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House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.

Topics

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

November 1st, 2010 / 11 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

moved that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-510, known as Roxanne's Law, and I do so on behalf of Roxanne's family, including her sister, Ana Maria.

This legislation would give much needed protection to pregnant women, empowering them to press charges should someone coerce them into ending their pregnancy.

The day Roxanne Fernando arrived in Canada from the Philippines was one of the best days of her life. She had been waiting a long time to see her sister again. Roxanne's life in Canada started off so well as she easily made friends. After her friend Sandy got her a job as a server at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg, Roxanne quickly became everyone's favourite. Sandy recalls the time when Roxanne was out with about eight co-workers after their shift and, when no one was noticing, Roxanne paid for everyone's dinner. They all pleaded with her to take their money knowing the humble means that she had but she would not take their money. Her friends meant a lot to her.

Roxanne was also excited about her new boyfriend. She met her boyfriend at a restaurant where they both worked. What started as a normal relationship, changed quickly when Roxanne became pregnant in early 2007. Roxanne's excitement at being pregnant was not shared by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend immediately began threatening and coercing Roxanne into having an abortion. After being rejected the first time, her boyfriend returned to continue the pressure and threats but in the end Roxanne would not change her mind. Roxanne was choosing to have her baby.

Unfortunately, her boyfriend would decide to take his coercive threats a terrible step further and devised a plan to kill her. Her boyfriend and some friends he hired beat Roxanne to the edge of death with a hockey stick and left her in a snowbank to die.

Roxanne's final moments are very disturbing. Roxanne likely cried out for help in that field and she died thinking no one could hear her. Today, however, in the House of Commons her voice is being heard.

This bill might be based on Roxanne Fernando but there are many Roxannes across this country and, sadly, many of these vulnerable women are often targeted for violence. When women find themselves in dangerous situations and without specific legal protection, they may feel that an unwanted abortion is their only option. Roxanne's law would empower pregnant women to take legal action should they be intimidated and pressured into ending their pregnancy. Had this bill been in place in 2007, it would have been much easier for Roxanne to press charges against her boyfriend when he was coercing her to end her pregnancy.

Bill C-510 would communicate to all Canadians that coercing a woman to end her pregnancy against her will is wrong and unacceptable in a nation that values compassion, justice and human rights.

Roxanne's Law would not affect women's access to abortion in any way. With this law in place, Canada will continue to have no legal restrictions on the procedure permitted in all nine months of pregnancy. However, t for those women who choose to have their baby, this law would give them added protection to fulfill their hopes and dreams of having a family.

Pregnant women are not adequately protected by our current laws. Our current laws against coercion and uttering threats do not specifically address the issue of abortion coercion. Roxanne's story demonstrates that this type of coercion takes place but I am not aware of any cases where a person has been charged under our existing laws. This is proof that clarity in our law is necessary.

Roxanne's Law, Bill C-510, would clarify the law by defining what exactly constitutes coercive behaviour in the context of an unwanted abortion, making such behaviour a criminal offence and liable to imprisonment for a period ranging from 18 months to 5 years, depending on the circumstances. This would send a clear message to everyone in Canada that coercing a woman into ending her pregnancy when she has chosen to remain pregnant will not be tolerated. Knowledge is power and such clarity will empower women with the knowledge of their rights.

As a result, coercive behaviour toward pregnant women should decrease in the future and, hopefully, tragedies, similar to what happened to Roxanne, will be averted. When coercive behaviour does occur, women will be empowered to take legal action before the coercion escalates to more serious forms of violence.

Opponents of this bill have said that it would criminalize those who provide counselling to pregnant women. This is entirely false. Any discussion of the various pregnancy options in a non-threatening manner is perfectly legitimate. For added clarity, there is an exemption in clause 3 of the bill for speech related to lawful pregnancy options in any speech that is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Opponents have also indicated concern about the use of the word “child” in clause 3 as it pertains to the unborn. However, the Criminal Code's language concerning a pre-born baby currently uses only the word “child” and, in the interests of simplicity, there is no reason to add a new word.

The member for Halifax has suggested that she would prefer using the word “fetus”. Although that term is currently not used in the Criminal Code, an amendment to introduce that term and use it instead of “child” could easily be made at committee. This change would not alter the intent of Roxanne's law and would likely be accepted as a friendly amendment.

What do the international and legal communities say about coerced abortion?

At the International Conference on Population and Development, the international community agreed, in paragraph 8.25 of the ICPD program of action that:

Coerced abortion is explicitly recognized as a violation of basic human rights and principles.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board has strongly condemned coerced abortion.

In a 2004 case, a Chinese woman, who had been involved in carrying out China's so-called family planning policies, was claiming refugee status in Canada. Thomas H. Kemsly, who wrote the decision, referred to forced or coerced abortion as “a crime against humanity”, ”an act of barbarous cruelty that shocks the conscience”, and “contrary to human dignity”. “Forced” abortion was considered “to include situations when a woman 'agrees' to an abortion after extreme, unrelenting psychological pressure and threats”. Because of her involvement in forcing and coercing women in China to end their pregnancies, this woman was found to have committed crimes against humanity and her claim for refugee status in Canada was thus denied.

Not only do we deny refugee status to those who have committed forced or coerced abortions abroad, but we also protect refugee claimants who are targets of such coercive policies. The Refugee Protection Division of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board has granted protection to women who fear being victims of China's one-child policy.

For example, one claimant who had become pregnant a second time in violation of that country's one-child policy was arrested when she was eight months' pregnant and forced to end her pregnancy. The refugee division found that she had been persecuted by being forced to have an abortion and that there was more than a mere possibility that she would suffer either another procedure, forced sterilization or both if she returned to China.

Clearly, then, we know that when justice and compassion demands this, it is given to our refugee claimants.

It is now time we act justly and compassionately when it comes to women who face coerced abortion right here in Canada. It is now time to give Canadian women legal protection against the same coercive behaviour we condemn at refugee hearings and use as a basis for granting or denying refugee status. It is now time for Roxanne's law.

Roxanne's law would help vulnerable women to safety continue a wanted pregnancy by acting as a deterrent to coercive behaviour. Roxanne's law would empower to press charges should someone attempt to coerce them into ending their pregnancy. Bill C-510 would become a new tool in the fight against domestic abuse.

We cannot continue to ignore the dangerous situations many pregnant women find themselves in when they choose to continue a pregnancy. When a pregnant woman is faced with intense and repeated pressure to have an abortion against her will, her ability to bring her wanted child safely to term is threatened. No one has a right to threaten, intimidate or badger a woman into ending her pregnancy just because that person thinks her child is an unwanted burden. No pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby.

I repeat that no pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby. A compassionate society such as Canada cannot abandon a woman who is already dealing with the many challenges of pregnancy when she is facing such intense threats and coercion. Surely we have an obligation to give a woman the best chance possible to bring her wanted child safely to term. Bill C-510 would provide explicit protection so that a mother could make it safely through the pregnancy and fulfill every parent's greatest wish to have a healthy child.

Our own Supreme Court of Canada emphasized this obligation and recognized the value of pregnancy in Dobson v. Dobson:

Pregnancy represents not only the hope of future generations but also the continuation of the species. It is difficult to imagine a human condition that is more important to society.

