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House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was voters.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

November 15th, 2007 / 10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to one petition.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114, I have the honour to present the third report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning membership of committees of the House.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the third report later this day.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier this day be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this income trust broken promise petition on behalf of Mr. George Soulis, from Toronto, Ontario, who remembers the Prime Minister boasting about his apparent commitment to accountability when he said the greatest fraud is a promise not kept.

The petitioners remind the Prime Minister that he had promised never to tax income trusts, but he recklessly broke that promise by imposing a 31.5% punitive tax which permanently wiped out $25 billion of the hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners therefore call upon the Conservative minority government to first, admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions; second, to apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by the promise; and finally, to repeal the punitive 31.5% tax on income trusts.

TaxationPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition from a good number of my constituents in Trinity—Spadina to the House of Commons that would allow trades persons and indentured apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income, so they can secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres from their homes.

We know that Canada is facing a labour shortage. There is no reason why people and working families, especially those that are in the construction trade could not be allowed this deduction. Many Mexican and Portuguese immigrants in my riding, for example, would love to have the kind of tax deduction that some of the employers can have, so that they can travel a bit of a distance to find work. Whether it is travel or hotel costs, they should be tax deductible, and this is what the petition is all about.

Young Offenders ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition signed by over 500 petitioners calling upon the Government of Canada to abolish the Young Offenders Act. They would like to see the name of the young offenders published and hold the parents financially responsible for damages caused by their children or child.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 38, 50, 60 and 116.

Question No. 38Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

With respect to the Small Craft Harbours Program: (a) what criteria is used to determine what constitutes a “core harbour”; (b) what is the number of core harbours in the ridings of West Nova, Central Nova, Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley and South Shore—St. Margaret's, respectively; (c) what is the total cost of program spending in the ridings of West Nova, Central Nova, Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley and South Shore—St. Margaret's, respectively, for the fiscal year 2006-2007; (d) what is the total 2007 budget allocation for this program; (e) what is the total planned program spending for 2007-2008; (f) what percentage of small craft fishing harbours is currently in a poor or unsafe condition; and (g) what additional funds are required per year to bring all small craft harbours to an acceptable state of repair?

Question No. 38Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

St. John's South—Mount Pearl Newfoundland & Labrador

Conservative

Loyola Hearn ConservativeMinister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the small craft harbours program:

(a) Core harbours are harbours that are critical to the commercial fishing industry, and are either currently managed by harbour authorities or expected to be managed by harbour authorities in the future;

(b) there are 34 core harbours in the riding of West Nova, 26 in the riding of Central Nova, 5 in the riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and 50 in the riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s;

(c) 2006/07 total cost of program spending in the riding of West Nova is $2,594,891, in the riding of Central Nova is $4,726,711, in the riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley is $23,979 and in the riding of South Shore St. Margaret’s is $4,944,994;

(d) the total 2007 budget for the program is $97.1M (excluding employee benefit plans);

(e) the total planned spending for 2007-08 is the same as the total national budget, which is $97.1M (excluding employee benefit plans);

(f) as of October 2007, the percentage of SCH core harbours in poor or unsafe condition is 28%, or 209 of a total of 747;

(g) the SCH program estimates that $35M is required to be added to the current SCH annual budget in order to ensure proper life cycle management of assets at core harbours.

Question No. 50Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

With regards to commuter rail service on Vancouver Island: (a) how much money has the government spent in the past 20 years on the Vancouver Island E & N Rail corridor; (b) how many funding applications have been made to support commuter rail on Vancouver Island; (c) how many of those applications have been granted; (d) what was the amount of money granted; (e) how many of those applications were denied and why; and (f) what is the government's current plan to promote commuter rail on Vancouver Island?

Question No. 50Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the response is as follows:

(a) The federal government has provided VIA with over $35 million between 1987 and 2006 for the operation of VIA’s Victoria-Courtenay inter-city passenger service. No funding has been provided for a commuter rail service. Traditionally, the federal government has not funded commuter services as they are the responsibility of municipal and provincial governments.

