House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was loan.


Board of Internal Economy

11 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It is my duty to inform the House, pursuant to the Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, Chapter 32, Statutes of Canada, 1997, of the following appointments to the Board of Internal Economy: Mr. Moore, Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, in replacement of Mr. Hill as a representative of the government caucus, and Mr. Hill in replacement of Ms. Skelton as a representative of the Queen's Privy Council.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

moved that Bill C-377, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin to speak briefly about the legislation, I want to acknowledge that I had the opportunity to be with some firefighters in Manitoba over the weekend, remarkable men and women who are working on our behalf, and yet I have to report today to the House that a tragedy has occurred and two firefighters died Sunday night after a massive flash of heat and flames overwhelmed them in a burning Winnipeg home.

A crew was inside the flame-consumed building when they were hit by what is called a flashover, a sudden violent burst of flames at extreme temperatures. Two senior captains, both with more than 30 years of experience, did not make it out. Others are suffering at the moment in hospital. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with them at this moment. I am sure I express the sentiments of all members of the House in drawing attention to this tragedy.

It is with a certain degree of emotion that I am able to stand here today and present a private member's bill on the crisis of climate change. That is partly because I never thought I would have such an opportunity when I first read Silent Spring in the 1960s and began to become aware of the environmental crises that were facing the country, or when my dad, who later was to become a member of Parliament and in fact a minister of the Crown, told my brothers and I that we should install solar hot water heating on top of our roof in Hudson, Quebec in about 1969. He had a vision that the way in which we were conducting our activities on the planet was going to have to change. He was someone who focused very much on that work. He was involved in putting up some of the first wind turbines in Canada in the mid-1970s on Prince Edward Island and in many other innovations and initiatives as well.

I am also thinking of our reaction when the global scientists came to Toronto in 1988. I was a member of the city council at the time. They spoke about the crisis of global warming that was emerging. Members of our council from all political backgrounds came back quite shaken and decided that we needed to act. That is when we created the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which I had the privilege of leading for a period of time.

To be here in the House and to call now for significant action on climate change is therefore an opportunity that I cherish and respect deeply. I believe that members of the House want to see action taken.

Last week in Paris, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said:

If you see the extent to which human activities are influencing the climate system, the options for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions appear in a very different light, because you can see what the costs of inaction are.

Canadians are seeing the costs now. This winter, the costs of inaction have been very easy to spot. We had the devastating storm in Stanley Park. We have had the first green Christmas in memory in places such as Timmins and Quebec City. There was the giant slab of ice that broke off in the Arctic, a slab that was bigger and broke off sooner than any scientists were predicting.

I think that ordinary Canadians have for quite a long time known what these costs are. Canadians have been seeing and breathing the consequences of pollution for years.

In an experience that far too many Canadian families have had, I remember having to take my asthmatic son to the emergency ward. He came back from a camp up north and was breathing well, but he arrived in our city on a smog day, and within two days he was in the emergency ward and they were putting the third oxygen mask on him. As I stood at his side, the doctor said, “We normally don't get to put three masks on”. We lose far too many young people and far too many seniors prematurely because of filthy air, yet we do not take action.

Another image I will never forget as long as I live was being in Quesnel this past summer, walking through the forest with the experts and seeing the devastation of the pine beetle. I then flew over the forest in the helicopter to see the extent of the damage with those who were involved in trying to harvest the forest and protect it as well.

I then travelled back to Vancouver and realized that thousands of square kilometres of the lodgepole pine had been destroyed. Virtually an entire ecosystem has been destroyed.

As is visible from satellites, the lungs of the planet in our Canadian forests have been destroyed. More recently, in Kamloops we saw the Ponderosa pine infested just this past summer. Now, virtually all of the Ponderosa pines have died. The landscape is going to be transformed.

There are impacts in the north. The first person I heard speak about this so passionately was Sheila Watt-Cloutier, of whom we are very proud today because she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She spoke about how streams in the north have become so torrential from melting ice that they have become very dangerous and about how new species are invading the north and having an enormous impact on the ecosystems there.

I remember meeting with aboriginal hunters in Dawson City, seniors who described how the animals they used to hunt are now being preyed upon by predators from the south. New kinds of mosquitoes, blackflies, fish and birds are coming into the north and disrupting ecosystems that have been in place for thousands of years.

The melting permafrost is having devastating impacts on buildings and of course is also having an impact on the migration of the caribou herds, which are now greatly threatened.

There is now a longer ice-free season. Ice roads are now weakened and are coming into place much later. I remember when Sheila Watt-Cloutier looked at me when we were in Buenos Aires at the COP conference and said that “global warming is now killing our young men”. She described how young men driving trucks on the ice roads were going through the ice and perishing. In fact, she felt that global warming was destroying the traditional Inuit way of life.

Canadians have been seeing these changes and are calling for action. I think we have to say that they have been disappointed to date, but they are hopeful that perhaps for this House, in this time, in this place, when we have a wave of public opinion urging us on, when we have every political party suggesting that it wants to be seen to take action and, let us hope, actually wants to take action, there is a moment in time here that is unique in Canadian history when action can be taken. It is going to require us to put aside some of what we normally do here, and we have to understand the need for speed.

When we proposed that the Bill C-30 committee move quickly to produce the best legislation possible, there was the comment by some members who were asking, “What is the rush here?”

I will tell members what the rush is. It is a polar bear population soon to be placed on the endangered species list, spotted farther south than ever before and in desperate straits.

It is about jobs in our communities, whether they be in forestry, fishing or hunting. These jobs are now at risk.

There is a decrease in water levels in rivers and lakes that is jeopardizing not only water quality but even the possibility of generating the hydroelectricity that we are going to need as part of the clean energy solution.

Therefore, the rush is about jobs, the rush is about protecting parkland and species, and the rush is about the health of our families and our kids' future tomorrow, not only here but all around the world. That is what the rush is all about. I would urge all members to realize that we have to get moving. Endless conversation and the dragging out of processes are counterproductive.

Over the years we have seen the Conservatives and the Liberals subsidize the oil and gas sector to the tune of over $40 billion. We need to end this practice. We need to start putting those precious Canadian taxpayers' dollars into the solutions, not into accelerating the problems.

We have to invest in clean energy and in energy efficiency projects.

We can create jobs through retrofitting the homes of low income Canadians. That would create work all over Canada, not just in one part of the country's economy having to do with energy. It would also help Canadians who are struggling, whether they are seniors or families with modest incomes. It would enable them to burn less, pay less and create work in their local communities as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has to happen and it has to happen now.

We have to put in place fuel efficiency standards for the auto sector so that the automobiles on our roads can be much less polluting than they have been historically.

As well, we must honour the obligations that we have undertaken to the world under the Kyoto protocol.

