This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I would like to praise my colleague, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, for creating a dialogue on this very important subject and for putting this private member's bill forward.

As a volunteer and a past board member of Barrie's local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I am pleased to address this piece of legislation that will create a new .05% blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, offence. It is in addition to the current .08% BAC which already exists in the Criminal Code.

The new .05% will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions. It will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in court. It will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new over .05% offence has no additional drinking and driving related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed. Certainly these are reasonable proposals.

Introducing .05% into the Criminal Code would save lives. What many people do not know is that impaired driving remains the number one cause of criminal death in Canada, more than all other causes of homicide combined. In part this is because the current .08% BAC is not an accurate reflection of the true risks associated with drinking and driving.

Who is most at risk? Youth are particularly at risk. The risk of a fatal crash for males between the ages of 16 and 20 is five times more likely at BAC levels of .02% to .049%. At the current .08% to .99% the risk increases to 52%.

When parliamentarians set the .08% BAC level in 1970, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risks of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. What we know today is driving related skills are significantly impaired at levels well below .08%.

Not only does the research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measures at BACs as low as .02%, it also has established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same BAC level.

The British Medical Association has maintained for decades that a .05% BAC is the highest level that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users.

Virtually all leading medical, accident prevention and traffic safety organizations around the world, including the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization, support a BAC driving limit at or below .05%. As a result, many countries, including Germany, France, Australia and Sweden, have set their BAC limit at .05% or lower .

The fact is no amount of drinking and driving is completely safe. And although logically the only solution is to never drink and drive, as legislators we must balance such laws against issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and our police, and the right of the individual to determine his or her own choice to act responsibly.

The .05% BAC will save lives. That is the reason so many public health groups, leading medical organizations across Canada and many victims groups are strong supporters of such a measure.

Studies on the potential impact of introducing a .05% Criminal Code offence in Canada conclude that it will have significant traffic safety benefits. Most important, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in a 1998 study estimated that a .05% BAC would reduce total traffic fatalities by 6% to 18%, a staggering statistic, thereby saving approximately 188 to 551 lives per year in Canada based on the 1998 statistics.

Will .05% adversely affect social drinking? No. An average 200 pound man could drink more than four bottles of beer in two hours on an empty stomach without reaching the real-world threshold for charges under the .05% law. An average 120 pound woman could drink two five ounce glasses of wine in two hours. The assertion that the individuals causing accidents are the ones that exceed the current .08% is not accurate either.

As a deterrent effect, lowering the BAC limit reduces impaired driving at all levels.

In countries such as Germany and Sweden where levels have been legislated at .05% and .02% respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest BAC levels.

In fact, countries that have instituted a .05% or lower BAC level have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on all those who drink and drive. Therefore, .05% is neither a prohibitionist measure nor is it ineffective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers.

The current .08% BAC limit is simply not having a sufficient deterrent impact. Millions of Canadians continue to drive while impaired with predictably tragic results.

The current Criminal Code blood alcohol concentration limit of .08% allows individuals to drive after consuming a large quantity of alcohol. Given the margin of error accepted by our courts, most police will not lay criminal charges unless a driver's evidentiary BAC readings are .10% or higher.

When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support for a lower BAC limit increases. I believe there is a willingness on the part of Canadians to follow the lead of other countries and set a .05% limit.

The proposed .05% BAC offence is designed to deter impaired driving without being unduly punitive or creating unacceptable burdens on the police and the courts. The option of pleading guilty without having to go to court and the fact that a person can have a charge erased with two years of clean driving may discourage accused drivers from needlessly challenging the charges and consuming court time.

Bill C-376 will add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05%.

In all jurisdictions, with the exception of Quebec, there is provincial and territorial short term roadside licence suspension legislation. This legislation does not create any offence or carry any fine or other penalty. In most cases the roadside suspensions are not officially recorded and have no long term licensing consequences. For most drivers the suspension will merely result in having to park the vehicle or allow a sober licensed passenger to drive.

Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving prohibition. The proposed Criminal Code .05% offence would apply uniformly throughout Canada. The federal sanctions have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than the existing patchwork of provincial and territorial short term roadside suspensions.

Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving suspension, and it would apply uniformly throughout Canada.

The federal sanctions, I believe, would have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than any of the existing provincial and territorial ones.

I would like to recognize the board of directors of the MADD Barrie Simcoe chapter for their efforts in raising the education on this issue about the tragic consequences of driving impaired and their work to reduce the number of crashes from this most preventable violent crime. The board includes: president Jason Larkin; past president Kim Butler, who worked hard for years on this; treasurer Norma Scott; secretary Diane Camelino; director of victim services Brenda Wright; youth director Crystal Wiltshire; fundraising director Sari Garner; director at large Gerry Groves; and director at large Staff Sergeant Steve Wilson of South Simcoe Police Service. These volunteers work every month on educating the public on the consequences of impaired driving.

By supporting Bill C-376 we can have a significantly positive impact by reducing drinking and driving related deaths and injury in Canada.

On a closing note, I would like to read a quote given to me by my colleague from Kelowna—Lake Country from a businessman in his riding. Wayne Clements, president and CEO of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation said:

I certainly agree that drinking and driving don't mix...

I want all Canadians and visitors to Canada to enjoy the great beer and other beverages Canadian companies make. It is up to the individual to police themselves as to how much they choose to drink.

However when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after they have drank and having impaired their ability to operate the vehicle and put themselves and others at risk we definitely need to give our police forces and judges more clout to send the message that drinking [and] driving never mixes, regardless of the amount.

That is a very appropriate quote from the president of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation in the riding of my colleague. It speaks to the fact that all sides of this debate recognize that something needs to be done.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 13th, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a former breathalyzer technician and police officer, I am particularly interested in this most serious matter.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-376 which proposes to create a new Criminal Code offence of driving a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol content level in excess of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

It does not propose simply to amend the Criminal Code to lower the blood alcohol content from the current 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, or .08 as it is commonly referred to.

The bill was debated for one hour in the first session of this Parliament. Every member who spoke to the bill and I am sure every member of the House agreed with the goal to reduce the death toll and injury on our highways caused by impaired drivers.

However, serious concerns regarding the mechanics of the bill, particularly its proposal to create a Criminal Code ticket and whether it would be used by police, were expressed by members.

For many years, law enforcement and prosecutors have complained about the complexities of the current impaired driving laws, the time needed to process the charge, the length of trials and the number of cases that are lost on technicalities. They have not asked for a lower blood alcohol content.

I am pleased that the government has responded to those concerns. Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, would simplify procedures and restrict defences to over .08 charges to those that have scientific validity. However, Bill C-2 is not a substitute for a complete review of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code.

As members know, the Criminal Code has two separate and distinct drinking and driving criminal offences. Under section 253(a), it is a crime to drive while one's ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or a drug. Under section 253(b), it is an offence to drive while one's blood alcohol content exceeds .08. The over .08 offence was enacted in 1969, based on a seminal scientific study in Michigan showing that at that level the risk of collision increases exponentially for all drivers, regardless of age, driving experience and drinking experience. The Michigan study has been validated repeatedly.

Recent studies have concentrated on impairment at .05. I believe there is a scientific consensus that indicates a degradation in driving skills and increased risk of accident at that level.

One study concluded that compared with a driver at zero blood alcohol content, a driver at .05 had a 38% greater chance of being involved in a collision. A driver at .06 had a 63% higher risk and a driver at .07 had a 109% higher risk.

To date, Canada has chosen to address the problem of the driver who is over .05 but less than .08 through administrative measures imposed by provinces pursuant to their legislative authority to address licensing matters and matters of the Highway Traffic Act.

All provinces and territories except Quebec already have a roadside suspension for being over .05. I am pleased to say that Quebec has announced that it will soon be introducing a suspension at that level. These suspensions occur without any criminal charge being laid and, therefore, without a trial. They are an immediate and certain road safety measure.

