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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc motion in the House today which is expressing confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

I know that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are well aware of the important role that Elections Canada plays here in what we openly call a fair and democratic process. Canadians are well aware of the fact that Elections Canada plays a critical role not only in general elections but in byelections, in referenda, and certainly in the administering of the political provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Part of its role is to monitor compliance and to enforce electoral legislation. That is a role that Canadians feel confident that Elections Canada is able to perform to a very high standard.

In the event that one thinks that is just something that comes from Canadians and politicians, we are also known on the international stage for the good work that Elections Canada does and in fact there was a report after the 2006 election that talked about the role of Elections Canada and generally on the conduct of elections in Canada.

The report was done under the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, also referred as ODIHR. Part of its role is to assist participating states to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, to abide by the rule of law, to promote principles of democracy, and to build, strengthen and protect democratic institutions as well as promote tolerance throughout society.

Certainly, one of the ways that we protect democratic institutions is to ensure that political parties that engage in the political process follow the rules. That is a very important part of ensuring a democratic process that people respect and have confidence in.

The ODIHR website talks about the fact that it coordinates and organizes the deployment of thousands of observers every year to assess whether elections in the OSCE area are in line with national legislation and international standards. The office's democratization activities include the following thematic areas: rule of law, civil society, freedom of movement and gender equality.

The ODIHR sent an election assessment mission to the parliamentary elections in Canada on January 23, 2006 and of course there was an extensive report. I want to touch on a couple of points that highlight the fact that not only nationally but internationally Elections Canada is well respected for its ability to conduct elections and to enforce legislation.

The election assessment mission met with officials, candidates and representatives of civil society in order to get an overview of the election process and of specific legislative and administrative issues, and of course there were many things that it looked at but I want to quote specifically from its executive summary. It said:

The legal framework, especially the Canada Elections Act, provides a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections. However, consideration should be given to enhance the right of domestic non-partisan and international observers to observe all stages of the electoral process, in order for the relevant legislation to be in line with OSCE commitments. In addition, the mechanism for appointment of Returning Officers who are in effect appointed by the party in government, as well as a review of legal provisions that limit the rights of non-citizens to participate in the campaign, could be considered.

The elections were administered by the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada in a professional manner and according to procedures which enjoy the overall trust of candidates and voters.

So, this assessment was a fairly sound endorsement of the credibility of Elections Canada and it had the support not only of the political parties and their representatives but also of non-government organizations. Further on in the report it talked about the fact that:

Interlocutors from political parties stated that election officers’ positions are no longer deemed as relevant as in the past due to the overall high level of confidence in Elections Canada.

It went on and said that it was consistent with the existing high level of overall confidence in Elections Canada.

We have here an international body, independent observers, who talk about the importance of Elections Canada's work, about the overall trust and confidence that Canadians have in it, that it is an important process, that it is fair and transparent.

It recommends a few minor changes, including the ability of international observers to participate in the process, but, overall, I this international assessment gives a high mark to Elections Canada in the performance of its duties.

The Bloc motion, in asking this House to state its confidence in Elections Canada and the commissioner, is well placed. I would anticipate that the members in this House would have little difficulty in supporting that motion of confidence.

I want to turn to another matter and this is partly what was raised in this overview of what the international agency could look at. One of the things that it talked about was gender equality. I would argue that it is quite unfortunate that what we are not debating today are some issues around gender equality. What we are not debating today in this House is cleaning up politics by demanding changes in ethics and accountability.

This is from a paper that Ed Broadbent, the former member from Ottawa Centre, put together. Part of the reason we are having this discussion is that there still are problems with ethics and accountability, whether real or perceived, and the fact that we have Elections Canada alleging that the Conservative Party conspired to construct a scheme in an attempt to exceed the central campaign spending limit in the last federal election and that devising such a scheme is illegal is an issue.

I want to turn briefly to this good document that Ed Broadbent put together. Unfortunately, he put it together prior to the last election in 2006. It looked like we were going to have some movement from the then Liberal government but at the last minute it backed out of the agreement to move forward with this. Under the Conservative government we have seen no move to actually look at serious, open, transparent electoral reform.

I want to touch on a couple of points in this paper because part of the reason we are having this conversation in the House today is because of that lack of trust. Mr. Broadbent put forward some very concrete suggestions and I will not go through them all but I want to highlight a couple of them. He said that Canadians were demanding changes in ethics and in accountability. He said that they wanted a strong Canada resting on ethically based, democratic institutions and that they wanted honesty, fairness and transparency to be the rule, not the exception in political life.

I certainly know from being in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan which, unfortunately, is one of those 67 ridings where these allegations took place. Many people are very disappointed that this kind of activity would take place here today in Canada. They call on all political parties to ensure that kind of action does not tarnish the perception that Canada has a very good electoral system.

In this paper, Mr. Broadbent talked about a number of issues, one being democratic accountability for MPs. We know that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has a private member's bill saying that when a member chooses to no longer represent the political party for which he or she was elected, that person would sit as an independent, at the least, and, at the best possible scenario, the person would resign his or her seat which would trigger a byelection so the people in the riding would have a choice as to who will represent them. If someone ran for one particular party and, for whatever reason, the person abdicated that position, he or she should go back to the electorate to give them a choice about who should represent them.

He talked about fixed election dates, for which we now have legislation, and that is certainly progress. He talked about transparent leadership contests. One of the recommendations is that we should set spending limits and transparency conditions on leadership contests with political parties. We recently had a Liberal leadership contest. I am sure in the years to come we will have other party leadership contests. That would be a very important statement and commitment that political parties could make to ensuring transparency, openness and accountability within a party process.

He talked about electoral reform, which is something New Democrats have talked about for a number of years. The first past the post system does not reflect how the voters voted. It unfairly eliminates some people's choice. There are any number of reports that have talked about the importance of electoral reform.

I want to quote a bit from this paper, which states:

Ninety percent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa. As the Canadian Law Commission recommended and five provinces seem to agree, fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. The global evidence is clear: only such a system would positively redress the existing imbalance in the House of Commons in gender, ethnic, ideological and regional voting preferences.

I will touch on that again in a moment when I talk about the lack of gender representation in the House.