Let us consider the scientific facts and data. The report by Dr. Pachauri from the international panel of experts released in Paris concluded that global warming was caused by human activity. It is clear that we have caused this problem, and we now have a responsibility to tackle it, a responsibility to our planet and a responsibility to our children and grandchildren.

The Paris report also predicts that the temperature will rise by up to 6.4oC by the end of this century; that is unacceptable, and quick action is required. This will mean more droughts and intense heatwaves, more tropical storms and hurricanes, and sea level rising by half a metre, which in itself is quite phenomenal.

Those certainly are alarming predictions and, as David Suzuki has said, “the scientists have done their part and the burden has now shifted to the politicians”. Let us take on that burden and let us do Canadians proud by taking action in the next short number of weeks.

We tabled the bill to ensure that Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing climate change. It is only part of the solution. There are other elements that we have an opportunity to move on through Bill C-30, through the budget and through other processes. However, this is a very important piece of the puzzle because it is particularly rooted in what science tells us to do if we are to avoid the dangerous levels of global temperature increase.

The science tells us to do everything that we can to avoid a two degree rise in surface air temperatures. These targets that have been established and laid out in bill are based on a report by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation and they build on Canada's obligations under the Kyoto protocol.

Canada must honour its obligations under the Kyoto protocol. Canada has to be involved in international efforts to combat climate change. We must be involved every step of the way, and we should play a leadership role.

Under the climate change accountability act, action to reduce greenhouse gases would begin immediately. A full range of targets at five year intervals will need to be in place within six months of it being adopted. This is speeding up our entire process in the House and in Canada to achieve our goals.

Also, to ensure compliance, the bill proposes that we give the authority to government to make strong regulations and to ensure there are offences and penalties for those who contravene the regulations passed under the act. It is time to get tough on the polluters.

The bill also proposes to mandate the environment commissioner to report on the government's selection of targets and the measures it adopts to reach those goals. We continue to believe, in fact more so in the light of recent events, that the environment commissioner should be an officer of the House and report directly to the House of Commons.

With the bill, Canadians would see action in their lifetime. They would not need to hold their breath any longer for action by the House of Commons.

I would like to speak briefly to the companion effort that we are all undertaking through the special committee that has been established. This is a unique opportunity for each of us, for each of our parties, to put forward our best ideas and to vote on them. It is perhaps a rather radical idea the notion that each party would simply put its best notions forward, would, on a fair and reasonable basis, assess the proposals of other parties and would raise their hands in the committee and, ultimately, in the House in favour of the best ideas that Canadians have been able to bring forward to this place on the biggest crisis facing the planet.

The time for action is now, and we will continue to push for these measures. The NDP will press on with clear targets and goals. We will try to get this bill passed and we will lobby the parties represented on the legislative committee struck to rewrite the clean air act to meet the goals for strong, tough, meaningful and innovative measures.

That is something we can and must do.

Our commitment to the House and to all Canadians is to do everything that we can to produce results from the House in the very short period of time before we find ourselves having to go back to Canadians. I do not want to go back and tell them we were not able to get it done. I want to go back and tell them that we all got together and we got it done.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will open by sharing the kind, gracious and gentle words that the member brought forward at the opening of his remarks with respect to the death of two senior captains, two firefighters who perished in Winnipeg. Our thoughts and prayers on this side of the House are also with their families and with those who were injured and their families.

I have no doubt that the member offers his comments and proposals in Bill C-377 with complete sincerity. I have known him to be a man of strong integrity. We have worked together in the past in other lives on a national climate change response and I commend him for contributing to the debate. I welcome the opportunity to put questions to him about the merits of his proposal.

Perhaps the leader of the NDP could help Canadians understand the position the new government is pursuing, which speaks directly to the question of what the government describes as hot air credits and hot air purchases offshore.

Could the leader of the NDP help us to understand how his bill would reinforce our international emissions trading obligations under the Kyoto treaty which would give access to Canadian companies and to the government as a whole to a wonderful and marvellous market mechanism that could help us to reduce our greenhouse gases at a lower cost? Could he help us to understand how his bill would reinforce those mechanisms in the Kyoto treaty?

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is true that many of us have worked in other lives on aspects of this issue over many years and we now have an opportunity to do so again.

Perhaps the member has had a look at a book I wrote on the topic that he asked about just a moment ago. It is true that market mechanisms can be put in place and they are fundamental to the Kyoto protocol to help us as part of the toolbox that allows us to achieve our obligations.

When we participated in another position I held once upon a time with Toronto Hydro in discussions about how we could move environmental initiatives forward, we looked at those market mechanisms. We talked about how we could engage with those who were polluting and have them invest in the solutions as well as bringing their own pollution down, which is precisely what the Kyoto protocol imagines taking place around the world. It is certainly an opportunity that we should be establishing here through an exchange process in Canada. It would give us an opportunity to honour our Kyoto obligations, which is something that we must do, and we need to use the tools that are available to us and make them work.

I believe we have some solutions available right here in Canada that should be front and centre. I have spoken for some considerable period of time, as I know many are now, of the possibility of a grid across our country so that the clean energy that is produced in one part of Canada could be used in a part of Canada that currently is having to use a polluting source energy.

I see this as akin to the new national dream where we could connect the sustainable energy sources that we have available here in Canada to one another.

When we had the blackout I remember that only one part of Canada had power, which was across the border in Quebec and on the other side of the river we did not. This made no sense. We need to embark on the kinds of projects that can get us on track to achieving those Kyoto obligations.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, for tabling Bill C-377. I believe this is a first step and gives a direction to the fight against climate change. That said, I have a question about clause 5 of his bill and the commitments articulated therein.

I read the bill introduced by the leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, and not once did I see the word “Kyoto”. Furthermore, clause 5—which is about the commitments Canada would be expected to fulfill should this bill be adopted—does not mention the first phase: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6%.

Why are there medium and long term targets, but no short term targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6%?

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, we introduced this bill knowing that Canada has already signed the Kyoto protocol. The NDP supports the Kyoto protocol. We think it is essential that Canada fulfill its Kyoto protocol obligations. Targets have been established and we will support any bill or motion that recognizes the importance of this essential protocol.

Scientists tell us that we will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically even once we have reached the Kyoto protocol targets. In a way, our bill is designed to respond to scientists' recommendations to act now.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we are debating Bill C-377, the climate change accountability act.

I would like to begin by saying that there are some aspects of this bill that are laudable. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that Canada contributes to the stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions and to prevent dangerous changes to the climate. This is something the government has made clear that it is committed to. Canadians have sent the message that the environment is their number one priority and the government agrees.

I would also like to congratulate the Minister of the Environment on his recent trip to Paris for the release of the IPCC report. The recent report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change shone a very strong spotlight on the issue of climate change, and rightly so. Climate change is real. The scientific evidence supporting the warming of the planet has become so strong, it is unequivocal. What our environment needs and what Canadians demand is real action, not just empty talk and empty promises.