The issue for the House, I submit, therefore, is whether to lower the permissible blood alcohol content to .05 or leave the low blood alcohol content driver to be dealt with by the province, at least until there has been a comprehensive review of impaired driving countermeasures.

The provinces work together through the Canadian Council of Motor Vehicle Transport Administrators or CCMTA, which has a subcommittee on impaired driving. The CCMTA reports to federal, provincial and territorial transport ministers. The CCMTA has endorsed a model of sanctions for driving while being over .05 that would include the recording of violations, longer roadside suspensions, a licence reinstatement fee of $150 to $300 and recording the violation for 10 years so that repeat violators can attract higher sanctions.

If the provinces enact increased sanctions at over .05 level for all drivers as recommended by the CCMTA, Criminal Code sanctions may not be needed. Certainly the provincial administrative sanctions will always be easier to process than a criminal charge. I seriously question whether a police officer faced with—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but he will have five minutes left the next time this bill comes up for debate.

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.

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

6:40 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to discuss the issue of a public inquiry into the Airbus affair.

This question has been quite active in the last five sitting days of the House. The Liberal Party has been hammering away asking for a public inquiry and giving the reasons why there should be a public inquiry. Finally we learned today that such an inquiry will be called. Unfortunately, we do not know the scope of the inquiry and we do not know when the inquiry will begin. Therefore, it is important that we take a step back and see how this all came to be.

Members will remember hearing this in the House and seeing media reports about it shortly after the government took power. When it became public in government documents, in documents filed with the court, that Mr. Mulroney had accepted a $300,000 cash payment from Mr. Schreiber and did not declare the taxes on it at the time but declared them some five years later through voluntary disclosure to avoid penalty, the current President of the Treasury Board, who was then the minister of justice, asked the department for a briefing on this matter. His thinking, which was right at the time, was that perhaps we should recover the $2.1 million in taxpayer funds that had been given to Mr. Mulroney and that if some of the funds had not been paid out, then they should not be.

We subsequently learned that an order from somewhere on high went to the ministry that they should not brief the minister. Therefore, the minister was not briefed.

The person who is making these allegations against Mr. Mulroney is in a holding facility awaiting deportation to Germany where he faces some tax evasion charges. The day that he was going to court to hear exactly whether or not his appeal would be heard and if he would be able to remain in Canada because he raises certain points, at six o'clock in the morning, the RCMP went to the holding facility and told him they had to bring him with them because new charges were being laid and he had to go to court. He contacted his lawyer and found out that that was not true. Obviously, the government was preparing to, the minute that the court rendered its decision, throw him on a plane and get him out of the country so that he could not file a leave for appeal or ask for a stay of surrender. It would have been very convenient for the Conservative government because nobody else is going to speak in this matter, nobody else has the information that he has. Luckily, his lawyers were able to keep him in the country.

Then we started to find out a lot of other things about the Schreiber-Mulroney affair. We found out that he put a lot of pressure and finally Mr. Schreiber told us that he saw Mr. Mulroney when he was still in office, that he made a deal with Mr. Mulroney for the $300,000 while Mr. Mulroney was still the prime minister and that he gave him the first $100,000 when Mr. Mulroney was still a sitting member of Parliament.

Those allegations came to light and that forced the Prime Minister to react. Last Friday he told us that he is going to name an independent person to advise him on what he should know is his duty to call for a full public inquiry. Today after more pressure and suggestions by Mr. Mulroney that there should be such an inquiry, he said that that person will tell him what the scope of the inquiry should be.

I will tell the minister, through the parliamentary secretary, what the scope should be. It should be a full inquiry, looking at all of the activities among Mr. Schreiber, Mr. Mulroney and the Conservative Party going back to the early 1980s. He should be able to look at the whole question.

