House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Parliamentary PrecinctPrivilege

10:05 a.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington on March 29 concerning the issue of files left behind in the offices of the Leader of the Opposition when this office was occupied by the Conservatives and the Alliance before them.

The member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington wanted assurances that the said files had been returned and that none of them had been distributed. In the question of privilege, he also wanted confirmation that these leftover documents were treated with extreme respect.

First, I wish to confirm that all remaining documents were returned to the sergeant-at-arms on April 10.

Second, I can also confirm that these documents were not copied or tampered with in any way. Only one Liberal researcher looked through the files in question and this one staffer is prepared to state under oath that he did not copy or mishandle the said documents in any way.

I would also like to address the allegations made by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington that the documents in question were already packaged and waiting to be shipped. The only labelled box contained videotapes of the 2004 Conservative election ads and all other materials were found in desk drawers and cabinets. These have also been returned.

Once again, I can assure the hon. member that all documents in question have been returned to the sergeant-at-arms and were treated with extreme respect.

Parliamentary PrecinctPrivilege

10:05 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 29 I did raise a question of privilege and today I would draw your attention to information relevant to this matter.

None of the information that follows was available to me on March 29 and I was therefore unable to place it before you at that time. It is my belief that this information demonstrates that the primary responsibility for the fact that the documents in question were retained for over a year, inspected in detail and selectively shown to assembled media lies with staff at the office of the Leader of the Opposition, acting, at least in part, with the knowledge and consent of the Leader of the Opposition himself.

Mr. Speaker, I had mentioned the Leader of the Opposition in the letters in which I notified you on March 29 that I would be rising later in the day on a question of privilege but at that time I was not yet aware of the degree to which the Leader of the Opposition and his staff had taken the lead role in this matter. That degree has now been made clear to me and I will seek to make it clear to you.

First, it is clear that one or more staffers at the office of the Leader of the Opposition retained my personnel file in the full knowledge that its contents were personal information and, moreover, that they looked inside my file, as well as inside the files of each of the 33 other individuals in their possession. The following facts demonstrate this quite clearly.

At a news conference on March 26, the personnel records were spread out in the foyer of the Wellington Building for the media to inspect and for cameras to record. A glance at the resulting video footage, which the Liberal Party posted on its website, shows that while OLO staff made a cursory effort to hide the really personal information and to expose just the top part of individual personal records, such a display could scarcely have been made without the persons who were handling the documents seeing their contents.

I can think of no case in Canadian history where personnel documents have been treated and displayed in such an unseemly manner. Over and over again in the footage, the word “confidential” is clearly stamped at the top of the documents that the Liberals were displaying to the cameras, along with the names of the persons being reviewed and, in some cases, the name of the reviewer and some additional details. I should note that the Leader of the Opposition allowed this footage to remain on his party's website for several weeks and it is still posted there even as we speak.

In fact, this morning the Liberal Party launched its new website to much fanfare and made sure to retain and to continue to display these confidential personnel files on the new website. Included as a new feature of the website is the capacity for website users to zoom in and examine the visible parts of the documents online at higher degrees of resolution.

At the March 26 news conference, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering, who had been the Liberal lead spokesman on the matter, gave the following detailed description of the contents of the files which he could not possibly have done unless the files themselves had been examined in detail. He said, “What we are returning today consists, among other things, of 174 personnel evaluations over five years of 34 different employees containing deeply personal information. In our opinion, this represents a gross negligence that the government could leave this much, 174 personal evaluations containing very detailed information on employees, comments by their managers, comments by researchers, comments by 10 sitting MPs and by other members of Parliament not currently sitting”.

We should not, however, conclude from his detailed description that the hon. member is the primary culprit here. In an article in the March 26 edition of The Hill Times, the hon. member's executive assistant was paraphrased as saying that a few individual files from the much larger stash of 30 boxes worth of documents were only passed to the member on March 21. Apparently they were given to him on the basis that the hon. member has a reputation among Liberals for being aggressive. That was his executive assistant's choice of words, not mine.