Abortion is obviously a very emotional issue that divides Canadians. There are intelligent and passionate women and men on each side and this bill does not judge either side. I hope that no matter how each of us feels about this issue, we can join together to protect women who are being threatened and intimidated into having abortions they do not want. For Roxanne's sake and for the many women who suffer from this form of abuse, I hope we can look past the rhetoric and provide them with some much needed protection.

A few weeks ago I spoke at a banquet at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg. As I often do these days, I told the story of Roxanne Fernando. All of the staff in the room were welling up with emotion. After I sat back down in my seat, a few of them came over and told me that Roxanne had been serving in that very room just a few years ago. They were her co-workers and friends. It was a stark reminder of how connected this person was to my home community and how important it is to remember Roxanne for her bravery.

I ask my fellow members of Parliament to honour the memory of Roxanne Fernando, to stand up for pregnant women and to vote in favour of Bill C-510 at second reading. Roxanne Fernando is a Canadian hero.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I want to express my appreciation to my colleague for his courage in bringing this bill forward. It is a necessary bill.

I was surprised to hear how strong the international community feels about coerced abortion in terms of intimidation and threats, and pressure that can be applied by the state. I am wondering if he would talk more about whether there should be a distinction made between state coercion and personal coercion in this issue.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the focus of the bill is primarily on domestic abuse and personal coercion. There are, though, other countries in the world including three in Europe that have laws such as what is being proposed. France, Italy and Germany have passed laws that make it an offence to coerce a woman into ending her pregnancy.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it very difficult to debate this bill today because we are once again debating abortion. Regardless of what the member for Winnipeg South would have us believe, this bill reopens the abortion debate. In fact, his leader was so angry the day he introduced this bill that he even said he would not support it. The Prime Minister's spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, also stated that the government leader would not vote for this bill.

I cannot understand why the member for Winnipeg South still wants to debate this bill. I also cannot understand why he is still receiving so much support from his party despite the fact that his leader is refusing to support this bill.

They can try to dress this bill up and manipulate people in all kinds of ways, but the fact is that it would restrict access to freedom of choice. That debate is over. We do not need to talk about it again. It was clear last year when we debated maternal and child health. Once again, the member for Winnipeg South was very clear. He told people that some progress had been made and that more would be made in the coming year.

That is what he is trying to do with this bill, and he said so right here on Parliament Hill. The women of Quebec and Canada—the people of Quebec and Canada—are not fools. We understand perfectly well what he said and what he meant. He thinks that he made progress this year by convincing his government not to give women in developing countries access to a full range of family planning services. Yet we are well aware that thousands of women die every day because they do not have access to safe, sterile abortion services.

He said that he had made progress, and that more would be made in the coming year, with the introduction of this bill and with this attempt to manipulate public opinion. That is completely unacceptable. He hoped that by naming one person in his bill he would again appeal to people's emotions. I was touched by Roxanne's story, but the reason that the member gave for her death was not true. Roxanne's murderer, his defence lawyer and the crown prosecutor all said the same thing.

Will they stop lying? Will they stop manipulating the public and trying to make them believe things that are not true? It makes no sense.

I have been here for six and a half years now, and every year, for six and a half years, one, two or three members introduce bills to try to interfere with women's right to choose in this country. They will not succeed. They will not succeed because we will not give up. We will not give up our rights. To those who will say that the women of this country do not have the right to get angry, I will say that there are times when it is appropriate to get angry. This time, like many other times, I have a right to be angry. Men are trying to decide what is good for us, and I will tell them that I have a right to be angry because no one has the right to decide what is good for me. Once again, this government is trying to force us to adopt this kind of bill.

I was very angry this past weekend. Pro-life groups have been set up in various cities in Quebec and Canada.They are supposedly there to help women in distress, to help women who do not know what to do. These groups are supposedly there to help women who have a difficult decision to make and, supposedly, to be objective. But these groups spout all sorts of nonsense to these women. They tell the women who come to see them that the aborted fetuses are used by pharmaceutical companies to make lipstick. They say that the fetuses will be used for things that are not true.

Quite often, these groups are financed by people that we know. Quite often, they are supported by pro-life members of the government. I am ashamed to say that I am involved in a Parliament where a group of pro-life members supports organizations that lie shamelessly to women in need of help. It is not right to lie to women who need help. This bill will isolate young women even more, when what they need is to talk, be supported and be surrounded by people who understand them and by their families, friends and partners. They need advice.

At the age of 15, 16 or 17, we need to be surrounded by those who are closest to us. If the people advising these young women had the misfortune to be imprisoned because they told them that an abortion was their best option, imagine what these young women would have to live with for the rest of their lives? It would be frightening.

I cannot believe that members of the House will stand up and vote for this bill. I cannot believe it. I hope that all members will stand up and vote against it.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-510 is no more than a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize abortion providers and promote an anti-choice agenda. This is the fourth time in four years that a Conservative backbench member of Parliament has introduced an anti-choice private member's bill that masquerades as legislation that will protect women. In this case the member belongs to the secretive parliamentary anti-choice caucus.

Coercion is already illegal under the Criminal Code, section 264.1, and abortion counsellors are already screened for possible coercion in women seeking an abortion.

I must also point out that though the member for Winnipeg South claims that Roxanne Fernando was murdered because she refused to have an abortion, the murderer himself, his lawyer and the crown prosecutor all agreed that this was not the motive. The judge who presided over the criminal trial wrote this in his decision. Please read it:

The murder was apparently motivated by...[the defendant's] irritation and panic that Ms. Fernando, who was carrying his baby, was insistent on having a relationship with him.

I am extremely disappointed that the member would use the tragic murder of a young woman to push an anti-abortion agenda because what is quite clear is that this law would most likely be used against abortion providers and would have a chilling effect on women's access to abortion services.

Women in Canada already face challenges when trying to access abortion services. Canadians for Choice released a report in 2007, which noted that abortion services are only available in one out of six hospitals in Canada and that these services are poorly dispersed across the country, being concentrated mostly in urban areas. Some provinces refuse to fund abortion services, leaving many women with no choice.

If the bill is passed, it may restrict women's access to abortion even more, by criminalizing abortion providers.

The member for Winnipeg South is right on one point. Women do suffer abuse at the hands of their partners. Last week Statistics Canada reported that women continue to be about three times more likely to victims of spousal homicide than men. If the member for Winnipeg South were actually concerned about violence against women, he would urge his caucus and the Prime Minister to stop dismantling frameworks that address the systemic discrimination that women face.

Since 2006 the Conservative government has denied women access to justice by cancelling the Court Challenges Program, shut down 12 of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, cut 40% of Status of Women Canada's operating budget, removed question number 33 from the census, the question that dealt with unpaid labour, denied funding for research and advocacy on women's equality issues, removed the term “gender equality” from policy language at DFAIT, removed abortion from maternal health policies abroad and excluded federally regulated workers from chapter 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the pay equity provision.

It has been four long years of nothing but contempt for women by the government. Little by little the Harper Conservatives are dismantling frameworks set up to advance women's equality—

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind the member that she is not to use the name of other members of the House in her speech. She should refer to them either by their title or by their constituency.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

There are names.

