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House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

moved that Bill C-475, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (methamphetamine and ecstasy), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to a bill designed to recover our youth, to deliver a greater sense of peace and order to our communities, and to tackle a major interest of organized crime, all things that would seem especially timely for the member of Parliament who represents the riding which will host many of the Olympic and Paralympic games in the year to come.

The bill which I am introducing, Bill C-475, is a bill designed to tackle the procurement of precursors for the production of methamphetamines and amphetamines, specifically crystal meth and ecstasy. These are drugs which have become known as a scourge in our community, drugs which have affected Canadians from coast to coast, and which in fact have special relevance to the youth of our country.

A report of the United Nations that was tabled this very year underlined a link between crystal meth and suicide among indigenous youth in Canada. A sample of street youth aged 14 through 30, surveyed in Vancouver, found that 71% had tried amphetamine-type stimulants and 57% had used them more than 10 times.

The most serious health implications of amphetamine and methamphetamine resulting from chronic use are dependence, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and drug use, and a phenomenon known as amphetamine or methamphetamine psychosis. The latter is a mental condition similar to episodes of schizophrenia, according to the United Nations report.

We have also discovered that these drugs affect a huge variety of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It is shocking how quickly stories have come in, in the last few weeks, since I introduced this bill, which highlight the effect of the drugs on persons and families in the riding I represent, in my home province of British Columbia, and across Canada.

Too many of our young, healthy Canadians are losing the battle against these awful drugs, both of which are made from many easily accessible materials. These drugs have had a wide-ranging and harmful effect on Canadian communities, leaving no one untouched by their effects. The damage has been staggering and our fight against these drugs carries on today.

The trauma experienced by users includes great physical, psychological and emotional harm. Not only does amphetamine-type stimulant use affect those who consume it, but also the families and communities of the user. It is unfortunate that there are so many sad stories of otherwise young and healthy individuals who have had their lives affected for the worse by these drugs. Some have been brave enough to share their struggles with the use of these drugs and I applaud their courage to come forward and contribute their voices and stories to this important fight.

It is important to take a moment and listen to the voices of some of these individuals, voices of Canadians in my riding and right across Canada. One young man, whom I will call Nick so as to protect his identity, is a 21-year-old in treatment for ecstasy and crystal meth addition in B.C. This is what Nick had to say, “One of the worst aspects is long-term depression. I have been depressed for months and need to continue using anti-depressants. While using I had huge mood swings. I felt rage”.

Another recovering addict spoke of the effects suffered from long-term use. She said, “I am a 29 year old and have been using these drugs for over 15 years. The damage it has been done to my mind, body and soul is irreparable. The getting and using of drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and crystal meth is socially acceptable and must stop. During my addiction, I have had three suicide attempts, car accidents, psych ward visits, five rehabs and extreme psychosis. Those were all caused by the use of drugs, not the person I am today. I am trying to clean up my life physically and emotionally”.

To that young woman, I offer my encouragement and congratulations.

These are just two of the needlessly large number of former addicts who have experienced first-hand the devastation of these drugs. In addition to affecting some of the most vulnerable in our community, such as street youth, these drugs can bring even the most young and healthy of our country to their knees.

The list of side effects of these drugs is sobering. To begin, though ecstasy might seem like a harmless party drug to some, one that is marketed as such through colourful pills and cheerful designs such as happy faces or hearts, police have found that a significant amount of ecstasy that has been seized from the streets is laced with more dangerous drugs, such as crystal meth. It is important to remember that it is possible to overdose from ecstasy, a risk even graver as these drugs are distributed on the streets or in clubs and not regulated.

What this means is that youth in our country are consuming these drugs blindly, unaware of what might be in them and how much of the drug they might be consuming.

Side effects of crystal meth are similarly worrisome. A position paper on methamphetamines produced in Australia noted that methamphetamine psychosis is perhaps the most concerning aspect of the current meth situation. The report stated that methamphetamine use had often been associated with violent crime and the drug had a strong reputation for inducing violent behaviour. These are just a few of the side effects of the drug, but it is crucial to highlight the addictiveness of these drugs. Allow me to quote a report produced by the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General in my home province of British Columbia:

Why not just quit using? A powerful stimulant, meth alters the brain's production of dopamine. The drug produces an initial positive pleasurable physical reaction by increasing the levels of dopamine, leaving a person depressed as the effects of the drug wear off. The user then requires more of the drug to return to normal. This “binge and crash” pattern leads to loss of control over the drug and addiction.

More must be said about the dangerous aspects of the production as well as the use of this drug. There is no regulation guiding the production of illegal chemical drugs, meaning that there is no way to control the quality of the substances produced. Unlike other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, the production of crystal meth and ecstasy depends almost exclusively on materials that are available domestically.

Furthermore, crystal meth and ecstasy can be produced in almost any environment with relatively few ingredients and easily obtainable tools. The labs in which they are made are often located in basements and other small spaces, making them difficult to trace. In fact, a report produced by Carleton University in 2004 said the following:

Versatility is the term that best defines methamphetamine production. Clandestine laboratories have been found in sites as diverse as private residences, rental homes, motel rooms, dorm rooms, garages, campgrounds, moving vans, trunks of cars, storage facilities,--

Though large scale industrial production of these drugs is increasing, the vast amount of crystal meth and ecstasy are produced in these small kitchen-like labs as outlined in the report to which I just referred.

It is troubling that these drugs have negatively affected the lives of Canadians all over the country, especially our youth, but the effect goes beyond our borders, tarnishing Canada's reputation on an international level. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in its 2009 report that Canada is the single largest supplier of ecstasy to the United States, and is a significant supplier of the drug to Japan and Australia.

According to the 2009 United Nations word drug report, there is evidence that Canada-based Asian organized crime groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs have significantly increased the amount of methamphetamine they manufacture and export to the U.S. market and also for Oceania, and east and southeast Asia. “Canada has grown to be the most important producer of MDMA for North America, and since 2006, all ecstasy laboratories reported have been large-capacity facilities operated principally by Asian organized crime groups”, said one observer.

We have many resources, skills and commodities to export. It is unfortunate that we must now recognize that crystal meth and ecstasy are among Canada's recognized exports.

We have covered ways in which the production and consumption of these drugs negatively affects individuals, families, communities and Canada's international reputation. Yet, another reason why this fight is an important one relates to environmental concerns. The United Nations notes:

--environmental harm and costs caused by illegal laboratories and their safe removal are considerable.

The production of these drugs is an extremely toxic endeavour about which we should all be concerned. To further illustrate the problem, I return to the report by Carleton University to which I referred earlier. It said:

For each pound of manufactured methamphetamine synthesized through one of the above methods, five to seven pounds of toxic waste is produced, as well as the release of poisonous toxic gas.

I would like to take a moment to thank my colleague, the member for Peace River, for his considerable work on this bill, and his careful and tireless work in the previous session of Parliament. The member for Peace River originally introduced this bill in a slightly different form in 2007. I am honoured to be reintroducing the bill and to have him second it as we fight the battle against ecstasy and crystal meth.

I also wish to acknowledge the input of various members of the House from other parties, members whom I approached while drafting this private member's bill. To the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Beauséjour, I appreciate our conversations and their insight into how we might work together in this fight against the scourge of these drugs in our country.

Additionally, both the member for Peace River and I have consulted extensively with stakeholders, such as law enforcement officials here in Ottawa and in British Columbia. We greatly appreciate their insight and wisdom into how we might make legislation that will allow them to fight these drugs more effectively. Their commitment to keeping Canadian communities safe serves as an inspiration to us in the House as we do our part to contribute to the tackling of crystal meth and ecstasy head on.

At the suggestion of law enforcement officials, the drug ecstasy was added to the bill that the member for Peace River originally introduced. These officials have noted that, in their first-hand experience, the production of crystal meth and ecstasy are often linked. I am also honoured to announce that the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police recently passed a motion in support of this bill.