Additionally, in a press release dated April 4 and posted on his website, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering made the following statement, “At no time did I read the contents of any of the personnel files. In fact, I had no contact whatsoever with these files other than at the news conference. I am told the personnel files were found lying in drawers and that once researchers discovered what they were, they were put aside and not read”.

Of course, the member made a similar indication in the House today.

If the member never had any contact with the contents of the personnel folders and was only involved with any of the recovered Conservative documents during a five day period between March 21 and 26, then the only way he could have had such detailed information about the contents of the personnel folders would have been if the opposition leader's researchers had read through these files and had provided him with the details that he repeated in front of the cameras. This means, of course, that when the same researchers told the hon. member that they had set the personnel files aside unread, they were not telling the truth.

The form in which the files were discovered by the Liberals is of considerable importance. Opening boxes that are addressed to someone else and rifling through the contents is closely akin to intercepting and opening someone else's mail which is, of course, against the law. This is presumably why the Liberal whip told Mike Duffy on March 26:

This wasn't field mail that got misdirected that we opened under the cover of darkness. These were memos that were lying there....

It is by no means certain that the documents were simply lying there.

Here we have to contend with three mutually contradictory versions of how the documents fell into Liberal hands. All three of these versions were provided by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering. In version one, all the files were found in boxes. In version two, some of the documents were in boxes and some were loose. In version three, none of the documents were found in boxes.

Here is version one as summarized on on March 26. The report states:

The Liberals discovered the documents in the research bureau that the Tories vacated "three months" after the election, according to [the member for Ajax—Pickering].

[The member for Ajax—Pickering] said the Liberals didn't get around to sifting through the boxes of abandoned documents until recently because it was not a "priority" at the time.

The Liberals incorrectly assumed the boxes contained nothing but garbage.

That directly contradicts what he said today.

Here is version two as reported by Juliette O'Neil of CanWest following the March 26 news conference at which the boxes of documents were shown to the media. She said:

The Liberals said some of the documents were found in drawers of offices abandoned by the Conservatives and others were in boxes.

Here is version three in the form of a direct quote from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering in the April 2 edition of The Hill Times:

These were files and documents that we found in files and desks. The boxes that they were put in were left behind as empty boxes that may have been used, but most of these were just files that were left in drawers, left on tables, and left in haphazard ways all around the office.

To be precise about things, there is a fourth version.

Back on March 22, when it was still a secret that the Liberals had boxes of Conservative documents in their possession, a press release was issued by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering, which I believe is still on his website, stating that he was “referring to documents that came anonymously into his possession”.

I think we can just dismiss this fourth version of things as a simple invention since, within days of the claim of anonymous informants, the hon. member's executive assistant was boasting that his boss had been handed these documents by opposition researchers because of his reputation for aggressiveness.

Which of the other three versions is correct remains unclear to me. I do not really trust the responsible parties to tell the truth about whether the law was broken and by which individuals unless they are compelled to do so before a committee of this House.

I must say, however, that the version of this situation which seems most likely to me does involve all or most of the boxes being in files. It seems likely to me that in the course of the exchange of research office space between the incoming and outgoing governments, the movers made a mixup and some of the boxes were rerouted to their point of origin rather than to their intended destination.

I participated in a similar rotation of office space in 1997 when the research staffs of the Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois exchanged offices. I recall that the situation with boxes coming and going was inherently confusing. Because one set of offices had to be emptied before the contents of the other could be brought in, it was necessary to leave pallet loads of boxes at marshalling points in the lobby of the Wellington Building overnight where the only security was that they were shrink wrapped.

As the researcher assigned to the national unity file at the time, I was in possession of documents that I felt were sensitive and in the end, just to be sure I would see them again, I dressed in jeans, found a dolly and moved my own boxes myself.

In February 2006, similar concerns for an efficient move in which no documents would be left behind caused the office manager of the Conservative offices to take certain precautions about leaving documents behind. As the final stage of moving out of their old offices, a small crew of Conservative staffers did a final sweep through the Wellington Street offices that they were leaving. I am informed that they systematically went through filing cabinets and desk drawers, affixing a post-it note to the front of each drawer after it was checked as a visual confirmation that it was empty and calling out to each other as they confirmed that each individual office had been emptied of all documents.