The report goes on to also talk about ending unregulated lobbying. The accountability act took some very small steps, but we know there is certainly more work that needs to be done around lobbying. It states:

Unregulated lobbying and political cronyism must end: We need tougher laws requiring disclosure of fees and expenditures of lobbyists. We also need to make illegal the acceptance of contingency or profit-based fees.

New Democrats, led by the member for Winnipeg Centre, certainly have talked about the very real and urgent need to make sure that lobbyists do not have unfair access to government.

On ethical appointments, again, we have pushed hard for changes in the appointment process. We see that cronyism continues. The report states:

Government appointments: Unfair and unethical patronage practice must stop in the appointments of thousands of officials to federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown Corporations. The New Democratic Party proposes that the government develop skills and competence-related criteria for all government appointments, that these criteria be publicly released and that committees scrutinize appointments.

This would seem like a reasonable step to make sure that we are getting the best possible candidates for some of these very important appointments. We would look forward to further discussions in terms of changing this political patronage that abounds in this country.

On access to information, I know that over these last two years probably many members in this House have struggled to get information out of the government. What we have seen is delay after delay. Some of us have been forced into filing complaints because we cannot get access to information, but then we will get hundreds of pages that are blanked out. I might add that we get charged for the hundreds of page that are blanked out.

That is not what the Conservative government ran on. When we are talking about accountability, transparency and ethical behaviour, we would expect that the mandate should be to provide as much information as possible to Canadians, not to delete as much information as possible.

On access to information, there were a couple of key points that Mr. Broadbent raised as part of his ethics and accountability package. He said in regard to access to information that we should extend the act to “Crown corporations and agencies previously excluded”; make “ministers of the Crown, their exempt staffs and officers of parliament subject to the Act”; bring “Cabinet confidences under the Act”; establish “the principles that records be provided without unreasonable barriers as to time and cost” and provide “a government institution with the discretion to provide them free of charge to users who request them in the public interest”.

We see a number of areas where we are simply failing to provide to Canadians the open and transparent government they expect. They do not expect to have to jump through so many hoops to get very simple information.

I had a case around the gold digger clause. It involved a veteran who served his country. The so-called gold digger clause was an archaic piece of legislation back in the early 1900s. There is no good reason why that particular clause has not been eliminated.

When we attempted to get information such as briefing notes, documents or whatever, we got the runaround for weeks and weeks on end. Finally, were told that the information had been moved into the Privy Council Office where it was no longer available to us. Mostly, this piece of information affects older men and their new spouses.

Some of them are getting to the age where they simply are running out of time to deal with it. Instead, it has been stall, denial, delay in terms of getting the simplest of answers about whether the government is considering changing that legislation.

It also saddens me today because there are many other issues we should be debating in the House of Commons. Over the last several months, one forestry-related company after another has closed in my riding. Hundreds of jobs have been lost over the last six months. That should be the topic of conversation in the House, not whether the Conservatives allegedly tried to spend more money nationally than they were entitled to spend. That should not be the topic of conversation here.

We should be talking about a national forestry strategy. We should be talking about the fact that communities are reeling from closures. We heard today in the House about another auto plant closing down. We heard about another plant in Listowel closing down. A pulp and paper mill in my riding is in serious trouble because of the number of sawmill closures in the riding.

I will quote from an article in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, April 12. The headline reads “Mill closures force firm to get sawdust from U.S.”. It says:

Catalyst's search for fibre south of the border comes at a time when coastal mills are shutting down and timber companies are selling their logs by the bargeload to the Americans.

Catalyst needs sawdust to make a short-fibre pulp at its Elk Falls mill near Campbell River. But there are no longer enough lumber mills on the West Coast producing sawdust. Since 2002, at least 21 coastal mills have closed.

Campbell River is not in my riding, but there is a mill in Crofton.

The article goes on to say:

B.C. exported half a million cubic metres of logs from Crown lands in 2007, according to the Ministry of Forests. Private land exports are even higher. TimbertWest alone shipped 489,000 cubic metres of logs to the U.S., and 521,000 cubic metres to Japan.

Later on in the article it states:

—the fibre crisis for pulp companies is a direct consequence of the decline in importance of the coastal sawmilling sector.

From that article one might presume that there are actually no trees left to cut. That is simply not true. Our coastal forestry sector is reeling from a lack of a comprehensive strategy. The provincial government certainly has a role to play here, but so does the federal government.

We call on the House to not spend its time talking about schemes and lack of trust in the political process, but instead spend its time talking about some of the real issues that are facing our communities such as rising gas prices, lack of housing, lack of child care, or waiting lists in health care.

I want to talk about the Ladysmith sawmill that closed indefinitely, and I will quote from an article in the Ladysmith Chronicle of April 22, 2008:

Economic downturn in the U.S. and the resulting forest industry crisis in Canada has claimed yet another island mill.

Forty people were told they're out of work Friday when Western Forest Products announced the indefinite closure of their last production line at the Ladysmith sawmill.

Those 40 are in addition to the 110 who were laid off earlier.

The articles goes on to talk about what people will to replace these jobs. It states:

—with the state of the forest industry being what it is, “the chances of these people finding jobs in the industry is nil.”

“There's a ton of frustration.”

Anybody who has been paying attention to the economics in the United States would know that what happens there will have an impact on us in Canada, particularly for provinces like British Columbia, which has a significant trade relationship with the United States. It is like the train at the end of the tunnel that everybody has seen coming forever, but we have done nothing about it. Instead, hundreds of jobs have been lost in my riding. We heard today thousands of jobs have been lost in other ridings.

I fully support the Bloc motion around expressing confidence in Elections Canada and in the commissioner. I hope that when the House finishes voting on this motion today, it could turn its attention to some of the very serious manufacturing and forestry sector job losses facing our country and deal with some of the serious issues that really impact people in their communities each and every day.

A lot of what we are talking about today simply is not on the agenda of people who are struggling about whether they are going to be able to pay their rent.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague for her speech, which was quite timely under the circumstances. Above all, she reminds us that we must be vigilant and concerned about our democracy.

We often teach other countries about democracy. We even send our soldiers to other countries to defend or establish democracy, when in our own country there is sometimes some quite questionable or reprehensible behaviour.

I would like to know what her party thinks about the fact that the Conservatives, who are being investigated by Elections Canada and whose offices were searched by the RCMP, won in some ridings by a few hundred votes. Now the legitimacy of the voting results is being called into question.

