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House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the members who have spoken in favour of the Kelowna accord tonight and previously. I would like to thank the members who voted for it.

I would also like to thank the aboriginal leaders, from coast to coast, who spoke publicly in favour of a fundamental improvement in the situation of their fellow citizens.

The Kelowna accord is not simply important because a group of people, the federal government, the prime minister, ministers, provincial and territorial premiers and leaders, and the leaders of Canada's aboriginal people, the Métis nation, the first nations, the Inuit, came together at Kelowna. It is important because at that historic moment the nation came together and said that the lack of decent water, the lack of decent housing and the lack of economic opportunity is not acceptable.

We have heard members of the opposition parties speak here tonight. I would ask members of the government if they think it is acceptable that one million Canadians, the youngest and the fastest growing segment of our population, should at the same time have the highest incidence of infant mortality, the lowest life expectancy, that they should have the highest incidence of AIDS, tuberculosis and diabetes.

Do they think the dropout rate among aboriginals in our country should be double—and almost triple— that of other Canadians?

Kelowna is about saying to the youngest segment of our population that they have the right to the same educational opportunities as other Canadians. It says that in a world in which we must compete with other countries which are showing great productivity and great growth, we believe that every single Canadian counts.

Kelowna is also about the way in which it was arrived at. Members of the current government witnessed it on television with their own eyes. All of the political leaders in this country came together to say that we will no longer impose upon the aboriginal communities of this country our way of looking at things, that we will work with them.

Kelowna is important for its objectives, but it is also important for the way in which it was arrived at, the 16 to 18 months of fundamental discussions in community after community, in province after province, in territory after territory, as to how in fact this great partnership between us as Canadians should work. That is what Kelowna is all about.

For members of the government to stand here and say that that never happened is a denial of a fundamental reality and a historic coming together.

I am very proud of the Kelowna accord and I am very proud of the members of Parliament who have supported it.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 21, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, what brings us here this evening is that on November 28, some four months ago, I raised the following question in the House. I said:

--Huseyincan Celil is a Canadian. The Chinese government is holding him against our country's will and has violated international law. It does not get more serious than this. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister has suggested a high level diplomatic delegation be sent to China to secure his release. The Celil family has requested one.

When will the government send a diplomatic mission to China to ensure consular access and when will the Prime Minister appoint a special envoy to stand up for this Canadian?

As far as I was concerned, the answers I received on November 28 were insufficient.

In March 2000, the U.S. government's “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” severely criticized Beijing for “further backsliding on a dismal human rights performance”.

Although there was some reason to hope that China's human rights record might be improving in light of the Olympic Games, it just does not seem to be the case.

We believe that raising the issue of China's record on human rights is important and in fact critical, but the government's criticism is causing a communication breakdown between our countries.

A real dialogue about issues is not about accusations of cancelled meetings, using the press as the medium. It is an honest, open and accountable process that takes times and sets meaningful objectives.

Today, Huseyin Celil has been in prison for more than one year. We continue to call for a high level delegation to go to China. We do not want to send diplomatic officials to stake out the courtroom, as the Prime Minister has suggested. It seems to be less than appropriate to do that. We do want the Chinese government to take our demands very seriously.

I would like to read for the information of the House some material posted in the Toronto Star and written by Errol Mendes. Entitled “China won't yield to lectures from us: Top Canadians and business leaders must persuade Chinese that their trade interests are best served when Beijing adheres to the rule of law”, the article stated that the Prime Minister recently expressed anger, doing so because:

--our embassy officials in Beijing did not attend the start of the criminal trial of Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil in Urumqi, a remote urban centre in China. Canadians were informed of his trial by his relatives in Canada, not by anyone in the government. His relatives, who attended the trial, claim Celil disclosed that he had been tortured and threatened with being buried alive if he did not confess to the alleged terror-related charges.

[The Prime Minister] is demanding that embassy officials stake out the trial, even if they are not admitted to the proceedings.

Even if the officials followed the Prime Minister's instructions, it is unlikely to affect the outcome of what is only nominally a trial, given the possibility of torture and forced confessions.

