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House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, in December 2007 and in February and March of 2008, the member for Ajax—Pickering made very serious allegations in the House, allegations which had no basis. He lacked the courage of his convictions to take responsibility for those actions until March 5. When he did so, he was then forced to come back into the House on October 8, 2010 and “apologize and retract the statements.” He had to apologize and retract those statements because they were not true.

The member for Ajax—Pickering misled the House and when he was called before a judge, he had to take accountability for his actions and apologize for his reckless lies.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I think the government House leader is aware that suggesting members have lied is not parliamentary and he should refrain. Whether the judge said so or not has nothing to do with it. The judge did not say it in the House, which is the point. Members can say what they like outside the House, too, but there are limits on what they can say in the House and one of them is referring to other members as the member has.

I know the government House leader will want to withdraw that.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the response from the government House leader has absolutely nothing to do with my point of order and my point of order has nothing to do with the member for Ajax—Pickering.

The point of order is that the answer is an attack on the dignity of the House. It is a violation of our collective privileges as a member. It is a very serious issue and it is an issue that I, as a member of Parliament, urge you, Mr. Speaker, to rule on.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am happy to rule. The member pointed out in his statement that members are free to ask questions in the House, and there was no restriction on the member asking his question.

The minister, in his response, may not have answered the question, but it is not the role of the Chair to decide whether a response is an answer or not to the question. Indeed, the Chair has no authority to rule an answer out of order unless the answer contains unparliamentary remarks or a personal attack on some other member.

It is not for the Chair to decide whether the content of a response is in fact an answer. As we have heard many times, that is why it is called question period not answer period. It is commonplace in the House.

While I sympathize with the hon. member's comments, and I know the government House leader might, too, in certain circumstances, it is not for the Chair to decide whether an answer or response given to a question constitutes an answer to that question. It is beyond the competence of the Chair to make that kind of decision under our practice.

For that reason, I do not think the hon. member has a valid point of order in this case.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also rise on a point of order. It has been the custom and convention of the House, and in fact, a welcome practice, that whenever there is confusion about documents, their existence or what was referred to therein, especially during the course of question period, the House has an opportunity to table those documents through unanimous consent. I would ask the House if I could take an opportunity to table documents that were indeed held in some confusion during question period.

There was reference to an October 21, 2010 letter from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, which I believe was also copied to the Minister of State (Seniors) for her own information, that was sent to a Canadian senior citizen and investment counsellor regarding changes to the application of eligibility criteria to the guaranteed income supplement program under the Old Age Security Act and the regulations and guidelines therein.

There was some confusion in the House as to whether that memo existed. The Prime Minister said that correspondence did not exist. I am very pleased today to be able to table it for the benefit all members.

I am sure members of the Conservative Party of Canada would not want to embarrass their leader and Prime Minister by denying this opportunity to set the record straight and will give their unanimous consent to table the following letter, which says that the minister responsible for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in her correspondence of October 21, 2010, acknowledged not only that her department and she herself changed the eligibility criteria but defended the practice, also giving the following caveat to her decision, which states, “However, in January of 2008, with a tax court case, OAS regulations describe the types of income that qualify as pension income for the purposes of the option provisions of GIS-OAS. Annuity payments such as RRIFs are indeed included in those options.”

She describes that she made a voluntary and discretionary judgment based on a court case that allowed her to do this. It does not say she must do this; it gave her the option to do it.

I will also table for the benefit of members the fact that the court itself said, advised, pleaded with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to review the rules—

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. The member seems not to be telling us which documents he is asking to table but is in fact describing various things in the documents. I would urge him to tell us which documents he is seeking consent to table and I will ask for that consent.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would now ask the House for unanimous consent to table the correspondence of October 21, 2010 from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to a Mr. Gerard Lee, as well as the court cases of Ward v. Canada and Drake v. Human Resources that the Prime Minister referred to during the course of question period.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte have the unanimous consent of the House to table these copies?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have noticed over the past 10 years that this dynamic of points of order has been used in ways that I think are not what they were intended for. I want to raise this in the House. This has come up before, when I was on the Board of Internal Economy, which was chaired by you, by members of the opposition and the government. We have raised this concern before and I want to perhaps put forward a suggestion with regard to the idea of points of order and the Standing Orders.