Also, I would like to know what she thinks about the Conservative strategy to place the blame on the other parties, which have not been singled out by Elections Canada. What does her party think about this, and how should we react to such a situation?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not feel I am in a position to speculate about whether seats would have changed based on what was alleged overspending, but it tarnishes the reputation of all politicians in the House when Canadians see an attempt to subvert the regulation.

It is also disappointing that the Conservatives, rather than taking a hard look at their own behaviour, are attempting to deflect it on to other parties. We need to let Elections Canada and that process play itself out in an open and transparent way so Canadians can get to the bottom of it.

There are very serious allegations about the scheme in an attempt to exceed national spending limits. We need to let Elections Canada do its job and have all Canadians hear the outcome of that.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place today and talk to this issue. What we have heard here today and we have heard over the course of the last number of months, both in and outside of the House, is a lot of commentary by members of the opposition parties, and that commentary, and this motion in fact, is nothing more than political posturing and political rhetoric.

That is to be expected. We all understand this is a political place, that many times members of the opposition will raise questions or raise objections for strictly partisan reasons, and this issue really fits that bill. As we have seen time and time again in this place, members particularly of the official opposition, members of the Liberal Party, try to create scandals where no scandal exists. The same thing can be said for this issue.

We have heard today, and we have heard over the course of the last number of weeks, a number of arguments raised by members of the opposition, which they say demonstrate the Conservative Party did in some fashion break electoral laws. I will take a number of those arguments, raised both by members of the opposition and by Elections Canada itself, speak to them and try to demonstrate to the House that those arguments are completely unfounded and baseless.

The first argument is that the Conservative Party somehow overspent the national advertising limit by transferring money to local campaigns and those campaigns then ran national ads. The argument then goes that the national ad that was run in a local riding should not be considered a local ad at all, that it should be considered a national ad, which would mean the Conservative Party overspent its limit.

First, as we heard here today, that is entirely false. Local candidates can choose to run ads that help get them elected. They can determine whether they want to run a national ad promoting the party, the prime minister or national policies if they feel it is in their best interest for their electoral success, or they can run an ad strictly locally, promoting themselves as the local candidate and perhaps on local issues.

However, it is their choice, and that is not only an opinion that I share, but it is stated in candidates' handbooks, printed by Elections Canada, which give clear guidelines to all candidates in elections. In that handbook it says quite clearly that candidates have the option of running either local messages or national messages. It is their choice. The only caveat is that if they choose to run a national ad, they tag it appropriately by saying “authorized by the official agent on behalf of”, and then the name of the candidate.

This is quite common. All political parties have done exactly the same thing time and time again.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

No, we have not.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I hear members of the opposition saying, “No we don't”. We have given example after example of how they did. In fact, in the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am a member, I spoke at great length, giving examples of all political parties that engaged in the same practice. During my presentation, I took great pains to point out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the practices of the other parties. They engaged in the same practices we did, but there is nothing wrong with that because it is allowed by Elections Canada.

I will give one example, only because my hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party, who spoke just prior to my presentation, was in some fashion again saying that the Conservative Party had done something wrong. I want to quote yet another example and put it into the record of an action taken by a member of the New Democratic Party, the member for Vancouver East.

I am going to quote from an affidavit that we tabled not only in the House today, but in Federal Court a number of months ago. It shows one more example of how, in this case the NDP, engaged in a similar practice.

This is paragraph 42 on page 18, for those who want to read along with me, and they are certainly welcome to do so. Let me read this:

With respect to the regional media buy set out at Exhibit 19, there is an invoice from the national office of the NDP to the official agent for [the member for Vancouver East's] campaign for “election period radio advertising paid by Federal Party”, in the amount of $2,612.00. The invoice was paid to the NDP national office by the local campaign by cheque dated March 31, 2006.

That same day, the local campaign received a transfer of funds from the NDP national office for $2,600.00, almost the identical amount, in other words, the in and out.

This in and out nature is specifically set out in an email to the campaign from the NDP national office, which I will read in part. Again, this is an email from the national NDP office to the local riding association for the member for Vancouver East. This email from the national NDP office states, “the good news is that the federal party will transfer $2,600 to the federal riding association as we agreed to pay for the ads”.

The content of this ad is entirely national. This is a radio ad. I will read in part a copy of the ad:

After years of broken promises and corruption, the Liberals just don't deserve your vote.

Enough is enough--people work hard to pay their taxes.

Jack Layton and the NDP will work so we get the services we pay for. Fighting crime.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. parliamentary secretary cannot do indirectly what he cannot do directly, so even when he is quoting articles, he should still use riding names or titles.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will read it again, using the office of the member rather than the member's name. The leader of the NDP “and the party will work so we get the services we pay for: fighting crime, health care when we need it”, et cetera.

The point is that the content of this ad was entirely national. It talked about the New Democratic Party position. It did not mention the local candidate whatsoever. It talked entirely of the national campaign and the party's policies. What we have is an example where the federal New Democratic Party paid $2,600 to the local Vancouver East riding association to produce and run this ad. The riding association then repaid $2,600 to the NDP national office. That is in and out and there is nothing wrong with that.

In addition of course, the Vancouver East riding association claimed for and received the rebate, 60% of that money, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it points to the fact that the NDP certainly and all other parties have engaged in the same action that we did.

That brings me to the obvious question that members of the House have raised. It seems only the Conservative Party is being investigated, so that proves that it obviously did something wrong. We ask the question why is the Conservative Party the only one? It is quite obvious that if all parties have engaged in the same practice but only one party is being investigated, there seems to be some lack of impartiality. I honestly ask the question as I do not know why that is and we would like to find out. In fact, that is why we have taken Elections Canada to court. We do not believe the interpretations made by Elections Canada with respect to this issue are correct or in fact are fair.

I would also point out to all members of this place who seem to think that if Elections Canada makes a ruling that it has to be correct because it is always right, that in fact, that is not right. We have heard time and time again over the last few days and certainly today that the Liberal member for Toronto Centre was initially refused rebate money from Elections Canada. He challenged that ruling and was found that he was correct in his assessment that he should receive the rebate and Elections Canada was wrong in its interpretation.