Following the path taken by countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, which have introduced aggressive strategies to target one or both of these drugs, the changes that would be made by this bill to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would outlaw the procurement of the precursors for these drugs and make it more difficult for these addictive substances to be produced. When passed, this bill will greatly hamper the clandestine type of market that has made these drugs so easily accessible to Canadian youth.

It is clear why this issue is of such great concern to constituents in the riding I represent, to members who sit in the House and to all Canadians. Crystal meth and ecstasy affect individuals who use them as well as their families and their communities. The production of crystal meth and ecstasy is feeding the appetite of criminal elements in our country. The production of these drugs also affects Canada's reputation internationally. The environmental harm caused by the production of these drugs is considerable and also factors in to the urgency to do something about their production.

By affording law enforcement officials the tools to inquire into the suspicious and voluminous acquisition of recognized precursors, suspected producers of these substances would be more vulnerable for investigation. Therefore, I believe that my colleagues in the House will join me in seeking to bring about the end of the possession, production and trafficking of the precursors of crystal meth and ecstasy. I ask all my colleagues to join me in the support of Bill C-475.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very supportive of the bill. I did chair a subcommittee of the health committee on controlled drugs and substances, where we initially set up the schedules on precursors, designer drugs and a few other things.

There were a couple of questions and maybe the member can assist. The coordinating amendment in the bill seems to make a reference to subsection 19(8) and the reference in the member's bill is to subsection 1(9) of schedule III, not schedule I. I do not have the bills before me, but I wonder if the member could please explain what the difference would be if his bill is overridden by the government bill that is already in process.

Finally, since he has done all the work now, I wonder if the member has any comments on whether or not the process that we have to go through to amend the schedules to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act seems to be fairly onerous and may not be able to respond to the velocity of changes in terms of the advancement of drug science.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's question illustrates several things.

The first thing is the commitment in principle to bring to task the production of these harmful drugs. I have seen a willingness on both sides of the House to work together on this. I look forward to working specifically with the member who is very well informed about the process. My hope is that, through efforts like his, we can expedite the processing of this bill.

My colleague, the member for Peace River, put a lot of effort into bringing this bill into force. He received unanimous consent of the House and the bill received second reading in the Senate. It was clearly bound to be enacted. We need to ensure all members of the House work together to ensure the bill does get enacted this time.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, according to some United States reports, Canada is the primary source for this type of drug in the United States, which means the Americans are concerned about this.

I looked into the pill compression machine issue, which the Americans find to be important. I am not sure whether the member is aware but the pill making machines in the United States all need to be registered with the government and, even if they break down and need to be repaired, there is a paper trail there. The United States feels that if Canada were to take some action to register and regulate pill compression machines that would help the problem.

I wonder whether the member could give us his ideas on that point.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always gratifying when my colleagues in the House do their homework, as that member has clearly done. He appreciates the impact upon Canada's reputation of the effect on organized crime of making the precursors and anything used to produce the drugs that are so accessible to criminal elements that are now engaged in the practice of creating these drugs.

The bill has been crafted with input from a large number of stakeholders. We consulted with law enforcement officers in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and other places.

The member will notice that one of the words in the bill that I have introduced is the word “anything”. Anything that is clearly and explicitly designed to assist in the production, the possession or the trafficking of crystal meth or ecstasy, and if the intent can be proven that is why the pill making machines were procured, then the offence could be proven by the prosecution.

The member asked a good question and it goes to illustrate that this is not only a bill with great intent but a bill that would have great effect.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by simply summarizing what the bill is trying to accomplish.

If we look at subclause (2), it simply states:

Every person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years less a day.

Then it simply states:

No person shall possess, produce, sell or import anything knowing it will be used to produce or traffic in a substance referred to in the [schedules]....

We have no problem supporting the bill going to committee for study. However, I have some preliminary concerns. We want to ensure that people are aware that they will be violating the law if we look at subclause 7.1, “possess, sell or import anything knowing that it will be used to produce”. A lot of detail, presumably, will need to be put in the regulations but that is something that we will need to work out and study in some detail.

Once again, we support the bill going to committee but my main point today is why now and why in this particular context.

These recommendations in the legislation actually emanate from a Justice Canada report from 2007. That is fine. However, if this is so important at this time today, why is this not in a government bill? The government has had no difficulty pursuing a law and order agenda. I would like to go through that and talk about why it has done that.

We have had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the response of the Conservative government has been law and order legislation. We have had the loss of approximately 500,000 full time jobs and the government's response has been law and order legislation. We have had an isotopes crisis so Canadians cannot get the testing they require for cancer treatments. The response from the government has been law and order legislation. We have had the reduction of Canada's place inside the G8 and the best GDP to the worst. The response of the Conservative government has been law and order legislation.

We have had an EI crisis and the government's response has been legislation that divides Canadians between the good workers and the bad workers, between the long term workers and the short term workers and nothing for seasonal workers. The further response of the government has been law and order legislation.

We have an H1N1 pandemic crisis. We have a failure of the government to have a national pandemic plan in place as confirmed by Canada's Auditor General. The response of the government has been law and order legislation.

We have an Afghanistan torture scandal and the response of the government has been law and order legislation.

Why do we keep going to law and order legislation?

I want it to be clear that I support the member's efforts in terms of this legislation, but this is one that should have been far up on the law and order agenda. Why did it take a private member to introduce this? Why was this not already introduced and passed earlier? It should have been because we do have serious problems in Canada.

In terms of these particular drugs, we have high emergency room rates, deaths, the permanent alteration of a human's brain and psychiatric disorders. The statistics from an American study show that 2.3% of all eighth graders, which I find shocking, have tried these drugs, 2.4% of tenth graders and 2.8% of twelfth graders. Therefore, there must be something similar in Canada, although we do not have those studies.

Once again, I support this legislation but if it had been government legislation rather that a private member's bill more could have been done. Where is the money for prevention? Where is the money for education?

So that everyone understands, when it comes to private members' legislation, and I am not criticizing my friend who introduced this, he is not allowed to put provisions in a private member's bill that involves the spending of money, so it is not his fault. However, if the government had introduced this legislation, there could have been spending on these issues: crime prevention, drug education, education in schools for children and treatment programs, all of that for the sufferers who take these drugs and for the prevention to try to avoid this.

My friend's bill would have been far superior, once again, no fault of his own, if this had been government legislation but it is not.

I have the honour of serving on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, so I am aware of some of the statistics. Eighty per cent of criminals who are incarcerated in our prisons have either substance abuse or mental health issues. That means that a huge majority of people who commit crimes and are eventually incarcerated already have these problems. What is the government doing to prevent that, to try to help and cure them before they actually commit crimes? If this had been government legislation, it could have done something, but it is not.

In terms of treatment in prisons, there are clear admissions from various experts who appeared in committee. People need to understand that most prisoners get released into society. If they go into prison because of mental health or addiction issues, logically we would want to ensure they get the treatment required before they are released.

It would have been quite nice if this were government legislation doing something about that because experts have admitted that people in prison are not getting the treatment they require before being released. That is a public safety issue and, frankly, in order to protect the Canadian population, one would want those people to be released better than when they came in.

The other issue in terms of drugs, since that is the topic we are discussing with respect to prisons, is that there are clear admissions that the prison population is getting illegal drugs into prisons. What is the government doing to prevent these drugs from seeping into our prisons? It should be doing something.

If this were a government bill, it could have been part of a larger package to try to effectuate such changes, both in society and in the prison population. Once again, it is not the fault of my friend as he is only allowed to introduce a private member's bill.

In terms of what the government has done to further its law and order agenda, let us look at some of the examples it has put ahead of this, such as the sex offender registry. I support that legislation but it was introduced weak. It came before Parliament without the benefit of the report of the committee. Some things that should have been included based on all the experts were clearly omitted, such as mandatory licence plate registrations of convicted sex offenders.

The government and the Minister of Public Safety specifically said that they had chosen not to include that in the legislation despite the fact that all the experts recommended it and that it was logical. Even when they pursue the law and order agenda, they are not doing it properly.