We have heard from the opposition parties that they want to improve Canada's clean air act. I would encourage them that the best way to do that is to set aside party politics and genuinely work together so that we can make progress on this important issue. Let us work collaboratively, so that Canadians can see that the representatives in Ottawa are willing to put aside their partisan differences to actually make the difference on the environment.

The appropriate venue for moving forward on this matter is the legislative committee on Bill C-30. If the opposition parties have ideas and suggestions, as expressed through private members' bills and opposition motions, bring those to the table during the amendment of Bill C-30. We have been pleased that the NDP has demonstrated a willingness to work collaboratively. We hope that the Liberals and the Bloc would also be willing to move forward on this matter in a timely fashion. We do not want to waste time. We want to prove to Canadians that we can work together.

Canada's natural beauty, its rivers, forests, prairies, mountains, is one of this country's greatest features. Our natural resources also provide great opportunities and great challenges. Our government is committed to being good stewards of our environment and our resources. The state of the environment the government inherited a year ago posed great threats to the health of every Canadian, especially to the most vulnerable in our society.

Children and seniors suffer disproportionately from smog, poor air quality and environmental hazards. Poor air is not a minor irritant to be endured but a serious health issue that poses an increasing risk to the well-being of Canadians. Greenhouse gas emissions also degrade Canada's natural landscape and pose an imminent threat to our economic prosperity. That is why our government is taking real, concrete action to achieve results.

Canadians are tired of empty promises. They want and deserve action and results. Bill C-30, Canada's clean air act, is a response to that. Canada's clean air act makes a bold new era of environmental protection as this country's first comprehensive and integrated approach to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Our government is taking unprecedented action to reduce both greenhouse gases and air pollutants. It is important to recognize that most sources of air pollutants are also sources of greenhouse gases and Bill C-30 recognizes that reality.

Canada's clean air act contains important new provisions that will expand the powers of the federal government to address the existing inefficient regulatory framework. It will replace the current ad hoc patchwork system with comprehensive national standards. By improving and bringing more accountability to CEPA, Bill C-30 does the following things.

It requires that the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health establish, monitor and report on new national air quality objectives, it strengthens the government's ability to make new regulations on air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, and it expands our ability to work cooperatively with the provinces and territories to avoid regulatory overlapping.

The second key difference in our approach to clean air lies in our focus on mandatory regulations to achieve real results now and in the future. We are the first federal government to introduce mandatory regulations on all industrial sectors across Canada to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases. Voluntary approaches are impossible to enforce. These approaches have simply not delivered the results that we need.

The clean air act sent a strong signal to industries that the day of voluntary emission targets are over and that they had to adapt to this new environmental reality of compulsory targets.

We believe that clear regulations will provide industry with called for certainty and an incentive to invest in the technologies needed to deliver early reductions in air pollutants and greenhouses gases.

The government is committed to real action. It is what Canadians have been demanding for years and it is what our country and our environment deserves.

How is the government making a difference? We are moving from voluntary action to mandatory regulations. We are moving from random, arbitrary targets to logical targets. We are moving from uncertainty to certainty. We are moving from a scattered patchwork approach to an integrated national approach. We are moving from talking to taking action and we are moving from empty promises to fulfilled commitments.

That is why Canadians put their trust in us a year ago. We will not let them down. We are getting the job done.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to the merits of Bill C-377, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change. This bill clearly deserves a careful examination on its merits. As I said moments ago, the sincerity of the member who is putting it forward I believe is beyond reproach. But the introduction of Bill C-377 is timely.

On Friday you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the House considered Bill C-288 put forward by my good friend the member for Honoré-Mercier. Of course, Bill C-288 is an act to ensure Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto treaty. Bill C-288 reflects our party's hope that Canada will choose the right path while listening to climate experts, playing a leadership role with the international community and transforming our economy to meet the challenge of the 21st century.

As we all know there is a legislative committee currently at work rewriting the government's failed clean air act. With the ongoing work of the environment committee, Parliament is seized with environmental issues these days. This should not come as much of a surprise.

Where are we now? The environment emerged as the number one issue for Canadians after the government cancelled successful programs like EnerGuide, halted initiatives to increase renewable energies such as wind power, and effectively killed a national plan to regulate large final emitters and worked to establish a carbon trading market in Canada, all in the first year of the Conservative new government.

In total, $5.6 billion worth of environmental programs were scrapped. The government has stumbled in particular when it comes to the question of climate change.

I have a simple question for the government, which has now been in power for a full year: will it table its plan to fight climate change? I have asked this question repeatedly, and I am still waiting for an answer.

Unless the government can prove otherwise to Canadians, 12 months into its mandate, Canadians can draw only one conclusion: there is no plan.

The government is making things up as it goes along. It is jumping from ice floe to ice floe, announcing programs here, handing out cheques there and holding photo ops. What is even worse, last week, the Prime Minister was asked 18 times to clarify his position on climate change—which he denied for 10 years before becoming Prime Minister, including while he was leader of the opposition—and to tell us whether he was right then or whether he is right now. He consistently refused to answer.

This is worse than having no plan. Clearly, the government and the Prime Minister have no vision.

Climate change was not one of the government's top five priorities. It was barely mentioned in the throne speech, absent in the economic update and, worse, the only attention paid to the environment was to be found in the 2006 budget, which demonstrated massive cutting.

The first year was spent aggressively discrediting our government's 2005 green plan. The new Minister of the Environment, the one sent to rescue a sinking ship, was not that long ago the minister of energy in a provincial government who led the fight to stop the ratification of the Kyoto treaty and to stop action on climate change. Since his appointment, the government has taken to regifting parts of our 2005 action plan.

The hypocrisy of this is so bad that the government regifted our government's report on our obligations under Kyoto for the calendar year 2006, imagine. It may have knowingly misled the international community by reporting programs it was cutting as actually being in place.

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the government intends to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty and is doing so by subterfuge, by stealth, and by a thousand cuts.

Its spurious misleading of the House with regard to what it describes as “useless Russian hot air purchases” deliberately misleads Canadians and undermines the hard-fought clean development mechanism and the joint implementation mechanism, both in the treaty, that leveraged the power of the free market to meet our goals. It relies on, for example, the use of an international trading system to reduce greenhouse gases internationally at a lower cost.

That is why my leader, the hon. member, said:

I call on the Prime Minister to implement a comprehensive plan to honour Canada's Kyoto commitment, including a cap-and-trade carbon market, with more demanding targets than that proposed in 2005.

I call on the Prime Minister to implement environmental tax reform and fiscal measures to reward good environmental behaviour, and provide disincentives for behaviour that harms the environment and human health—all in a way that enables every region and province to succeed in the sustainable economy.