One staffer relates how she even took care to remove errant clothing items that had been left behind and to return them to their rightful owners. This same staffer tells me that she recognizes her own handwriting on the address label affixed to one of the boxes that was returned by the Liberals.

Unless I have been lied to by the people who described this process to me, then the documents recovered by the Liberals really are, to use the words of the Liberal whip, “field mail that got misdirected” and was “opened under the cover of darkness”. That means the law has been broken by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, which has been in possession of stolen property.

Under such circumstances, it is not just the personnel files that must be answered for. I had the chance last week to go through some of the boxes of material that have been returned, not the personnel files, but other boxes. In one box, I found a number of confidential documents that I had written after I became a member of Parliament.

These were not documents intended for Liberal eyes. It was not their right to see these documents even if the documents had been left behind as the result of the kind of “gross negligence” that the hon. members for Ajax—Pickering and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine spoke of at their press conference when they were returning the boxes.

To be clear, this was private correspondence and private memoranda. Therefore, it is astonishing that nobody on the Liberal side is denying that the Liberals read through it. Indeed, a March 26 news story states that a “researcher, whose name the Office of the Leader of the Opposition would not release, had been slowly working on the thousands of pages of documents left behind by the Conservatives”.

The reading of this mail represents a further unlawful violation of my privacy. It also fills me with concern on a further point. One of the media reports of the March 26 news conference states the following:

[The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering] said the Liberals are keeping approximately 10 other boxes of documents the Tories left behind... As for the remaining 10 boxes, [the hon. member] said the Liberals would continue to examine the contents to ascertain whether or not there's anything in them in the “public interest”.

Unless I am mistaken about how these boxes fell into Liberal hands, this too is possession of stolen property. As well, these documents are likely to be materials that cannot be examined without violating privacy rights, just as my memos could not be examined without violating my privacy. Also, all of this is being done with the full knowledge of the Leader of the Opposition. It is being done by people on his payroll and it is being done on premises under his control.

This means that the Leader of the Opposition is guilty at this moment of facilitating actions that are an ongoing contempt of Parliament, unless, of course, as the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering says in contradiction to his earlier statement in the House today, there are no additional boxes of materials and those 10 boxes were yet another fabrication that he himself made up on March 26, and which, I might add, the Leader of the Opposition took no effort to refute at any time or, as far as I can tell, check into, although of course I am not privy to everything that went on over there.

Mr. Speaker, there is a final reason why I believe you should refer this as a matter of privilege and of contempt of Parliament to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The very people who have retained these documents for over a year, who have characterized them as deeply personal and who have characterized the unintentional misplacing of these documents as gross negligence and a matter of deep concern, felt free to keep them and free to abuse them in this manner.

The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering went so far as to say at his March 26 news conference, “If I'm one of the 34 people who had my personnel files left behind I'd be having a lot of questions and I'd be very upset”.

I am one of the 34 people whose personnel files were left behind, I am very upset, and I actually do have a lot of questions.

Specifically, I have the following seven questions that can be answered only if the responsible parties are compelled to appear before a committee of Parliament to provide answers that make sense, rather than the mutually contradictory accounts we have been given up to this point by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering.

Number one: were the personnel files found in drawers, as he now claims, in which case their sensitive nature would have been obvious at once? If so, why were these personnel files kept knowingly for a full year?

Number two: were any of the documents, including correspondence from me to other MPs, found in boxes, in which case, effectively, the researchers were intercepting and reading misdirected mail?

Number three: which researchers participated in these acts and which members of the opposition leader's staff knew about the fact that this was ongoing and failed to act to stop it?

Number four: were any of the documents photocopied, scanned or otherwise reproduced?

Number five: when did the Leader of the Opposition become aware of the fact that his staff had possession of these sensitive documents, and why, upon achieving this knowledge, did he fail to act?

