Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to comment on the bill. Other speakers have commented on the repetitive nature of the speeches given by the government and by the minister. I imagine they are putting the photocopier in overdrive, given the essential sameness to these speeches and the vacuous content to them.
Pretty well everyone in this chamber, including my party, will support sending the bill to committee for further study. I do not propose to get into much in the way of the details about this study, but I would have preferred that the minister, when supporting and advocating the bill, would have come forward to the House with some costing of the anticipated increase in the prison population by virtue of a bill, which has both minimum mandatories and also increases the number offences. It stands to reason that the courts will be busier.
I note in the stakeholder reaction, the Insurance Bureau of Canada supports that. Why would it not support that? I support it, as a person who pays insurance on a regular basis for my vehicles and had my car stolen a number of years ago and returned intact five or six days later. This seems to be a particular problem to Winnipeg and to Montreal. I noticed that the Manitoba justice minister and the Winnipeg mayor, Sam Katz, support this bill, as do the Winnipeg police and, I dare say, as do most police forces.
I thought, however, that Rick Linden, a professor at the University of Manitoba, made an interesting observation. He noted that the bill was a good step forward and hoped that it would reduce crime. However, he makes note that it will only occur if we invest significant resources in police tactics, numbers and in implementing evidence-based prevention programs.
The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers is opposed to the bill because of issues of judicial discretion. They think, rightly in my judgment, that a judge should be given maximum discretion as to the allocation of sentencing.
The Crown Counsel Association is opposed to the bill. It thinks it will add to the workload of an already overwrought system, without any mention or apparent mention of adding resources to support the legislation.
Hence my concern with the way in which these bills come forward to the House with, frankly, no costing of any kind whatsoever. There is no costing on police resources, on prison facilities, on custodial facilities, no costing whatsoever. We are supposed to simply take this on faith that this is a good thing, that our streets will be safer and that this will be, in effect, a cost-free exercise.
I hear various Conservative members say “what price justice?” There is always a price.
I want to spend some time talking about the evidence given by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page, before the government operations committee yesterday with respect to the bill, truth in sentencing, which passed through the House. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has tried to establish the costs to the system if the bill is fully implemented. He is receiving no co-operation whatsoever from the government.
This was in response to a request from the member for Ajax—Pickering, where he tried to meet with the corrections officials. As he said in his testimony:
Over the course of this project, PBO encountered a number of challenges. Other than the initial communication between PBO and Correctional Service Canada, which is available on PBO's website, the PBO was unable to secure a single meeting with CSC officials in spite of repeated requests. Moreover, the PBO was unable to verify the government's own estimates, assumptions, or methodology for the various figures presented publicly. Much of the data used for the PBO report was sourced from the annual surveys by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, and from provincial and territorial correctional departments themselves.
In other words, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is our officer. He is the person who is charged by Parliament to cost the various initiatives put forward by the government and to fully inform members of Parliament as to the real cost of any initiative whatsoever.
In my judgment, we are looking at something similar here. In response to a question, the previous speaker said that there may be no cost whatsoever. He may well be right. I hope he is right. On the other hand, there may be significant costs.
In my view, if there is a minimum mandatory initiative put forward, the prison population is going to be increased. The prison population may well be increased significantly with no real impact on the actual rate of crime. It is not as if the people who are stealing these cars are the sharpest knives in the drawer. In fact, if they heard the phrase “minimum mandatory”, I dare say that pretty well 10 out of 10 would ask what we were talking about. I dare say that most of the population in Canada would have no idea what a minimum mandatory sentence is.
For those of us who do pay some attention to justice issues, a minimum mandatory is simply an elimination of a discretion on the part of a judge to make an appropriate sentence under all of the circumstances. It circumscribes his or her ability to fashion a sentence that he or she thinks is appropriate having heard all the evidence.
The more minimum mandatories there are, the more realistic it is to assume that this person will end up spending custodial time. Over a period of time, with the pileup of these bills, one after another after another, circumscribing and further circumscribing the discretion of judges, we will end up with an increased prison population.
What does that actually mean in terms of an increased prison population? The first thing it means is that there may or may not be any reduction in crime. The rate of crime generally goes up and down independent of whether there is an increase or decrease in the prison population.
Frankly, crime is, in and of itself, something where people who are committing crimes do not think they are ever going to get caught. They think that somehow or another they will be exempt from the possibility that if they steal this particular car or this particular vehicle, regardless of whether it is a Honda or a Dodge, they are not going to get caught.
The police are efficient in this country and they do catch a significant number of people. Therefore, those people end up in the justice system, having convictions, and frequently in a custodial situation.
This is a not a cost-free exercise. To wit, my point is that if a prisoner is incarcerated in a provincial system, the rough cost is about $85,000, and if a prisoner is incarcerated in a federal system, the rough cost is about $147,000 per person per year. That is a lot of money.
So even if the number of people who find themselves in a custodial situation is bumped by 1%, 2%, or 10%, the cost is actually bumped up rather significantly with no provable reduction in the actual rate of crime. That was the Parliamentary Budget Officer's core piece of testimony yesterday.
The truth in sentencing bill, like this bill, was not costed. We really have no idea as to how many more people will end up in jail. It seems reasonable to assume that more people will end up in jail. It seems reasonable to assume that more people will be bumped from the provincial system into the federal system. That was the point that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was making.