Perhaps Mr. Mulroney is innocent of a major crime. Perhaps his only sin is accepting $300,000 in cash and negotiating--

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

6:45 p.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 am pleased to respond to the question by my hon. friend because what we have seen over the course of the last number of days is a concentrated effort by members of the opposition to, frankly, cast a political smear campaign, a net if you will, over the government by linking the government to former Prime Minister Mulroney and somehow connecting the dots which really cannot be connected.

What I would say to all members is quite simple. When new allegations surfaced, the Prime Minister acted immediately and called upon an independent third party to, first, give advice to the government on how to proceed and then, when subsequent new allegations were made, acted even more decisively and now has called upon that independent third party to give terms of reference for a public inquiry to the government.

That is acting not only appropriately but swiftly, something that my friends in the Liberal opposition never knew how to do while they were in government. In fact, I would question why, when the issue of the $300,000 first surfaced in 2003, the former Liberal government did nothing.

Would one not think that since they are so up in arms about the $300,000 today that some red flags might have been raised in 2003 when they first learned about it, when it first became public? However, they did nothing. Now it is convenient for them because they are trying to engage, as they always do, in a political witch hunt.

The Prime Minister said that we will have a public inquiry. I would suggest to all members in the House that it is the appropriate action to take place. We obviously will not be able to set the terms of reference ourselves, nor should we. I am amazed that members opposite would suggest that the government set the terms of reference. We are talking about an inquiry affecting the Office of the Prime Minister, the highest office in the land.

For opposition members to even remotely suggest that the government of the day should set its own terms of reference into an inquiry about the Office of the Prime Minister is absurd. Of course we need to have an independent analysis of that and set the terms of reference, otherwise there would be clear conflict. It is a very fundamental concept and, I would suggest, even a tenet of democracy that the member and others do not understand.

Once that independent third party, who I am sure will be an eminent, qualified Canadian, makes his or her recommendations, we will move swiftly to hold a public inquiry to examine all aspects of the allegations that have been made. I must also say that everyone knows those allegations are only that, unfounded and unproven allegations.

In a final response to the member who is suggesting perhaps that the government step in and stop extradition proceedings that have been going on now for eight years against Mr. Schreiber, that is absolutely absurd. The government cannot affect ongoing investigations or extradition proceedings. We cannot do that. We agree that Mr. Schreiber will be a key individual whose testimony should be examined. Mr. Mulroney's testimony should be examined.

There are many other elements to this case, if we want to call it that, that should be examined and that is why we have called for a full scale, independent judicial inquiry or at least a public inquiry, perhaps not judicial. We will have to wait to see what the independent third party suggests.

We have taken not only swift and decisive action, we have taken appropriate action. I know it is a concept that the opposition members cannot quite grasp.

6:45 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should clarify a few facts for the gentleman opposite. An order to surrender can only be put into effect by a minister and can only be reversed by a minister. A stay can be done by a minister. If it is so important that he speaks to this matter then why would they try to scurry him out at 6 o'clock in the morning. All we are asking is that we ensure he is here to testify in those investigations.

First, the government does set the terms of reference. The Prime Minister can delegate authority for somebody to give him some recommendations but he maintains the responsibility for the terms of reference. Only the Prime Minister can do that because that is his responsibility.

The member spoke about new allegations on which they acted so quickly. The Prime Minister had that information in his office for seven months. When those same letters came to the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition turned it over to the RCMP within 14 days--

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

6:50 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, again any time the hon. member and his colleagues step up to speak on this issue I find myself having to suppress a smile. I find it amazing and even humorous that the Liberals would suggest that someone who has been under extradiction examination for eight years on criminal charges in a private lawsuit and who then sends a letter to the Prime Minister would actually have that letter seen by the Prime Minister. That is absurd.

Perhaps the member opposite likes to think that anyone who is involved in alleged criminal activities has the right to summon the Prime Minister to read his or her letters. It is not appropriate and the member knows that.

In the former Liberal government I would suggest quite strongly, and I would have no opposition on this one, that if a similar circumstance occurred, former Prime Minister Martin would not have ever seen that letter.