He also said:

I call on the Prime Minister to better support greener energy production and other forms of renewable energy, starting with a minimum target of 12,000 megawatts of wind power production.

I call on the Prime Minister to better support the research, development and commercialization of resource-efficient and environment-friendly technologies.

Most importantly, I call on the Prime Minister to do all this in a way that strengthens the Canadian economy, providing better jobs and a higher standard of living for our children.

If the government is serious about a global response to a global challenge, which reflects the fact that there may be 190 countries in the world but there is only one atmosphere, I challenge it further. I challenge all members of the House, including the government's caucus, to vote for our motion tabled in the House on Thursday.

Let me turn now to the merits of Bill C-377.

Like the clean air act, Bill C-377 is not necessary. It is important for Canadians to know that the bill was introduced in October, prior to his requested secret meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the clean air act. It is unclear to Canadians and to us, as an opposition, whether the NDP has cut a deal with the government on the so-called clean air act. If so, it is legitimate to ask whether the bill ought still to be put forward by the leader of the NDP.

Upon re-reading the bill, I was astonished to learn that the leader of the NDP has dropped any reference to respecting the Kyoto accord in its entirety. Just like the so-called clean air act, Bill C-377 sets no short term targets to curb global warming. Only two are defined: one in 2020 the other in 2050. Perhaps the member could explain why his bill sets no short term targets.

Perhaps the leader of the NDP could explain why he has called on Canada to unilaterally vary the targets for emissions in Canada without any mention of the penalties that would accrue to Canada and Canadians under the Kyoto protocol. Has he forgotten we are a party to the protocol? Is he proposing to facilitate a government skirting the essential issue of near term targets? Why would he suggest that we delay action?

Let me reiterate that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is available now, this week, for immediate action. There is no excuse for avoiding short term.

What is the NDP's intention with respect to our motion on Kyoto? Will the leader of the NDP be fully supportive at the vote this afternoon? Will the government?

It appears as if the member's bill, by giving discretion to the environment minister to set targets starting in 2015, facilitates a further removal from Kyoto. I remind the government and all members that targets were negotiated internationally. I am convinced the member would not knowingly facilitate the government treating Canada like an island or under the guise of splinter groups, and have us withdraw from our 167 partners that support the Kyoto treaty. It is fundamental that Canada participate, globally, to fight a global threat.

Finally, I welcome the attempt in Bill C-377 to leverage the role of the environment commissioner to meet our targets. Given our proposal as the official opposition to make the environment commissioner fully independent, I also welcome his support of our motion to hive off the commissioner's position and make it a stand-alone one with a strengthened mandate.

I look forward to hearing answers from the leader of the NDP. I congratulate him for his positive contribution to this debate.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak to the private member's bill introduced by the leader of the NDP. Bill C-377 aims to ensure that Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change.

I would first like to remind members that, for us here on this side of the House, any policy aimed at fighting climate change must incorporate the objectives set out in the Kyoto protocol. Furthermore, on Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, submitted its fourth report on climate change. This latest report confirms that, more than ever, urgent action is needed.

The Intergovernmental Panel, formed in 1988, warned the public and the international community about the threat posed by carbon dioxide emissions, specifically concerning the fact that climate change and carbon dioxide production is closely linked to human activities.

The fourth report of the IPCC confirmed, with nearly 90% certainty, a link between the climate change we are seeing today and human activities. Last week, the IPCC report predicted that sea levels will rise by nearly 56 cm—nearly two feet—and that temperatures will rise by from 1.1o to more than 6o. It thus confirmed previous reports. It emphasized that urgent action is needed to fight climate change and stressed the importance of creating an action plan in order to meet the Kyoto protocol targets. We feel that any plan to fight climate change introduced by the government must incorporate the Kyoto targets and would be the only appropriate response to the IPCC fourth report on climate change.

Today we have Bill C-377 before us. However, it is important to remind the House that, last May, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion calling on the government to table a plan that would include the Kyoto targets. The plan was to have been tabled last fall. We were asking that Canada provide international leadership. The majority of parliamentarians voted in favour of implementing the Kyoto protocol. We know what happened next. The former Minister of the Environment went to Nairobi, set aside the Kyoto targets and obligations, and made an irresponsible speech about the fight against climate change. This motion, adopted last May 16 by the House of Commons, created a framework for our expectations with regard to climate change.

After the Bloc Québécois motion, the Liberal MP for Honoré-Mercier tabled a bill that clearly articulated the Kyoto protocol targets in regulations and legislation. We studied this bill in committee. The Bloc Québécois proposed amendments to include the territorial approach enabling a province, such as Quebec, to be responsible for and free to implement its own plan for fighting climate change while meeting the Kyoto targets. With these amendments, Bill C-288 was adopted by the House and we talked about it here last Friday.

Today, we have another bill, Bill C-377, tabled by the leader of the NDP. This is definitely support in principle. However, I have the feeling that this bill at times sets us back a few months.

Let us not forget that the Bloc Québécois presented a motion calling on the government to table a plan consistent with Kyoto to combat climate change. Let us also not forget the opposition initiative, a bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, again consistent with the Kyoto protocol. Today, the leader of the NDP is introducing a bill that does not incorporate the Kyoto protocol targets, particularly in terms of the first phase of reductions.

How is that the NDP, which has always said it is in favour of the Kyoto protocol, is today introducing a bill where the term “Kyoto” appears just once and there is no mention of the 6% target for the first reduction phase?

All this bill mentions are medium-term targets, or a 25% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and longer term targets of 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. However, the bill lacks a target for the first reduction phase between 2008 and 2012. This bill suggests that Canada is prepared to ensure that the targets for the first phase of reductions are met.

When asked, the leader of the NDP said that it was understood that Canada had signed the Kyoto protocol and ratified it. He said that as though this guarantees that the Canadian government will respect the Kyoto targets.

Since 1997, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have introduced measures that have not respected the 6% reduction targets. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 27% since 1990. If Canada wants to meet the first target, it has to make an overall effort achieving 33%. All of a sudden the NDP has confidence in the Canadian government, saying that the government signed the Kyoto protocol and therefore it intends to respect it.

We will support the bill in principle today, because this is a step in the right direction, but that is not enough. The Bloc Québécois could not support a bill that did not include the phase one greenhouse gas reduction targets. We are finding ourselves in a situation where only one political party in this House has been supporting the Kyoto protocol since 1997, when it came to be, and that is the Bloc Québécois. I was in Kyoto in 1997 and I have seen all the time that has been wasted before Canada committed, through ratification of the accord, to respect Kyoto.