In 1991, a committee report entitled “The War against Women” thoroughly studied the measures the federal government should take to reduce the violence faced by women. If the member for Winnipeg South really does care about reducing violence against women, I would urge him to read this report and work towards implementing the recommendations. The report explains that the vulnerability of women to violence is integrally linked to the social, economic and political inequities women experience as part of their daily lives, inequities exacerbated by the government of which the author of Bill C-510 is a member.

Tragically, violence against women has not been substantially reduced since that 1991 report. Women are far more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 2009, 43% of female deaths were women killed by a male intimate or ex-intimate partner, whereas 4% of male deaths were at the hands of a female intimate or ex-intimate partner.

While all deaths are tragic, we must be determined to advance women's equality because that is the only way to reduce violence against women. Canada does not have a comprehensive long-term plan to address women's equality. The Conservative government offers only band-aid solutions to systemic problems. In truth, the government is part of the systemic problem.

Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely to die from violence than other women in the country. Nearly 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered in the last 30 years, yet the Government of Canada is only now indicating it will dispense the $10 million of funding to address this violence. Even at that, the plan is inadequate. There is no mention of important healing programs for families and individuals. Most of the funding is for policing. That is not what first nations requested. They wish a comprehensive plan that includes support for the aboriginal victims of violence and their families.

When it comes to the women of this nation, we have the statistics, the studies and the reports from expert panels, but what we do not have is the political will to implement the long-term solutions that will reduce the inequity between men and women. The government could introduce a national child care program, make needed changes to maternity and paternal leave, provide adequate funding for legal aid, restore the court challenges program, help women with disabilities, implement real proactive pay equity, create a national housing program and invest in programs that would address violence against women. It could do all of these things, but that would require a real commitment to women, children and families.

Bill C-510 will do nothing to reduce violence against women. Like the other anti-choice private members' bills introduced by government backbenchers, it is a Trojan Horse. When we examine Bill C-510 carefully, we see it defines abortion as causing the death of a child. Currently under the law a fetus does not become a person until born.

This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status. Such an initiative could have significant ramifications in a number of different areas of law and opens a Pandora's box in the abortion debate.

In Canada women have been guaranteed rights and equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Persons do not gain legal status and rights in our society until after a live birth, as per the Criminal Code. Also, the supreme court has ruled that a woman and her fetus are considered physically one under the law, Dobson v. Dobson.

If we give legal rights to a fetus, we must automatically remove some rights from women, because it is impossible for two beings occupying the same body to enjoy full rights. If we try to balance rights, it means rights of one or both parties must be compromised, resulting in loss of rights. Legally speaking, it would be very difficult to justify compromising women's established rights in favour of the theoretical rights of a fetus.

It is also of concern that Bill C-510 essentially contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the past elections, their platform stated, “A Conservative Government will not...support any legislation to regulate abortion”.

Bill C-510 does just that. It initiates legislation that will effectively regulate abortion in Canada by changing the definition of the legal status of a fetus. It opens the door to making abortion illegal. Canadian women fought long and hard for the right to safe, legal abortions in Canada. Women have been forced to put their private lives under scrutiny in the courts in the fight for the right to choose.

I would like to take a moment to thank all the brave women, organizations and abortion providers who fought for our right to choose.

I urge all members of the House to recognize this bill for what it is, an underhanded attack on women's choice. I urge all members to vote against it.

If we are to sincerely, sincerely, honour Roxanne's memory, we will end violence against women. We will not tolerate the sham that has been perpetrated against the women of this country.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate at second reading on Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), also known as Roxanne's law. This bill was introduced by the hon. member for Winnipeg South in response to an incident that occurred in his riding in 2007.

Bill C-510 would amend the Criminal Code and create two new criminal offences. The first would be to coerce a pregnant woman to have an abortion and would carry a punishment of five years' imprisonment on indictment and 18 months' imprisonment on summary conviction. The second offence would be to attempt to coerce a pregnant woman to have an abortion and would carry a maximum punishment of two years' imprisonment on indictment and six months' imprisonment on summary conviction.

The bill defines several terms for the purpose of enforcement of this legislation, including the word “coercion”, which can include the following behaviour: committing or threatening to commit physical harm to the female person, the child or another person; committing or threatening to commit any act prohibited by any provincial or federal law; denying or removing, or making a threat to deny or remove, financial support from a person who is financially dependent on the person engaging in the conduct; and attempting to compel by pressure or intimidation including argumentative and rancorous badgering or importunity. However, it does not include speech that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Conversely, the bill does not define other expressions, such as “compel by pressure” and “rancorous badgering”. These are new terms that appear in this bill. The bill provides an exemption for a physician who recommends that a woman end her pregnancy for physical health reasons.

Lastly, the bill includes a very unusual provision related to severability, whereby any provision of the bill that is deemed invalid or unenforceable must be construed so as to give it the maximum effect permitted by law or, if that is impossible, it must be severed from the bill. This is an unusual provision.

Bill C-510 proposes making an offence out of certain conduct that is already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—again, already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—by way of offences such as assault (section 265 of the Criminal Code), uttering threats (section 264.1 of the Criminal Code) and intimidation (section 423 of the Criminal Code). It also proposes prohibiting interpersonal conduct, which is generally outside the traditional domain of criminal law—again, outside criminal law—such as non-violent disputes between spouses or between parents and their children where one of the parties is opposed to the continuation of the pregnancy and favours abortion. I am talking about non-violent conduct and discussions between various parties.

The proposed offences are likely to be difficult to interpret and subject to charter challenges because of the use of vague and undefined expressions such as, “compel by pressure”, which is quite new, and “rancorous badgering”, which is extremely new, because of the attempt to make the offence consistent with the charter by excluding from the definition of “coercion” speech that is protected by the charter, and because of the unusual provision, as I was saying earlier, with regard to severability, which hinders the discretionary power of the courts to order suitable restitution under the charter.

There are major legal difficulties with this bill and that is why I cannot support it.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I cannot say that I am pleased to be taking part in this debate on abortion, as I thought it was already over.

I have received some letters from Canadians about this bill. Rather than gave a speech, I will just read the letter that I sent in reply to inquiries which, for the most part, opposed this bill, although a few were in favour of it.

It states:

Dear [Sir or Madam]:

Thank you for your recent letter on the topic of Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), also known as “Roxanne's Law”.

This Private Member's Bill is a clear attempt to reintroduce an unwanted debate on abortion in the House of Commons. As such, I will not be supporting it at second reading.

I will not be recommending to my caucus members to support it at second reading. In fact, I will be strongly urging them not to support this bill at second reading.

It goes on to say:

The Prime Minister's office has also indicated, after some delay, that it does not support this legislation.

It is important to note that the remedies proposed by [the member of Parliament for Winnipeg South] are wholly redundant, as existing sections of the Criminal Code already apply to cases of “coerced abortion”.

I am referring to the provisions on uttering threats, assault and extortion.

Subsection 264.1(1) of the Criminal Code—Uttering threats—states:

Every one commits an offence who, in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat

(a) to cause death or bodily harm to any person;

(b) to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or

(c) to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person.

Subsection 265(1) on assault states:

A person commits an assault when

(a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;

(b) he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or

(c) while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.

It is obviously already covered under paragraph (b).