(b) No applications received

(c) No applications received

(d) No applications received

(e) No applications received

(f) While urban transit is a provincial/territorial and municipal responsibility, the federal government recognizes the vital role transportation plays in the well-being of Canada’s urban centres and communities, and its potential benefits. The Government of Canada is committed to working closely with other jurisdictions to ensure that communities have the best possible transportation systems by directly investing in infrastructure projects through the new infrastructure programs announced in budget 2007. As well, municipalities can use the one hundred percent GST rebate and gas tax fund for commuter rail infrastructure and equipment initiatives. Budget 2007 makes a historic investment of more than $16 billion in infrastructure, bringing federal support under the new building Canada plan over the next seven years to a total of $33 billion, including the funding provided in budget 2006. This summer, the transport, infrastructure and communities portfolio undertook discussions with the provinces and territories and the municipal sector regarding the new $33 billion building Canada infrastructure plan and the operation of the new programs. The next steps will be to obtain Treasury Board approval of the funding programs, as well as identifying priorities, assessing projects, and negotiating the necessary agreements with the new terms and conditions for the funds. Throughout this process, funding will continue to be delivered through existing infrastructure programs, including the gas tax fund and the public transit fund.

Question No. 60Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

With regard to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages' Preliminary Investigation Report of May 2007, “Investigation of Complaints Concerning the Federal Government's 2006 Expenditure Review”: (a) when is the government going to provide certain documents that the Office requested; (b) why did the government delay in providing a definitive response to the written request for these documents; and (c) are the documents still confidential and, if so, why?

Question No. 60Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the response is as follows:

a) The documents requested on March 5th, 2007, by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages contain confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, within the meaning of section 69 of the Access to Information Act and section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act, and therefore cannot be disclosed.

b) The documents requested were very specific and necessitated an exhaustive search by a number of stakeholders within the Treasury Board Secretariat of all documents on file related to official languages and the expenditure review decision making process. Once the pertinent documents were identified and compiled, they were carefully reviewed and assessed as to whether they could or could not be disclosed. Since the documents contain confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, they could not be disclosed. A reply letter explaining this was provided to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages on May 3rd, 2007.

c) The documents requested are confidential as they contain confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and are thus protected from disclosure for a period of 20 years pursuant to section 69 of the Access to Information Act and section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act

Question No. 116Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

What programs, policies, and oversights does the Treasury Board use to ensure equal pay for equal work between men and women, as well as for minority groups?

Question No. 116Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, equal pay for equal work is ensured through the application of classification standards that results in the same remuneration for employees classified at the same occupational group and level.

As a result of efficient employment equity strategies, we have seen a significant increase in the number of women being recruited and promoted into professional and executive categories. This has allowed us to reduce the global gender wage gap for the core public administration.

We negotiate wages in good faith and endeavour to ensure that gender-based wage discrimination does not re-emerge in our wage-setting practices.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 29 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 29Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

With respect to the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI): (a) what are the specific initiatives and projects that comprise the APGCI; (b) what government departments are involved in the development and implementation of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (c) how is the federal government coordinating with the provincial and municipal governments in the development and implementation of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (d) which level of government has the primary responsibility for the development and implementation of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (e) is there or will there be a separate body responsible for the implementation of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (f) who does, or will, this body consist of; (g) how often does, or will, it meet; (h) what remuneration is offered to members of this body; (i) is there or will there be an ongoing consultation between the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government throughout the process; (j) is the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor being implemented according to a master plan and, if so, what is that master plan; (k) how much federal government funding has been committed annually to the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (l) what is the breakdown of federal government funding for each specific initiative and project; (m) how much private sector funding is estimated to be funneled into the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (n) what companies will provide that private sector funding; (o) how much provincial and municipal government funding has been committed to the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor; (p) who has been hired as a consultant by the federal government to develop and implement the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor and what is the amount of their annual compensation; (q) what consulting contracts have been awarded by the federal government to private sector companies; (r) are there funding criteria for the federal government in terms of financing other levels of government and, if so, what are they; (s) is there a governing body that will handle all the expenditures of the APGCI; (t) has there been an impact assessment of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor (i) on the environment, (ii) on resulting greenhouse gas emissions and, if so, what are its findings, (iii) on resulting suburban sprawl and, if so, what are its findings, (iv) on sound and noise pollution in neighboring communities, and, if so, what are its findings; (u) what is the projected impact on local farmland as a result of the Asia-Pacific Gateway; (v) does the APGCI include a plan to shift transport from automobile to public transit and, if so, please provide details; (w) when will the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor be completed in its entirety; and (x) how many (i) Canadian workers and (ii) foreign workers will be hired to work on the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (visual identification of voters), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on voting with the face uncovered. The fact that this issue was brought up during the three byelections in Quebec is due in large part to the initiative of the Bloc Québécois. Decisions were then made by the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec, during the Quebec election last March.