In another piece of legislation we have the faint hope clause. None of the experts were clamouring for any changes to that. It was the same thing on conditional sentences: two for one, time served, mandatory minimums. None of this was a societal problem like drugs. In comparison, this is certainly a greater problem. However, the government chose not to do anything with respect to drugs on the streets and left it to a Conservative private member to introduce this legislation. He is not allowed to make any suggestions to put money on the streets, establish reforms or help in any measurable way. That is a mistake.

This legislation should have been, based on the 2007 recommendations from the Justice Canada report, at the front of the line or close to the front of the line for this law and order agenda. It was not and that was a mistake.

I compliment my friend for bringing this private member's bill forward. I support it going to committee but I question why the government has pursued, in response to all the problems Canadians are facing, a law and order agenda and then not even putting the most serious law and order issue, such as drugs on the street in this context, at the front of the line or close to the front of the line in order to help Canadians. The government has ignored that, which is a mistake. I compliment my friend for fixing the problem or at least trying to.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about private member's Bill C-475, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (methamphetamine and ecstasy).

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois recognizes that methamphetamine and ecstasy use is a serious issue. The Bloc recognizes that these drugs are very bad for people's health, especially young people, and our party sympathizes with the families of victims of addiction to these drugs.

We agree with Bill C-475 in principle, but we are concerned that it may not complement existing legislation.

I should point out that existing legislation covers the production of all illegal drugs. As I have said before in the House, many of the Conservatives' justice bills are introduced simply for electoral purposes. We have to get to the bottom of things, and that is what the Bloc Québécois will do in committee. We will take a close look at how this bill can add to the existing regime.

Bill C-475 amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to prohibit a person from possessing, producing, selling or importing any substance, device or other thing intended for use in producing or trafficking in methamphetamine or ecstasy.

The scope of the bill was expanded to include ecstasy and a minimum sentence of 10 years less a day. This is in line with the Conservatives' preference for replacing judges with laws so that they do not have to replace existing judges with new right-wing ones who share the Conservatives' ideology.

The bill proposes adding the following subsection to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is amended by adding the following after section 7:

7.1 (1) No person shall possess, produce, sell or import anything knowing that it will be used to produce or traffic in a substance referred to in item 18 of Schedule I or subitem 1(9) of Schedule III.

it would also add a second subsection:

(2) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years less a day.

This bill also contains a coordinating amendment in the case that Bill C-15 receives royal assent.

The House has already unanimously agreed to provisions in Bill C-15. The Bloc Québécois supports measures that give real results on the ground. But in the meantime, we must ensure that there is coordination between the measures of Bill C-475 and Bill C-15, which the government has already introduced.

Bill C-424, a private member's bill introduced by another member in the House, read a bit differently. The word “ecstasy” has been added to the definition, and the Bloc Québécois is in favour of that.

Ecstasy and methamphetamine are drugs that are harmful to a person's health, and they are highly addictive. In Quebec, these drugs are gaining in popularity throughout the community. In schools, they are as accessible to young people as cigarettes, and are often available as early as the elementary grades. That is terrible. Another problem is that nowadays it is impossible to know what these drugs are made up of.

To make more money, manufacturers usually mix the drugs with other lesser quality ingredients. Everyone knows that there is money to be made in drugs. People are making a profit. These drugs are harmful to the health of those who use them.

According to a Health Canada study carried out with the Sûreté du Québec, between June 2007 and July 2008, 54% of tablets did not contain what was claimed. Other products had been added.

For example, 80% of ecstasy tablets are cut with one or more other drugs, including methamphetamine. This is what creates dependence. Because the content of these drugs is unknown, it is difficult to predict how they will affect people. In addition, an overdose of these drugs, pure or not, can lead to death in some cases.

Often, users take these drugs for fun, thinking there is no danger. But these drugs are cut with other substances so that users will turn into addicts. The dealers' goal is to have these people become addicted to drugs. Often, the drug trade is controlled by organized crime groups such as street gangs, biker gangs and the mafia. That is the problem. These people are not selling drugs to benefit users' health, but for their own financial gain. That is what is so terrible. Often, people become addicted to these substances, and in some cases that addiction leads to death. That is why we must tackle this problem.

The Bloc Québécois has always stood up for this in this House. The Bloc is the first party that really introduced a bill to go after organized crime groups by reversing the burden of proof. Previously, when criminal gangs were charged and appeared in court, it was up to the Crown to prove that the money and property they had accumulated had come from the sale of illicit property, undeclared goods or drugs. Now, the burden of proof is reversed, which has made it possible to seize a large amount of property and goods from organized crime groups.

In recent years, the media have given a lot of attention to all the seizures that have been made not only by the Sûreté du Québec—particularly in the spring of 2001—but also by the RCMP and other police forces in Canada. These seizures were made possible when the House of Commons passed the Bloc Québécois bill.

With regard to the serious impact of these drugs and their use, I would like to draw members' attention to a very timely article published in Le Soleil on November 17, 2009 and another article that appeared in the Journal de Québec on July 6, 2009, entitled “The shocking increase in ecstasy”. This article stated the following:

In a report released last week, the UN stated that Canada has become the leading producer of the drug ecstasy in North America.

Here is more bad news: generally speaking, drugs like ecstasy are consumed close to where they are produced and in fact, statistics show that ecstasy consumption is on the rise in Canada and Quebec.

Canada has the terrible reputation of being North America's main supplier of ecstasy. This problem needs to be addressed.

The article goes on to say:

Its users describe it as a soft drug, but that is not really the case. Ecstasy is one of the new synthetic drugs, the so-called designer drugs, that have emerged as a result of advances in chemistry. The ecstasy molecule was first isolated in 1912 in the context of research aimed at producing an appetite suppressant...

Like all other drugs, ecstasy affects the nervous system, and like cocaine, heroin, nicotine or alcohol, ecstasy can create dependency in users.

That is the primary, most important goal for criminal groups: to create a dependency. This concerns us because its users believe they can use it for pleasure and that it does not create a dependency. However, the UN study cited in this Journal de Québec article from July 6, 2009, is clear. I will refrain from reading the entire article, but it gave a detailed analysis of the drug, its components, how it works in terms of consumption, and the dangers associated with it. The article concluded by calling it the gateway to hell.

Ecstasy-related deaths are not as common as deaths associated with many other drugs...

However, what appeared to be the gateway to paradise could in fact be the gateway to hell...

That is how the article concluded, and that is what those watching us at home must remember.

The Bloc Québécois will work hard to move this bill forward in committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's Bill C-475. This is a reincarnation, if I can use that term, of Bill C-428 that was presented to the House by the member for Peace River and passed by the House in the last Parliament. Like so many other bills, it died on the order paper when the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister decided to hold an election. So it is coming back and I want to acknowledge the work that has been done by the author of the bill, the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country. It is lovely countryside and I enjoy going out there whenever I get the chance.

The bill deals with what is, by any standard, a scourge, a really horrendous problem for our society, particularly for our young people. It attempts to further control access to methamphetamines and the drug ecstasy, to use its street name. It is a tragedy that we repeatedly run across. All members of the House at some point have had constituents come in to talk to them about this.

The drugs ecstasy and methamphetamines are both highly addictive. Not only are they highly addictive, but they are also addictive at a very rapid pace. Sometimes just an initial taking of it is enough to hook people on it and, certainly, if someone uses it three to five times there is a very high probability that he or she is going to be addicted. Also, if it is used repeatedly in any kind of high volume, strong medical evidence now shows that it causes brain damage.

The availability of this drug has an interesting history here in Canada, but what has been very clear is that it is particularly attractive to young people. As we heard from my colleague from the Bloc, even children in elementary schools get access to it. It is cheap. It is cheap to make and therefore is quite accessible on the street.