As for subsection 346(1), it states:

Every one commits extortion who, without reasonable justification or excuse and with intent to obtain anything, by threats, accusations, menaces or violence induces or attempts to induce any person, whether or not he is the person threatened, accused or menaced or to whom violence is shown, to do anything or cause anything to be done.

I will conclude my reading of the letter that I sent out in response:

It should also be noted that the sentences provided for in C-510, a maximum of five years for an indictable offence, are equal to or LESS than what is provided for in the provisions mentioned above. For example, the punishment for aggravated assault can go up to 14 years for an indictable offence.

Sincerely,

The Honourable...

And I signed my name.

The provisions of the Criminal Code on uttering threats, assault and extortion cover very well what Bill C-510 is trying to target. We do not need this bill to protect pregnant women who suffer pressure, threats, assault or extortion from a partner, the child's father or anyone else who wants them to have an abortion against their will or who wants to prevent them from having an abortion.

The Supreme Court of Canada already issued a ruling in a case that was famous in Quebec. A woman wanted to have an abortion, and her spouse at the time tried to prevent it by taking her to court. The Supreme Court ruled that he, or anyone else, did not have the right to force a woman to have an abortion or to stop her from having one, through threats, assault or extortion.

The member for Winnipeg South might have had good intentions, but he probably did not read the Criminal Code properly. If he is complaining that it is not being used, then we need to be talking to police forces to ensure that they enforce the provisions they already have. Furthermore, we must educate and inform women to ensure that they are fully aware of their rights when they have a decision to make about a pregnancy and that they know that the Criminal Code protects them against threats, extortion and threats of assault.

I will end there. I have no doubt that the member for Winnipeg South means well, but his bill is redundant, in light of the provisions in the Criminal Code that already deal with the situation addressed in his bill.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion). It is with some distress that I am rising to speak on this particular bill.

Many women who have fought long and hard for a woman's right to choose believe that this is a backdoor way of reopening the debate on abortion. This is a debate that over the years people have agreed not to reopen in Parliament. Part of the reason that women are so distressed and angry about this private member's bill is that they see it as undermining women's equality.

I want to acknowledge the member for London—Fanshawe, who argued that over the last five years we have seen an erosion of supports for women. Any number of programs are simply not available to women, including the court challenges program and access to universal child care.

I want to talk briefly about a definition of equality that the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has put forward. This definition speaks to why women are feeling as if their right to equality is being undermined. The definition of “equality” is as follows: “To achieve equality, all women must have the right to decide for themselves whether and when they will bear children, and how many. Without control of their fertility, women cannot have autonomy over their lives and cannot play a full and equal role in society”.

The right to autonomy includes both a woman's right to choose to have children and a woman's right to choose not to have children. In both circumstances, we would look to the state to provide the tools and resources to support women in their decisions.

With respect to a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, health care needs to be provided along with the necessary tools, resources, and supports. At the same time, when a woman chooses to bear a child, supports should also be in place. Some of this is health care, but a lot of it is pay equity.

The member for London—Fanshawe talked about pay equity. A woman should have a right to earn as much as a man. Women need a right to child care, not $100 a month, so they can raise their children to become contributing members of society. There are rights and responsibilities on both sides of this argument.

The opening of this painful debate arises from an event that was absolutely tragic. But coercion is not what we should be debating in the House. Other members have ably argued that the Criminal Code already prohibits coercive behaviour. One of the members opposite stated that he has grave concerns about whether this bill, as it stands, would be subject to court challenges.

I want to put this in a historical context. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has outlined Canada's legal situation. It states:

Canada first liberalized its criminal abortion law in 1969, allowing it to be performed in hospitals with the approval of a “therapeutic abortion committee.” But the law resulted in unequal access for women so the Canadian Supreme Court threw out the entire law in 1988. Although the Canadian legislature soon tried to re-criminalize abortion, the bill failed to pass. Governments have said repeatedly over the years that they do not intend to re-legislate against abortion. This leaves Canada as the only democratic, industrialized nation in the world with no laws restricting abortion. (Only two other countries have no laws: China and North Korea). Yet Canada has a relatively low rate of abortion compared to other industrialized countries and one of the lowest rates of abortion-related complications and maternal mortality in the world. Over 90% of abortions are performed before 12 weeks gestation, and 98% before 16 weeks gestation. These statistics prove that no laws are needed to regulate or reduce abortions, and that women and doctors can be trusted to exercise the right responsibly.

It is important to understand, in this context, that women and doctors can be trusted to exercise their rights responsibly. This underpins a woman's right to safe abortion.

The Supreme Court grounded the right to abortion in Canada's Constitution, where the primary protection cited was women's right to “security of the person.”

The Supreme Court has stated that women's equality rights are enshrined in Canada's Constitution. This is something to be kept in mind whenever we raise the issue of a woman's right to choose. It is clear that equality rights are enshrined in our Constitution, that these rights guarantee women the right to choose to abort, and that this right has been upheld in Canadian courts.

I want to turn to the bill before us, Bill C-510. It has been argued that it protects women and their rights. But this does not pan out when we start examining the bill.

On April 19, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada put out a press release that said it was wrong to pressure women into an abortion. I think we would all acknowledge that. None of us would say it is right to pressure women into abortion. The release also says that such pressuring does not occur on the grand scale often claimed by anti-choice propagandists, that It mostly stems from situations of domestic abuse.

As was referred to previously, a recent U.S. study examined reproductive control of women by abusive male partners. Some were pressured to have an abortion, but women also reported that their partners prevented them from obtaining or using birth control, threatened them with pregnancy, or forced unprotected sex on them. If they became pregnant and wanted an abortion, some partners threatened or pressured them to carry to term.

If we really want to protect women, we should make sure that women have access to transition houses and income equality. These things would give them a way out of abusive relationships. We should look for new ways to protect women from domestic violence. Women should not be forced to stay in relationships just because they do not see any way out, or because their communities do not have safe houses for them to go to.

The member for London—Fanshawe mentioned the murdered and missing aboriginal women. We saw an announcement on Friday that is heavy on enforcement and light on protecting women before they go missing or are murdered. Yes, we acknowledge that it is important to have the database and some other resources in place once women go missing, but what are we doing to protect them before they go missing? Where are the resources for them in their communities so that they have someplace to go when they are unsafe?

In their press release, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada gave several reasons that Bill C-510 is not needed or is suspect:

First, the bill is mostly redundant, because threats and illegal acts are already illegal under the Criminal Code.

A number of people have already touched on this. Under the Criminal Code, people can already be charged for uttering threats.

Second, counsellors already screen for possible coercion in women seeking abortion. Clinics do not perform abortions on women who are conflicted or being coerced. That protection is already in place.

Third, the bill patronizes women by implying they are frequently coerced into abortion, but the vast majority of women make their own decision to have an abortion and take responsibility for it.

Fourth, if the intent is to really protect women from abusive partners, we need better solutions that this bill. Women's safety and security is best assured by helping them win equality and autonomy.

I already talked about pay equity, affordable child care, legal aid, and other programs.

I would urge all members in the House to vote against Bill C-510 and work toward adopting other measures that actually protect women's equality.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reflect for a moment. I remember when I became pregnant for the first time. My husband and I were thrilled that our hopes and dreams of raising a family together would soon become a reality. I was so thankful that I had a loving and supportive husband to accompany me on this journey to motherhood.