Number six: why is the Leader of the Opposition continuing to allow private correspondence to be read by his staff right now, unless it turns out that the latest version of the facts by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering is the real one? In that case, he would have to explain why he allowed the implication to exist that they had compromising documents they were going through in the “public interest”.

Number seven: why is the Leader of the Opposition allowing images of confidential documents to be displayed on his website and will he remove them at once?

Mr. Speaker, if you find there is a prima facie case that the Leader of the Opposition or members of his staff have breached my privileges, or that their actions may put them in contempt of Parliament, I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Parliamentary PrecinctPrivilege

10:20 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair thanks the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for raising this issue in the first place and the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering for his contribution to the matter.

I will review the arguments put forward by both hon. members and will see, if I can, some of the things that are apparently in the public domain in respect to this matter. But I have to say right off the top of my head on this that in my view this sounds like a complaint, and I have not heard a lot in terms of which privilege the hon. member claims as a member of Parliament has been violated by this.

He may have some personal claim for having material put into the public domain that was private, but that is not a matter of privilege as I understand the rules relating to privilege in the House. And so I am somewhat concerned on this issue and I can assure him that I will review the matter, but I make that preliminary observation that I have not heard a lot that has tied this into one of the privileges that members enjoy, which is my concern.

Legal breaches of the law do not constitute breaches of privilege of the House. They are separate issues. He may be able to assert that the law has been broken in some respect, which I heard frequently, I think, during the course of his remarks. But I am not sure that those breaches of the law necessarily constitute a breach of privileges of members of the House, which is the only area in which I have some say or control and I am able to assist the hon. member by finding that he has a privilege and therefore that the matter could be referred to the committee.

So in the circumstances, as I say, I will look at everything the hon. member has said. I think I have heard enough at the moment, because the hon. member has presented twice on this. The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering has given his remarks. I think we will leave the matter at this point. I will look at the documents to which he has referred, as far as I can, and come back to the House with a ruling in due course.

Status of WomenRoutine Proceedings

April 17th, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.

Durham Ontario


Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to speak to the importance of encouraging the greater participation of women in our democratic system of government.

In a democratic country, the governing body must endeavour to reflect the population that it is elected to represent, and Canada's diversity can best be served with the same diversity in the House. We will be enriched by the contribution of a true mix of the unique experiences, backgrounds and skills that our citizens possess.

Recognizing the contribution to be made by women in government must be promoted and encouraged. Canadian women have contributed to the building of our country in countless ways. They have had a significant role to play in our history and must have a key role in determining our future.

Consequently, today we stand to support the efforts to promote the increased participation of women in elected office. We must work together through non-partisan measures to ensure that women have an equal opportunity when it comes to serving in public life.

Canadian women have the skills and insight to make a meaningful contribution to the work of government at every level. They deserve the same opportunity to earn a seat in the House, not through special dispensation, but on merit.

The government does support every earnest effort to increase women's representation and their participation in politics. Because we recognize and welcome the contribution of women in this role, it was the Conservative Party that elected the first woman in the House of Commons as well as the first woman prime minister.

As we work together and continue our efforts to encourage more women to run for elected office, we must also ensure all Canadians that as a government we recognize our responsibility to address their issues and needs.

That is why our Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is working to provide matrimonial property rights to aboriginal women and to have their rights recognized under the charter. That is why our Minister of Health provided $300 million in our budget to support a national vaccine program to protect Canadian women from cervical cancer. That is why the women's programming budget at the Status of Women has been increased to $20 million, the highest ever since its inception.

As we work to promote the increased participation of Canadian women in government, we must always recognize that it is the responsibility across all government, and the responsibility of every elected member, to serve every Canadian, men and women.

Status of WomenRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the minister's statement on Equal Voice's Canada challenge.

Twenty-five years ago, women fought for equality under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and women are indeed equal under the law, but this does not mean that women automatically have equality in all aspects of society. In fact, the opposite is true.

The fact remains that the Conservative government is making it worse. The government removed equality as part of the mandate of the women's program, which in the past has funded advocacy and equality seeking organizations. The government removed political and legal rights from the mandate of the women's program. That one decision is evidence that the government will fail to act on Equal Voice's Canada challenge to elect more women.