It has an interesting history here in Canada in that it started as an epidemic in the smaller communities in the mid-northern parts of the country, particularly in the western provinces. The explanation we have been given by the police authorities who have been dealing with it is that it was cheap to set up the labs and the labs were easily concealable in smaller communities. Fairly clearly, it was street gangs that were doing this as opposed to the larger organized crime syndicates that we have, although there is some indication that they are now involved in it quite substantially as well. But the initial phases were in small rural communities and it became an epidemic within a year.

Interestingly, what then happened, which I suppose is not that unusual, is that it expanded eastward and southward in this country and then southward into the United States. We have become, as we have heard from other speakers today, a major exporter of these particular drugs to the United States.

As a bit of an aside, I would like to relate some of the work we have done and information we have received both at the justice committee and public safety committee, where we heard from our police forces and communities. I want to praise these communities, particularly in the rural parts of the country. They moved as communities to effectively shut down the labs in a number of the communities and developed treatment for the youth who had been affected and addicted to these substances. It really is a good news story from that perspective. Community by community, they learned from each other and responded to this problem.

I am not going to suggest this was the be all and the end all to ending it. However, a number of the smaller communities, especially in the western provinces, were quite effective at responding to it once they had identified how bad it was.

I have to say it has been less successful in other parts of the country and is being worked on now, in co-operation with police forces and community groups. As well, there is more and more evidence that the addiction can be treated. Obviously, the person has to get off it completely. It is fairly clear that the work to rebuild a person's psychological strength can be done.

There is one other point I want to raise with regard to this phenomenon vis-à-vis Canada. The precursors, the chemical components to these drugs by and large come in from other countries. Some come from the United States to a significant degree. Some come from Asia, as well. There was a problem, for instance in the state of New York, and the stories we heard were well documented to be accurate and not just anecdotal, that people would clear the shelves of Sudafed. There are components in Sudafed that are used to make these drugs. People would go in to drug stores and literally take all of the Sudafed. The state of New York has moved to ban that. People are allowed to buy only enough Sudafed to deal with a cold, not enough to be used in the production of other drugs.

The state of New York and other states in the United States have moved to regulate those chemicals at source. If a person is manufacturing these precursors and then selling them, the person buying them has to show what they are going to be used for and why the volume being bought is needed. It has been quite effective in restricting the labs in the United States. What had been happening, and is still happening here, is the purchaser would conveniently sell it in smaller batches to any number of people. Clearly the person would have to know that some of it was getting into the hands of gangs to be used for the purposes of making illicit drugs.

Some states have shut that down by regulating it. They did not use criminal law, they used commercial and consumer regulation. What happens now is that a chain is created. The producer has to report to whom it was sold and in what volume. The person purchasing it has to do the same thing. If people then break it into sublots and sell it off, they have to show to whom they have sold it and they have to have an explanation as to what it is going to be used for. It has been quite effective in the United States to use the regulatory framework, not criminal law, to shut it down, to a great extent, leaving Canada, as I and other members have said, as an importer. The same process is going on in Canada, in terms of the sales, but the regulatory infrastructure is not in place in this country.

I do not want in any way to demean the effort of the member with respect to this legislation because we are supporting it; it is one step that is needed. However, in order to really get at this, we also need to regulate this from the producer right through the whole chain so that we are assured that it does not get into the hands of the gangs, or if it does, that we are able to trace it right to them and use this legislation to charge and convict them.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this House this morning and speak to this private member's bill.

I want to thank my colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country. The hon. member has brought forward this private member's bill which in many ways resembles a bill that I brought forward in the previous Parliament. I want to thank members in this House for their debate this morning, but also those members who were in this House in the last Parliament who supported a bill very similar to this one. They unanimously supported it in this House and got it through committee and then over to the other place, where it died when an election was called.

There is no question that we as parliamentarians have a large responsibility. We have a responsibility to do our work here in this House but we also have a responsibility to work together for the common good of our constituents.

Today we are speaking about an issue that is very close to my heart. It is an issue that impacts, unfortunately, the vulnerable and the young disproportionately to other groups. Therefore, we as members of Parliament have an increased responsibility to address the bill here today, not because people are telling us to, but because we can see the effects on young and vulnerable people across this country as they are affected by the addictive qualities of methamphetamines.

I will give a brief outline as to what these drugs are, what makes them different and why I believe this is an important way to approach this issue and reduce the amount of crystal meth, methamphetamines and ecstasy that are being produced in this country.

Methamphetamines are different. They are synthetic drugs and that makes them different from many other drugs. Other drugs need to be imported in their illegal form or grown in their illegal form. There is a whole chain of events that needs to take place prior to the actual drug being available for people to buy and distribute on the streets.

Crystal meth and methamphetamines are different in that legal ingredients or a combination of legal ingredients and legal tools are used to make an illegal substance. Once that illegal substance is created, it can be out on the streets of any of our communities within minutes. Canadians and organized crime can produce crystal meth and methamphetamines in every single community in this country, leaving none of our communities isolated from the harmful effects of methamphetamines and the illegal distribution of them.

Crystal meth and methamphetamines are unique in other characteristics as well. The addictive nature of these drugs is unbelievable. When I spoke to recovering and recovered methamphetamine users, I found out how addictive it is. There are people with whom I have spoken through my work on this issue who have told me that after a single use they became so addicted to this drug that nothing would stop them from trying to get another fix. It was even more devastating when I spoke to young people whose lives had been completely ripped apart by this drug, who experimented with this drug at a party and after a single use they became addicted.

In many cases, there is nothing to indicate that it will be one kid rather than another who is going to use it. Some of the kids I spoke to were good kids. They had grown up in great families. They had every opportunity to succeed and had done well in school, but they had been tempted to use this drug and had decided to use it. As a result of that, their entire lives had been destroyed.

As we have learned more about this drug, we know there are treatments to help young people and people of all ages with this addiction. However, let us never believe that there is no long-term effect on people who have used crystal meth or methamphetamines.

The long-term damage of this drug is irreparable. There is physical and psychological damage, but there is also damage in terms of broken trust with family and the destruction in terms of a person's education and work. Many different things happen as a result of somebody becoming addicted. I spoke with people who had become addicted to this drug, and in every case, they said that their lives would never be the same.

While it is important to ensure there is treatment for young people, it is even more important that we as members of Parliament try to stand between young people and people in general and their access to the drug.

Questions were raised in terms of what the government has done with respect to spending money on anti-drug strategies. It is important that this come into the discussion. There were questions from an hon. member who had not been here in the last Parliament.

We as government members have worked extensively to develop a national anti-drug strategy. In budget 2007 there was over $60 million allocated to that initiative to ensure that young people would not get addicted at all.

The unfortunate thing is that young people continue to use drugs. It is imperative that we as members of Parliament work together to ensure that young people are educated.

Crystal meth is finding its way into places where young people would not see it as crystal meth or methamphetamines. As a matter of fact, I have spoken extensively with RCMP officers who are incredibly concerned about organized crime's marketing of methamphetamines. Methamphetamines are being blended into many other drugs that are commonly sold on the streets. Because of the addictive nature of methamphetamines, they are being blended into all kinds of drugs. Young people who become addicted to whatever drug they think they are purchasing will also become addicted to methamphetamine because it has been blended into the other drug.

What really concerns me as a father with young kids is that organized crime is mixing methamphetamines with candy. It is being wrapped up to look like candy and it is being sold on the streets. Young people are being given or sold these small candies that are actually laden with methamphetamine. That is just unbelievable for those of us who are parents, the thought that young people are being targeted in this effort by organized crime.

I got involved in the fight to have legislation with regard to methamphetamines for a number of reasons, but it was the stories that had the most impact. I met people in my own community. Communities were referenced where this epidemic of crystal meth started. Those communities were very close to my constituency. We saw the effects of methamphetamines and crystal meth being sold into our communities. I witnessed very strong and independent people being torn apart by the destruction of this drug.

When I found out that the epidemic was continuing to grow and that Canada had moved from an importing nation with respect to methamphetamine to an exporting nation, that made me very afraid. Like other members, I started to look at other countries that had had some success in limiting the production of crystal meth in their communities. I recognized that we were lagging behind as it relates to the precursors and the materials that are used.

