Madam Speaker, great passions are stirred in this place when drugs and organized crime are discussed. Mix that in with politics and one has quite the elixir.
First, I will address the passion that is elicited by all members of the House. I think that underneath the contentious issue of Bill C-15, there lie common interests that need to be enhanced, explored and then considered in light of what the bill proposes. I think when we agree on those common interests, even members of the House who show support for the bill, particularly those who have not read it, will perhaps give some pause and reconsideration. The effects of this will be very real in their communities and constituencies.
Most notable is the effect that is intended by the government's own writing, and from the support we are hearing from the Liberals, in a strangely hypocritical way, is not going to have the effect of reducing organized crime in Canada. As its first principle, we must all agree to that. The organized crime intervention within the drug trade is causing ruination and havoc within our communities.
We must do away with the concept and idea that this sits only within the urban centres of Canada. In the northwest of British Columbia, as in northern Alberta where my friend from Fort McMurray comes from, the encouragement of the organized drug trade does not know the bounds of a city limit. It does not stay within Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. It exceeds beyond those limits. The organizational level of drugs coming into our communities has increased year after year.
Some of my colleagues have referred to the difficult times we are in right now and that drug use goes up among Canadians particularly in an economic downturn. However, it also happens in the reverse.
Even in very good times, when there was more money than folks knew what to do with in places like Fort McMurray, the drug trade was as strong as ever, if not stronger. We see it in the downtown offices of Toronto on Bay Street. We see it absolutely everywhere in society. The touch and the influence of organized crime within this trade has become more and more prolific, despite the efforts of successive government that time and time again have stood in the House and said that they will get tough on organized crime and that this bill or that bill will do it.
There is some belief within the powers that be in Ottawa that they have the answers, that they have somehow figured out the magic bullet to solve this. In fact, they go against many of the wishes of those working at the grassroots level, at the street level, in the clinics and in the public advocacy groups, which are fighting on behalf of the victims of organized crime. Those people have made serious interventions and contentions about the bill, backed with evidence, and I will get to this in a moment, and the government chooses to ignore that evidence.
The government has said time and time again that law must be based on fact. That seems reasonable. We are lawmakers in this place. We seek to write laws that will then be used in our courts and by our lawyers to punish those guilty of crime and to let free the innocent. When I asked the chair of the committee for those facts, the studies and research, he said that it had to be logical and that was all. As if that was an argument ever to be presented in Parliament, an argument that one member's opinion of logic therefore overrides the idea of research, or study, or understanding of an issue. That does not work. That is not serious debate. That is no way to write law. That is no way to help protect innocent lives of Canadians.
There has been much talk about, from the New Democratic side at least, the concept of the four pillar approach to drug crime, particularly organized drug crime. This does not come from nowhere. This came from municipalities that had been dealing with the ravages of organized crime year after year. When they looked to their federal and provincial governments, they found them wanting. Therefore, this solution came from the people who dealt with the issue.
The first of the four pillar prevention approach to drugs is prevention. It is to try to make the thing not happen in the first place, which is usually the most cost-effective way to make anything happen. It is always more expensive to clean up the mess after the fact than to stop it from happening in the first place.
The second pillar is treatment and understanding that those who are addicted to drugs often face a whole list and multiplicity of challenges within their lives. These are not folks who are simply hell-bent on causing wanton destruction in our communities, despite the advertisements we see in the mail from the government. These folks are facing all sorts of challenges.
I believe there is a compassionate element somewhere buried deep within the Conservatives. I scratch and search for it day after day, a compassionate, truly almost spiritual element that says they must have compassion for people, they must not sit in complete judgment of all those, but that they must show themselves to be compassionate legislators, compassionate leaders of the country, except when it comes to an issue like this. Then suddenly compassion and understanding are not to be found. The Conservatives scream out loud and they condemn groups and societies. There is a class tone somewhere in there that we pick out of the fibre of the speeches given by Conservatives.
However, we seek compassion always. It is our better nature. It is what we as Canadians take pride in and it ultimately achieves the very goals that we all hold in common, which is to reduce the crime, the misery and suffering and the power and the influence of organized crime. We are all seized with that, as we should be, not political opportunism, not moments to score points and produce another couple of million mail-outs prior to elections to try to convince Canadians that tough on crime means something. Everything we do in this place, at our best, should be based on evidence and understanding of the issue.
Now there is always the law of unintended consequences. There is always the law that says when we try to do one thing, even with good intentions at times, another thing might happen.