We will recall that, at the time, there were discussions within cabinet between the industry minister and the natural resources minister about flushing out the Kyoto objectives. The then Minister of the Environment, Christine Stewart, was stuck between the oil lobby and provinces like Quebec which wanted the Kyoto protocol to be respected. Back in 1997, the Bloc Québécois already supported the Kyoto protocol.

Since last Friday, the Conservative government has merely recognized the existence of climate change, and the Minister of the Environment expressed surprise at the IPCC report. I think that the government ought to take note of the existence of climate change.

We would like four things to be added to this bill introduced by the NDP. First, compliance with the Kyoto targets, particularly the phase one targets — and if this bill goes forward, expect the Bloc Québécois to put amendments forward. Second, a territorial approach. I sense that, in the mind of the hon. member, clause 10 hints at agreements and bilateral accords that might be signed with the provinces. Third, a carbon exchange, which is clearly identified as an option in clause 10. Bear in mind also that, in our opinion, the reduction targets should be based on absolute value, and not intensity, as the government would like it to be. Finally, let us not forget the $328 million necessary to achieve the Kyoto objectives in Quebec.

If this bill moves further along the parliamentary process, we will propose amendments, especially with respect to the Kyoto objectives.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-377. I would like to start off by recognizing the incredible work done by the member for Toronto—Danforth, for his many years as a Toronto city councillor where he brought forward ideas to cut smog and pollution, and for his ongoing commitment in his role as leader of the NDP to make sure that Canada lives up to its commitments to the world on reducing greenhouse gases and addressing the crisis of climate change.

I would like to also recognize the Canadian public who for years have been calling upon the government to act, to clean up our air and our water, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ordinary Canadians are far ahead of us in recognizing it is long past time to take our promises to the world seriously. In 1992 at the Earth Summit, Canada urged the world to act on the looming crisis of climate change. We promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but we failed to act and instead, our emissions went up, not down. We not only failed to act, we failed our country and we failed our planet.

I want to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for bringing this bill before the House. It lays out a plan to ensure that Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and creates an accountability measure to make sure that we follow through and meet those targets.

It is important to pass this bill because we are in a crisis. We can point to many examples around the world. Scientists have pointed out these examples, such as melting polar ice caps, bigger and stronger hurricanes in the south, and longer periods of drought in many places around the world. Many people in this House and in this country have probably seen Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, which follows the trend of global warming over many years and highlights some startling examples.

I would like to talk for a few moments about what I have seen in Canada in my riding of Vancouver Island North.

My riding is on the west coast of Canada and it is typically known as a rain forest. We jokingly refer to it as the wet coast. We do not worry about smog days because we have fog days. A few years ago we noticed our summers were getting longer and hotter. Cedar trees were wilting by the end of summer because of a lack of rain and because of the intense heat.

Because the forest is drying out more quickly, there is more likelihood of forest fires. While forest fires are nothing new in British Columbia, they usually happen in July and August, but last year we had our first fire on Vancouver Island in May, not very far from where I live. We counted ourselves lucky because there was no property damage; however, the birds, the deer, the frogs and all the other creatures that lived in that forested area perished or are without a home.

Another example of how our weather is changing is the Cliffe Glacier in the Comox Valley. It is the focal point of many beautiful postcards, as well as a source of cold water for the lakes and rivers that it feeds. For the last few years we have been seeing more and more of the mountain poking out of the ice as the glacier melts a little more every summer. It is an eerie feeling when I look up at that glacier in the summer and see rocks that have been covered for thousands of years. It makes me sad knowing that if Canada had acted sooner on its commitment, we would not be in this crisis.

The most startling example of climate change on the coast is in our oceans. For thousands of years people on the west coast have relied upon the oceans for their food, for their livelihood and for their recreation. Fishermen used to be able to count on returns of salmon at certain times of the year, but with the warmer rivers running into a warmer ocean, fish migration patterns are changing.

Last year, as an example, with the warmer water salmon were returning later to the streams to spawn and die as they usually do, but the streams were low due to a lack of summer and fall rains. Then when the rains did come, they came with a vengeance, flushing away everything in the river, including the tiny eggs in many small streams. This will have an impact for years to come. Couple that with the increasing acidity of our oceans due to carbon dioxide and the impact on fish habitat is enormous.

Yes, Canada must act. Those are just a few examples right here in our own backyard. I could list many others, such as the pine beetle infestation in the B.C. interior and melting in the Arctic which has a profound impact on wildlife and vegetation. I am sure there are thousands more examples we could point to for reasons that Canada must act quickly to address the now imminent crisis of climate change.

Bill C-377's short title is the climate change accountability act. It proposes measures to meet our commitments and creates an obligation for the environment commissioner to review and report to Parliament on our progress.

This is something we did not have in the past. There was no accountability of the previous government to live up to our commitments. Because of that, our greenhouse gas emissions went up instead of down. We are further behind many other countries. Canada can afford to live up to its commitments to the world. We are a rich country in so many ways. We have the technology to act.

In 2005 the NDP put forward a plan to help Canada act on its commitments to the world. It is called “Sustainability within a generation: A Kyoto plan to clean our air, fight climate change, and create jobs”. It would save future generations health, economic and ecological costs. It is a comprehensive plan to create jobs building clean renewable energy solutions right here in Canada, incentives to reduce energy consumption for businesses and homes, invest more in public transit and sustainable transportation, retrofit federal government facilities to reduce energy consumption, and cap large emitters with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This plan is achievable and would put Canada on the path to reverse the growth of emissions. I am proud of our party's commitment to work in this House with other parties on Bill C-30 to put some of these ideas into action.

Ordinary families want to retrofit and renovate their homes to be more energy efficient, but the constraints of everyday living and the costs of conversion are out of reach for them. This is where government could help with subsidies for families. It is unfair to Canadian families who see the oil and gas industry, one of the largest CO2 emitters, get government subsidies while those companies make enormous profits. It is unfair to the families who are working to make our environment a cleaner place to live.

I was pleased to see the recent announcements of the government to invest money in alternative energy solutions, more money for wind, solar and wave generated power. That investment is long overdue and falls short of what is needed to help Canada achieve its clean energy commitments. I will be watching the government carefully and reminding it that it also needs to live up to the commitments Canada made to the world.

In British Columbia there are no windmills, no wind generated power. We are the only province in Canada that does not have them and it is not for a lack of desire. There are small companies working very hard trying to implement wind, solar and wave generated power, but they need help from the government to make it a reality. Solar panels for homes are expensive and working families need assistance up front to purchase clean energy solutions, not after the fact.

If we are going to make real changes quickly, the government needs to make a stronger commitment to the people of Canada and the environment.

Again, I am pleased to support Bill C-377, an act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities, preventing dangerous climate change.