Because an illegal substance is being created from legal substances, we have to give the RCMP and other police officers the opportunity to intervene, especially as it relates to organized crime, in the supply and development of this drug. We have to give police the power to go in where they know the products are being used for the production of methamphetamines and close that off. I believe that will be the continuation of this particular fight.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time for private members' business has expired.

The Chair has received notice that the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh wishes to rise on a question of privilege.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the 14th report of the justice committee dated November 25 was presented to the House on November 26. My question of privilege involves the interference, and I put that objectively, by the minister's office with respect to evidence that had been requested by the justice committee from the head of Correctional Service Canada. The report sets out the sequence of events on how this came about, and I will refer to those events.

With regard to the privilege itself, I believe my privilege has been breached not only vis-à-vis the work I need to do as a member of Parliament, but that of other members of the committee and the committee as a whole. You may wish, Mr. Speaker, to go beyond the report itself to the blues to substantiate the specifics.

Mr. Don Head, who was before committee on November 4, made very clear commitments as to what information he had available and whether he could get that information back to committee in time for it to consider the information when we were doing clause-by-clause.

The need for this information was heightened in this situation by the fact that members of committee, including myself, had ascertained that was the only source for this information. We had asked the Department of Justice if it had this information. We had solicited the information from the Juristat division of Statistics Canada. Both indicated that they did not have the information. I checked with academics to see if they had it. All three of those traditional sources for this type of information indicated to committee that the only source for this information was Correctional Service Canada. As a result, on November 4, at committee's request, Mr. Don Head, the head of Correctional Service Canada, appeared before committee. The report sets this out.

In response to questions from myself and from the Bloc member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Mr. Head indicated that he had the information we had request but he did not have it with him that day. He indicated that he could have it by the time committee considered Bill C-36 at clause-by-clause, which was scheduled to be considered at that stage on November 16. Mr. Head was very clear that he could do that.

On November 16, I sought from the clerk of that committee whether in fact the information had been received. I and was advised at that time, as I believe at least one other member of committee was advised, that it had been received and had been sent to our offices. I did not see it and assumed that there had been a mixup in my office and we had not received it. The committee went ahead on November 16 with clause-by-clause consideration and the bill was sent back to the House.

I then made a second request for that information on November 18. When I checked in my office, I did not have it. I wanted that information so it would be available for my argument in the House at third reading stage of Bill C-36, which was scheduled at that time and took place on November 23.

When I arrived at my office on the morning of November 23, I found out that we still did not have the information. Only at that time, were we advised that the information had not come to committee yet. It had been prepared by Mr. Head and was in the hands of the Minister of Public Safety.

Quite frankly I was quite upset. I intended to debate this on the November 23, and at that time, before I actually had a chance to start my speech, the deputy House leader for the Conservatives approached me and gave me a letter, undated, from Mr. Head. It set out the information for which the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue and I had asked, although some of it was quite confusing. Some of the specific questions were answered. That letter had been altered to the extent that the date had been taken off it. I had no opportunity to use that information.

On November 24, the bill passed the House by a recorded vote. On November 25, around noon, the same letter with the date on it appeared in our offices. The justice committee was meeting again on November 25 so we could get the report because the Conservatives had stalled it. When I attempted to get the report out of the committee on November 23, they talked it out, so we had to come back on November 25. Right around noon on November 25 we received the letter and it was dated this time. The date on the letter, signed by Mr. Head, responding in some detail to some of the questions asked by myself and the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, was dated the November 13. Had we received that letter, we could have used that information, and it was quite relevant information, both at clause-by-clause and again in the debate in the House, sharing that information with the rest of the committee and with all members of the House in their consideration of Bill C-36. That was denied to us by the minister's office.

I want to cover some of the relevance of this because of the questions that were asked. We asked very specific questions on the rate of recidivism of people who were subject to that section of the code. We wanted to know how often it was used and specific information. In that regard, the last solid evidence we had was 10 years old. The last time a report like this had been prepared was in 1999. We needed an update on that information, and several of the key points were answered in this letter. It was completely relevant to what we needed and we were denied it.

The role of the minister is quite crucial to the role of committees, the relationship of committees and the work we do in setting public policy and reviewing bills in detail in a prudent fashion. In all honesty, I have not been able to find any prior rulings by Speakers in the House as to whether the minister has any right to insist that this type of information is vetted by him or his office before it is given to the committee. I cannot say that it has been ruled either way in the research that I and my staff have done. I would argue quite strongly that it is one of the issues that has to be decided in the determination you will make, Mr. Speaker, as to whether we have made out a prima facie case for interference and breach of privilege.

If a minister is capable of doing that, the work of the committees becomes even less relevant than it is at this point. What we need is assurance. If we are to be helping with our votes and in the work we do here in setting public policy, we need to know we have unlimited access to the information within the departments in the government. There is a long history of decisions in other areas where Speakers have said that we are supposed to have that.

Coming back, if the minister can decide whether and when we are to get that information, it makes the committees a farce. The minister simply by withholding information for a period of time, allowing votes to go ahead, allowing consideration of clause-by-clause to go ahead can stymie the work of the committee quite effectively.

At this point, we do not know, because we have heard nothing from the minister in this regard, if this was a question of incompetence on the part of his office in not recognizing the timelines that Mr. Head had very clearly committed to or whether it was intentional to withhold this information until the committee had completed its work and it was no longer of any use to us.

Whichever it is, Mr. Speaker, I would argue that we have made out a prima facie case. If you so find, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to the question of privilege raised by my colleague. Since he quoted me a number of times in his speech, I think I should confirm that, indeed, we did not have some of the information that we should have.

That information was not sent to us before November 16, the anticipated date of the vote following clause by clause review. After the vote we learned that the information was available and on the minister's desk on November 13. What is more, that information was sent to the clerk. In any event, the letter I have indicates that the information was sent to Ms. Burke, the Clerk of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on November 13.

There is no excuse and I think the privilege motion should be accepted because it is a matter of principle. We asked Mr. Head very important questions and the documents we finally received afterward—and I am convinced of this—probably would have swayed the position of a number of Liberal MPs on adopting Bill C-36, and we even seriously think that some Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights would have changed their minds.

Accordingly, we hope you will find this is a prima facie question of privilege.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I spoke to the member's amendment that we considered in relation to Bill C-36 and that asked for the matter to go back to committee. I was certainly grateful that the member brought it to the House, and I voted for that amendment to send it back to committee because I felt so strongly that the information requested by the committee was so vital and fundamental to the bill itself. One could not possibly, with 10-year-old information, properly debate the matter in committee, and that is what the member has brought to our attention.

I would like to make reference to House of Commons Procedure and Practice by O'Brien and Bosc, page 89, under the section “Rights and Immunities of Individual Members”, specifically the paragraph under “Freedom of Speech”. It reads as follows:

By far, the most important right accorded to Members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings. It has been described as:

“[…] a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents”.

The reason this is relevant to the privilege issue raised by the member is that there is in fact a decision pending from the Supreme Court of Canada right now on the issue of access to information, and the argument is very directly related to the right of freedom of speech, a charter right, in fact, under section 2.

Just underneath that right in the charter, it also says that we have the right to vote. If we follow that through to its logical progression, as has been argued in the courts, if one has the right to vote, one must have the right of access to information. Because one needs that right of access to information, the right of access is implicit in the charter. That is the whole argument.

We have a situation here where in fact the right of freedom of speech has been inhibited because the access to information necessary for members of Parliament to discharge their duties has been interfered with by a minister of the Crown. Not only did he withhold this information from the justice committee, but it is also the same minister who withheld the RCMP report from the debate on the gun registry information and may in fact be involved in withholding documents with regard to the Afghanistan detainees.