Fortunately for Canada, the lesson has already been lived out in the U.S., south of the border, where every extreme measure available to government was taken to tackle organized drug crime. The Americans tried everything, and the further south it went, the crazier it got, to the point where they were making such draconian laws, they simply could not build jails fast enough to catch everybody.
How did the drug crime situation fare by taking out every weapon they possibly could and making every law they possibly could as draconian as possible? Drug crime in the U.S. went consistently up, to the point where a number of the major states that led in this initiative of minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes are now rescinding those laws.
Here is Canada, with the Conservative government showing up late to the party, looking at no evidence but only ideology, because it is logical to them and therefore must be true, presenting no facts, no evidence, and saying, “This must be the right course because George W. Bush said so; this must be the right course because we in the Conservative Party think so”.
If our true intention is to alleviate the suffering and pain caused by the drug trade and organized crime, if we arrive back at that first principle and we then seek from that first principle the solutions that we can all agree with, then we could arrive at something that would, lo and behold, look a lot like the four-pillars approach where we had prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.
With four pillars, one almost imagines four legs of a table, that in order to build something strong, we would try to make those legs strong and of somewhat equal length so that we could put something on it, such as a community.
When we look at government spending to this point on those pillars, we see harm reduction, one of the most important, at 2.5% of all spending. We see prevention, preventing the bad thing from happening to the person and society in the first place, at another whopping 2.5%. When we look at research and treatment, we see 7% and 14%. Now let us arrive at the big ticket item, enforcement, which is at 73%.
The table that this government and the previous government have constructed is so lopsided, how can the government expect anything other than the condition and the seriousness of organized drug crime to continue to get worse? The organized criminal groups are laughing at and mocking the government.
The government came in with a so-called crime agenda. What have we seen in the streets of our communities and cities since the government came in saying it was going to get tough on crime? It worked well in a pamphlet. It did not work well in legislation and it continues to fail Canadians each and every day.
I do not understand why the government would not at least sponsor a study or two, something it could make public for us to enter into the debate with that says minimum mandatory sentences, in some cases, would work really well, that the government has done some research and it actually lowers the effect of drug crime in Canada. However, the government does not produce a thing. The members just scream out logic. What kind of argument is that? Did these members of Parliament come to this place and promise their constituents that they would not do research, they would not read things, they would not improve their knowledge of a situation to enhance the debate and then arrive at laws that all of us could agree on and work towards?
Instead it is this divisive thing again, divide and conquer, the so-called wedge issues that the party seems obsessed with, as if forming government were just a practice in manifesting wedge issues, time and time again, as if that were leadership, as if that would take Canada to any new place, a better place for Canadians. It just develops a bunch of random issues that the Conservatives think their base, whatever that might mean, might get excited about, and wedge just enough of the electorate over so they could grab absolute power, and then look out. Then they would do the things they want to do.
That is not leadership. That is no way to govern. That is no way to be the Government of Canada. That is not something to be proud of.
I step back to Skeena--Bulkley Valley, the place I represent in northwestern British Columbia. We have seen both sides of the economic cycle. We have seen the boom and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. We have seen the bust and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. They get organized in the city, and they take their shipments and all the rest and move them up the line. The misery goes up the line, and property crime, abduction and people entering into prostitution follow for us as well.
Our communities are tightly knit. They are small. They are truly community-based. We see it in our community halls. We see it in our churches. We see it at the local coffee shop every day when we hear about somebody else's kid who hit the road down to Vancouver or who is off in Edmonton and cannot be found. They do not know where they are. They do not know what happened to them.
There is no one in this place who should stand up and say that one party or another has somehow the territory or the marked ground to say they care about these issues and another one does not. It is insulting to all of us. It is insulting even to the person who says it. There is such a lack of grasp and intelligence and compassion as to speak ill more of the speaker than the receiver.
The government must come to understand when we are dealing with such a serious issue as this, and not simply take all the hard work of those municipalities, organizers and community groups that have said we must not simply do the enforcement alone but must have other aspects of this if we hope to achieve our goals, and toss all that out the window and say, “I have the solution; it is minimum mandatory, and whisk, whisk, it will all be done”.
This is also a government that used to pride itself on fiscal management. Obviously, that reputation has taken a sound beating, because every time the finance minister opens his mouth, the budget deficit grows again, time and time again. Fiscal management might not be one of the things the Conservatives will campaign on in the next election, but we will see.