I am pleased to hear that the government wants to work together, because we have an obligation to act. We promised we would act in 1992. We promised we would dramatically cut pollution. We promised we would act in Kyoto. Canadians want us to act. Our children want us to act. Our children's future depends on us. We must act now.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business


Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, as you mentioned previously, I only have about a minute. I had prepared a big long speech with all sorts of information, but I will just make a very quick intervention.

First, I question the sincerity of the NDP to put forward this particular private member's bill. We have a legislative committee Bill C-30, the clean air act, proposed by this government to clean up greenhouse gases and to clean up the air we breathe.

I say to the NDP and all members of this House, let us work together, put politics aside for a change, put partisanship aside and let us work for the environment for the best interest of Canadians.

Bill C-30 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will make our air cleaner to breathe for all Canadians for future generations. I would encourage members to do that.

I would also encourage everybody listening and watching today, all Canadians, to not believe what I, or the NDP, or the Liberals, or the Bloc are saying. I ask them to look for themselves on websites, ask their members of Parliament to provide information so they can educate themselves on the great initiative that this government, the minister and the Prime Minister are doing.

We are a government of action. We are going to get results for Canadians if we can put aside partisan politics and work together for the best interest of Canadians. Bill C-30 is a great bill. It is a great initiative. I say put aside Bill C-377, put aside the other motions put forward by the other parties, and let us work together collaboratively for the best interest of Canadians today and the best interest of future generations. We can get the job done. This government will get the job done.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from February 2 consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders



Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, a very important piece of legislation.

Our democracy is truly the essence of how we define ourselves as a nation and as a people. We all know that the electoral process in Canada needs to be updated. Different provinces and municipalities are looking at Bill C-31.

In general, the New Democratic Party supports the effort behind Bill C-31, but our party cannot support the bill because of a number of specific clauses which we believe will eventually reduce the electoral system in terms of fairness. We believe it will eventually end in a court challenge in that the charter rights of individuals may be exposed in a very vulnerable sense. Hence, the bill could eventually be struck down.

I want to talk about how we can improve the electoral process. Also, I want to speak to the dangers in the bill. The first danger is the bill requires that before voting, an elector provide one piece of government issued photo identification showing the elector's name and address, or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer which show the elector's name and address, or that the elector take an oath and be vouched for by another person.

The problem with that is the simple fact that persons with disabilities, the homeless and other disenfranchised voters may not have that type of ID at the time of voting or they may not be able to produce it at the time of voting and they would not be able to vote. In my constituency there are some individuals who arrive at the voting station and use other documents to prove who they are. Sometimes they produce bills from an established body, for example, Bell Canada, with other ID, such as a birth certificate. However, they may not have the photo ID required under Bill C-31. Individuals who did not have government issued ID would not be eligible to vote, despite being able to prove who they are and that they have resided at a particular address for many of years. Also individuals who have no fixed address could be left out of the system. That is very important to note.

In Windsor West, which I represent, there is a college and a university. Those institutions have individuals who may decide to vote in different electoral districts. Students can choose to vote in their home district or in Windsor West where they are studying, where they have a permanent address, but they may not have the identification required because they do not have it with them or they have not yet reached that point in their lives where they have obtained that type of identification. That is important, because the percentage of voters in Canada is steadily dropping. There are a few peaks once in a while, but the percentage is low in terms of individuals being engaged enough to feel that their vote counts and at the same time are willing to come out to cast their ballot.

Before Bill C-31 is considered, we need a full commitment to go back to the census and the enumeration that was done. There is a potential cost in this. No doubt it takes more resources, but I have seen the benefits even in my own consistency.

When we had the complete count in 2000, I was the chair for Windsor and Essex County. Our municipality was engaged in door to door canvassing to sign up people in the electoral district. I represent a population of great ethnic diversity. There are educational institutions as well. A lot of people move in and out of the district at different points in time. That resulted in low enumeration in the past. We did a complete count. We were one of six communities across the country that actually did door to door canvassing.

That was important because of the language issues. We worked with a series of different not for profit organizations, dedicated groups and individuals, as well as municipal, provincial and federal colleagues to ensure that we were getting the best enumeration process possible. The statistical information for the census is important for the electoral end of things.

The census is also important for funding and for information that we use for a whole variety of social programs and services. It is also important when we are lobbying for some of the changes that are necessary for areas that might require more immigration services or more types of government intervention on issues that are important to Canadians. It also helps seniors, who are being left off the GIS, to get enrolled. The series of net benefits that we get from that investment are very important.

I would argue that a census is one of the first things that needs to be done even before Bill C-31, or in conjunction with it. If we are trying to actually improve the democratic electoral process, a census needs be done to get people out. Bill C-31 is more restrictive in those confines, whereas the census elements are more important to ensuring that the people are being identified.

Another thing that I find interesting about the bill is clause 18. I find clause 18 disturbing in the sense that it would provide a sharing of birthdates with political parties. What would end up happening is that political parties would acquire people's birthdates as part of their return from Elections Canada. I find it completely unacceptable how this amendment got into the bill and why the other three political parties are supporting it. It is a complete invasion of privacy and the bill needs to be dumped on that alone.

We have seen enough in terms of the United States with the patriot act and a series of other scandals involving private corporations that have exposed Canadians' privacy in many different ways. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why and what type of justification there is to provide the age of a voting person to political parties. That is people's private information. What does it matter if an 18 year old, a 40 year old or 60 year old votes?

I can say, from a party perspective, what the party will do. It will identify people who voted on that day. It will then identify who the people are and then their ages. It will be able to target people and individuals for messaging. I believe it is counterproductive to the renewal of democracy.

Why is it that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc need to have people's private birthdates? I do not understand that. It is not just for that time that they have it. They will have that list in perpetuity so that they will always be able to define people's needs and target them a lot more strongly because they have that private information.

It is rude to just go out and ask somebody their birthday or their age. People do not walk around the street and normally do that. People seem to want to keep that information to themselves. Why would we then have this bill, an instrument to collect that information and put it into the partisan core of politics of those party operatives? I do not understand that. The bill needs to be dumped just for that alone.

The member for Ottawa Centre has done an excellent job proposing solutions to the bill and has tried to get this clause out but was defeated. He then wrote a letter to the privacy commissioner on January 19, 2007, for which we have not had a response yet. The letter reads:

Dear Ms. Stoddart,

Recently the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs amended and passed Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. In its original form Bill C-31 required elector's birth date information to be made available to Elections Canada to use for the purpose of verification of electors. As a Member of Parliament I have concerns about the possible misuse of this information and believe most Canadians would not support this kind of information being shared with Elections Canada. While I have great confidence in the integrity of Elections Canada and all who are employed by them, I do worry that such a large database with such wide distribution would be vulnerable to potential abuse.

The reason for my correspondence is to alert you to my concern and to inform you of a more disturbing breech of privacy.