Elections Canada is not always perfect. Because it makes an interpretation, because it makes a ruling, does not mean that we just turn a blind eye to it and say that although we disagree I guess we have no option but to accept its ruling. That is not the way these things work. We have seen demonstrated evidence that Elections Canada from time to time makes an error in judgment and we certainly believe that in this particular instance, an error has been made.

We have the ability as candidates to determine what is in our best interests when we are running in an election campaign. What would get me as a candidate elected? Would it be the popularity of the national party? Would it be the popularity of our party leader? Would it be some national issues that resonate well with constituents in my riding? Or would it be a campaign that focuses on myself, my background, my abilities and local and only local issues?

I would argue with anyone in the House that we have all faced that situation time and time again in previous elections. We have made determinations whether we believe it is best to run a national ad in content, national in scope or whether it would be in the best interests of our electoral success to run a local ad. However, the issue is not whether Elections Canada makes that determination. Quite clearly, the handbook for all candidates that we read, that we examined in previous elections, states without equivocation that the choice is up to the candidate. He or she determines what ads would best serve his or her political purposes, his or her election campaign to give the candidate the best opportunity to be elected to this place.

The argument that local candidates running national ads somehow violates election law is absolutely incorrect and is a false interpretation by anyone who chooses to raise that argument.

I also point out a couple of other facts that have been raised here today that are absolutely integral to our argument with Elections Canada.

One is that the transfers between a national party and local candidates somehow constitute an illegal activity, that if a national party gives money to a local candidate who then runs a national ad, it should be considered national advertising. That is simply not true. That has been documented not only in the returns of all candidates from all parties for the last number of years, but also in the candidates' handbook, which I referred to.

I only have a few moments left, but I do want to answer a question raised by my hon. colleague from Hull—Aylmer several times today. He referred to an example in his own riding of Hull—Aylmer, and said that the local Conservative candidate in the 2006 election participated in the program, received a transfer of funds from the national Conservative Party, ended up running ads which the member for Hull—Aylmer said were national in content and then received a rebate. The question raised several times in the House was what happened to the approximately $30,000 rebate? Was that given back to the national party?

I suppose the purpose of asking that question was to imply that somehow this was part of this deal that the national party would give money to local candidates, they would receive the rebate and then be forced to give the money back to the national party. It is absolutely false. There is no truth to that whatsoever.

Rebates received by local candidates can stay right there in their local riding association. There was never at any time any suggestion or requirement for the national party to have local candidates submit the rebates back to the national party. I hope that is straightforward enough to answer the question asked by my hon. colleague from Hull—Aylmer.

That points out to me that once again, members of the opposition are trying to cast spurious allegations and create some sort of aura that this all points to some illegal activity by members of the Conservative Party, not by coming out directly and stating that this was a fact, but by trying to somehow run around the end and suggest that in some fashion the Conservative Party has broken laws. This of course is absolutely not true.

We heard also earlier today examples of how the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2006 election paid over $1.7 million in transfers to local candidates, who then ran ads at a national level and $1.3 million was invoiced back. It was the same in and out scheme. I would suggest that proves without a doubt that not only have all parties engaged in the same practice, which we contend is perfectly legal, but there is only one party being unfairly singled out for engaging in the same activities.

That is why in the procedure and House affairs committee we were the party that brought forward a motion saying that we would gladly do a complete and exhaustive investigation of the spending practices of election money during election campaigns with one caveat and one caveat only, that we examine the practices of all four national parties. We were the only party that voted in favour of that motion. The other parties did not want to take part in that practice.

Mr. Speaker, I can see that my time is up. I thank all members very much for their time this afternoon.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

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

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #93

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:44 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2008 / 5:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

,

seconded by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, moved that Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, this year Ukrainian Canadians, Ukrainians around the world, and the international community, will mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most heinous crimes in modern history, the state sponsored famine genocide of 1932-33 perpetrated by the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin against the Ukrainian people.

The deliberate planned famine was devised to destroy the Ukrainian nation's aspirations for a free and independent Ukraine. It killed seven to ten million Ukrainians. For decades the truth about this horrific crime was suppressed by Soviet authorities.

Canada has a longstanding history of condemning all war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides. That is why today we are debating an act to establish a Ukrainian genocide holodomor and famine memorial day. This bill not only designates the fourth Saturday in November as a memorial day for the Ukrainian famine but also acknowledges the famine as an act of genocide.

Across Canada right now holodomor activities are taking place, largely sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and its membership organizations. They are doing things such as holding memorials in a number of cities. Right now there is the international remembrance flame tour with the flame being carried by Stefan Horlatsch, who I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago.

Stefan is a survivor of the holodomor, the famine in the Ukraine that was imposed upon him as a small child by Stalin. Stefan has some recollections of that horrific experience and is sharing that story as he travels across Canada carrying the international flame and talking about the problems that he endured as a child and his journey to get out of the Soviet Union.

I have been working on this bill for about 16 months. I know many members in this House have brought forward these types of bills in the past and in this current Parliament, and they feel quite strongly that this is the right issue to jump on board with.

I have to thank Senator Raynell Andreychuk who made sure that a motion like this was brought forward at the 70th anniversary back in 2003 and who had a motion in the Senate where senators discussed recognizing the holodomor as a genocide.

I also want to thank the Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) for his encouragement and help in drafting this bill.

I need to thank the Canadian Friends of Ukraine who have worked tirelessly not only to raise awareness of the holodomor but helped in drafting my legislation over a year ago. I especially thank Miss Lisa Shymko, who is the executive director and Mrs. Margareta Shpir, who is the first vice-president.

As I said, there are many other MPs here from all parties who know that this is an issue that needs to be recognized, one that all Canadians need to be better educated about, as well as making that recognition around the world.

I also want to thank the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Association of which so many of us are members.

I also want to make sure that we proceed in a non-partisan and timely manner in getting this legislation through the House, so that we recognize it before the 75th anniversary actually runs out.

I understand we need to make an amendment to my bill and I encourage that we do this at committee. When I first drafted the bill the one word that I actually did leave out was “holodomor”, which is a Ukrainian term, and I am of Ukrainian heritage. For Canadian purposes we often just refer to it as the Ukrainian famine and I definitely wanted to use the word “genocide” in the bill. We need to put the word “holodomor” in the bill in about five or six different places and the best place to do that is at committee. I am asking my fellow members in the House to send the bill to committee and make those amendments there.