Each member of the House has a copy of the Standing Orders in his or her desk. We have question period in which opposition members can ask the government any questions they want, we have members statements before question period where people can declare what they want, and we have written questions to the House. We also have late shows, where if opposition members do not like the answers they got, they can use that mechanism as well.

Instead of using up time every single day, where we have question period and then, apparently, a rebuttal period, perhaps we should use points of order such that when somebody stands on a point of order, the member should first reference where in the Standing Orders there has been a violation of the protocol of the House and then make the case that the Speaker should appeal to their good judgment that the Standing Orders of the House have been violated.

Points of order are supposed to be about violations of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Instead, they are being used as a rebuttal period, using up good time that could be used to debate both government and opposition legislation.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am sure all hon. members sympathize with the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages on this point of order, but I point out that at least in respect of the request for tabling of documents we have had suggestions in recent days that if members want to make allegations, they ought to table documents. So now we are getting more requests for tabling of documents, obviously, in response to suggestions from the other side of the House. On that point of order, though the member may have gone on a little in describing the documents, which I pointed out, we have at least dealt with the issue.

On the other one, there sometimes are points of order as to contents of questions and answers. Sometimes they are not valid. Usually they are not because they are matters of debate, but the Chair will make decisions in respect of these matters and deal with them as necessary.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond and simply say that it is a normal convention of the House. Whenever there is confusion, the production of documents, and the tabling of documents in particular, is built into the Standing Orders as a means of providing greater co-operation and understanding of the issues by all members of the House. I am simply referring to a very long-standing tradition and a long-standing convention.

I know that hon. members would not want to embarrass their leader, the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, by not allowing those documents to be tabled, especially when their leader denied their very existence.

Therefore, I will ask again, Mr. Speaker, if the unanimous consent could be afforded to table those documents.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to three petitions.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 1st, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in relation to the supplementary estimates (B), 2010-2011, vote 95b under Canadian Heritage.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 23rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of committees of the House.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the 23rd report later today.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I am pleased to report that the committee has considered the supplementary estimates (B) under Justice for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011 and reports the same.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in relation to supplementary estimates (B) for 2010-11.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 23rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House earlier today, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, presented to the House on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, be concurred in.

It is an honour for me to move this motion and to have it seconded by the member for Malpeque, and I will be splitting my time with the member for Malpeque on this issue.

If we look at the content of the motion that is before the House, it asks something that is pretty simple. It asks that before we close down the prison farm program, a farm program that has provided invaluable effort to rehabilitate inmates over the last hundred years, the government should provide some modicum of evidence that the program was not working.

In committee it was fairly startling to learn that the Correctional Service of Canada is keeping no statistics when it comes to the effective rehabilitation of inmates who complete programs. It also keeps no statistics on whether those individuals were able to get jobs when they were released. Further, it keeps no statistics even on the costing of the program. The Conservatives refused throughout the debate in committee to provide what exactly was the cost of the prison farm program and how much money we would specifically save.

This motion asks that, before the government moves forward, in each of those areas they demonstrate that the program was not effective. Here is the reason. As I and our critic for agriculture had the opportunity to travel the country, we came to see really the most effective program that we have in corrections at helping inmates rehabilitate.

At the end of their sentence, just before they are released, inmates are given the opportunity to work in the prison farm program. It is a program that lets them work with animals and develop empathy. It lets them build the compassion that comes from working with another living thing. As we have seen in research from other jurisdictions, this type of work is now on the leading edge of making sure that when inmates are released they do not reoffend. At the bottom line, is that not what public safety really is all about, making sure that crimes do not happen either in the first place, or in this case, when somebody is being released from prison, that it does not happen again?