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader should know better than to refer to the member for LaSalle—Émard in the way that he did. The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

6:50 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport a few questions about the Petitcodiac River in my riding.

On October 25, I asked the Minister of Transport a simple question.

The question was essentially, when will the river restoration project continue?

As the House knows, the background for that question is that the provincial government, under Premier Graham, has bravely committed to fund, and to join with the federal government in its responsibility to clean up the Petitcodiac River, some of the $68 million that may be required for its restoration.

On October 25 when I asked that question, the answer was that the unprecedented amounts of money for infrastructure programs would be coming and the good discussions with the Government of New Brunswick would continue. That was the answer.

I am here this evening to follow up and ask why it was on November 9 that the minister leaked a letter to the press and let it be known to the premier in that fashion, through the press, through the public, that the deal was off, and that the unprecedented amounts of money for the infrastructure project was unprecedented. It was zero. There was no money for the restoration of the Petitcodiac River. There was no commitment to a legal obligation under the Fisheries Act. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in his visit to Moncton reiterated that the federal government had a legal responsibility under the Fisheries Act to see to some of the restoration of the project.

It seems on the one hand that the federal government participated and funded, through the good work I might add of the member for West Nova, the former fisheries minister, the environmental assessment, paid for the scientists to find as a fact that the river needed to be restored, and that there were options for its restoration.

The Petitcodiac riverkeepers launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada.

At the last moment the federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities instructed his solicitors to advise that the government had no opposition to the removal of the gates in the restoration of the project which was coupled the same day mischievously by the Minister of Transport's leaked letter to the press. There was no courtesy to the federal government, no courtesy to the House, suggesting that although the government had no problem with the gates being removed, it was not funding any part of it.

My question as a follow up is this. Why is it that the federal government is denying its legal obligation to restore the Petitcodiac River which involves replacing 280 metres of the causeway with a new bridge, removing the fish gates, and conducting extensive investigations? Why is the government denying that when it has funded $26.6 million to the Saint John Harbour cleanup? I have nothing against our good neighbours in Saint John, they deserve a harbour that should be clean from sewage treatment. There was $12 million in funding over the next two years to support the cleanup of Lake Simcoe in Ontario, $11 million over two years to accelerate the cleanup of the Great Lakes, and $7 million for the Lake Winnipeg Basin cleanup. I have absolutely nothing against anyone in Manitoba or Ontario. They deserve the environmental remediation that is taking place under those programs.

The question is pure and simple. Why is the government and the Minister of Transport--

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

6:55 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we certainly recognize the importance of the Petitcodiac River restoration project to all interested parties involved. The decision to authorize the project's construction, as this government has done, did not come without a thorough review of the legislative requirements under the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act. Accordingly, Transport Canada worked closely with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on arriving at a Government of Canada position on the project.

It has been a lengthy but essential process for the people of Canada as Transport Canada had to take into consideration the relevant factors associated with the project's options put forward by the province of New Brunswick and the findings of the province's extensive environmental impact assessment report.

As I mentioned, this report, done in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, took approximately three years to complete. The purpose of the report was to evaluate and compare the potential environmental effects of the project options, all of which included an alteration to the current state of the river.

Naturally, any substantial change to the existing state of the river needed to be fully examined, which is so important, especially after the 40 years that this project has been in that particular state and 13 years of neglect by the previous Liberal government. This had to be carried out prior to making a decision to authorize the project under the Navigable Waters Protection Act and in the best interests of the people.

Furthermore, the province announced in August of this year its decision on which of the four options it preferred. The provincial government opted to replace the existing causeway with a bridge, which of course is within its jurisdiction to decide. With the preferred option identified, it was necessary for the department to ensure the specific legislative requirements under the Navigable Waters Protection Act for the construction of the 280 metre long bridge for the province.

Upon completion of the application and authorization process, the department issued a formal approval of the construction of the bridge on November 7, 2007. The province is now responsible for the implementation of the project requirements, including the terms and conditions associated with the authorization including those outlined in the province's own environmental impact assessment report.