Although holodomor is a Ukrainian word and recognizes the famine of 1932-33, it is based upon two Ukrainian words “holod”, which stands for hunger, starvation or famine, and “moryty”, which is to induce suffering, to kill, to die. These two words together make the root for holodomor.

We need to put this in perspective. We are talking about seven to ten million Ukrainians who died over the fall of 1932 and most of 1933. At the peak, over 25,000 people a day were hauled out of the villages and off the farms, and just thrown on wagons and taken out back and buried in mass graves.

The only way we can really look at this is to know about that time. We are not sure what the statistics were like. We do not know solidly what the population of Ukraine was at the time. We know that the last solid census was taken about 1926-27 by the Soviet regime and it said there were roughly 28 million to 29 million Ukrainians at that time.

By just taking normal population growth with some of the statistics I saw in 1931, the population of Ukraine would have been about 31.2 million people, which is about the same population we have here in Canada, and over seven million were killed, maybe as high as ten million, if we ever could get our hands on the solid statistics of what happened during 1932 and 1933.

That would be like going to Manitoba today and taking away all the food that was harvested because we did not like the people and dumping all that food into Lake Winnipeg. Essentially, starving the entire population.

However, let us not stop there. If we are going to make a real comparison to what happened in the Ukraine, let us go to Saskatchewan, take all the food right off the farms and out of the houses, dump it into Lake Winnipeg and let those people starve to death.

However, we cannot stop there. We also have to go into Alberta, take all the food, all the grain, all the livestock, throw all that into the lake, and let those people starve to death.

However, that is not all. We also have to go to B.C. and starve all those people to death to have the same situation that the Ukrainian people lived through under Joseph Stalin from 1932 to 1933.

It is horrific. We have to make sure that the seven to ten million Ukrainians who died at the hands of the authorities of Joseph Stalin are remembered. The Soviet regime severely punished anyone who resisted it. In addition to starvation and killings by agents of the estate, cannibalism occurred. We know that. There were many suicides and mercy killings, which just kept adding to the death toll. As I said before, I have seen numbers as high as 28,000 people dying every day at the peak of it.

I want to thank Leo Ledohowski, the President and CEO of Canad Inns. He produced and sponsored a great video on the holodomor. He talked to Ukrainian Canadian survivors of the holodomor from across this country, a lot of them right in Manitoba, including Mike and Sonya Kushliak from Selkirk in my riding.

They spoke about horrible stories they remember when growing up. They spoke about people laying on the streets, dying, because they did not have the strength to walk to town. They spoke about people driving horses and buggies picking up the dead people and taking them out to the cemetery and putting them into mass graves.

They said that every time their parents tried to bring even a morsel of food home it seemed that the so-called “activists” of the communist regime would come into their homes and find it, even if it was just a sockful of wheat, and take it back and would not allow them to eat. All the crops were confiscated.

Ukrainians had a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1932, but all their root crops, all their vegetables, all the wheat that they had grown, all their livestock were confiscated and taken away, including their cows, their sheep, their goats and their pigs. They had absolutely nothing left and essentially were made to suffer a horrible death.

Essentially what was happening was the commitment of genocide. I want to read article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was drafted in 1948. It defines “genocide” as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

That is exactly what happened in the Ukraine. It continues:

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

So, definitely in part (c) of the definition: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

We know that the famine was not caused by drought or other environmental causes. There are plenty of records to show that there was a bountiful harvest, that exports of wheat from the Ukraine and from Russia were flowing into western Europe.

There was plenty of grain to go around. The carryover stocks of grain supplies of the Soviet Union would have been more than enough to feed the starving Ukrainians. We know that this was caused by the policies and actions of Joseph Stalin's Soviet authorization aimed at the forced collectivization of agriculture and achieving the maximum extraction of agricultural produce from the rural population.

These policies and actions included decrees “laying down grain procurement targets for Ukraine” and ordering that all collective farm property such as cattle and grain should henceforth be considered state property, “sacred and inviolable”. Those guilty of offences against it were considered enemies of the people, to be shot unless there were extenuating circumstances including the penalty of imprisonment with confiscation of property. Severe enforcement measures included: death sentences, numbering in the thousands; imprisonment in concentration camps; and withholding of food rations and other supplies.

We always think of this in terms that this was based upon the collectivization of agriculture across the Soviet Union, but it was different in the Ukraine. It was different for a number of reasons. First of all, as well as forcing collectivization upon the Ukrainians and people of the Volga River district, Kazakhstan and the Kuban area of Russia, the Ukrainian people were unfairly targeted. They were not allowed to migrate within their own areas. They were not allowed to travel. There were blockades that were put in place to prevent the people of the northern Ukraine from going to Russia where the food was and be able to buy it at the stores, essentially forcing them to live in these starvation ghettos, these famine ghettos.

We know that in the other areas there was still the freedom of movement, that people could move around and find foodstuffs. We also know that they were not just targeting the farmers. They were not going after the peasants. It looked like they were going after the farming community across the Soviet Union. We must remember that 80% of the population at that time were peasant farmers. They were living on the land. Essentially, they were the basis of Ukrainian pride. They were nationalists. They wanted to see a free and independent Ukraine as Ukraine has often cried out for. Unfortunately, they were being quashed by Stalin himself and his thugs.

Anyone who was considered a nationalist, and most of them were peasants but there were many within communities as well, were often hauled out and put in front of firing squads or they were thrown on the train and sent off to concentration camps in Siberia. Some of the numbers I have seen indicate that over 250,000 Ukrainians were moved to Siberia into concentration camps.

Therefore, the Soviet regime was trying to kill the Ukrainian national movement and Ukrainian culture. The senior leadership of the Soviet Union, including Stalin, was directly involved in the development and implementation of these policies. The leadership under Joseph Stalin was apparently fully aware of its impact on the Ukrainian population, but nevertheless mandated actions which worsened the situation and maximized the loss of life from 1932 to 1933.

While these elements are widely acknowledged as historical facts the debate about whether the holodomor was an act of genocide, defined as a deliberate and systematic destruction of a radical, political, cultural or racial group, continues at the political level, and it has not been conclusively resolved by international academic research.

As I said, we know for a fact that there were these starvation ghettos. We know that anyone who considered themselves a Ukrainian nationalist was exterminated. We know that the Soviet regime tried to eradicate the culture by moving people to Siberia or by having this whole in flow of immigrants into the area to drown it out.

