto protocol and that are prepared to make an effort to reach its targets.

Let me briefly remind the House of the facts. Thanks to an access to information request, we learned that no one at the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council or the office of the Minister of the Environment had communicated in writing with the Quebec government regarding the implementation of Kyoto. However, on May 2, 2006, the Minister of the Environment stated right here, and I quote:

The provinces will be very much a part of our made in Canada solution; Canadians will come first, and Quebec is a part of that plan.

With that statement, the minister misled this House on June 15, 2006, because she never officially communicated in writing with the Quebec government on this issue. We have the proof.

Furthermore, the very day that I questioned the minister, the Quebec government tabled its own plan to reach the Kyoto targets. That plan, I would point out, was very well received by various environmental groups. While Quebec was taking responsibility to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, this government did nothing and led the public to believe that the provinces were going to be part of its plan.

What is even more alarming is that the minister does not seem to take this seriously. Instead of explaining to the public the reasons for her inaction, she chose to say that all this was nothing but blah blah blah. As if Canadians did not have the right to know. As if, to her, relations with the Government of Quebec on the issue of the Kyoto protocol were not important. Is it because Quebeckers believe in the Kyoto protocol and its objectives that the minister decided to ignore them? This type of response from the minister is disrespectful to the House of Commons and especially to Quebeckers. This attitude is not worthy of a minister of the Crown, because a serious question deserves a serious answer. Since we have a bit more time today than in question period, I hope the government's response will be more substantive than the minister's response was in June.

I will repeat my questions: why did the minister mislead this House by saying that Quebec was part of her plan when we have written proof that this was not the case at the time? Furthermore, how could this government say that the provinces would be directly involved in their so-called “made in Canada” solution when they were not even consulted in the process?

You cannot just start listening and working with the provinces when there is a dip in the polls, which is currently the case for Conservatives in Quebec. The environment and the future of our children demand a lot more respect.

The EnvironmentAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, clearly the hon. member is not aware of the extent of discussions this government is having with the provinces and territories on initiatives that address clean air, clean water, clean land and climate change. In fact, in the last few days the Minister of the Environment has called all of the provincial environmental ministers, including Mr. Béchard in the province of Quebec.

On the specific issue of the Government of Quebec, there have been discussions between the federal government and Quebec on a variety of issues, including climate change. The Minister of the Environment met her Quebec counterpart, Mr. Béchard, several months ago and climate change was the primary topic of discussion. Her office is in regular contact with Mr. Béchard's office. The new deputy minister of the environment met his provincial counterpart on May 29, less than one week after he was appointed, and discussions occur on a regular basis.

We were pleased when the Government of Quebec tabled its climate change plan a few months ago. This gives us a clear idea where the province sees opportunities for emissions reductions and provides us at the federal level with clearly identified areas where we are able to collaborate with it. There are already ways in which we are well aligned with Quebec in our priorities. We look forward to working together for the betterment of Canada's environment and the health of all Canadians.

Several announcements in the current budget will help Quebec in its efforts. These include a tax credit for transit passes, the largest investment in clean public transportation infrastructure in Canada's history, and a commitment to implement an average 5% renewable fuel content by 2010. We are not only talking to Quebec. We are in discussions with all provinces, territories and key stakeholders regarding opportunities for investment in transit infrastructure and the commitment to renewable content in fuels. These are all tangible measures.

Concrete measures which have real results will provide cleaner air for all Canadians and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions too. This is just the start. We will continue to build on these measures and create an environmental agenda focused on ensuring that future generations enjoy clean air, clean water, clean land and clean energy here in Canada, a plan which will reduce air contaminants and greenhouse gases and will improve the health of Canadians.

The EnvironmentAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question I raised in the House on June 15 was not about what happened last week. It was not about what happened recently. It was trying to reconcile a statement the minister made in the House on May 2 indicating that there were plans and documents in place which showed serious negotiation with the provinces.

The period covered by the access to information request was from January 23 to June 2. There is no trace of any written document with the Government of Quebec in any fashion, electronic, messengers, whatever. There is no document showing that there was any recorded discussion or negotiation between the province of Quebec and the Government of Canada.

I do not think the answer we just received refers to that period and that was the purpose of the question. That is why I repeat that the minister misled the House in giving the answer she did on May 2.

The EnvironmentAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate the hon. member was not listening to what I said.

This government is going to act with a clean air made in Canada environmental plan. We have a very clear objective and that is to provide cleaner air for the health of Canadians and to reduce greenhouse gases. We will put forward a realistic, achievable and affordable plan.

Canadians waited for 13 years while the previous Liberal government did almost nothing to clean up the environment. It took only four months for Canada's new government to get every single province and territory to the table and agree with the importance of moving forward with a biofuel strategy.