An amendment was passed in Committee that would also require Elections Canada to share the birth date information of all registered voters with all registered political parties. I believe that this is an abuse of a citizen's privacy; therefore, I politely request that you investigate the implications of sharing this type of information with Elections Canada and most importantly the implications of sharing this information with political parties.

I look forward to your response.

Thanking you in advance,

Member of Parliament

Ottawa Centre

Once again I must impress upon the public that the bill needs to be defeated on that clause alone. It is something that needs to be taken out. Personal privacy is something we pride ourselves on. For this clause to be added to the bill is a slap in the face of democracy.

The principle of the bill is important in the sense of cleaning up our electoral process but as it is now it would detract from actually encouraging and expanding voter turnout and giving people the opportunity to participate in democracy. For all those reasons we cannot support the bill in its current form.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, quite often people want to associate social democratic parties with big government but that is not really the case.

I would ask my hon. colleague to talk to the problem that we are running into in the philosophy between parties, the sort of knee-jerk actions that we have seen on security over the last number of years. Does this play out in that factor? Are we dealing with the same kind of right wing ideological desire for control over the electorate and for additional security? Is this another one of those steps that fits into that pattern?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe my colleague is quite right. This is another indication of the very subtle ways of how strongly the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party of Canada have been working quite closely together, especially when it involves some types of reforms.

It does not make any sense. I cannot understand why anyone would want the Conservative Party of Canada or the Liberal Party of Canada to have one's personal information at its disposal for its partisan machines. It makes no sense. Why would people want their information or their son's or daughter's birthdate in the control of those parties? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I believe it violates a sense of integrity in our process.

Canadians are looking to having things cleaned up a little bit. They are looking for a better and stronger democracy. They are looking for innovative solutions that will create some excitement, whether it be proportional representation or modernizing the Senate to make it a democratic institution.

Instead, what Canadians are seeing with the bill is that their private information is being handed over to partisan political bodies for their people in the backrooms to manipulate and use to their benefit. It would enable these bodies to contact Canadians for fundraising or to target people for messaging. Political parties want to use all those things to exploit people.

Why does a political party deserve the right to know a person's actual birthdate without the person's consent or the person having a say in the process? People would not even be allowed to exit from this. This is absolutely unacceptable and it is a violation of personal privacy.

The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party should be ashamed of trying to get that information from Canadians who do not want to share it. Why are Canadians not even given the choice to decide why they are being forced to surrender their own personal private information without any discussion or input?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

Coming from a northern riding in the Northwest Territories, this issue has raised a great deal of concern in my riding. It has been the subject of questions in our legislative assembly and it has raised the ire of northerners in my constituency and, I am sure, every other northern constituency across the country. These types of restrictions on voting, which we would be creating with the requirement for photo identification, would hit hardest among people in small communities across northern Canada, our aboriginal people and older people who live a simple life in many communities across the north and who may not have a driver's licence. They may have a hunting licence but that does not have a photo on it.

Once again we will see legislation that, arguably, might have some place in large urban ridings but which will have a detrimental effect on northern Canadians and Canadians in isolated communities across the country.

Many of the MPs who are from northern ridings and who represent these communities will be voting for this legislation, but I urge them not to. I urge them to stand up for their constituents and for northern Canadians and vote against the bill.

The bill represents more of the intrusive big government that Canadians never wanted and continue not to want. It represents more of the security type of provisions that we are seeing in legislation in Parliament that reflects the paranoia that has increased in our country and in other countries since 9/11. The bill stands against the roots of our democracy and will impact voters.

I have been in many tight election campaigns in my career. I remember the election campaign where the Conservatives won in my riding by one vote over a member of Parliament, Wally Firth. Many ballots were contested because many elders who had voted with clear intent had not put the X in the right spot. They did it the old way.The way one put one's X was changed 1979. People who were illiterate or who did not understand voted the wrong way and the Conservative candidate won and our candidate lost. That could happen in any riding and it could happen in any sequence.

The point is that when we change the way people are accustomed to voting things can happen. What happens when a voter who has voted in elections most of his life walks into a voting station and needs to pull out a photo ID? The person could be a hunter who just came in out of the bush and does not have any photo ID. How does that make him feel about the electoral process?

How do we think that makes people feel about the way that we are conducting business in this country? There needs to be good reasons for changing the way we allow people to exercise their fundamental franchise in this country, their right to vote for us. I truly think this is an intrusion on that.

The types of things in the bill, such as the clause 18, the sharing of birth dates with political parties, I find also quite repugnant. I go back to my grandmother who moved to this country in the early 1920s, escaping the Bolsheviks in Russia. Her whole life she would not tell anybody her birth date. My mother did not even know how old my grandmother was. We did not find out that she was 100 years old until she died and we obtained her birth certificate. She voted all her life and she was an honest, good citizen, but she was not interested in sharing her birth date with anyone.

The thought that we are making people share their birth dates with political parties, which will use it for their own particular purposes, is quite repugnant and should be repugnant to every member of Parliament in this place. We should recognize that Canadian citizens have rights to their own privacy and dignity. We must do everything to maintain those things, regardless of our interest in understanding how we can usurp their thoughts and change the way they think about voting through understanding their age and direction.

The bill deserves a great deal of contempt, and I hope I have expressed that today. I do not want to take any more of the House's time on the bill. I have said my piece and I will leave it to other members to stand on their consciences.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the very moving words of my colleague, the hon. member for Western Arctic. I was particularly interested in the story about how his grandmother had strongly held views and personal reasons why she did not want her birth date publicized widely. I assume he meant that if she knew the government was planning on putting dates of birth on the permanent voters list for all the world to see, she and many others like her would object strongly for any number of good reasons. That is only one example.

I would like my colleague's views on the fact that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is current engaged in a five year review of the new PIPEDA legislation, Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which is the obligation of governments and the private sector to protect the privacy of personal information that they might hold.

From my colleague's experience in election campaigns, does he believe that we, as a political party, could effectively protect that very personal information in the context of an election campaign, with 500 volunteers coming and going? All people need to steal somebody's identity is a name, address and date of birth and they get a credit card in another person's name. That is how easy it is in this day and age.

Could he expand, from his personal experience, how he might see abuse of this very private personal information in the context of the comings and goings of volunteers in an election campaign?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I have experienced many election campaigns in which much information is moved around, and the security of information in a political office is sometimes completely suspect. Other times it might be held onto. However, this information is shared with all parties, so everyone has it.

As my colleague from Windsor pointed out earlier, this information is on the record permanently, it is ongoing. Those voters lists at the end of the election, unless they are shredded, will be around and they will be shared. These things will be part of the public knowledge to so many people in the community, so how could this be a good thing for Canadians?

