Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the issue of crime and the Conservative approach to crime that is embodied in Bill C-43. I feel a little bit like Groundhog Day because when the Conservatives came to power they were hoping to use crime issues and the legitimate concerns that Canadians have from coast to coast to coast around the criminal justice system and the fact that it is not functioning to try to get a majority government.
The House will recall at the time that the justice minister was throwing out bills like candy. Bills were being written up on the back of napkins. The justice minister at the time lost his job because, tragically, rather than doing their due diligence and homework, rather than working with opposition parties and putting in place a systematic approach that would actually drive down crime rates, something that would have support from all four corners of the House, the Conservatives chose to throw out a series of sometimes well drafted, but often not well drafted at all, criminal justice legislation, much of which they simply were not able to get through.
In light of a potential election coming in the spring, we are now seeing the same phenomenon. We are seeing bills coming out sometimes after doing the due diligence that only the NDP seems to do so very effectively after reading through the bills. We have the member of Parliament for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway very diligently going through the bills clause by clause. Sometimes we are able to support the bills. Sometimes they are drafted well enough so that they serve the intent they purport to deliver, but often they do not.
In the case of Bill C-43, we have a similar problem. It does purport a principle that we support, which is to be focused on victims. The NDP supports legislation that is brought forward that is focused on victims, However, we will not support legislation that is brought forward in the House that is focused on producing more victims, and that is often the perverse impact of badly crafted legislation that the Conservatives bring forward.
On victims' rights, my bill on victims' restitution was tabled in the House a year ago. The government could choose to move that bill forward but it has not chosen to do that, victims' restitution being a principle that the NDP has brought forward. Despite the fact that it has been before the House for a year, the Conservatives have chosen not to bring it forward.
What we see is a bill that has a couple of components that we could support. We certainly supporting establishing the right of victims to make a statement at parole hearings. We support the right of victims to access information about offenders. We support those principles, which is why we brought forward bills on victims' restitution. We believe the justice system must serve victims, there is no doubt about that.
However, if we see the direction the government has taken around offenders and some of the key programs that reduce the crime rate after release, some of the aspects of the bill could serve to produce more victims in the long term. That is why, after doing our due diligence, we must say to members of the Conservative government, can they not get it right? Can they not take due diligence, rather than constantly using this as a political tool when they know that Canadians are concerned and want to have a revamped justice system that serves their needs and the needs of victims and that reduces the crime rate? Why can they not get it right on key bills like this?
We need to look at the overall context of what the Conservatives have done. As many previous speakers have pointed out, including my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona, the Conservatives, after taking power, reduced funding for crime prevention. This is absolutely absurd. We know that every dollar invested in crime prevention saves $6 in policing costs, in court costs and in prison costs later on. It also means there is no victim, which means we have actually stopped having a victim in the first place.
What have the Conservatives done? They have gutted crime prevention programs. Many of the crime prevention organizations across the country that are very good, effective, respected organizations have found their funding either delayed or cut.
This is absolutely unacceptable. It begs this question. Is the Conservative agenda the same as the Republican agenda in the United States? The Republicans tried to increase crime rates because they thought they could profit politically from it. When we see Conservatives cutting crime prevention programs, we have to wonder what their agenda is.
What else? The Conservatives made a promise to hire 2,500 police officers. Where are those police officers? That funding, by and large, simply did not come or was handed over without any strings attached. We essentially do not see that key commitment the Conservatives made back in 2006 yet.
Our public safety critic met with the Canadian Association of Police Boards and raised this issue. In fact, representatives of the association came to Ottawa three times to talk about this issue. Did the Conservatives do anything? No. This is another key commitment broken on criminal justice issues. It is absolutely appalling. When we have Canadians who are concerned about these issues, they choose to not keep what they put forward as one of their fundamental promises. It begs also this question. Are they really sincere about taking action to reduce the crime rate? That is the principle.
When we see this series of legislation brought forward, often very poorly crafted, we have to wonder whether the Conservatives are, in any way, committed to taking that kind of smart actions in criminal justice matters that would actually reduce the crime rate.
One way to do that would be to increase the number of police officers and keep their commitment, on which the NDP members have been pressing them. They did not do that. Another would be to expand funding on crime prevention programs. The Conservatives did not do that. In fact, they cut crime prevention.
What else did the Conservatives do? A pay increase was announced by Conservatives for RCMP officers. We know RCMP officers play a key role across the country. In my community of Burnaby, the Burnaby RCMP, the second largest attachments in the country, does key work, working with the local administration of the city of Burnaby and the Burnaby Citizens' Association to put in place innovative crime prevention programs to reduce the crime rate.
The Conservatives told the RCMP officers, who have been undercut in their salaries for years and find it harder and harder to make ends meet, particularly in areas of a high cost of living like the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, on December 12, by email, that the pay increases they had announced in June would be slashed for 2009 and 2010. Shame on them.
They are hard-working RCMP officers dealing with a high cost of living, with all the sacrifices they have to make for their families to serve the community, and the Conservatives again broke their commitment to the RCMP. Shame on them for having, in such a clear way, disrespected the RCMP officers of this country.
What else did the Conservatives do? A little over three years ago a public safety officer compensation fund, which was a bill pushed forward by the NDP, was adopted by the House, with the support of Conservatives who were then in opposition. It was just before the election that brought the Conservatives to power. Years later there is still no public safety officer compensation fund, despite the fact they voted to establish it.