As any woman anticipating the birth of her child will tell you, the unique experience of pregnancy is exciting, scary, exhilarating, and emotional. It is filled with many ups and downs. With all the changes and challenges, hopes and fears that pregnancy and expectant parenthood can bring, pregnant women need much support. I cannot imagine the loneliness and rejection a vulnerable young woman must feel when those closest to her, like a boyfriend, husband, mother, or father, would not be there to support her decision to have a baby and who would, even worse, actually threaten, intimidate, and pressure her into terminating the pregnancy she wants to bring to term.

As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I began bonding with my baby. I cannot describe what that feels like. Only the pregnant woman who is carrying that baby, fetus, child, whatever you want to call it, inside her womb can know exactly what it means, what it feels like to be the sole source of sustenance for this tiny human who is totally dependent on her for survival.

Whether or not the pregnancy is planned, who has the right to tell that woman that what she is carrying inside her is a burden and must be disposed of? Who has the right to coerce her into ending her pregnancy, thereby ending her chance to give birth to her baby? No one has that right. That is why we need Roxanne's law. We need to protect pregnant women, especially when they are at their most vulnerable, from being coerced into having abortions they do not want.

It is well documented that women can suffer tremendously after having a miscarriage. When a woman loses a wanted pregnancy, she can experience intense feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt for not having been able to keep her unborn child safe. Many people cannot fully comprehend the extent of the grief a woman suffers after a miscarriage, because they do not understand the bond that has already begun to develop between her and her unborn child.

I can imagine that a woman who has been forced to have an abortion would suffer at least as much and perhaps more, because the loss would not be accidental. Instead, the loss results from a cruel and deliberate exploitation of her vulnerability by someone she should be able to trust and depend on.

Research shows that when women feel pressured into having abortions they are at increased risk of suffering negative psychological outcomes. A 2005 study published in General Hospital Psychiatry found that male pressure on women to abort was significantly associated with negative abortion-related emotions in the two years following an abortion. A 2004 study in the Medical Science Monitor found that pressure to abort was predictive of adverse psychological adjustment following the abortion experience.

Some people have said that we do not need such a law because coercion does not happen. In many cases, women freely choose their abortions, but we also know from anecdotal evidence that many other women are coerced.

When enacted into law, Bill C-510 will send a clear message that coercing a woman to end her pregnancy against her will is wrong. It will send a message to women that the law is there to protect them, so that if someone attempts to coerce a woman to have an abortion she does not want, she can press charges before it is too late for her and her baby.

When Roxanne's law comes to a vote next month, I will stand up for pregnant women and for motherhood. I will remember Roxanne and be grateful for the small part I have played to bring some good out of her tragedy.

An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law)Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar will have five minutes when the House returns to this matter.

The House resumed from October 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-47, the sustaining Canada's economic recovery act.

When reading reports or listening to speeches on economic issues, it is often possible to be overwhelmed by numbers, statistics and projections. However, beyond these figures and complicated tables are human stories of Canadians simply trying to build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities in times that are increasingly less certain.

As we all know, seniors across Canada face some of the most pressing challenges in terms of maintaining a decent living for themselves. Upon retirement, the vast majority of Canadian seniors see a significant reduction in their income. Whether they have managed to purchase their own homes or not, the expenses they face can appear daunting to them as they enter their retirement years. Indeed, these expenses are significant to those on fixed incomes.

These expenses include electricity, gas, food, home maintenance, property taxes, transportation costs, health costs in terms of prescriptions and assistance devices, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, all of these expenses are increasing as time passes, while income, particularly retirement income, simply does not keep pace.

It is for this reason that we as a society must recognize that our population is aging and that many of our seniors find it difficult to make ends meet. The challenge will only become more acute in the coming years.

While public policy encourages Canadians to save for retirement, it is widely recognized that only one in five Canadians has an employment-based retirement pension plan. It is a simple fact that most Canadians without an employment-based pension plan have little left over to save for retirement.

While others may save independently, many Canadians are relying on the Canada pension plan to support them in retirement and these payments are simply not enough to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Those are some of the challenges for seniors in Canada.

We as a society must recognize that we have an obligation to consider fully the unique challenges facing Canadian seniors. We have an obligation to consider the kind of programs and initiatives to ensure that those who have worked hard all of their lives can live decent and meaningful lives when they retire.

We need to have serious discussions in this country about public policy considerations, such as reducing property taxes for seniors or providing a rebate for these payments through tax policy, increasing assistance for those who need prescription medications or specialized in-home medical care, and proper community support systems that are adequately funded. These are only a few of the areas of concern.

We owe it to seniors in this country to ensure that they can enjoy their hard-earned retirement years.

Similarly, many young families in this country are struggling, which should not be the case in a prosperous country like Canada. It is shocking and intolerable that, according to a 2008 report, one in nine Canadian children lives in poverty. That is one million children who must contend each day with the terrible reality of poverty.

These are working families who, at the end of the month, simply do not have enough money to cover all of their expenses. It is this kind of poverty that is vicious, in that it is circular in nature. It traps people in a cycle of poverty which in most cases is difficult to escape.

Recently, the Senate of Canada released a report on poverty, “In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness”. The report contains 74 recommendations that should be considered. These recommendations include a call to increase the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, a national affordable housing program and to make the disability tax credit refundable. We must consider these kinds of public policy initiatives.

I would remind members that it was the previous Liberal government under Prime Minister Paul Martin that began to invest in affordable housing for the first time in a generation. It was also the Liberal Party which, in the last general election, had a specific plan to address poverty in Canada in general and child poverty in particular.

Young people in this country require an increasingly specialized level of education if they are to have any chance at all of competing in the rapidly changing global marketplace. It is only the fortunate few who, through family or other means, have the resources to fully cover the cost of their education. The reality for most students is that they work while attending post-secondary institutions. They also assume large student loan debts which will hound them for years to come.

It is incumbent upon us as a society to have serious debates about what we can do to address the issues facing young people who are increasingly leaving school with unmanageable debt loads which they assumed simply so they could obtain an education.

Not only is it in the best interests of the students to attend school and become as competitive in the world marketplace as they possibly can, but it is also in the best interests of our country.

The future belongs to our young people. We need to do all that we can to position them well as they enter their working lives. For them to do so with the burden of enormous debt is not the way to achieve this goal. We must look at ways to make post-secondary education more affordable and less burdensome. Today unfortunately the opposite is happening.

Universities and colleges are facing ever increasing fiscal pressures and as a result are charging higher fees. Students, even those who are fortunate enough to find work during their years of study, have to borrow more to cover their education costs. We need to lessen this burden and adequately fund our elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools.

There is an infrastructure deficit in this country which, several years ago under the previous Liberal government, began to receive the attention it deserved. The global economic meltdown in 2008 forced many of these reports from the front pages. If we are to remain competitive and in order to sustain healthy cities and communities, we must have a plan of action that is well-funded to repair or replace and sustain infrastructure across the country.

It is simply not reasonable to suggest that we can remain competitive when our infrastructure is aging and in disrepair. In my home city of Toronto there are sewage systems that are over 100 years old and clearly in need of replacement. This story is repeated across the country. As the previous Liberal government had begun to do, we need to start addressing the infrastructure needs of Canada's cities and communities.