Regarding the request for funding for this particular project, Infrastructure Canada officials have met with Premier Graham. Given the information that we have provided, the Petitcodiac River project is ineligible for funding under the building Canada fund. This type of project does not fall under the categories of core national highway system projects, which is so important across the country, or under the locally owned road projects. As such, funding for the project rightly rests with the government of New Brunswick.

6:55 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, just some brief follow-up. Would it be the member's understanding, I wonder, whether 50% funding was previously offered to the province of New Brunswick for funding of this project. In that he answered that the building Canada fund was not eligible for this project, are there other programs under which this project might fit?

I wonder whether he is suggesting that the legal challenge brought by the river keepers is now a moot point in that the government has decided that it has no legal obligation to restore the river and replace the causeway with a bridge, and whether the government will be filing, in other words, a removal or deceasement of the defence that was filed by the Government of Canada in the Federal Court.

Finally, the member for Fundy Royal seems to have been very--

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

6:55 p.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, where have the Liberals been on this issue up to now? Where has the member been? I know he asked one particular question, but indeed, where was he?

On September 22, 2003, there was a press release by Environment Canada where the municipality of the city of Moncton pleaded guilty to federal environmental charges related to the decommissioned landfill. I go on to quote: “This is the first time that a municipality has been prosecuted by Environment Canada for landfill problems”. That is right. He was involved because he was the mayor of Moncton at that time and was in charge of such a disastrous thing. Do we want him to do that again? No. This government is acting in the best interests of Canadians and we will continue to do so in a fair and equitable manner.

7 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, tonight's adjournment proceedings arise from a question I asked on October 29 regarding the crisis of passport applications mailed in for processing.

Last February, the former foreign affairs minister told us that 500 new passport employees had been hired, that capacity had increased by 40%, and that the matter was in hand.

In June the foreign minister assured the House that his government would see that passports were produced in a timely and efficient way. It seems that these assurances have gone the same way as income trusts and health wait times promises.

Right now, in anticipation of the busiest foreign travel season in some time, the booming Canadian dollar and the looming passport requirements at the Canada-U.S. borders, incredibly there is still a growing backlog and an admitted minimum six week delay to receive mail-in passports when the benchmark is four weeks. In fact, the reality is several months or longer. Two out of these three factors were known months in advance and still Canadians must suffer the consequences of poor planning.

Last January, the Auditor General specifically singled out the Conservatives because they had no plan to deal with the demand for passports. It appears they still have no plan and Canadians are the ones who are paying the price in cancelled trips and sheer frustration.

As a member of Parliament, my staff and I are on the receiving end of the irate calls from constituents who have to cancel, sometimes at great expense, business and personal trips after waiting months in vain for their passports.

In one case, two families sent in their applications at the same time because they planned to travel to Mexico together. After three months, only one family's applications were processed. The other family was told that their applications may be in a pile of unopened applications. Since the original birth certificates were in the unopened passport applications, their only option in order to travel to Mexico the following week was to go to Toronto and reapply for birth certificates that allowed admission to that country.

Last June, another constituent had to purchase a new birth certificate and reapply in person at the St. Catharines Passport Office because his mail-in application, that was submitted six weeks previously, was also not yet opened, let alone considered. At that time, the passport office informed us that it was currently working on applications received eight to twelve weeks prior.

These stories are not the fault of the overextended staff, only the fault of the government in not providing the extra resources that they need to keep up to the level of service expected.

In Niagara, the looming deadline of the western hemisphere travel initiative at our land border crossings is causing an additional strain on both our local passport office and the mail-in resources. On January 31, 2008, all Canadians entering the United States at a land border crossing must have a valid passport, a measure that disproportionately affects those who live in border communities such as Niagara.

For those of us who live adjacent to the border, the reality is that we move frequently and seamlessly between the two countries for work, cultural and sporting events, attending church or visiting family and friends. The pressure of this January 31, 2008, deadline is going to result in an ongoing increase of applications for the foreseeable future.