This government is not afraid to set targets. When we set targets, we meet them. When we make promises, we keep them. This government is committed to action for a clean environment because that is what Canadians want.

HousingAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister responsible for CMHC to clarify what the parliamentary secretary stated in question period on June 20. In her response to my question, the parliamentary secretary stated:

--the minister has confirmed that she has reached an agreement with the province of British Columbia to transfer the administration of federal resources for existing social housing from CMHC to the Government of British Columbia.

I would like the minister to clarify what the agreement made with British Columbia is, in particular, how the federal resources for social housing will be distributed by British Columbia.

I would also like the minister to clarify if she is in negotiations with other provinces to reach similar arrangements, and if so, what deals have been reached.

I am particularly concerned how the federal funding will be used for low income housing if the programs have been outsourced to the provinces. The best way to ensure that all Canadians have access to safe, affordable housing is to set federal guidelines that ensure that access through federal programs.

Finally, in my riding of London—Fanshawe, My Sister's Place, a women's shelter funded through the federal SCPI program, was told its funding was cut and it was faced with closing its doors.

I asked in June for the minister to ensure all housing funding was in place. Despite her assurances, funding for homeless advocates was cut in several communities. Only after intense pressure from the community, the media and the NDP in August did the funding miraculously reappear just a few weeks ago.

This is not acceptable. As I have previously stated, shelters are the last line of defence for preventing homelessness. With funding cuts consistently looming overhead, how is an organization supposed to help the most vulnerable people in our community?

I would like the minister to answer my question. Will the minister invest in a federal homelessness strategy, a true national housing program, and protect the most vulnerable people in this country?

HousingAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. I am confident that as her party's housing critic she is cognizant of the complexity surrounding the issue of housing policy and the need for informed debate surrounding it, for this issue involves countless players working together to help meet the unique and varying housing needs of Canadians throughout our country.

I would like to assure her and her party that the new Government of Canada recognizes affordable housing's importance in improving the lives of individuals and families. Indeed, we are taking substantial action on a number of fronts.

For instance, Budget 2006 provided, pending confirmation of the government's financial results for 2005-06, an investment of $1.4 billion and the establishment of three housing trusts, with the provinces and territories, for affordable housing, northern housing and aboriginals living off reserve.

I also believe we share a common desire, indeed, a fundamental commitment, that all Canadians should have a reasonable opportunity to own or rent their own home.

But where some would speak to the abstract world of strategies and structure in addressing this issue, we speak of action. We speak of commitment, one that is demonstrated in the nearly $2 billion the Government of Canada provides annually to support 600,000-plus existing social housing units across the country, support that primarily assists low income households. It is a commitment demonstrated through our decision to ensure the maintenance of shelters and related services for Canada's homeless people in urban and rural communities and by extending the national homelessness initiative, including the supporting communities partnership initiative, to March 2007 at a cost of almost $135 million.

The Government of Canada is acting on other fronts as well. For instance, in collaboration with provincial, territorial and local partners, we are delivering on the $1 billion affordable housing initiative, funding that has created 27,000 units of new affordable housing in communities across the country.

In addition to creating new units, our commitment to housing is demonstrated in our support of programs that maintain the existing affordable housing stock and funding for the residential rehabilitation assistance program and several related housing renovation and adaptation programs that provide financial assistance. Our commitment to repairing homes occupied by low income people and converting non-residential buildings into residential use has been extended for 2006-07 at a cost of about $128 million.

The government's role in housing extends beyond helping low income households. Indeed, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, our national housing agency, helps all Canadians by lowering costs and improving access to mortgage financing through its mortgage loan insurance and mortgage securitization programs. In fact, CMHC mortgage loan insurance has assisted one in three Canadian families with the purchase of their home. Also, its mortgage loan insurance helps finance affordable housing with no premiums charged for affordable housing projects.

I again assure my colleague that Canada's new government is committed to housing and to taking the necessary action to keep our national housing system strong.

HousingAdjournment ProceedingsGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know all about the $1.4 billion of the $1.6 billion of NDP Bill C-48 money. I know about that and I would like to remind the minister through her parliamentary secretary that this is not a game of words and empty promises. It is about the lives and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities: women suffering in violent situations, their children, people suffering from mental illness, and seniors who cannot make ends meet.

I want to reiterate that her ministry and the government committed an outrage against Canadians, whom they are obliged to protect with true funding. There is no excuse for what transpired. There is no excuse at all for the failure to unequivocally state that after March 31, 2007, there will be funding in the budget for housing and a definitive program to ensure a national housing strategy that guarantees housing, a fundamental human right.