Since the Parliamentary Budget Officer could not actually get a meeting with Correctional Service of Canada, he could not get a meeting with the minister, he could not get a meeting with the departmental officials or the minister's officials, he therefore had to take documentation and material that was in the public realm. Based upon that information, he said that at a very minimum, that one bill alone, Bill C-25, the truth in sentencing bill, would cost $620 million on an annual basis.
Madam Speaker, $620 million is a lot of money. It is half a photo op, for goodness' sake. That is just on the basis of an increase. That is with no capital increase whatsoever. It is $620 million, give or take, increasing year after year, based on the assumption that the increase in the prison population is double-bunked. More people will have to be jammed into less space. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was working on the current occupancy rate of 90%, which are public figures put forward by Correctional Service of Canada.
If, however, the prison population is literally bursting at the seams by virtue of not only the Truth in Sentencing Act, but possibly this bill and other bills that the government wishes to put forward, we therefore are going to have to start building new prisons.
On building new prisons, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated a building program at something in the order of $300 million or $400 million a year. His estimate on what is currently passed, the truth in sentencing bill, is that the cost to the taxpayers of Canada would be increased by a minimum of $1 billion a year.
It actually gets worse than that. It is $1 billion a year for the federal government. However, the prison population would actually be increased on the provincial side of the equation as well, and the rough figure again is another $1 billion for the provincial authorities. So what do we have? We have an increase in the cost to the taxpayer of roughly $2 billion a year to put away more folks in prison, and that is on one bill alone.
That may or may not be true. I am perfectly prepared to accept my learned friend's argument here that this may not increase the prison population. However, both he and I, and everyone in this chamber, have not been told by this government what the actual cost might be. We have no costing. We have no figure as to how much more this will cost.
I want to emphasize again the point that this is an increase in a custodial population. More people would be put in jail. For some people, that is greatly satisfying, but the crime rate is not necessarily being reduced and we may or may not be achieving any form of justice.
Inevitably, with Winnipeg being a unique case, and certainly Regina as well, the populations represented in prison are the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable. There are aboriginals, minority groups of some kind or another, and frequently people with disabilities, whether those are learning disabilities, behavioural issues, mental issues, or things of that nature. We would be housing more of these kinds of people.
Again, that is a gross generalization. Certainly it is subject to challenge, but the government is not prepared to put forward the basic data that parliamentarians need in order to be able to assess the validity and viability of the bill.
The question was asked, why should we be concerned about this? In respect to the Truth in Sentencing Act, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said it will have significant impact on the correctional system, which is one reason we should be concerned about it. Parliamentarians should be concerned about how this will impact the fiscal framework and whether the budget actually reflects the cost pressures arising out of the bill.
The taxpayer is not an unlimited tap. We cannot just keeping going to this well. The taxpayer has limits. So if there is a limit and if this is the limit, we are going to have to start shifting resources. Where is the money coming from in order to increase Correctional Service of Canada's budget?
It is increasing the budget. It is one of five departments that are actually increasing the amount of money available for staffing resources and for facilities improvement. So where is it coming out of the fiscal framework? That is a perfectly legitimate question to ask and I encourage my colleagues on the justice committee to ask that very question.
Parliamentarians should be concerned about the lack of transparency to Parliament in the cost and by the Government of Canada. Parliamentarians should be concerned about the operational cost on the provincial-territorial issue.
During the Parliamentary Budget Officer's speech, his point was that at this stage it is roughly 50:50. If we are spending $1 billion in extra costs on truth and sentencing from the federal fiscal framework, we are going to be spending another $1 billion under the provincial framework. There is no indication we know of that the provinces are going to get an extra $1 billion in order to be able to house the inevitable increase in prison population.
However, it actually gets worse than that, because over time the federal share of the cost of this initiative reduces to roughly 44% and the corollary is that the provincial share increases to about 56%. If I am a provincial premier and I am looking for every dollar that I can find and I am trying to contain costs on health, education and the other appropriate responsibilities of provinces, I am going to be a little upset that I have to take a pro-rated share of $1 billion and find it for an increase in the prison population for which I had no say whatsoever.
In the case of my province, Ontario, if the number is an increase of $1 billion because of the increase in prison population, I am stuck with roughly 40% of that. So that is $400 million that the Premier of Ontario has to find, that he has no resources for, and he is receiving nothing from the federal government.
I thought the Parliamentary Budget Officer did us all a great service yesterday when he made a very sincere attempt to try to cost a previous piece of legislation, and I would draw a parallel between that legislation and this legislation. Whether it is greater than Bill C-25 or less, and I suspect that it is less, the principle still applies that members of Parliament should be given a fully costed analysis before they are asked to vote on the legislation.
At this point, we are all being asked to take things on faith. We are being asked to believe that this bill would make things safer and better for Canadians. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. On the other hand, it would be appropriate that members of Parliament, whether they are from government or opposition, actually know what the cost might be.
Is there something wrong with asking the question and expecting the minister and his department to be fully transparent on these kinds of initiatives?
As I say, our party will support the bill. This is potentially good legislation but it would be nice to know the cost.