So why now? It is the 75th anniversary. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is coming to Canada to talk about the holodomor. He is promoting a UN resolution to recognize the holodomor as a genocide. There are many other countries that have declared it as such.

I want to thank all the members of Parliament who are supporting this, as well as the Canadian Friends of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

We need to correct history.

I call upon historians, journalists, educators to record and include the facts of this horrible genocide so that all Canadians can learn from this tragic piece of Ukrainian history.

Vichna yim pamyat.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree wholeheartedly with what my colleague has said. There is no question in my mind that it was a genocide. I can speak from the viewpoint of someone who actually lived under the brutal heels of Joseph Stalin and what he did to societies behind the iron curtain.

When my colleague mentioned that people disappeared into Siberia and there was a state of terror, I can attest to that. I can attest to the paranoia when that black car came by or came down the street, as to who would be picked up and taken away.

The collectivization of the farms was tried all throughout eastern Europe. There was a real resistance by the farmers to go into the process of collectivization. It is well known that the small plots of land that people owned produced more than the collective farms that were put together.

The horrors of Joseph Stalin have to be recognized, and we have to recognize this as a genocide.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his support. I hope all members of Parliament will support the bill, and recognize what Joseph Stalin and his communist regime did to the Ukraine and to many people across the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, 1932 and 1933 were definitely been one of the darkest chapters in human history. I feel very strongly that this was an engineered famine, that it was a genocide against the innocent men and women and children in Ukraine.

This year is the 75th anniversary of this terrible genocide, which was provided by the rule under Stalin to the innocent women and children of Ukraine. I was at a holodomor ceremony this Sunday and many people of Ukrainian descent were there. They were strongly mourning the loss and the genocide that was put upon the people of Ukraine years ago.

Could the member please explain why this should be termed a genocide and why there should be a special day to remember this genocide, this dark chapter in history against the innocent people of Ukraine?

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her work as president of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group.

There is no doubt in my mind that this was a genocide. If we look at the definition of what it is in the UN Convention, we can see it was a genocide. We already have a total of 20 countries that have recognized it as a genocide, including the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress, the Canadian Senate, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and more.

Back in 1988, the U.S. conducted a commission, as asked for by the U.S. Congress, on the Ukrainian famine. In that, it made 19 findings. It said that in no uncertain terms this was a genocide, it was a man made famine and it was done to exterminate the Ukrainian people.

We have to recognize that in Canada not only do we have a lot of survivors of the genocide, but we also have not only those who suffered through the holodomor, but we have people like myself who are of Ukrainian descent. Luckily my grandparents were able to leave the Ukraine at the turn of the century, before the holodomor came into effect, before the communists ruled Ukraine.

All of us feel for the old country, as they often put it, and we want to ensure that everybody understands what happened. We want to ensure we correct the record so it does not happen again.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Selkirk—Interlake on the motion. He might be rather surprised to see me participating in the debate, but I want to take this opportunity to express, as a private member, my strong support for his bill. I also want to reflect a little on the significance of this event, not only in the history of Ukraine but in the history of the world.

As the hon. member has rightly pointed out, the 20th century was, without question, the most violent century in history, in which human beings demonstrated their extraordinary capacity for evil and for creating hardship, havoc, death and destruction for literally tens of millions of their fellow citizens. It was a century in which powerful ideologies, ideologies at some basic level founded on hatred, seized hold of not only individual hearts and minds of men and women, but seized hold of whole countries and whole systems of government.

Far wiser people than I have described this in terms of how the ideology of Nazi Germany took hold through the 40 or 50 years prior to the emergence of Adolf Hitler as a significant leader in the 1920s and 1930s. Certainly others have looked at how the socialist ideology was twisted and turned, taken by Marxist, then by Lenin and then by Stalin and turned the Soviet Union into one of the most brutal and repressive dictatorships that the world has ever known.

It is because of these facts and also because of the tremendous human ties between the people of Ukraine and the people of Canada that it is entirely appropriate for the House to consider, even for a brief moment on a Tuesday, the importance of this question, the impact that it has had on Ukraine and on the people of Ukraine, but also the impact that it has had on the whole world.

The member has quite rightly described how for a long time there was kind of a debate as to whether what was known in some circles as the Ukrainian famine was in fact a famine or whether it was, as we now I think better realize and better understand, a deliberate attempt to subjugate, murder, repress and destroy the heart and soul of a people.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake has quite rightly described how twice in the last century we have seen this brutal process of collectivization, first in the Soviet Union and then in China, have an absolutely unbelievable impact on the existence of a people.

We are only now beginning to understand that the period known as the Great Leap Forward in China, which took place in the 1950s, was every bit as destructive as the Ukrainian destruction described by my hon. colleague in his private member's bill. It is enough to make us reflect on this forced collectivization, this determination to take away people's livelihoods, to take away their farms, their property, their ability to work the land, their ability to feed their families, their ability to provide for themselves and for their children, how all in the name of an ideology, all in the name of power, of extracting as much surplus as could possibly be extracted by the state and taken away from the farm population in the Ukraine as well as in China, and how destructive it was.

The lessons have been learned. In the case of China, the first thing that Deng Xiaoping did in 1979 was to say that the farmers had to be given back their stake in farming, that a greater opportunity for people had to be created, that the whole collectivist idea, the whole process of collectivization had to be completely deconstructed. We are seeing the same thing take place in Russia and Ukraine and it has taken place over a long period of time.

However, as Canadians, we should not forget the significance of what happened in those years of 1932 and 1933, the death and destruction that resulted, some estimates as many as seven million people may have been killed, those who were terrorized and sent off to gulags, those whose lives were completely destroyed and whose families were completely destroyed. Nor should we forget something else, and I will refer to this very briefly in my comments.

We should not forget the way in which the world watched and the world, to a considerable extent, either ignored or misunderstood what was happening. This is something we have to reflect on today. What are the lessons to be learned? How do we stand here proudly as Canadians and say “never again”?