I recognize that in the hue and cry about fiscal realities the inevitable question is, how does one pay for the kinds of programs and initiatives mentioned in my remarks today? It is about priorities and putting in place the public policies we need to get the job done.

How can it be that the government can find $1 billion to cover the costs of a 72-hour meeting in Toronto and Huntsville which produced questionable results, and yet when it comes to poverty, the cry is that there is no money to be found? That $1 billion would have gone a long way in helping to address poverty in this country. It would be better spent in this way than on photo ops and closed door meetings.

Similarly, the government maintains there is no money to fund students or address the needs of seniors and young families, yet it continues on a program of corporate tax cuts in the billions of dollars.

Canada's economy is competitive. Corporations are effectively competing on the world stage. We would do better to cancel the billions of dollars in tax cuts for the large corporations and instead channel that money into the areas I have referred to in these remarks. We need to be building schools and hospitals with this money, not corporate office towers. We need to be helping young people go to school, not world leaders at meetings of dubious value at billion dollar conferences.

The reality is that we must adopt public policies that would help Canadians and their families to live the lives they deserve. We can be prosperous and prudent, compassionate and responsible. We can also be progressive and sensible. This is how we build a nation in which all have the opportunity to excel. In so doing, we help create what is considered to be the greatest country on earth.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for Davenport for making an effort at putting on the table a discussion about a vision the country ought to have through the House of Commons.

I went through Bill C-47 and I am sure he did not find that macro-picture which the government says it would like to address. It is another little Chihuahua piece of legislation: lots of bark but very little bite. Here is where the bite is, and I would like the member for Davenport to address this.

There are some very light issues in this legislation about what the government is trying to do in order to maintain the sustainability of the recovery, and yet as part of this package, in part 2 of the bill the government is asking for the authority to impose a $3.2 billion tax on air travellers. One wonders whether the sustainability of an economic recovery would be maintained by hiding taxes in a piece of legislation that is allegedly designed to do something more.

Is this another one of those cases where it is sound bite legislation, lots of sound and no bite?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague and I would probably agree that we are concerned about what is in this legislation, but we are also concerned about what is missing from the legislation. What is missing is the whole idea that as a society and as legislators, we are responsible for the social building blocks of this country, and what I see is that they are being slowly eroded and dismantled. We are not putting enough into both our social infrastructure and our physical infrastructure.

I am very much concerned about the direction in which we are going and where our priorities seem to lie. We want to make sure that we are investing in our communities and our social infrastructure, and that we also look at changing some of the policies and directions. We have an aging population. We have crumbling infrastructure. We have cities in need. We have problems of youth unemployment. Are they being addressed? My concern is that unfortunately they are not being addressed in this bill.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the Liberals' new-found conversion to our cause which for a very long time has been to scale back corporate tax cuts so that we can invest in the real priorities of Canadians. I have to say that it is a bit of a death-bed conversion that we are seeing here.

The corporate tax cuts did not just start under the current Conservative government. In fact, they were started and expanded under previous Liberal governments. Now we find ourselves in a situation where the current government is borrowing $20 billion to fund its additional corporate tax cuts, when we already know that our corporate tax rates are much lower than those of our nearest competitors south of the border.

The Liberal Party in fact supported all of those tax cuts and the budgets in which we found them, either by voting with the Conservatives to keep them in power or by abstaining, thereby in essence still allowing those policies to pass.

I wonder whether the member could comment on how long this conversion will last. Will it be only until the next election and then the Liberals will reverse their position yet again? How can Canadians have faith that the Liberal Party has actually truly agreed that corporate tax cuts need to be cut, and the shift of the tax burden has to move away from individuals to corporations?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has been no conversion because we do not see politics as a religion, nor are we concerned about ideology. We are much more concerned about getting things done for Canadians.

We have to look at things also in a practical way. When the economy is healthy and things are growing, when we think we can afford a tax cut, we will have to put a tax cut in place. When there is a different scenario before us and Canadians are in need, then let us invest in the social infrastructure.

It is not a question of converting from one ideology to another. We do not believe in conversions of ideology. We believe in getting practical things done for Canadians when it is the right time to do them. We have always done things in a practical and meaningful way. That is the direction in which I would like to see the country go. I think the vast majority of people who are in the middle actually believe that is the best way to move forward as a country, not in an ideological way either from the right or the left.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to take the Minister of Finance on a little trip down memory lane to December 2008.

After a rather mean-spirited budget, the finance minister invited the opposition members to come forward with some issues from their ridings. I was asked, so I made some submissions. I talked to my constituents and we gave a submission to the finance minister in January 2009 and there was quite a list there. The sad part is that most of it was not taken care of over the last two years.

There were some things done because of the Auditor General. She brought forward the issue of Marine Atlantic in her report and how Marine Atlantic definitely needed more money for infrastructure. When we look at the importance of Marine Atlantic since Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation, it was part of the Confederation deal that it would be maintained, that goods and services would be able to travel freely across the strait to Newfoundland and from Port aux Basques and Argentia back to North Sydney.

The last few years have been really desperate in terms of the amount of infrastructure that went into terminals and into the vessels. The Auditor General noticed this, and yes, there was some money put forward to Marine Atlantic, so I have to give credit where it is due on that one.

When we look at the action plan, on page 18, the Conservatives talk about the $62 billion, over 16,000 projects and 12,000 already completed. It is kind of shocking when we look at what has not been done in Cape Breton. I brought it up in the House on Friday. I had a question to the Prime Minister about the public building that should have been in Ingonish, a $10-million building, the same as was spent on the Prime Minister's promotion budget. The building in Ingonish would house Parks Canada, DFO and the RCMP. It was well put together by public works. It was an efficient building. It was an environmental friendly building. But the Conservatives took it off the table. It should have been in one of those 16,000 projects. It was a win-win situation for those three departments that are so important for northern Cape Breton.

Also in northern Cape Breton we had the Cape North arena, which should have been one of the projects. We have projects right across. The most work was done by the community, and the Province of Nova Scotia has put some money in. Even the municipality of Cape Breton, CBRM, came forward with a couple of million dollars, and it is a fairly poor municipality when we think about how it tries to make ends meet. However, it put this money together for the dredging of Sydney Harbour.

I have asked this question many times in the House. It was part of the submission that was given to the finance minister at that time, that this was the number one priority for Cape Breton. So it is not that he did not know about it. The stakeholders and the municipality and the province all stepped up to the plate on this, but where is the federal government? It is nowhere to be seen, nowhere in this action plan. I do not know if the Prime Minister knows where Cape Breton is. He should come down. The whole Liberal caucus came down there this summer and had a great time. The Prime Minister should do this thing, especially when all the stakeholders are stepping up to the plate, and get this harbour dredged. It would mean so much for the future prosperity of Cape Breton.

Right now, coal boats come in half filled because they cannot come through the harbour. It needs to be dredged. We have a growing tourist industry on the cruise ships, up over 50% over the last few years; and of course, the dredging would open it to a container port. We have companies ready to step up to the plate to have a very modern container port in Sydney Harbour, but they need the dredging done. This government needs to step up to the plate and get it done.