There is a pattern here and it is a pattern that is disturbing to me. That is why I rose in the debate on the amendment and why I am rising today, because I believe that the rights of members of Parliament to discharge their responsibilities have been interfered with by the obstruction of the minister.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in no way do I want to diminish the seriousness of this question of privilege. Every time a member rises with a question of privilege in the chamber, it is a matter of some seriousness. However, I would state, Mr. Speaker, for your benefit that the issue we are dealing with here, which the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has raised, is in regard to Bill C-36, which I think most people know is the repeal of the faint hope clause. That is one of many bills in our justice reform legislative agenda.

I also note that the member is making some pretty serious allegations about the withholding of information and documents from the justice committee by the Minister of Public Safety. In fairness, the minister is not present. I suspect that at his very earliest convenience, he is going to want to attend the chamber to make a statement in this regard and I would ask the Speaker to set aside this question of privilege until that opportunity is afforded to the Minister of Public Safety.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had intended to speak on this issue, as I am a member of the justice committee and I fully support the question of privilege raised by the member from the NDP.

I would however take note that the government House leader has requested that you set aside this issue until the minister responsible has an opportunity to rise in the House and speak to this issue. If that is your ruling, I would wait to make my statements until I hear from the minister.

If on the other hand you rule that you are not going to wait, then I request that I be afforded the opportunity to speak at this time. Otherwise, I will withhold my remarks until the Minister of Public Safety has an opportunity to speak to this issue.

Information Related to the Study of Bill C-36PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I appreciate the interventions that have been made by various members on this point of privilege.

The Chair will take this serious matter under advisement and will get back to the chamber at an appropriate time. At that time, the Chair will deal with the issue of the minister's response, but the Chair needs to consider this matter at this time.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, a bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, shall be disposed of as follows: (a) commencing when the said bill is read a first time and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown, and no Private Members’ Business shall be taken up; (b) the said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting; (c) after being read a second time, the said bill shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole; and (d) during consideration of the said bill, no division shall be deferred.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway OperationsGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, later today the Minister of Labour, as the motion indicated, will introduce a bill to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations. This legislation is critical to protecting the national economy at this time when our economy is still in a fragile state from the global economic crisis. The motion before us will allow the House to consider the Minister of Labour's bill in an expedited fashion. The motion states that from first to third readings of the bill, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a minister of the Crown, and that the bill go through all three readings in a single sitting, and that after being read a second time the bill will be referred to the committee of the whole.

I would like to advise members of the House to support the motion. The motion itself will not end the strike or impose a settlement; it will only allow us to proceed to deal with this issue as quickly as possible. The approach we are taking to this strike is obviously unusual. Normally for private disputes between private actors, we accept that it is their responsibility to come to a solution, perhaps with the help of government appointed conciliators and mediators.

I would again encourage the members to pass this procedural motion so we can at least get to the debate and continue to put pressure on both sides to come to a resolution. This motion essentially sets forward a process and procedure for a debate to take place in the House and for all members of the House to become engaged in the disposition of the matter by way of the bill that will be introduced.

The strike began at CN Rail early on Saturday after 14 months of inconclusive negotiations between the company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. During the last six months of negotiations, the two sides were assisted by federal conciliators and mediators. Even after the strike began, we did not give up hope for a negotiated settlement, as that is the preferred course. Not only is it the preferred course, but the parties are always encouraged to come to a form of agreement on their own. Federal mediators worked with the employer and union all weekend in an effort to find a formula that would get the trains running again and establish a fair process for resolving all outstanding differences, but the parties could still not find their way to an understanding.

The Minister of Labour became personally involved in the search for a solution. She contacted each side to encourage a negotiated agreement and offered to appoint an arbiter to resolve the matters in dispute, on which the Canada Labour Code requires both parties to concur. CN agreed but the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference did not. Unless the parties agree, that process cannot be instigated.

No one in the House likes back to work legislation. All of us prefer to see employers and unions freely bargain their collective agreements. That is certainly something that happens in the course of events, and many times there are struggles and difficulties to get there, but eventually a method is found to resolve an impasse, which is exactly how it should work if it can. But sometimes the parties are unable to reach agreement. Sometimes parties reach an impasse and a strike or lockout tends to happen and, in that case, it affects the national economy. When that happens Parliament must act in the public interest.

There are of course a number of factors in play. There is the public interest and there is the issue of the economy. As much as we want each of the parties in the process to negotiate with each other and just as each has appropriate and legitimate interests, and certainly we are respectful and mindful of the processes involved, what they do affects a bigger picture. It affects people other than them. It affects the public, the public interest, individuals and businesses. It affects the economy of Canada.

Therefore, it is important that we give due diligence to what has been placed before us, with the parties reaching the impasse they have, and, as I said, I trust and hope that they will see a way through to reach a negotiated settlement.

I would like to say a few words about the economy. As everyone in this House knows, Canada is starting to see signs of economic recovery. Statistics Canada announced this morning that the real GDP in Canada grew by 0.4% in the third quarter of 2009. While it is encouraging that Canada's economic growth has stabilized, the global economic recovery remains fragile and tentative, and that is a fact that must be taken into consideration.

As our finance minister has said, the Canadian economy is recovering but has not yet fully recovered. Too many families struggle and we may yet see more job losses before we fully turn the corner. Our government remains focused on fighting the recession and on helping Canadians, and that is obvious with the number of actions that we have taken in a variety of areas, whether it is funding for infrastructure, helping those who are unemployed by extending EI by five weeks, providing skills upgrading and training, and investing significant billions of dollars to ensure workers are prepared and equipped to be a part of our economy and ensure our economy does not stagnate but goes forward.

We remain focused on fighting the recession and helping Canadians. To protect our economy, we need to stay the course and, of course, we must continue implementing Canada's economic action plan.

Today's numbers show that Canada's economic action plan is helping fuel the recovery. Household spending has increased. thanks to our tax cuts for Canadian families. Spending on homes has rebounded, fuelled by a recession-fighting home renovation tax credit. Businesses increased their investment and productivity, improving machinery and equipment, thanks to our tax relief and tariff reductions. Infrastructure and other capital spending has increased by nearly 25% this quarter, the largest increase in nearly a decade, but our economy still remains in a fragile and tentative state.

Even though we have worked hard to implement Canada's economic action plan, we have always received enough support from this House in order to proceed. The global economic circumstances still leave Canada in a precarious position. We cannot allow a labour dispute, where the parties reach an impasse, to threaten our economic recovery.

Canadians know how central our rail system is to the economic health of Canada. It is what has connected our commerce from coast to coast to coast since the days of John A. Macdonald. Our government believes that it is the responsibility of this House to intervene in private disputes when they threaten to significantly damage the public interest.

I am sure many members will be getting letters and correspondence from various industries that will be impacted and involved by this particular strike and the impasse that has been reached. The motion we have here would allow Parliament to act quickly. It is a responsibility of the parties in this House to debate, negotiate and go forward with proposed legislation that will keep in mind the public interest and our economy.

As I have said, businesses and farmers from across Canada are expressing their concern about the economic impacts of this strike, and that is understandable. Some of them have been impacted three or four times over the last number of years and have suffered significant economic losses as a result of that.

We have had experiences with the effects of work stoppages in the past. In 2007, when trains were last slowed by a strike, Ford had to shut down production of one of its plants because parts were not getting through.

The Canadian Wheat Board incurred charges of over $300,000 per day because ships were delayed in Canadian ports.

Shifts were discontinued at lumber facilities.

When the trains stop, the economy suffers and this is no time for that to happen. When we are struggling with the effects of the global downturn, this is no time for us to gamble with the economy.

The motion before us will not force any member of this House to support the actual back to work legislation, although I certainly hope they will debate it in earnest and keep in mind the larger public interest. However, what it will do is simply permit timely consideration of the Minister of Labour's bill. It is critically important, given the timing of what is happening outside this House. It is also important to know that this House is scheduled to rise in the next short while.

Given the seriousness of this situation, I would hope we would all make the public interest our first priority. I would ask all parties to give unanimous consent to this motion. From the agricultural products in the west and the automotive products in Ontario, to the forestry products in Quebec and the petroleum, chemicals and metals in the east, Canada depends on CN Rail's 20,000 kilometres of track.