Let us reflect on other genocides that have taken place in our own lifetime. We were all brought up to believe we would learn lessons from the holocaust, that we would learn lessons from the tragedy of Ukraine, that we would learn lessons from what has taken place in other countries. Yet in our own time and in our own generation we have seen mass murder on a huge scale. We now estimate that as many as four million people may have been killed in the conflict in the eastern part of the Congo. We know that as many as two million people have died in southern Sudan as a result of the civil war, which went on there for over a 20 year period. We know tragically, in the case of Cambodia and Rwanda, when these ideologies take hold how dramatic and destructive they can be, how little human life counts and how much murder and destruction can take place. It is almost mind-boggling to see it and to understand it.

What is particularly tragic about the situation in Ukraine is over the period in question, 1932-33, a number of so-called intelligent western observers went to Russia and were fooled. They had the wool literally pulled over their eyes. George Bernard Shaw, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, we can go down the list of all these so-called really intelligent, bright, capable people. They did not see what was before them. They did not understand what was taking place and they simply could not comprehend evil of the dimensions, which we now know were taking place. That is enough to make us also reflect on the importance of objective observation, on the importance of our standing as witnesses to the evil which is taking place. It is enough to make us reflect on the importance of our speaking up and speaking out even 75 years later, even now documenting, going back into the records and into the archives and saying that we have to find out what happened and believe what happened.

An interesting suggestion was made to me the other day and it is something we should reflect on in Canada. Because we are such an international country and a country that really includes the world, and there are so many of our neighbours who are Cambodians, Laotians, Ukrainians and Rwandans and people of all backgrounds who know what has happened and who know what their experience has been, it seems to me it would be entirely appropriate for us, as a kind of place of memorial of the world, to become a centre of excellence for research, knowledge and understanding of how this destruction happens, how it begins, how it takes place, how it ends, how it is organized, how it is implemented and how it is tolerated. We need to become a centre in the world for these kinds of studies, for this kind of analysis so we can, through all the work we do on behalf of human rights, truly become a country that not only gives speeches and talks this through, but also consistently provides the documentation that we need to provide.

We must become witnesses for the future, witnesses to make sure that tragedies and disasters like these do not happen again. We must get to the point where we can say that we are the witnesses, that this can no longer go on, that things must change. And by remembering what happened in Ukraine, we now have the opportunity to make sure that these things do not happen again.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues from Selkirk—Interlake and Toronto Centre for their speeches about the great famine in Ukraine. I am pleased to speak to this bill, which would recognize the great famine of 1932 and 1933.

Throughout human history, many peoples have experienced famines as great as this one. I would like to take advantage of Quebec City's 400th anniversary to invite people to visit Grosse-Île. Quebeckers have witnessed mass migrations from all over the world. Some of these people were in terrible situations or experiencing great famines in their home countries. Among other things, the memorial there commemorates the great tragedy and suffering of the Irish. Canada witnessed that particular moment in history too.

That is not the purpose of this bill. We are talking about the great famine in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933. Many people of Ukrainian origin in my riding, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, have spoken of the atrocities they witnessed and the hopelessness they felt in the face of Stalinist repression. That was a tragic chapter in human history.

We have an important issue to deal with and we have to do so with great seriousness. That is why we support this bill in principle. As my colleague from Toronto Centre said earlier, this is a golden opportunity to hear about this issue from specialists, to study the causes of this great famine and to take a stand on this issue.

Nevertheless, we have some reservations about the term “genocide” used in the bill, not for political reasons, but for semantic reasons. Earlier, my colleague across the floor gave a presentation regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Two criteria are important in recognizing a genocide. First of all, a distinction must be made between a crime against humanity and genocide. The consequences are similar. However, upon researching the matter internationally, it appears that the term genocide has not yet been recognized by Canada when it comes to what happened in Ukraine. In a moment, I will state the positions of various countries. Second, to acknowledge a genocide, there must be an explicit intent to eliminate a group for the mere fact that it exists. In Russia, other groups within the territory were also the targets of this famine. Of course, historians agree on the existence of the great famine, but where they do not agree is on the qualifier, that is, whether it was a crime against humanity or a genocide. In committee, members will be able to hear from witnesses and reach a conclusion.

As I was saying earlier, the famine affected all ethnic groups, including Russians living in Ukraine. There were also other famines elsewhere in the USSR, for instance, in Kazakhstan.

Historians are currently analyzing and studying existing documents and others more recently discovered. The famine resulted from grain quotas imposed. Later, I will also point out some historical factors, such as the context of the times, the collectivization of the land, which was a strategy that was used, and the issue of Ukraine's independence, which seemed to be at the core of this issue.

The famine came about because Moscow wanted to industrialize the USSR as quickly as possible by maximizing grain sales to other countries. Historical facts show that if that industrialization had occurred over several years, there would probably not have been as many deaths. Stalin was afraid of losing Ukraine to Poland. The Ukrainian resistance became stronger near the Polish border.

There are facts that must also be examined at this point.

These elements lead us to question the thesis of genocide as an explanation of the great famine, if we go by the definition in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This must not prevent acknowledgement of the tragedy that occurred.

The Bloc Québécois denounces and condemns in the harshest terms the actions of the Soviet Union toward Ukraine. This is why we would like to address the issue in greater depth in committee, in order to be able to hear from experts as to whether or not it was genocide.

As far as recent developments are concerned, Canada has never recognized the great Ukrainian famine as genocide. If adopted, this bill will have the effect of Canada's de facto recognition that there was indeed genocide in Ukraine. I thank the hon. member for giving us the opportunity to research this matter in greater depth in parliamentary committee.

The question of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 was considered a state secret in the USSR. It was officially recognized for the first time in December 1987 by Volodymyr Shcherbitsky, party president in Ukraine. On November 26, 1998, a presidential decree set the fourth Saturday in November as the national day of commemoration of this collective atrocity. There is no mention of genocide.

During debate in the Ukrainian parliament, there was not necessarily support; there was a majority. Here are the results of the voting: 226 of the 450 members, or 50.2%, voted in favour of recognition of genocide. This matter was therefore decided by the Ukrainian parliament, but there was not a large majority.

According to public opinion polls, however, held at the same time, 70% of the population recognized that this was genocide. So we can see that at the present time there is an imbalance in the perception of whether or not this was genocide.

Russia was against recognition of the great famine as genocide, saying that the Ukrainians were not specifically targeted. In 2003, the Canadian Senate passed a resolution calling upon the federal government to recognize the Ukrainian famine as genocide. On October 20, 2003, the United States House of Representatives recognized the famine of 1932-33 as a man-made famine. The resolution makes no mention at all of genocide.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the great famine, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN circulated a declaration co-signed by 26 states, including Canada, the US and Russia. This resolution was about recognizing a national tragedy, but made no mention of genocide.