This means if there is no insurance put in place by the local policing organization or the municipality, which impacts on our hard-working firefighters who also work in very dangerous situations, when police officers and firefighters die in the line of duty, their families receive no compensation. They get nothing. We hear every day tragic stories of what has happened to the surviving families of those police officers and firefighters. In many cases they lose their homes or they take a second job. The Conservatives have broken that commitment, as well. This is just another case of the difference between the rhetoric that they bring forward in the House and the reality of their government.
I could talk about the Conservatives broken promise around unionization that has come through the courts, as well.
We see a systematic pattern on criminal justice systems. Rather than standing up for those who advocate for public safety, rather than do the real work to enhance support for victims, rather than put into place crime prevention programs that means there are fewer victims, the Conservatives do exactly the opposite. Which brings us back to Bill C-43.
Canadians I do not think will be surprised to learn this and I know a number of other speakers have addressed this issue as well. Over the past few years, we have seen some of the key programs to ensure offenders do not reoffend have gradually over time, in a very real way, been slashed by the Conservative government. Less funding has been provided each and every year.
What are the programs the Conservatives have been slashing quietly over the past four years since they came to power? I know members would be interested in knowing that they include mental health diagnosis and treatment, work programs, literacy and education programs and drug and alcohol treatment. What the Conservative government has been doing is quietly slashing over time. Each year the have provided less funding, in real terms, for those key programs.
What does that mean? In the bill the Conservatives are proposing to remove what they call privileges, which essentially are the programs we are talking about. These programs are very important for the community to ensure that when offenders get out of prison, they have actually been rehabilitated. We do not want them to offend again. We do not want to see other victims. Yet the legislation serves to cut that important lifeline and increases the likelihood, as we have certainly seen in the United States with similar Republican legislation, of reoffending.
My colleague from Elmwood—Transcona spoke about the difference between reoffending rates when someone comes out of prison as to opposed to the community rehabilitation programs. That is not simply an inconsequential statistic. It means the difference between somebody coming back into the community and somebody offending again.
If we are here to reduce the number of victims, if we are here to reduce the crime rate, if we are here to ensure there are fewer victims next week than there were this week, we have to wonder about the Conservative agenda to cut these vital programs. There is no doubt that it certainly did not work in the United States. It would not work in Canada if we cut these important programs. Bill C-43 purports to do that.
Fundamentally, when we see that, we have to question the legitimacy of the government's move. Essentially, it has said that it wants to provide more support for victims to make statements in parole hearings, which we support, the right of victims to access information about offenders, which we support. Then it puts a bunch of poison pills around that, which makes it difficult for anybody who honestly looks at the criminal justice system and what is needed to provide the kinds of supports to ensure we do not have offenders reoffend.
Those programs, drug and alcohol treatment, literacy and education, mental health diagnosis and treatment and work programs are the kinds of programs that ensure that rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. We simply cannot take an offender and lock him or her up for life.
If we are talking about serious crimes, we would never want to see somebody as reprehensible as a Clifford Robert Olson on the streets ever again. However, when we talk about robberies or crimes that do not dictate a life sentence, at some point we will see offenders back on the streets.
We have to ensure an offender can go into a workplace because he or she has had established training through work programs. If the person is suffering from a mental health issue, we have to ensure that individual has been treated for that mental health issue. If person is an addict, drug and alcohol programs will help get the offender over the addiction so he or she can then reintegrate into the community.
If people do not know how to read, how can they possibly cope in society? Yet, tragically, even today many Canadian adults are not literate. This is a fundamental skill. We have to ensure every adult in Canada has access to it. Yet the Conservatives have cut the funding on those kinds of vital programs. It has been slowly, quietly and over time but, nonetheless, they have cut those programs.
The net impact of this is twofold. Either an offender is not rehabilitated, costing the Canadian taxpayer $80,000 to $90,000 for each and every one and extending the time of imprisonment until the courts say that on legal grounds the person cannot be incarcerated any more, or we spend less money than that to ensure programs are in place so when the offender is released safely into the community, the individual can move on with a life that is productive and does not create any more victims. That is a sensible, smart approach on criminal justice issues.
Unfortunately, that is not what we are getting from the Conservatives. With the Conservatives, we have seen cuts to crime prevention programs. We have seen that the Conservatives decided from the very beginning that they would set up a system to cut those types of programs. It is disgusting.
It goes on. They have also broken the promises they made to all Canadians about increasing the number of police officers across the country. They promised an additional 2,500 police officers. We know this because police organizations are telling us that very little funding has come through to create these new positions. In some cases that money did not arrive at all. Sometimes the money was given, but with no obligation to create new positions within the police forces.
We have also seen cuts to RCMP officers' salaries. We think it is inexcusable that in June 2008, the Conservatives promised to finally give an increase to all RCMP officers across the country only to turn around and break that promise. The police work very hard and often live in situations where they just do not have enough to make ends meet. In regions such as the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, the cost of housing is very high and police officers do not earn enough money to take care of their families. On December 12, 2008, the Conservatives broke their promises. It is disgusting.
That is not the approach we want to see. We want to reduce the crime rate. We want to reduce the number of victims. Unfortunately, the Conservatives' approach is not reducing the crime rate. That is what they should be aiming for. Unfortunately, when they introduce bills one after the other, they are often poorly drafted and it takes the work of committees to try to fix everything that is wrong with these bills. That is why we have problems with this bill.