It does not bode well that China refuses to recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and have also broken international legal obligations by refusing to allow consular officials to visit him in prison.

Only the direct intervention by the Prime Minister with President [of China] Hu Jintao could possibly affect Celil's bleak future. There is also a possibility that even [the Prime Minister's] intervention may not suffice, given the state of relations--

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

6:55 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for raising this issue. It has been followed very closely and with great intensity by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as numerous departmental officials in Ottawa and Beijing who are responsible for consular services and diplomatic relations with China.

I can assure the hon. member that the government will not stop pursuing the issue until satisfactory answers are received from the Chinese government regarding the rights and well-being of Canadian citizens in China.

Canada and China share important political, economic and social ties. Canada remains committed to strengthening this bilateral relationship. Given this relationship, our primary goal will always be to protect the interests of Canadians and to hold steadfast on our values. We understand China's considerable and growing importance to Canada and the world, both politically and economically, but we will not compromise our values.

For these reasons we remain committed to full and constructive relations with the government of the People's Republic of China whenever our interests are at stake. We will continue to push forward an open, honest and constructive dialogue aimed at the betterment of our relations.

Canada is engaged in a number of important discussions with China on a wide variety of matters complemented by high level visits. The Prime Minister met with the Chinese president in Vietnam. The Minister of Foreign Affairs met with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Li on three occasions last year. The ministers of Agriculture and Natural Resources made official visits to China last year, and the ministers of International Trade and Finance have already visited this year.

Canada welcomed China's minister of labour last year. Parliamentary delegations visited China last year as well as twice this year. These ministerial and parliamentary contacts, as well as senior exchanges from the Canadian provinces, the private sector, municipalities and academia serve to entrench the growing practical cooperation between our two governments.

With regard to the case of Mr. Celil, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have both raised this case during their meetings with Chinese officials. During every one of the visits I mentioned earlier, Mr. Celil's case was raised at every opportunity.

Senior foreign affairs staff met with the Chinese ambassador and reaffirmed our requirement for access to and information about Mr. Celil. Senior bureaucrats and diplomatic staff continue to use every opportunity to raise this case with their Chinese counterparts. This will continue until we receive a satisfactory response from the Chinese government.

I would like to assure the hon. member that we are making every effort to obtain access to Mr. Celil in China. He is a Canadian and we will use every opportunity and every means we deem appropriate to confirm Mr. Celil's well-being to ensue that he is afforded due process and that his rights are respected.

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his response, but it is as much about what we do as what we say.

We should be setting the stage and we should be acting on recommendations from the United Nations human rights bodies. We should be keeping our international commitments. We should be leading on human rights to live up to our own position on the UN Human Rights Council.

Canada was elected as one of the members of the new Human Rights Council to replace the old discredited commission. In running for that position we made clear commitments to improving our record. Yet, recent reports say that Canada has a poor record in implementing our international commitments and our obligations at home.

Just as an example, the optional protocol on torture which we took to the United Nations and which we saw through the United Nations has not been signed by Canada.

However, as I said, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his response.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada is exploring every opportunity and every option to raise the case of Mr. Celil with the Chinese government in an effort to secure information and access to Mr. Celil.

Canada will use every method that is deemed appropriate to put forward Canada's desire of ensuring Mr. Celil's well-being. The Prime Minister and the foreign affairs minister will continue to actively monitor this case. We will use every international forum and every opportunity, as I have mentioned, to ensure that the rights of Canadians are protected overseas.

7 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak today in this adjournment debate, to come back to Bill C-55, An Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

As we all know, this bill proposes the creation of a wage earner protection program for workers whose businesses have gone bankrupt.

For quite some time now, the Bloc Québécois has been working with the United Steelworkers on proposals to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, in order to ensure that employee wages and pension funds are the first debts in line to be reimbursed when companies go bankrupt.

That is why the Bloc Québécois was eager to support Bill C-55 when it was presented in this House a year and a half ago, in spite of the bill's imperfections and our many reservations.