I had the opportunity to meet with the men who went through the prison farm program, to look into their eyes and see the difference it made in their lives, how transformational it was. I heard from a gentleman who was in a terrible situation. No one can excuse his crime, but it was not an easy situation. He was 19 years old. He had a step-parent who was abusing his mother, and through a confrontation when alcohol was involved, there was manslaughter. He took the life of the person who was abusing his mother, a crime he deeply regrets, but a situation that was deeply regrettable.

He talked about how the prison farm program changed him as a person, made him stronger, not just how it built empathy but the process of voluntarily, and understand that this program is voluntary, getting up at five in the morning and going to a farm and putting in 10 hours of work. They get to know the dignity of a job well done and understand the structure of work. For individuals who never really had that structure in their life before, it becomes transformative. In so many different ways, this individual was able to articulate how it made a difference in his life.

Then I talked to correctional officials, people who have been working in the prison farms in many cases for longer than 30 years. They told us there is no more effective program in corrections than the prison farm program. In every instance where I talked to a correctional official, they said when it came to the prison farm program there was not a single incident of violent recidivism. It is absolutely stunning that the government would axe a program that is that effective.

Its rationale ostensibly was twofold; one was the cost. Let us look at the cost.

The government is embarking on chasing after California, spending tens of billions of dollars on megaprisons, locking people up for longer and longer following a Republican model that leads to less safe communities and turns prisons into crime factories. It turns them into crime factories specifically because people go in for crimes, and instead of getting better, they face reduced or cut back programs. Conservatives are willing to spend billions of dollars on all these new prisons, but when it comes to a program that is effective and is proven to work, a model internationally, they do not have the dollars. How much are we talking about? The government tells us it is $4 million, but it will not give us a breakdown of that $4 million.

The Conservatives tell us no one is being laid off as a result of these closures. They tell us that they are now going to have to go to market to buy the milk and eggs that the program now provides for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Yet, they say that somehow there is a mysterious $4 million to save, on which they cannot give us any information.

Even if it does save $4 million, that represents two fake lakes. That is barely more than a second of G8 and G20 spending in a weekend. It is a pittance compared to how the government blows money.

The second rationale, aside from cost, is that agriculture is a dead industry, if members can believe it. Conservative ministers have stood up and said that agriculture is a dead-end, that people do not need to learn those skills as there is no future in it. I think a lot of Canadians would find that offensive. It also misses a fundamental point.

I have visited most penitentiaries in this country. For example, I have visited a literacy program in a penitentiary. I talked with those going through the program. We do not expect most inmates to become writers, but we do understand that the basic skills of literacy are an essential component to getting a job and having a future. Similarly, I have visited prison programs where inmates sew pockets onto materials to be used by our soldiers, or sweep floors. I do not ask how many will get a job sewing pockets on garments. I do not ask how many will get a job sweeping floors. Instead, I ask about the base skills they are getting. For those inmates who have not had the opportunity to find the structure of work and the pride that comes from putting in a full day's work, this type of experience is one that makes a huge difference.

I cannot help but reflect upon something the member for Malpeque once said to me. He visited a prison farm and there was a cow that had foot rot. In normal circumstances the cow would have been put down. He reflected upon the fact that it was the inmates who asked that the animal not be killed and that it be protected. They had become so close to that animal and had built so much empathy through that process that they had rallied around the animal. They wanted to nurse it back to health and take care of it.

I cannot help but think that if somebody is about to be released from prison, that would be the kind of person we would want the person to be when he or she walks out those doors. Let us remember that more than 90% of those who go to prison come back out. Shutting down programs like this is a travesty.

This is just a continuation of other things the government is doing.

Take a look at the fact that the crime prevention budget has been cut by more than 70%. Groups such as the boys and girls clubs and churches have been providing services to youth trying to get them to turn away from a dark path and not commit those crimes in the first place and not wind up in prison. The Conservatives have slashed money to those programs.

Similarly, the victims of crime initiative has had a 42% slash of its budget. This is a program that helps break cycles of violence and victimization. Often the people who commit crimes themselves have been victimized in their lives. By cutting funding there, the government is refusing to break that cycle of victimization that can so often happen.