The Conservative Party consists of only 11% women, the lowest of any party in the House of Commons and, in any case, the House has a mere 21% women overall. The United Nations believes there needs to be at least 30% to make a significant change in public policy for women.

The Liberal leader has made a commitment to surpass that number. The Liberal leader has taken his commitment to women's equality one step further by pledging to have more women in cabinet, committing to have an equal number of men and women in the Senate, and increasing the numbers of women appointed to executive positions at crown corporations.

The Liberal Party of Canada is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women. It is the party that established a Status of Women department. We have a proud history and a record of supporting women's rights and fighting for true equality.

The Liberal Party of Canada will be there for Canadian women. The Liberal Party of Canada will fight for the rights of oppressed women around the world. The Liberal Party of Canada will meet the Canada challenge.

Status of WomenRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have reason to be pleased today, since the action taken by the Equal Voice organization encourages us to address the issue of women's participation in politics. This is unfortunately the only reason to be pleased, when it comes to addressing this issue.

The lack of women in politics is particularly worrisome and we cannot, as a democratic society, merely stand by and observe this phenomenon. We all have an obligation to act, and we must act immediately.

The statement made by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women smacks of cynicism. While we listen to the party congratulate itself, only a little over 10% of its candidates, specifically 38 out of 308, during the last election were women, which demonstrates how little importance it places on women's participation in politics. This party does not stop at merely discouraging women from entering politics. It now muzzles women, preventing them from defending their rights and expressing their discontent with this backward-thinking government. This party, with only 11.2% female elected representatives, is inhibiting the progression of the House of Commons towards equality.

While progressive countries such as Sweden and Norway have reached female representation levels of 45.3% and 37.9%, Canada, because of the Conservatives, has slipped to 48th place, with barely 20%.

The Bloc Québécois, whose caucus is 33% women, had the highest number of elected female members of any federal party in Quebec in the last election. But this is not enough. Our party is actively working to increase the number of female members and will run more female candidates in the next election. This is the commitment we are making today.

The multi-partisan organization, Equal Voice, reminds us that, “Political parties can be catalysts for change. All that is required is political will on the part of party leaders to make a difference.”

The only political will the Conservatives have shown was to muzzle women by abolishing the court challenges program and by changing the eligibility criteria for the women's program. If they want to take on the Equal Voice challenge, and we strongly encourage them to do so, they must reinstate these two programs, as they were when the Conservatives came to power. We will then see how serious their political will is. The Bloc Québécois has that political will, and we are committed to making a difference and encouraging more than ever the vital participation of women in political life, by maintaining this objective of parity, which may seem bold, but really, is only natural.

Status of WomenRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for her statement, but unfortunately, with all that she has done to set back women's rights in Canada, that would be disingenuous. In fact the minister closed 12 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, cancelled the policy research fund, eliminated the word “equality” from the mandate of the women's program, placed severe restrictions on access to funding, and her government cancelled the court challenges program.

I will only say that I hope she truly means what she just said, that electing women is a priority and the Conservatives take it seriously. I have my doubts, but I suppose we can all hope.

I am proud to confirm that the leader of the NDP will also be accepting the Canada challenge later this afternoon during members' statements. Our party has made huge strides in nominating, supporting and electing women to the House of Commons. The NDP constitution ensures women are represented in nomination races. Our campaign team demands that women run in ridings they can win and we have great results to show for this work.

Forty-one per cent of our caucus is female. To date, 42% of our nominated candidates are women. With regard to leadership in the House, the leader of the NDP has appointed the first female House leader, finance critic and defence critic in NDP history. NDP MPs fought and won the right to have a House committee on the status of women.

I also feel compelled to correct the record. The minister has perpetuated a Conservative claim to the first woman elected to this House. In fact, history and Hansard will confirm that Agnes Macphail was certainly not a Conservative. A committed pacifist and a progressive, she fought for seniors pensions, farmers' rights and social democratic causes like prison reform. She was a founding member of the CCF. Most people forget that she was also one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature. I certainly hope the minister will check her history books and refrain from tarnishing the good name of Agnes Macphail who was a proud social democrat.