There was a great uproar in Quebec when the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, Mr. Mayrand, announced that he did not plan on using his power to address a loophole in the Canada Elections Act with respect to voting with the face covered. But the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec used the power set out in section 19—if I am not mistaken—to fix a situation that went unnoticed by parliamentarians.

The people of Quebec were therefore especially upset by Mr. Mayrand's attitude and, throughout Quebec, people wanted him to reconsider his decision and take the necessary measures to ensure that voters vote with their faces uncovered. He would not do so, however, claiming that it was up to parliamentarians to correct the situation. His was a very weak argument, since the precedent had already been set, as I mentioned. Indeed, to ensure that the general election in Quebec ran smoothly, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec had decided to use his power to correct the situation, since parliamentarians had failed to do so.

As soon as the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, revealed that he had no intention of making a decision, the Bloc Québécois, through my hon. colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, sent him a letter, calling on him to correct the situation and to ensure that, when voting, all voters confirm their identity by uncovering their entire face.

Furthermore, in the hours that followed, if memory serves, all the parties of this House made the same appeal to the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada. The Prime Minister then intervened, saying that common sense dictated that voters must prove their identity when voting, which is also our position. Identification means more than just presenting documents or ID cards; it also means being able to guarantee that that individual is the same person as the one on the photo ID cards, and for that to be possible, the person's face must be fully visible.

As I recall, the Prime Minister wasted no time stating his position on the matter, and the leader of the Liberal Party took the same position. That is why it surprised me that yesterday, some of our Liberal colleagues did not seem to think there was a problem. It is strange that just after the byelection, they thought there was a problem and that now, for reasons I do not quite understand, they are flip-flopping on the position the Liberal Party leader took at the time.

I also remember that the NDP leader agreed with them initially, and that a few hours later, he started to adjust his stance on the issue. Unfortunately, I have not yet heard the NDP's opinion in this debate.

That being said, I do remember that all four party leaders spoke out in favour of voters showing their faces. At the time, it just so happened that I was giving a press conference to announce the Bloc Québécois' activities leading up to its convention in October 2008. Right then and there, as soon as Mr. Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, stated that he had decided not to intervene, we condemned the situation.

Within hours, the Bloc Québécois whip announced that he would introduce a bill on the subject. That is exactly what he did. We introduced a bill requiring voters to show their faces when voting, a bill that respects gender equality.

When he tabled the bill, the member for Beauport—Limoilou requested the unanimous consent of the House to fast-track it, to move it through all stages quickly, but that did not happen. The Conservative Party, for strictly partisan reasons, refused to give its consent so that it could table the bill now before us.

Obviously, we cannot oppose the bill in principle, because we prompted this decision by the government. We could have moved much faster if there had been unanimous consent with regard to the bill introduced by my colleague, but that was not the case. Now, we have this bill before us.

As I mentioned, we support the bill in principle. However, the government has not tackled the root of the problem with its bill. Yes, voters will have to uncover their faces in order to be identified and be able to vote. But it is up to the Chief Electoral Officer to decide how this obligation is to be met, even though the Muslim community never made any specific request about this. This is where the real problem lies. The bill is responding to a request that was never made by a specific community that has been identified as the community to which the Chief Electoral Officer's decision was meant to respond.