When is this government going to get control of this situation?

7 p.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 am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight with respect to measures Passport Canada has implemented since our government came to office to ensure Canadians get their passports within a reasonable time frame.

Passport Canada's volume has reached levels never before seen, as the organization issued a record-breaking 3.6 million passports last fiscal year. Since April 2007, the start of the fiscal year, Passport Canada has issued over 2.4 million passports, a 43% increase over the same period in 2006-07.

The agency now anticipates issuing close to 4.7 million passports during this fiscal year. By comparison, it issued approximately a third of this number in the year 2000.

Under our government, Passport Canada is making every possible effort to ready itself for the winter months and remains committed to ensuring that Canadians receive the highest standard of passport services.

To help expedite the passport issuing process, our government has recently implemented a series of initiatives to modernize the services and increase its capacity to better meet demand.

Between April and November 2007, we hired close to 800 employees, modernized printing equipment, streamlined application processes, held weekend blitzes and overtime, extended office hours in several offices, increased the call centres' capacity, and improved overall access to services.

Since August 15, eligible Canadians are able to renew their passports by means of a new simplified process.

Meanwhile, a new guarantor policy was also introduced on October 1. The new simplified guarantor policy will allow most Canadian adult passport holders to act as guarantors for applicants who are still required to complete the general passport application form.

Please bear in mind that measures taken by our government to reduce waiting times will never jeopardize the security and the integrity of the Canadian passport. As a result of these numerous initiatives, Passport Canada has significantly reduced its inventory and service delays. I am proud to say that under this government, Passport Canada is now able to issue over 20,000 passports each and every day.

Passport Canada offices can issue passports in two weeks. Approximately 80% of all applications are processed through passport offices. Two week service for passports is one of the fastest turnarounds in the world. First-time applicants in the United Kingdom are advised to allow at least six weeks for their passport to be issued. The United States processes applications within four to six weeks.

Mailed in applications are now processed in six weeks, compared to 12 weeks earlier, and applications submitted through receiving agents are processed in five weeks or less. Complex cases may require more time, however. In short, the member for Welland will be pleased to know that under this Conservative government, delays are going down, not up.

7:05 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the fortunate Canadians who can travel to a passport office, the processing has been excellent. I commend our passport personnel for their exemplary service. I know the St. Catharines passport office is under exceptional pressure, yet has always come through in the emergency cases it handles. Taking an application directly to a passport office is definitely the best way to get a passport right now.

Unfortunately, the majority of Canadians do not have access to a passport office and must rely on the mail-in system and worry if they will have a passport in time for a travel date.

Canadians deserve better. Will the minister responsible for Passport Canada admit that he has not done his job? His government is aware of the annual increase of applications over the winter months and has been aware of the implementation of the WHTI since it took office in January 2006.

Canadians are still waiting for the not so new, and indeed aging, government to fix the problem. The member opposite simply does not get it. The initiatives undertaken, as elaborated upon by the parliamentary secretary, simply do not cut it. They are insufficient. The Auditor General is waiting for them to fix the problem.

Will the minister finally take full responsibility for delays at the passport office and remedy this unacceptable situation? How long will the government continue to mishandle this file? How long will it be before Canadians get their passport when they actually need it?

7:05 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I quite frankly reject the premise of his question when he states that the majority of Canadians do not have close and quick access to passport offices. In fact, we have opened up 60 new service points, so now 84% of all Canadians are within a 50 kilometre radius of a passport office. This is a level of service that we have never seen before, particularly under the Liberal government that preceded us.

I also suggest to the member that he may want to take a look at some of the things individual Conservative members of Parliament are doing. I conduct passport clinics throughout the rural portion of my riding. For people who do not have close access to a passport office, I take a passport clinic to the constituency, to the small towns and villages. I bring passport officials with me. I bring qualified passport photographers. We process passport applications on site, with qualified passport officials from Ottawa. Therefore, I can guarantee that 100% of the people in my riding have equal and quick access to all passport services.

7:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:08 p.m.)