Like never before, women in Canada and our sisters around the world are breaking gender barriers with skills and innovation. We are entering traditionally male dominated fields and achieving great success at the highest levels in both the public and private sectors.

Later this afternoon the House will hear commitments from all party leaders to elect more women. This is a step in the right direction but it is not enough. We need more than words in the House. We need action. Simply appointing female candidates is not an appropriate response.

The participation of women must be part of a party's structure and policy. I challenge every single member of the House of Commons to help elect more women, speak to young women's groups and encourage them, reach out to women who should share this floor with us, help them to win their nominations and help them get elected.

I know the NDP will never rest until 51% of our candidates are women.

Competition ActRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Competition Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (right to repair).

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to bring forward a bill that I believe all members can support. It is the right to repair bill and looks at two different acts, the Competition Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

This bill is important because of the change in the auto industry with regard to on-board diagnostic equipment. That change has led to a number of different servicing requirements that are necessary.

I would point out that the Canadian auto industry is not alone in terms of the consequences of this bill. Similar legislation in the United States and in Europe has adapted different techniques to deal with the fact that this new type of technology creates problems for people and consumers who service their vehicles. Hence, this bill would allow the proper process and procedure so that independent automobile associations could procure the data, tools and materials necessary to fix vehicles.

It is important for competition as well as for the environment. That is one of the reasons that Pollution Probe and the Canadian Automobile Association are supporting this bill. I would suggest that all members of the House get behind this bill in order to have a good, progressive change.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canada Evidence ActRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

moved for leave to introduce C-426, An Act to amend the Canada Evidence Act (protection of journalistic sources and search warrants).

Mr. Speaker, it is always a great pleasure to introduce a private member's bill for the first time.

I have chosen an issue which has concerned me since the late 1960s and which, unfortunately, is still ongoing. I am referring to the protection of journalistic sources and a civilized way of conducting searches, which sometimes must be done at media premises.

The purpose of this enactment is to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources. It allows journalists to refuse to disclose information or a record that has not been published unless it is of vital importance and cannot be produced in evidence by any other means.

It establishes specific conditions that must be met for a judge to issue a search warrant to obtain information or records that a journalist possesses and sets out the way in which a search must be conducted to protect that which must be protected.

It also allows journalists to refuse to disclose the source of the information that they gather, write, produce or disseminate to the public through any media, and to refuse to disclose any information or document that could identify a source.

However, a judge may order a journalist to disclose the source of the information if the judge considers it to be in the public interest, having regard to the outcome of the litigation, the freedom of information and the impact of the journalist’s testimony on the source.

In conclusion, the purpose of this bill is not to confer privileges on a journalist but to protect journalistic activity, which is essential to ensure a just and truly democratic society.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Visitor VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to present in the House of Commons today.

The first petition is with regard to visa permits for the Republic of Poland. The current policy is there is a restriction and the petitioners are calling for Parliament to lift the visa requirements for the Republic of Poland.

It is important to point out that the European Union includes part of the Republic of Poland. In fact, Polish soldiers are serving with Canadians in Afghanistan.

The petitioners call upon Canada to lift the visa requirements. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration could move quickly on that with consensus of the House.

Automobile RecyclingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is with regard to automobile recycling.

There is a series of chemicals in different automobiles, including shredder residue. These chemicals contaminate our environment. The petitioners are calling for the dismantling and recycling of automobiles. It is very important to thank the CAW for this petition. Auto recycling creates jobs for Canadians and cleans up the environment. Auto recycling is a good practice and is being done in many other nations.

SeniorsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the final petition is a series of petitions in the hundreds calling for greater support for seniors by the government. The petitioners are calling for the elimination of discrimination on the eligibility requirements. In particular, the petitioners want an amendment to the Old Age Security Act regulations and policies to eliminate the 10-year residency requirement for the OAS and GIS.