Canada is a country founded on the railway. Since 1885, rail has driven our nation's economic engine. The railway has evolved with Canada and CN now facilitates a sophisticated commercial network, transporting inventory from domestic producers and international importers to consumers in Canada, the ports and our American neighbour to the south. Canada's transportation, in Canada 2008, in its statement “An Overview”, illustrates the importance of Canada's rail network. In 2007, railways in Canada transported 66,766 tonnes in essentially six sectors, valued at more than $94 million: the automotive sector, $44 million dollars; the chemical industry, $16-plus million; grains and fertilizers; metals; petroleum products; and pulp and paper. It has a far-reaching impact and far-reaching consequences to many.

I know the Canadian pulse industry, for example, is a world leader in the production and export of peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans, servicing over 150 markets each year. A strike would certainly affect that industry and what it is doing. It would certainly incur a lot of costs that would result in thousands, in fact, millions of dollars if it were to continue for a longer period of time.

Loss of earnings of that magnitude at a time when the downturn in the global economy has produced significant challenges for Canadian businesses, indeed, all Canadians, and the customers around the world, must be avoided. We must do what we can to bridge the gap to bring the two parties together to ensure there is a resolution so the trains can continue moving.

The reason for quick action, of course, given the time of year, the fragile state of the national economy and the serious economic impacts of a work stoppage, are all factors that must be taken into consideration. Businesses from across the country have expressed their concern about this strike. The 2007 strike at CN cost the economy millions of dollars a day. This is a price we simply cannot afford at a time when recovery from the global recession is still so tentative. CN moves thousands of carloads of material across its 20,000 kilometres of tracks every week. Some clients have no other source of transportation for their goods and rely exclusively on the operation of the railway network.

Most labour disputes are basically private matters between an employer and a union. They may affect the public in modest ways but not enough for Parliament to intervene in the collective bargaining process, even when there is an impasse and even when there are work disruptions. Such is the way things work.

However, that changes when a strike or lockout has significant impacts on the national economy or the public health and safety. Then the right of employers and unions to sort out their differences through work stoppages must be balanced against the public interest. Many times, members struggle with the appropriate balance and it can be difficult to reach that balance, but a balance must be reached that takes into account these other interests. It is our responsibility to do that.

As I have said before, federal conciliators and mediators are working with the parties and have been in negotiations since June. The level of engagement has been high for many months. There have been a number of interventions. Mediators have literally been working around the clock since Friday in a last ditch effort to help find a formula that would bring an end to the work stoppage and pave the way for a new collective agreement but these efforts have not yet borne fruit.

The Minister of Labour has repeatedly offered, both publicly and in discussions with the employer and union representatives, to appoint an arbiter to resolve all matters still in dispute. This step, by law, requires the consent of both parties and, of course, this matter must be left in the hands of the parties to that extent.

The government has done all that it can do short of introducing legislation. We are always ready to help parties interested in reaching an agreement but sometimes an employer and the union are so far apart that no amount of mediation and support will break the deadlock between them or the impasse that may exist. There is always hope that will happen.

It is true that Parliament should only intervene in work stoppages where the national interest is clearly at stake. Our labour relations system is founded on the principle that employers and unions should be allowed to work out their differences as often as possible and the tool of back to work legislation should be reserved for exceptional circumstances.

Therefore, this motion is an appropriate motion that would allow this matter to be debated in the House in priority to other matters before the House recesses. It is an important issue, a national issue and an issue of national interest that must be disposed of by the House. This motion sets the framework for the House to engage in that debate in a concentrated and concerned way. It ensures that all members who wish to participate in debate on these issues of national importance are able to do so with a view to bringing the matter to a resolution because the parties are unable to do so.

This motion sets the stage for further critical debate that will in fact be launched in the time to come. It is a procedural motion. It is a motion that I would ask all parties in the House and all sides in this debate to support whether they are for or against a particular issue in the debate. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the kind of thing that Canadians would expect the House to do.

All Canadians will be watching with interest the debate that will go forward. All Canadians hope that parliamentarians will get together, notwithstanding party lines, to ensure that the framework is set through this motion to have this matter debated fully and extensively in the House and given the priority that it deserves.

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. member repeatedly mention the national interest. I believe that this is a matter we should not become involved in.

Every corporation has the right to negotiate as it sees fit. CN is a private corporation. The collective agreement expired on December 31, 2008, almost a year ago. They have not yet been able to come to an agreement or to resolve their differences and sign a collective agreement. I imagine that this may be because of the bad faith of the employer who, once again, is protected by the government. When parties to an agreement are unable to find common ground, the government is told that it is a matter of national interest. As for the anti-scab legislation, successive governments have said that it was not necessary.

CN has every means at its disposal to continue operating. Therefore, I would like my colleague to tell us what good reasons he has to have the House resolve this dispute with a bill or other measure. It is important to say that if private corporations negotiate in good faith with their workers, results will be achieved. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I said, certainly in matters of labour relations and in matters of negotiations, it should be left to the parties to bargain and to settle with the processes that are available.

However, we must remember that what the parties do here does not just affect the two parties. It affects people other than the two parties. It affects business, industry, a number of businesses and sectors that are outside of the parties who have a loss or an experience to take into account when the parties are not able to agree. It is regrettable that they are not able to agree.

I think everything should be done to facilitate reaching an agreement. We have done that, everything that is possible. At the end of the day, there must be a bigger picture that the parties are held to account.

When we look at the public interest and how this would affect the public, it would affect the public in a very serious way. When this member says that the parties should be left to their own, what would he say to the automotive industry, the chemical industry, the grain and fertilizer industry, the agriculture industry, the pulp and paper industry, and the forest industry, who are directly being impacted?

At some point we have to take that interest into account. I realize it is a balance, but at some point this House, this member, will have to balance that interest.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I followed the discussion from the parliamentary secretary very closely. He describes what we are debating today as a procedural motion, and then continues to talk about the substance of a very serious labour dispute and the positions of the two sides in that dispute.

Let me just go back, first of all, to the procedural nature of the motion that is in fact in front of us. What we have here today is a motion being tabled by the government that is essentially assigning a time limit to the amount of time that members of this House can debate a bill that we have not even seen yet.

That is contempt of Parliament. It is contempt of the members of this institution. It is contempt of collective bargaining. It is contempt for the locomotive engineers at CN. Frankly, it is contempt of the safety of Canadian rail passengers.

The issues that are before us here today are serious issues. We are talking about collective bargaining, something that is recognized in UN conventions. It is recognized through the ILO. Canada is a signatory to those conventions. In fact, even the charter of rights, through its Supreme Court interpretation, now recognizes that collective bargaining is a fundamental right associated with freedom of association.

If those are guaranteed rights and the government is not above the law, the government has to respect collective bargaining. It does not do that when it signals that it is going to introduce back-to-work legislation. It takes away the incentive for management to bargain in good faith.

My question to the parliamentary secretary this morning is, and I need him to be very specific here, when did his government signal its intentions, its willingness, to bring back-to-work legislation before this House to the management at CNR?

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, outside of providing mediators and conciliators facilitating the parties, we do not actually enter into the negotiation process with the parties. The member knows that.

The member knows that this motion is a procedural motion. The member knows, if she cares to read the motion, that it simply states from the first to third readings of the bill the House will not adjourn, except pursuant to a motion proposed by a minister of the Crown, the bill may go through all three readings in a single sitting, and then after being read a second time the bill will be referred to a committee of the whole.

The discussions and the debates can continue for a significant period of time. It gives the opportunity for the House to debate this issue and members can speak for and against the particular bill, but the fact of the matter is it is a matter that is important. It is a matter of national interest that requires the attention of the House and when it is put on the floor of the House it must be dealt with in priority to other matters that are happening.

Certainly, given the time of year and before the House recesses, the member would have to do the responsible thing and say before the House breaks this House needs to deal with this issue in one fashion or another, and it will take a vote of the House to deal with it.