On November 25, 2005, Ukrainian President Yushchenko called on the international community to recognize the great famine as an act of genocide committed by the Soviet regime. In 2006, the Ukrainian parliament voted again, this time favourably with a vote of 51.7%. In April, a Russian author denounced the movement to recognize the Ukrainian famine as an act of genocide. This author received the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature for condemning Soviet Gulag camps. He is a Russian who ordinarily would probably have shown solidarity with the Ukrainians.

While in Bucharest for the NATO summit on April 2, the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the federal government had not made a decision about recognizing the Ukrainian famine as genocide. This is an important political issue with significant consequences. However, in terms of recognizing the genocide, I believe that efforts could certainly be made in committee to shed light on this historical event.

At present, there is no consensus. However, there is agreement that this crime could be considered a crime against humanity. Since we know that the Soviets played a role in the famine that resulted in the death of several million people, there is no question that it represents a crime against humanity. I will stop here as my time is up.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to speak to this private member's bill, Bill C-459, which provides a means by which Parliament can formally recognize the Ukrainian famine as a genocide and to declare a special day for its commemoration.

I do not believe there is a soul in the House who disagrees with this private member's bill. My colleague from Parkdale—High Park is one among many in my caucus, dare I say all in my caucus, who believes that this bill ought to be supported. I am sure, having listened to members all around the House, that it is unanimously supported.

The question I have today is, why is it taking so long? Why has this become a political football in this chamber? Why do we not, by unanimous consent, consider all stages of this bill and adopt it here and now on the spot? That would be doing a great service to Ukrainian Canadians who have been fighting for this recognition for many years, certainly for as long as I have been in this place. I can recall that this discussion was before the House 13 years ago. There have been motions repeatedly over the course of the last decade. Yet for some reason we cannot seem to get the government of the day and all parties to give unanimous consent and see this as done. We do that from time to time. There is an ability in this place to compromise and collaborate and cooperate. We did it with respect to a bill I first introduced to recognize a national day of commemoration for the Holocaust. That bill was an idea that was grabbed on to by others and soon was adopted by the House. We could do the same here.

I am wondering why we have to go through another long debate and a rigorous process when in fact the House is in full agreement. Also, there is the precedent of the Senate, the other House, having passed a similar motion. There is no need for this to be delayed. There is no need for more procrastination. Let us just do it. Or am I missing something? Is there something that the member on the government side is not saying? Why has the government of the day not brought this forward as a motion and asked all members in the House to adopt it? What is there a delay?

I have read in the newspapers that the Ukrainian Canadian community has had meetings with the Prime Minister. The Ukrainian News back in December of 2007 said there was a meeting with the Prime Minister about this issue. The Ukrainian community was hoping that the Prime Minister would say yes, let us do it. Obviously he did not. According to this newspaper article, the Prime Minister felt that the government still had to do a little more homework at its end. What homework? What more is needed?

This is self-evident. The facts are in. There is no question that almost 10 million Ukrainians were killed as a result of a deliberate famine and genocide. That is a given. No one quibbles with the facts. Certainly all my colleagues in the New Democratic Party recognize this fact and are appalled by this chapter in history that saw the death and slaughter of so many innocent people because the Stalinist Communist regime wanted to put an end to the Ukrainian spirit that we hold so dear in our hearts in Canada and are so proud of.

Some of us of Ukrainian descent will never stop talking about the importance of recognizing this chapter in our history as a serious crime against humanity that must be remembered. We must remember so that we stop history from repeating itself. As other colleagues in the House have pointed out this afternoon, we live in an era where it is not impossible to see whole races of people being wiped out because of a desire to exterminate and practise genocide against a particular race of people in our society.

We have to remember and we have to act quickly. Manitoba passed such a bill over a year ago, setting aside November 26 as a day of remembrance for recognition of the Ukrainian famine and genocide. We ought to have done this by now here in the House. We should have set the stage. We should have been leading the way for Canadians to have this as a national day of commemoration.

My main question today is this: what is the delay?

Why are we taking so long? How can we speed up this process? How can we ensure that the campaign, the diligence and the commitment of the Ukrainian Canadian population over the years to have this day recognized in the books of this place and the history books of the nation make this happen immediately? How can we make sure that we do it before so many of the survivors of the Ukrainian famine actually pass on without having seen this day of commemoration?

We ought to do this immediately. It means saying out loud that the Ukrainian famine was a genocide. That is the first step.

Second, it means setting aside a special day for all in this country to remember what happened to Ukrainians back in 1932 and 1933.

Third, through our actions today, it is a reminder and a way of ensuring that this whole tragic chapter in our history is remembered and taught to future generations so they have an understanding of what happened and of how we can prevent similar genocides from happening in the future.

Finally, it is a moment when we actually say to the survivors that the pain they went through, the horrors they had to experience and witness, and the loss of so many of their relatives because of this deliberate famine, are important, and we want to acknowledge their pain and suffering and share that with all in our society so that we make a real difference in the end.

As others have mentioned, the international recognition flame passed through Winnipeg recently, as it has passed through so many other cities and villages across this country. That was just last week. It was remarkable to see the survivors still coming out, as they have done year after year for similar ceremonies, and to see the hope in their eyes that finally Parliament might do something. It is hard to describe here in the chamber, but there is an anticipation and an impatience among Ukrainian Canadians to see this done and to see it done right and done immediately.

Let us not forget why we are here. Let us not forget our obligation to keep alive the flame so that others can learn from the pain of the past. Let us not ever forget the fighting spirit of Ukrainians around the world and the contribution that Ukrainian Canadians have made to this country, because they brought that fighting spirit here to help pioneer and build this nation. They have made an incredible difference economically, socially, culturally and spiritually.

It is time that we paid tribute to that contribution by recognizing a chapter in the history of this world when Ukrainians were treated as less than second class citizens. It is time that we honoured those pioneers and those Ukrainian Canadians who continue to make a difference in this country. Let us get on with it, I say. Can we not find room to move on this immediately? Can we not make it happen so that not another day has to pass before the House recognizes a national day of commemoration for the victims of the Ukrainian famine and genocide?

Duzhe dyakuyu.