The petitioners are well aware there is a poverty gap in Canada that is growing and that seniors are being harmed by these issues. The petitioners are calling upon the government to act. This would be consistent with the NDP motion that called for a seniors charter of rights which motion passed in this chamber.

Summer Career Placement ProgramPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great displeasure to table a petition this morning about the summer career placement program.

It gives me no pleasure to table this petition because by their signatures, people in my riding are criticizing changes to the summer career placement program, specifically, this year's $10 million in cuts, as well as other expected cuts.

This was an excellent program because it enabled young people to find a summer job in their field. Now the government has changed everything, including the decision-making process. Even the Minister of Labour, at home in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, criticized the new Canada summer jobs program because decisions about subsidies would no longer be made in the ridings and in the regions, but in Montreal and Ottawa.

Here are another hundred signatures against the new program.

Visitor VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions. The first petition is from 65 members of the Polish Canadian community in my riding. The petition calls for the lifting of the requirement for visitors visas for people coming from Poland. Poland is now part of the EU and Poland uses all of the same biometric passport technology and other secure passport identification that other EU countries use.

The lifting of the visitor visa requirements would increase family visitation, tourism, cultural exchanges, trade missions and is strongly supported by my community which has a large Polish Canadian component.

Federal Minimum WagePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has 387 signatures. The petitioners are calling for the federal minimum wage to be reintroduced and raised to $10 an hour. The minimum wage was abolished in 1996 under the previous Liberal government. A minimum wage of $10 an hour would just approach the poverty level for a single person. If a minimum wage were established at the federal level, the influence would extend beyond workers in the federal jurisdiction because it could serve as a best practice for labour standards across the country. The petition calls for passage of my minimum wage Bill C-375.

Summer Career Placement ProgramPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning I am tabling a petition from non-profit organizations in my riding, Brome—Missisquoi, including the Learning Disabilities Association of Quebec and municipal recreation and volunteer committees.

This petition was signed by 143 members of NPOs who find this loss of jobs for youth a great shame and who deplore the fact that decisions about jobs for all of Quebec will be made not in each region where people are more familiar with the choices to be made for each student, but by bureaucrats.

These people are very disappointed with the new program and are asking the government to bring back the old program.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


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

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the consideration of the motion under government orders, Government Business No. 15, I move:

That the debate be not further adjourned.

Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1 there will now be a 30-minute question period. I invite hon. members who wish to ask questions to rise in their places so the Chair has some idea of the number of members who wish to participate in this question period.

I will start with the hon. member for Davenport.

Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying that although we will be supporting the motion under Standing Order 57 and also Bill C-46, we have serious concerns about how the government has handled this situation. Obviously all of us are concerned that prolonging the CN strike has a serious economic impact on our country. This is a very important service to many communities.

The strike has been ongoing for quite a long time and we want to know where the government was. Where was the minister? It seems that the minister has been missing in action. The minister should have been there to bring both parties to the table to resolve this issue from the beginning so that we would not be in the situation we are in today. The fact that we are voting on this closure motion and also subsequently voting on Bill C-46 in many ways indicates the failure by the government to bring about a resolution to the strike.

I want to know what steps the minister has taken. How many times has he met with both parties? What attempts has he made to bring a resolution to this strike?

Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec


Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, the principle of free collective bargaining is accepted by all parliamentarians. However, when a 14-day strike at Canadian National paralyzed Canada's economy and our exports dropped by $1 billion in February as a result of the dispute between CN and the United Transportation Union, our government had a responsibility to act when it saw that the parties did not seem to be able to reach an agreement. Hon. members will recall that after Bill C-46 received first reading, the parties reached an agreement in principle.

However, the members voted nearly 80% not to ratify this agreement, and workers are now holding rotating strikes across the country. We have heard from a number of companies that are affected by these strikes and are afraid they will not be able to move their own goods within their company.

Under the circumstances, how long should we wait? Should we wait until 5, 10, 20 or 30 rotating strikes have taken place? How long should the government wait and let the economic situation deteriorate before taking action? We told the parties that the government would do what it had to do, given that an agreement did not seem possible. We are going to proceed with this bill.