That is what should happen and what needs to happen. Given that the parties are having a difficulty and have reached an impasse we need to put the process in place, we need to put the procedure in place, so the House can do what the House is elected to do and that is to deal with the national interest and an interest that significant to Canadians.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that we are all concerned with respect to the disruption of the economy and the disruption to services with the strike, but I am also cognizant of the fact that we would rather not have the House act as arbiter and get involved in these situations, and for Parliament to make the decisions, but rather that the parties involved be the ones who work this out.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell the House this. I know there has been back and forth for some time and there have been some agreements on some things and not on some others. Could the member inform the House as to why the two parties are actually not continuing to negotiate? My understanding is that one side is not interested in going to arbitration but would like to continue the collective bargaining at the table.

Does the government feel that it is important at this point to bring closure rather than to give them more time to see whether they can come to some agreement at the table between the two of them rather than this venue. Could the hon. member explain that?

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the preference is always, in our labour relations system, founded on the principle that employers and unions should be allowed to work out their differences as often as possible. We do not want to put the procedure in place that we are now proposing if we do not need to.

Certainly, the government has done all it can do to help the parties along that process short of introducing legislation. Without getting involved into negotiations itself, it is something that is not the position of the government to do. But it is also interested that the parties would reach a settlement if they can. If there is no amount of mediation or support to break a deadlock, and there is a deadlock, and there is a compelling reason to act, then we must act.

This is simply a motion that sets the process in place for the debate to take place in the House, for the fullness of debate, and as the other member mentioned, with respect to the legislation itself.

As the member may know, she may have pointed questions at that point as to the essence and the substance of the bill. That is not what we are discussing today. We are not talking about that. We are talking about establishing a process in the House that will allow for that debate to take place.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, this motion is the government's signal of its intention to move closure on a bill that is not yet before the House. This is a drastic measure which one would generally like to avoid because this is not the way that one would like to do business.

It is important to note that we have a motion in front of us, but we have not yet seen the bill. The House cannot give a definitive answer to the motion until it has at least seen the bill. We are debating a motion without knowing what the legislation would entail, and that is a major concern. Drastic measures are being taken and therefore it is important that we weigh them very carefully.

There is no doubt that all of us in the House are concerned about the disruption in the economy, the disruption of work, and the impact this will have on clients and all parties, including the locomotive engineers and the company itself. This will also impact on the relationship the company has with its employees and the relationship that the employees have with the company.

If both sides could come to an agreement at the table by themselves, it would augur much better for them to be able to have a relationship that would be much more stable in the future as opposed to some solution being imposed on both sides.

All parties need to keep their responsibilities in mind. The minister must ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure that the negotiations continue to take place between the two parties. In her role as minister, she must ensure that we find a workable solution. We must ensure that we all work together to avoid imposing undue hardship on the economy and on the people of Canada.

This is a particularly difficult time in our economy. There has been a lot of talk about the recovery of our economy. There are a lot of people in this country who are struggling and we do not want to cause them more undue stress.

All parties have an obligation. As I said, the minister has an obligation to ensure that the parties are talking, that there is an open line between them. At this point, it is important for all parties to go back to the table and continue the negotiations.

As I said before, it is important that we continue to keep in mind what the ultimate repercussions could be, but at the same time we must keep in mind the importance of maintaining an amicable relationship between employees and employer.

I understand that there are two broad issues still on the table, but there is a great divide on one of them. One of the issues is the money issue and the other is the hours of work or the mileage cap.

There is a huge divide on the mileage cap issue. My understanding is that the company is saying that it would go from 37 hours to 41 hours, and that is not a big shift. The union is saying that it would go from the current 72 hours, which is a much larger number, to 82 hours. This is a huge divide. This is a much bigger gap in the perception of the two.

We do not have the ability in the House to assess what the situation with the hours means and the impact they will actually have.

From everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far that the money issue may be easier to resolve, although I am not saying it would be easy or that it is unimportant. Certainly the union has indicated that it is prepared to go to arbitration on that issue. The disparity in the hours of work is a much bigger issue and that seems to be the issue at which we are looking.

Given this reality, the House cannot take one side or another on the specific issues that are at stake. I do not think it should be up to the Parliament of Canada or the members of Parliament in the House to try to weed out what the issues are in that area and the impact they may have. However, the House should have presented to it an assessment of the impact they are going to have with respect to the agreements and the issues we are discussing today.

The minister at least needs to ask the deputy minister to do a thorough assessment on the impact of this. There are two very differing sides. As I said, the disparity is quite huge and I do not think the House is in a position to see that, but it is important for the House to know the impacts, to what extent they are real or not, where the truth is and where the reality lies.

It is important for the minister to look at these two dramatically different views and have her deputy or department do a proper assessment on the impact. That assessment should be reported to the House. In fact, if the minister intends to table a bill, which I understand this motion is about, she should put that information in the bill as well.

Before the House gets into debating the bill and finishing the debate on this motion, it should know what these dramatically different views are and the impact of them. A thorough assessment of them needs to be carried out, especially given the fact that it seems to be one of the major contentious issues in this discussion. I know that discussions continued until late last night. Hopefully, today there are still some discussions going on, although I do not know for sure, but we need to deal with these areas.

We are very concerned that this kind of issue does not take over the situation not only in the country but in the House. As I said, the concern is, yes, the fact that thousands and thousands of people in the country rely on transportation. Railways are the backbone, so to speak. I always call them the spine that connects the country and has connected it for many years. It is very critical and important to our economy and to the customers that use them.

We need to remember and keep in mind that there are collective agreement rights in the country and labour negotiations. Employees have rights as well. It is important that the two parties be allowed the time to negotiate and continue their discussions.

I again encourage the minister to bring to the House a thorough assessment of everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far with the minister and others. This area seems to be dramatically different.

It is important to note that the hours are a result of the increase in mileage. For my colleagues who may not know what that means, it is raising the mileage cap to 4,300 miles per month, which will increase the time away from home and average out to 82 hours per week, according to the union. The company's averaging is different. I think it is at 41. This is really important and it is a huge area that needs to be looked at.

It is important to note that strikes are never the way to go and they are never easy on our economy and on our country, especially in the sectors where a great many people are dependent on the goods and services that are delivered and provided. They are not the best way to go. They create a tremendous amount of negativity and bitterness sometimes and a toxic environment.

The last strike at CN by the conductors lasted about two months. They went back to work when back to work legislation was enacted. In this case I would like to see that not be the case. I would like to see the two parties involved get back to the table to really sort out their differences.

I understand we are debating a motion today, a closure motion, that would essentially put closure on the debate and on the process of the legislation that we anticipate we will see. Not having seen that legislation, I will not make a comment. This is somewhat premature, because we need to see what the legislation says before we can move forward.

I would ask the minister if she would, prior to all of this, ask her officials to do a proper impact assessment on the hours and to explain to the House what the differences are between the information we have received from the two sides and exactly what that means in terms of the impact on the employees and the employer and on the service as a whole. We do not know what this actually means, so it is important we get that information. I would hope to get that soon, because I think it would help us a great deal in our discussion.

I would like to finish by saying a couple of things. First, I would rather not have to take drastic measures such as this one. As I said, we have not yet seen the bill and I do not like this kind of drastic measure. Second, I understand that we all have to take responsibility, the minister as well as the company and the union, to ensure that people and the economy are not unduly affected. We need to ensure this happens and everyone has to take that kind of responsibility.

As I said, it should not be up to the House to make that decision. We should not be trying to figure out what side is where and who is doing what. It is not something on which Parliament should make a decision. It is better that it be decided between the two parties. That creates a much better relationship for the future, a much better environment and better labour relations than would be the case if the House got involved.

Finally, it is important that the minister table, if it is possible, the assessment I referred to earlier. It seems to me that those are the two major issues left on the table, one being wages. However, from what I have seen, the issue of hours and the mileage cap is the more serious issue. I would like to see the minister table that in the House as soon as possible so we can a see what has caused the major concerns in this area.