The problem with the bill that is before us is that it is still up to the Chief Electoral Officer to determine how voters are to meet the requirement to identify themselves. We would not want Muslim women to ask to uncover their faces only in front of other women, because gender equality with regard to election officials would not be respected. In our opinion, religious considerations have no place in public spaces. We are not saying that religions are marginal or unimportant, but government employees have a responsibility to enforce the law fairly and equitably for everyone. In our opinion, there is no basis for this. I repeat that there has never been a request, on religious grounds, that Muslim women, for example—I am using this example because it has been reported most often in the media—be able to ask election officials to be allowed to uncover their faces only in front of another woman.

In our view, this is exactly the same as if a police officer wanted to arrest a man and the man invoked his religion and said that he could not get into a car with a female police officer. It is the same kind of thing. And that is the direction in which we will be going.

In committee, we will be proposing that a number of provisions in the act be tightened to ensure that such cases do not arise and that it will not once again be the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer to decide the procedures relating to the obligation for people to identify themselves when they vote. We have been sent a signal: it is up to parliamentarians to provide a complete response to the problem raised in the three byelections in Quebec.

We therefore support the bill in principle, but in terms of the manner in which it will be applied, we will want to be sure that religious considerations will not conflict with the fundamental principle, the obligation that electors have to identify themselves properly when they vote. We will therefore also be wanting to raise the question of postal ballots.

We will quite properly be raising the fact that while an elector has to identify himself or herself by showing his or her face in an election, there will be no such obligation for postal ballots. We will therefore want to amend the Elections Act accordingly in this regard. We will see whether this is acceptable during debate, but logically, it seems to me that we will have to move in that direction.

For example, it is mandatory to uncover one’s face and have one’s face uncovered when passport photographs are taken. In the area of airport security, the authorities are entitled to ensure that people are properly identified, by way of the passports or ID cards that are requested. Logically, for a right as important in a democracy as the right to vote, out of fairness to all electors, we have to ensure that the same methods are applied, including that everyone have an obligation, for the process of identification, to vote with his or her face uncovered.

That is the position that the Bloc Québécois will be taking. Once again, I would repeat, on the substantive issues, we support the bill. In our view, it is crucial that we ensure that all electors are equal before the law. As I said earlier, it is those principles that we will be arguing for in committee.

To conclude, I reiterate that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle. All electors must be equal before the law. The Bloc Québécois and the other political parties believe that the Elections Act, as amended in 2007, was sufficiently clear. However, because the Chief Electoral Officer has refused to use his exceptional power to require that everyone who votes do so with their face uncovered, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is necessary to amend the act as quickly as possible.

As well, the Bloc Québécois notes that the bill presented by the government is not a complete response in terms of the principles of the equality of all persons before the law. As I said, the bill in fact opens the door to violations of the principle of the equality of men and women.

The first five clauses of Bill C-6 were introduced in order to allow deputy returning officers and poll clerks to delegate their power to another individual. This is what I was talking about earlier, and felt was the weak point in this bill. Using that mechanism, a male deputy returning officer could accommodate a female elector by designating a women before whom the elector could uncover her face to confirm her identity. In our view, that violates the principle of equality between men and women and of equality among all electors.

The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-6 at second reading but will require that the first five amendments be changed, as I stated, to ensure that everyone has the same obligations with respect to the law.

I mentioned that the Bloc Québécois acted quickly in this matter. We wish to closely monitor this issue particularly since we are aware that it is at the heart of a debate that is extremely important to Quebec—the place of religion in public space.

That is not all. As I mentioned, we believe that by virtue of the principles of equity and equality, and out of respect for the values of Quebeckers, which are shared by Canadians, Bill C-6 must be amended to ensure that it fulfills its purpose. The government wanted to address the issue raised by the Chief Electoral Officer; however, its solution is inadequate and is not in keeping with the expectations of the Bloc Québécois and of Quebec society as a whole.

In the hours following the decision by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the parties in the National Assembly were united. Premier Jean Charest, the leader of the ADQ, Mario Dumont, and the new leader of the Parti Québécois believed that common sense dictated that individuals should vote with their face uncovered to ensure proper identification and also, as I mentioned, for security reasons, as is the norm. Therefore I find it difficult to see how, in the case of such an important right as the right to vote, these rights would be violated.

As I was saying, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-6 at second reading.