There is nothing preventing the union from reaching an agreement with management. Even though the bill will come into force, the parties can still reach a settlement, in which case it will take precedence. But we are determined to protect Canada's economy.

Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that every time in Parliament that we rise for a question period on a topic such as this which involves closure on a bill that is before the House, or will soon be before the House, it is an occasion that we should treat very seriously because as parliamentarians we are here to debate legislation. We are here to promote public discourse. We are here to put forward various perspectives and points of view.

When a governing party brings in a closure motion, which is what we are now dealing with today, to ram through legislation in an act of desperation, we have this 30 minute period to question why indeed this is happening. I am very pleased to rise today to question the minister and the government as to why they are now, at this point, bringing in closure on the back to work legislation.

It begs a question. Back to work legislation is a very serious issue. The situation involving CN and its employees has been dragging on for months. The members of the union have very legitimate issues around health and safety, which we will get into when we debate this bill. However, to deny workers a legitimate right to negotiate and to go back to the table, to force through legislation and bring in closure on top of that, and to rail this through Parliament in a few hours, which is what is going to take place today unless it can be held up, is a very serious matter.

I want to question the government on the principle and on the grounds of democratic process. It is using this very heavy-handed and blunt instrument of closure to force through this legislation that will deny workers the opportunity to negotiate in good faith.

We have seen CN locking out workers. We saw union members legitimately reject a tentative agreement. They have a right to do that. That is part of the Labour Code. That is part of fair collective bargaining and negotiations: the right of a membership to make its own estimation as to whether or not it agrees to a tentative agreement.

The members decided they did not like that tentative agreement and they voted it down resoundingly. They now, I believe, have a right to go back into the process and get into negotiations, and the minister's office and the government should be facilitating that. They should be using all of their resources to ensure that that happens, not using this hammer and saying, “We give up on this now. We are just going to roll over and do what CN wants us to do. We are going to bring in this back to work legislation and more than that, we are going to use a second hammer to bring in closure and make sure we march it through Parliament as quickly as possible”.

We in the NDP, on principle, find that to be offensive. We find it to be anti-democratic. We find it to be in violation of the basic principles around labour fairness in this country.

I would like the government to respond to that in terms of how it justifies what it is now proposing and putting forward before this House, these very drastic measures to railroad through this legislation.

Motion that debate be not further adjournedRailway Operations LegislationGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, hon. members must understand that the parties have now been in talks for 19 months. Along the way, we organized our team of mediators to assist the parties. In February, an agreement was reached between Canadian National and the United Transportation Union with the help of our mediators.

Once the agreement was signed, the employees went back to work immediately. We appreciate that they did this, and it is entirely to their credit. However, when the union members democratically decide not to accept the agreement bargained by their leaders, the government cannot allow the economy to be paralyzed every day because of a rotating strike happening in one place or another. When there is a rotating strike in one place, that place is not the only one that feels the impact. In fact, it has a Canada-wide impact.

On Saturday, the parties continued to bargain, and no light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. In the circumstances, it is the responsibility of the members of this House to take action, and to enact a law, because they can see that the parties are not able to reach an agreement at this time. The parties will still be able to bargain. Over the next three months, if they reach an agreement, that agreement will prevail. If there is no agreement, our arbitrator will ask each party to state its position regarding the agreement. Our arbitrator will then decide between A and B, with no middle ground. He will decide between A and B. We believe that this is what we have to do to solve this problem.

The Canada Labour Code was revised in 1999. Parliament did not have to step in again in any way to enact back-to-work legislation. In 2000, Canadian National ratified an agreement. It ratified another agreement in 2003. At present, that does not seem to be possible. In February, there were 14 strike days, an extremely long time, all because of a conflict between an American union and the Canadian union that the two parties do not agree on. Who has paid the price for this problem? The Canadian economy, and the employees whose wages were not paid.

The law we will enact is in the interests of our country's economy, in the interests of the employees, and in the interests of the proper operation of our rail service. It will also mean that the United States and other countries will be able to see that this country is operating properly and that they can count on a fully functioning transportation system.