Another issue that was brought forward and we were hoping to see in the budget is permanent employees at Citizenship and Immigration. Right now, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Sydney, Cape Breton, does a lot of processing for immigration. There is a steady flow of immigrants coming into this country, so it is no shock to know how much work needs to be done on these files, but they continue to lay off the employees.

They laid them off again last year and the backlog in the immigration file started increasing again. Now they are hiring them back. It is a totally disruptive system that they have going, not only for the employees but also for the immigration process, as many of the members here know with people coming to their offices trying to get their applications processed. There are 160 jobs. The union and the representatives came to the immigration committee of the House. They showed their case and how important it was. That should have been in the budget.

I am also the critic for rural affairs and I would like to talk about the rural issues that are not being taken care of. Last year was rough on a lot of farmers out west. It was a cold spring and a very wet fall.

My colleague, the hon. member for Malpeque, visited the farmers in Manitoba. He had a hard time getting in the fields. There was a lot of water in the fields and they are in rough shape.

It has been a rough year, when we look at the numbers in terms of crops that are being harvested. What do my colleagues from the Conservative Party bring to the House to talk about? The long gun registry. That is all they talked about this fall.

Why did they not talk about the conditions that the farmers were facing and how we as Parliament can help these farmers through their crisis? But no, it was not brought up in the House. It took the member for Malpeque to go out there, visit these fields and talk to the farmers. They want action not only by the members, but by the Prime Minister.

It is sad to see what is happening to our pork and beef producers and we do not see the government stepping up to the plate.

Another issue is what is happening with the lobster fishermen. I have many small communities that rely on the lobster industry. They had a very bad year last year, not only because of the amount of fish they were catching but also the prices.

We were thinking that perhaps the Conservatives were listening and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans came out with a policy. My hon. colleague from Cardigan said it was not enough money and it will not be accessible for those fishers, and he was right.

We found out later that most of the lobster fishers could not receive the money, and the little they did receive did not go anywhere. So the program they had to help the lobster fishers was a total failure.

We wonder where the money is going for rural Canada. We do not see it. We do not see it going to the fishermen and we do not see it going to the farmers.

However, they had another opportunity, which is part of our platform, and that is to recognize the volunteer firefighters. The work they do in these small communities across Canada is unbelievable. They are sometimes the mainstay of a small community. Many times these young men and women who are working for volunteer fire department have to put all their courses into it. It would have been a great opportunity to have had a tax credit of $3,000 for them in this budget. It would have shown respect. It would have helped to encourage them, because they are the lifeline for these rural communities.

As the critic for rural affairs, I cannot believe how little was done on the Conservative side. There was so much opportunity. When we look at the amount of money that was spent on signs, photo-ops and building fake lakes, and promotion of the Prime Minister's office, a lot of that money could have gone into these small projects across the country. It could have helped farmers, fishers, and small communities and we would have had something to show for it.

What do we have now? A big deficit. We could have seen the money go to the areas where it should have gone, but what we see now is a big deficit. The previous Liberal governments invested in communities. We used to have the SCIF program, which helped small communities. It was a good program for the small communities. When a small community would step up to the plate with funds or volunteerism, the SCIF program kicked in. It was a program that could have really worked. The government did not have to reinvent the wheel and it did not break the bank.

What we see are many programs and initiatives that cost a lot of money that did not go where it should have gone and we definitely see it in Cape Breton.

I suggest that the Prime Minister visit there, stop playing politics with Cape Breton and get the projects done, especially the projects where the community steps up to the plate. Just get it done and if the government is going to do it, it should do it fairly right across the country.

I now will entertain questions from my hon. colleagues.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague will answer this question, because it is an important one.

When we looked through the budget implementation bill, looking for the government's response to what Canadians have been demanding, which is better action on the environment particularly dealing with climate change, there was a program, and it is rare for opposition to do this, that the government continued. The eco-energy program allowed Canadians to receive some support from the government to make their homes more energy efficient and to retrofit their homes.

We found that the take-up from consumers in particular, not so much on the business side but on the individual consumer side, was excellent. People were picking it up. We heard from contractors across the country. If we want to talk about stimulus spending, this was a good way to stimulate the economy. The contractors who were doing the renovations were often buying the products locally and doing the work, obviously, at a local level, and it was a way to stimulate the economy.

Instead, we saw the government continue its outrageous support of the tar sands with $2.1 billion. I am asking my hon. colleague, is this in any way a balanced response to the demand coming from Canadians to deal with environmental issues and to help control their own costs, such as home heating, in these very difficult times?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the environment was brought up.

Since we are talking about the environment and how we stepped up to the plate, there were two big environment projects that had to be done in Cape Breton. One was the Sydney tar ponds. It was the worst site in Canada that to be cleaned up. There was almost $400 million announced through our government to clean up that site and it is getting done now.

We also had the former coal mines in Cape Breton that were getting cleaned up. That was a big environmental issue.

No doubt about it, the environment is still a big issue for Cape Breton because we have so many fishing communities. Time and again, as the tides are rising and the water is getting higher, we are having problems with our breakwaters and wharves.

The hon. member mentioned this program, which was a good program and should have been continued for another year. It dealt with making homes more energy efficient and there was a tax credit. I am ashamed that the government took it away.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Sydney—Victoria two questions, very briefly.

The first has to do with the constitutional obligation of the Government of Canada to Marine Atlantic and to the people of Sydney.

The second has to do with a question from my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso and the obligation of the Government of Canada to maintain the efficiencies and the reputation of Canada through the citizenship and immigration offices in Sydney.

First of all, in terms of maintaining the culture of continued growth, as the member for Sydney—Victoria asked me to attend Marine Atlantic in my capacity as transport critic at the time, we realize and we see that the government is not fulfilling its obligation. I wonder whether he would address that issue, the constitutional obligations of government to do that.

Secondly, why would the Government of Canada refuse to make the investment in a very large processing centre in Sydney so that we could eliminate that long, 18-month waiting period before an application for citizenship gets considered?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, those were two very good questions.

My hon. colleague came to Cape Breton many times and he has seen first-hand the importance of Marine Atlantic. People can go to the town of North Sydney and see the traffic and travellers who go back and forth and we rely on that service. It is critical for Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is critical for the economy in Cape Breton.

To neglect the investment in that piece of infrastructure is really going against the Constitution. There is no exception. We should not have the Auditor General having to step up to the plate for us on this one.

The citizenship and immigration processing centre in Cape Breton is quite a success story. People do a fantastic job. They process the applications quickly. There are not a lot of immigrants who come to Cape Breton but there are a lot who go to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. Every member in this chamber should realize the importance of processing them in an efficient, speedy manner.

We need to keep these people on full time, because they are trained and they can get the job done. In Cape Breton we can get the job done, and these guys need to learn how to get the job done.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, politics is about choices. In fact, one classic definition of politics defines it simply as deciding who gets what, when, where and how. When the government has made its choices, it lays them out in the single most important document that comes before Parliament, and that is the federal budget. It is essentially the blueprint for the government's plan between elections.