Even now, at this point, we ask the government to produce one document, one estimate of the expected cost of the bill, something the government consistently asks for when dealing with private members' bills, bills that come from New Democrats and others. It is one of the government's first questions: “What is it going to cost the taxpayers? We are fiscally prudent; we are Conservatives.”
Lo and behold, when we ask what is the cost of this little number, the government says it is not going to tell us. Why is that?
Part of the reason is that most of the costs are going to be incurred by the provinces, because most of the folks who will be ensnared by the bill will end up in provincial jails. Therefore, I guess the government says it is not its concern because it is the federal government. It is all the same taxpayer. The taxpayer has a right to know, when the government proposes a piece of legislation, what the cost may or may not be.
We are not even asking for the exact figure, but just a range, an estimation, a best guess. We are asking for something so that when the government makes these choices, when it spends more than three quarters of its money on one pillar and virtually ignores the rest, the taxpayers can know what kinds of costs, considerations and choices the government is making.
Ultimately, being in government, having the reins of power, having the significant levers of power that a government has, boils down to choices and options and what the government thinks are the best choices for the betterment of all Canadians, not its wedge issue, not its base, not some sort of narrow thing it can slap into a ten percenter in a mail-out and convince Canadians that it is in fact the knight in shining armour to save the day. It has been doing it for years and still things get worse.
The costs are an important element. It just simply cannot be ignored. I still await a single Conservative member to stand up in the debate today on the bill that we are about to vote on, or even a Liberal member, because the Liberals are going to support it, and say what they think the costs are. That would be fair. That would be honest. That would be intelligent. That would be wise leadership to simply say what the range of costs would be, and some of it will be taken by the federal government and some of it will be taken by the provincial governments. The taxpayer needs to know. Is that fair? Is that understandable?
I encourage my Conservative colleagues, if we can have a few moments of questions and comments, to slide in the figure if they know it. If they do not know it, they can say that too, and that is fine.
However, to simply ignore the costs as though they are not a factor at all in making a law seems ludicrous, as though it does not exist, as though, if they just do not mention it, it will not be there. Perhaps my wishes will be answered, but I suspect not.
We also need to ask ourselves if the first principles remain for all of us, if we can find that sacred little piece of common ground in this contentious and passionate debate. Organized crime and drug laws should be passionate, because that is why people send us here. It is to express our passion and use our intelligence and find the best ways forward. If that sacred common ground around the idea of reducing organized crime in Canada will be satisfied with Bill C-15 through the use of minimum mandatory sentences, a little bit of evidence would go a long way.
There were 18 reports presented and another 15 or so cited in the committee hearings. An overwhelming number of witnesses spoke to the harm of these sentences, not even the harm as much as the ineffectiveness, the inability to cause the effect that the government is hoping for.
When the Association of Chiefs of Police, I believe it was, came forward, they talked about the bill but made no comment whatsoever on minimum mandatory sentences in this bill. If they were so fantastic and the police were dying to have that tool in their kit, one would think they would have mentioned it. One would think they would have said, “By the way, the government has really knocked it out of the park on this one”, but the witnesses did not say that, and witnesses presented evidence to the contrary.
At the end of the day, crime can be a difficult thing. It is obviously a difficult thing to handle. The Conservatives came in with crime as one of their main pillars. They were going to fight crime, hopefully not perpetrate it.
In that agenda we have seen time and time again the ineffectiveness of the law. Presenting this minimum mandatory piece to specifically address drug crimes and say it will go after the big gangsters is a little reminiscent of the initial attempts at prohibition in the U.S., when the logical idea, which was probably said in Congress at that time during the debate, was to simply stop the alcohol runs, bust them up, just Eliot Ness them all. That would do it. That would stop all that illegal Al Capone business.
How did the U.S. stop it? It went after the money. It went after their taxes. It followed the money and then sucked dry that element of organized crime and alcohol and then lifted prohibition in that case.
How do the Italians pursue it now as they go after the Mafia? Do they run around giving minimum mandatory sentences? They go after the money. Time and time again, they go after the money.
What is the focus of organized criminals? They are in it for the money. If they could sell widgets and make this kind of cash, they probably would too. I hope the government does not ban widgets. One never knows; there may be a whole organized widget system going on and people will suffer under that as well.
We have to understand that if the government is serious and intends to craft better laws to fight organized drug crime in Canada, it must at least do two things to satisfy this place. One is to present the evidence that shows they work, because other jurisdictions have tried. The second is to present, as a choice for government, that the costs incurred, which the government has not admitted to yet and pretends it does not know, are justified, that this is a good choice in the four pillars.