The government is slashing from things that stop crime, that keep communities safe, and is dumping more and more money into prisons with fewer and fewer programs.

If that were not enough, the government has now announced it is going to violate international conventions to which Canada is a signatory and proceed with double-bunking. The government says there is nothing wrong with double-bunking, despite the fact that in many provincial facilities double-bunking is not only happening, but it is becoming the norm. In some cases, it is triple-bunking.

I talked to provincial corrections officials in some provinces where they are literally transforming the library into prison space. Prison guards are stepping over inmates at night to count them.

One could say, who cares? “Stack them on top of each other”, the Conservatives would say. “Make the conditions as deplorable as possible”.

The problem is, they get out. People will come out of that system that is broken, that has no focus on rehabilitation, that stacks inmates on top of each other and cuts all of the programs, or never invested in them in the first place, that cuts prevention programs and programs that help victims. And what type of people do the Conservatives think will walk out that door?

When I was in St. John's, Newfoundland, I went to Her Majesty's penitentiary and took a look at the deplorable conditions that so many people with serious mental illness are also facing. This point is just further illustrated.

We dealt with this in the public safety committee. The government sees no problem with solitary confinement. Inmates who are suffering from mental health illnesses are put into isolation where their condition degenerates and they get much worse. Our prisons are not hospitals so they are kept there. The disturbing thing again is that they are just released on to the streets. Because they are mentally ill and their condition has become even worse, and because the government puts no money into proper facilities to help deal with those mental illnesses, we end up having high rates of recidivism.

Where is all this leading? It is not as if this is all just conjecture on my part or the part of just about every expert in the country. The reality is this has been tried before, this cancelling of effective programs, building of mega-prisons, double-bunking, stuffing people in with each other. It was tried in places like California and other states in the United States. The result there was that it sucked like a vacuum money out of health care and education. It sucked money away from infrastructure and for helping those who were in need. What it left was a recidivism rate in California of over 70%.

We need programs like the prison farm program. We have to take action.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, it was a pleasure for me and my colleague to tour quite a number of prison farms in the Kingston, Ontario area, New Brunswick, Manitoba and other areas.

I wonder if he could elaborate on the dairy herd at the penitentiary farm in Kingston. What was enlightening was the pride the inmates took in looking after the dairy herd and in providing milk and other food products to other institutions in Ontario and Quebec.

My colleague met with the mayor and town council in Kingston. He also met with people who are part of the group, Save the Prison Farms. I wonder if he could expand a bit more on what it means for the community to support the continuation of prison farms.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I will start with where the member finished, and that is with the Save the Prison Farms coalition. This is a grassroots group that started in Kingston but spread across the country. This group is largely responsible for people knowing what prison farms are and the difference they can make in people's lives. We owe this group a tremendous debt for standing up against the actions of the government. Many members are correctional employees who risked their jobs to stand up for what they believe in. They were willing to put their livelihood on the line because they believed what the government was doing was fundamentally wrong.

We had the chance to meet with the mayor and council in Kingston who talked about how important this program is. We also had an opportunity to speak at rallies in Kingston and just north of Winnipeg, where literally hundreds of people rallied behind this program because they know how well it works. They have seen first-hand the effect that it has on inmates.

The member is absolutely right to point out the pride that was taken in that dairy herd. Imagine these inmates, many of whom have never had a pet in their life, are now talking about this dairy herd, which is one of the best and most productive in the province. They were proud to take us around and show us the milk production and the poultry operations. We could not help but see that these people get it. They understand what this program means.

The member for Beauséjour was with us when we were in New Brunswick. We were able to see that pride. We had an opportunity to talk to people in the construction industry and elsewhere who wanted to hire these people because they did good work and had an excellent work ethic after having gone through the program.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for moving the motion.

I, too, had the privilege of visiting Rockwood prison farm back in the spring. In my opinion, that was a very successful program. In fact, the authorities were on the verge of closing it down and selling the herds and land. The member is absolutely 100% correct that this is a wrong-headed move on the part of the government.

How does he propose to turn back the clock on this? Once the land and the herds have been sold, how do we resurrect the program?