However, certain principles of social justice were included in Bill C-55: employees must be paid for the hours they have worked; unlike large corporations, workers have nothing but their salary as a source of income; workers' pension funds are sacred.

For the benefit of the people listening to us now so that they understand, I would just like to go back over the bill a little bit and especially the wage earner protection program.

The federal government would cover up to $3,000 of the unpaid wages due to employees when their employer goes bankrupt. The payments made under this program are taxable but take other contributions into account.

This means that regardless of the value of the employer’s property, employees will get most if not all their unpaid wages. The Department of Industry estimates that $3,000 will cover 97% of the unpaid wage claims.

In return, employees who receive a WEPP payment will have to forfeit to the federal government any right they have under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to file a claim up to the amount that they have already received from WEPP. The government would therefore be responsible for recovering the amount it paid to employees under WEPP.

This was an acceptable mechanism, and although obviously unprecedented in Canada or Quebec, it was satisfactory. The advantage was that employees would be paid more quickly. There was also a little provision on the pension protection plan that was very welcome as well.

So what happened to this bill? It passed unanimously in the House in November 2005, but then the new Conservative government that arrived on January 23, 2006 put it aside.

Furthermore, every time I asked questions about it in the House, the labour minister just said that it was coming. That is the answer I got last November 22.

So now I would like to know when it is coming. Can the parliamentary secretary tell me what is happening with this bill? When does he think he will come up with some solutions? There are between 9,000 and 10,000 commercial bankruptcies a year.

Does the current budget still contain the $32 million provision needed for the wage earner protection program?

7 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to answer the question asked by the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.

As the member knows, the Wage Earner Protection Program Act was part of Bill C-55, which proposed a comprehensive reform of Canadian bankruptcy legislation, the purpose of which was to adapt that scheme to better reflect the needs of businesses, investors and employees.

In the last Parliament, Bill C-55 passed very quickly, thanks to the unanimous support of members of all parties.

When Bill C-55 was passed in 2005, it was understood that the legislation would be examined in greater depth by the Senate committee responsible for the matter later, with the aim of resolving certain technical problems before it came into force.

In fact, the members of the Senate committee asked that implementation of the legislation be postponed until after June 30, 2006, so that they could study it further.

That is the background against which the Minister of Labour and Minister of Industry worked together to draft a bill to amend that legislation.

I would like to discuss the main technical amendments that we would like to introduce so that we can be sure that the wage earner protection program operates as was originally intended by Parliament.

One of those amendments is to authorize the wage earner protection program to pay bankruptcy trustees for work done in connection with administering the program in certain circumstances, to facilitate equitable access to the program by employees who have not been paid.

Another amendment is to change the eligibility requirements to make them fairer, while reducing the risk of abuse.

On December 8, the Minister of Labour tabled a notice of ways and means motion so that the bill to make these technical amendments could be introduced. He urged the opposition to support the motion and the bill, so that this important legislation could be implemented as soon as possible.

Given the government's full legislative agenda, the Minister of Labour hopes to be able to count on the unanimous support of all parties so that this bill can be submitted to the Senate in as short a time as possible.

My government again urges all members of the House to support this important legislation.

7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his answer.

I would like to ask him a very short question and I would like a very clear answer. It is true that the Minister of Labour tabled a notice of ways and means last December 8. What happens next? Normally, he should table the new bill with corrections. He has had over a year to prepare it. The Senate had all the time it needed to study this bill.

Can the parliamentary secretary answer my question and tell us when this major bill is to be tabled? A notice of ways and means precedes the tabling of a bill, so can he tell us when that bill will be tabled? Obviously, I would like that to happen as soon as possible.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, as has already been said in this House, the government wants to have the necessary technical amendments to Bill C-55 adopted, to be able to implement the wage earner protection program.

Considering the government's heavy legislative agenda, the Minister of Labour hopes to count on the unanimous support of this House in order to expedite the adoption of the necessary technical amendments, thus ensuring the effectiveness of the program.

I am just as eager as my colleague to pass this act and implement the program.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

(The House adjourned at 7:09 p.m.)