The Conservative Party, which always puts up a good fight for individual values and the rights of individuals, and the Liberal Party, which attempts to do the same thing, are supporting the legislation. What is it with them? Have they taken leave of their own values? Can they not understand there are some things in this life that should be sacred to people, that they should be able to hold in their own trust. Government and political parties should keep their noses out of the birth dates of average Canadians. My goodness, I do not understand how this even came forward.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I missed the first moment or two of my colleague's remarks. I agree with him that no member of the House should wish to compromise the privacy of the personal information that our citizens value. I was not sure if he mentioned in his opening remarks, or in response to another member, whether the privacy commissioner for Canada made any comment on this matter.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, regardless of a commissioner making comment on it, I can make comment on it myself. I can recognize it. As I pointed out, my family understands those values of protecting people's rights to privacy. What a commissioner may rule on it will not change our opinion. Our opinion is built on years of practice and years of understanding.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. At the outset, if the goal of the bill is to improve democracy in Canada, then that is a laudable goal.

I had the privilege of being an election observer for Canada in the first free elections in South Africa in 1994 and then again in the presidential run-off elections in Ukraine in 2004. It is with enormous pride that Canadians like myself have the opportunity to visit other countries and observe their election procedures with the goal of commenting on their fairness and democratic nature. We do that because Canada in general is known as a country with a good democratic record. Our elections are known as generally fair and democratic. If the goal of the bill is to enhance that, then it is a laudable goal.

However I fear the bill will not achieve that goal because it has some serious flaws. As a result of the identification requirements in the bill, I believe thousands of individuals will be unable to exercise their right to vote because they lack proper identification due to poverty, illness, disability, or no stable address. Homeless people, or those who are temporarily housed, or who stay in a shelter often do not have the identification that reflects their address.

My riding of Parkdale—High Park is an urban riding in the west end of Toronto. We have a large majority of renters as opposed to homeowners. There is a very high turnover in voters in the riding because of the huge number of people coming in and going out of the community. I see it all the time. We have a large number of newcomers to Canada, people who come as refugees or as landed immigrants. They stay and get their citizenship. We know from recent studies that they are disproportionately under-represented on the lists of voters. Unfortunately, we also have a large homeless population in Parkdale--High Park. I see them on the streets in Parkdale and other parts of my riding every day. We also have people with mental health issues, who unfortunately, because of a lack of government support, do not have the kind of care and supportive housing and services they definitely require.

These people do not go around with a big wallet in their back pocket with multiple pieces of ID. Many people in Parkdale struggle to get bus fare let alone photo ID. To say that, as a result of their economic circumstances, or their mental disabilities, or their newcomer status to Canada, they might be denied the opportunity to vote in an election, ought to worry all of us. I believe this will most likely be an outcome of this bill.

I firmly believe we should go back to the system of enumeration. We ought to be going door to door, finding out who is in the ridings across Canada. We ought to be signing them up and telling them what their rights are when it comes to voting. I wish this was in the bill. We tried to get it in the bill, but were not successful. We have abandoned that system in Canada, and I think that is to our detriment. It makes it harder for people to vote, especially people who already have multiple barriers before them.

So many times in an election I will talk to people on a street corner or I will go through an apartment building. For those of us in political life, we may be consumed with political life, but I will knock on people's doors or talk to them on the street and they do not even know there is an election going on. They feel so disenfranchised and powerless to be able to make a difference, and so I encourage them and tell them that they can make a difference, that every vote will count.

The last thing I would want is to have those individuals make the effort to show up to vote, in spite of working two or three part time jobs, family responsibilities, lack of child care or no transportation, and when they get to the voting registration area, they cannot vote because they do not have proper ID. This bill would disenfranchise them in that respect.

I am also concerned about the privacy elements of this bill. I do not know why we would have to have people's birth date information shared with political parties. I have a concern about that and that may well be challenged.

For me, the fundamental issue is about voter disenfranchisement. We know that south of the border, where there are similar bills and laws that have been put forward and passed, they have been challenged because of the disenfranchisement of many people. Quite frankly, it is not those of us in this room who will be disenfranchised by this bill. It is not people who are informed, who have the wherewithal to make sure that they are aware of their rights and opportunities under the law. It is the people who, through no fault of their own, are not engaged in the political process, and yet have that very basic fundamental right to democracy and the right to vote.

I believe that there is a way to achieve the goal of reducing the potential for voter fraud and extending the franchise as broadly as possible to include people who, little by little, have been dropping off the voter lists, but I do not think this bill does it. We should go back to the drawing board and bring in something that makes a better attempt to marry those two goals, but this bill does not do it.

Canada can do better. We are an example to many other parts of the world. This bill does not live up to our reputation as a model of democracy and well run elections.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for her intervention. She clearly outlined the many challenges with this particular piece of legislation before the House.

In my riding, for example, many first nations communities have really had difficulties in voting. One of the things which has been discussed in this bill is that there would be some effort to improve access, both to being on the voter's list but also to voting polls. One of the things that did happen in the last election was that people in the advance poll who lived on Kuper Island had to go from Kuper Island to Vancouver Island to Gabriola Island to vote in the advance poll, which is absolutely ridiculous.

One of the things that the member talked about was enumeration and presentation of appropriate identification. I wonder if the member could talk about the benefits around enumeration for first nations people in rural and remote communities, so that they would have better access to their right to vote.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's riding is probably the diametric opposite of my riding in downtown Toronto. For people in rural areas, enumeration would be of tremendous advantage. Enumeration raises awareness of a voting opportunity. Most of us read the newspapers, listen to the radio, we are on the Internet and watch television, but for many people, it is quite remarkable, whether they are in rural or urban settings, how cut off they are from mainstream forms of communication.

Enumeration would alert people of the opportunity to vote. It would allow a person, on a one-on-one, private basis to ask questions that they might feel are silly, or to which they should know the answer. It allows them the dignity of being able to ask a real person, face to face, some very basic questions about the voting process. I think it would boost voter turnout, especially among the native population in rural areas.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with much interest to the speech given by the member for Parkdale—High Park. As she knows, the purpose of this bill is to improve the integrity of the electoral process. I was listening for some recommendations or suggestions she might have because she is concerned about people being disenfranchised in their vote, but the bill does make provisions for people. Most voters will be able to provide photo identification. That is not a problem for most Canadians.

There are people in places where they do not have photo ID, but they can still, if they have two other pieces of ID, be registered. If they do not have two other pieces of ID, then they can still take an oath of affirmation of identity and residence, as long as there is a qualified elector who will vouch for them.

These, of course, are the recommendations from the committee, as members know. Every provision is made to make it possible for someone, with minimal intrusion, to be eligible to vote.

I wonder, since she feels that these suggestions that were put forward by the House committee on procedure are not workable, what suggestions the member would put forward to prevent electoral fraud, knowing that some elections are decided by as few as 20 votes in some ridings in this country.