As an opposition MP, it is my role to hold the government to account for the choices it has made. It is a debate about competing visions and priorities. I acknowledge that things are not always black and white in politics, but I have never before seen such a huge disconnect between the priorities of the government and the priorities of my constituents. Whether we are talking about children, adults or seniors, the government simply is not reflecting the priorities of hard-working families on the Mountain. The Conservative government is making the wrong choices.

Let us look at children first. As policy makers, we know that for children to succeed in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, they must get off to the very best start. That is hard to do when far too many still go to school hungry. In 1989 the House of Commons unanimously passed an NDP motion to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000, but successive Liberal and Conservative governments have chosen not to implement it. An entire generation of children has paid the price for their misguided priorities.

In fact, under the tenure of the Conservative government, the child poverty rate has actually increased from 9.5% to 12%. It is a case of Nero fiddles while Rome burns. Instead of taking concrete actions to help the most vulnerable Canadians, the government is obsessing about providing additional tax cuts. However, tax cuts do not help the poor because their incomes are so low that they do not pay income taxes in the first place, so there is no tax rate to cut.

For middle-income Canadians, the benefit of their modest income tax decreases have been swallowed up by higher user fees, the rising cost of everything from gasoline to electricity and, of course, the HST, which is now costing the average Ontario family an extra $1,200 a year.

However, then the kinds of tax cuts that the Conservatives were proposing were not really intended to level the playing field for individuals anyway. On the contrary, the vast majority of cuts were corporate tax cuts, cuts that were specifically designed to benefit the Conservatives' friends in big business.

The Conservatives made a choice. They chose to put the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of kids. They are recklessly mortgaging our children's future by borrowing $20 billion for additional tax cuts to corporations, corporations that are already taxed less than their main competitors south of the border. It is just plain wrong.

There is a different choice that the government could and should have made. Imagine how far that money would go if we invested it in our children's early education. While the Conservatives would like us to think of child care as mere babysitting, all the evidence, from the groundbreaking Fraser Mustard report on, makes it clear that it is a critical investment in the future success of our children.

Parents understand that. That is why they are spending between $200 and $1,000 a month on child care, per child, to ensure their children get the very best start. The Conservatives ought to listen to these parents. Instead of providing their measly child care benefit, they should invest in universal, regulated public child care. That way they would be helping struggling families and giving children the best chance to succeed.

Make no mistake, families are struggling and are worried. They are worried because they do not know how they are going to make ends meet. They have a mortgage and they are barely able to make payments now. They are afraid of what is going to happen as interest rates rise. They are struggling to save for their retirement. They are struggling with the costs of higher education for their children. As part of the sandwich generation, they are struggling to take care of both their children and elderly parents.

In these difficult economic times, families are looking to the government for a little help just to ride out the storm, but the Prime Minister does not even acknowledge the challenges that hard-working Canadians face. He simply points to soaring bank profits and says that the recession is over. For him, if his banking friends are out of trouble, everyone is out of trouble. I see things differently.

There are 1.5 million Canadians still out of work. Six out of every ten Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. Household debt is at record highs. Life is more expensive than ever, and the HST has only made things worse. For me, the recession is not over until middle-class families are back on their feet. Canadians are in this together and a true recovery cannot leave anyone behind.

Bringing about that middle-class recovery is not just about spending money. There are a number of urgent, concrete steps that the government could have taken without spending a dime.

The government can and must protect Canadian jobs from foreign takeovers before they approve such buyouts. Once the purchase is approved, there is little the government can do to ensure that job and production levels are maintained. Due diligence must happen at the front-end. U.S. Steel's purchase of Stelco is a poignant example of what happens when the government fails to take job protection seriously.

Second, the government can and must help the innocent victims of this recession by ensuring that EI is expanded and extended. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments stole $57 billion out of the EI fund and used it to pay down their deficits. It was not their money. It accumulated solely from contributions made by workers and their employers. Workers have a right to the insurance they paid for and it is time for the government to do right by unemployed Canadians.

Third, the government can and must take on the big banks to halt the outrageous credit card interest rates. Canada is experiencing record numbers for household debt, $1.41 trillion, or $41,740 per person. That is the highest level of debt-to-financial assets ratio in the OECD, surpassing even Greece and the United States. The government can, and must, ease that burden and it would not cost a dime.

However then, the Conservatives are much more concerned about their friends in the banking sector than they are about hard-working Canadians. How else could one possibly explain that the very banks that posted profits in excess of $15 billion in the first three-quarters of 2010 received an additional tax cut of $645 million from their Conservative friends? Surely that money would have been better spent on supporting decent family-sustaining jobs, investing in blue/green industries and extending the stimulus commitments that were made to cities so that desperately needed urban infrastructure renewal would not end up on property tax bills. That would require the government to choose people over profits, and that just is not in the Conservatives' DNA.

Despite all the rhetoric, elderly Canadians are not on the government's priority list either. In fact, the Conservatives consistently put shameless self-promotion ahead of seniors.

The Conservatives spent $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo op at the G8-G20 summits. That included $1 million for a fake lake, $300,000 for a gazebo and bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray and sunscreen, over $300,000 for luxury furniture and $14,000 for glow sticks. The Conservatives would want us to believe that such is the price of hosting events on the world stage, but the security cost of the G8 in Italy was $124 million in 2009. The year before it cost $280 million in Japan. It cost $124 million in Germany.

Once again, it is about choices. For just over half of what it cost to host the G8-G20 in Canada this summer, we could have improved the guaranteed income supplement so no Canadian senior would have to live in poverty. The remaining $600 million would still have been higher than the expenditures on any other summit. Clearly, the Conservatives' claim of being fiscally responsible is not borne out by reality.

There are dozens of other examples, but just let me conclude with one other.

Out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs in our country is now more than 70% higher than it was in 1992. Canadian households are spending over $3 billion a year on prescribed medications. Seniors, in particular, are enduring financial hardship because of soaring drug costs. That means our health care system is no longer truly universal.

Instead of investing in a national pharmacare program, the Conservatives chose to spend $5.6 billion on bribing Ontario and B.C. to implement the HST. That just adds insult to injury. Not only do seniors still carry the growing cost of their medications, but they now have to come up with additional money to pay the HST on everything from haircuts to home heating. Even funerals are no longer exempt. How does the government expect seniors to make ends meet when everything goes up except their incomes?

The Conservatives have made their choices and acted on their priorities, but they are not choices that seniors can afford. For me, that makes them the wrong choices. It is time to say “enough is enough”. It is time to put seniors first.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the speech of my colleague from Hamilton Mountain was well-researched speech. I thank her for contrasting the choices that the government has made with respect to this budget.

Those choices include the billion dollars plus for the 72-hour G8-G20 meetings versus taking care of seniors and children in poverty. If there is any two groups of Canadians that we should be most attuned to, it would be those two, particularly the young folks as the choices were not made by them. They were born into certain circumstances.

The question I have is around the HST. I think a lot of folks listening and watching might not understand the perverse logic of how this tax came to be from the government.

Talks were initiated by the Conservatives in Ottawa to both Ontario and then later British Columbia because the government was running the largest deficit in Canadian history. The government borrowed money, more than $5 billion, to bribe Ontario and British Columbia to raise taxes on those same taxpayers.

I wonder if the hon. member can follow the logical stream in this from a so-called Conservative government, a government that was supposed to be interested in reducing taxes and reducing debt in our country.