House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was haitian.

Topics

The House resumed from November 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-510, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (coercion), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar had the floor, and there are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, since I stood in the House last month to speak in support of Roxanne's Law, I have heard from countless Canadians across the country, especially women, expressing their strong support for the bill, which would give Canadian women much needed protection against unwanted abortions.

The evidence completely dispels the notion expressed last month in this chamber that women do not want this protection. Nothing I have seen, heard or read could be further from the truth.

The sad reality is that abortion coercion does take place in Canada. We all know about Roxanne Fernando who was murdered by the father of her unborn child after refusing to end her pregnancy. A recent case involving abortion coercion in Calgary also had a fatal outcome. Melinda Morin was convicted of manslaughter for killing her boyfriend in a fit of rage after he attacked her during an argument about her pregnancy. He wanted her to have an abortion but she refused.

Those two examples tell us that if a women is feeling threatened into an unwanted abortion, she may be either the victim or the perpetrator of violence. Both are extreme and tragic examples of what can happen when others try to impose unwanted abortions on pregnant women. I am certainly not saying that all cases involving abortion coercion will end in violence but those stories do illustrate this tragic and deadly outcome that can result when we, as a society, do not take abortion coercion seriously and when we do not condemn it loudly and clearly, as Roxanne's Law would surely do.

While most cases of abortion coercion do not end in the death of either the pregnant women or the person who is pressuring them to terminate their pregnancy, any successful attempt at abortion coercion will always result in the death of that woman's wanted unborn child. Turning a blind eye to this reality violates Canadians' high standards of justice and human rights. It is no wonder our own refugee board has called forced and coerced abortion a crime against humanity.

Some women in Canada are forced to abort when the fetus is female. The practice of aborting baby girls has been strongly condemned by UNICEF and various medical organizations, including the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. A UN rep in 2005 said about this practice:

It is fundamentally wrong, morally wrong, socially wrong and developmentally wrong to tolerate, stand and watch such acts of sex selection and violence against girls.

It was also strongly denounced by the member for Vancouver South, a former Liberal health minister, who wrote in April 2008 in the Ottawa Citizen:

Sex selection for the purpose of committing female feticide is one of the most heinous acts of violence and hatred inflicted on women.

A report in October 2009 in the Toronto Star, highlighted the case of one pregnant woman who sought help from a community health centre that serves the community that has a preference for male children. The woman was pregnant for the third time with a female child. Her family forced her to abort her two previous pregnancies because they did not want girl babies. She was hoping to save the third female child. However, the centre lost contact with the woman for a period of time and, when they did manage to contact her again, the woman said that she had a miscarriage.

We need to send the message loudly and clearly that forcing and coercing women to abort their children is not acceptable behaviour. We need to promote a culture of respect for women who make the choice to be mothers. We need to give Canadian women the assurance that the law will be there to protect them when they take on the monumental responsibility of bringing children into the world.

There is no question that Roxanne's Law would do all those things. A vote against Roxanne's Law, on the other hand, will appear as a vote in favour of continuing the oppression and degradation of women and girls, including those still in the womb.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have a tendency to recite the long list of the Conservative government's faults. But upon reading Bill C-510, I finally found something positive: this government is inventive.

Its dedication to limiting a woman's right to choose regarding abortion fascinates me. We thought it had tried everything, particularly with Bill C-484 on unborn children and its regressive international policy on maternal health. The cuts to Status of Women Canada, the court challenges program and the women's program are just more examples.

Although their actions show that they want to criminalize abortion and set back women's rights, the Conservatives keep repeating that they do not want to reopen the debate. But they are the ones who keep bringing this issue back to the House.

This time, with Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort, the government wants to impose five-year prison sentences for anyone who coerces a woman to have an abortion and two-year prison sentences for anyone who attempts to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

The Conservatives are using the case of Roxanne Fernando, who was killed by three men, to misrepresent things. The crown prosecutor, one of the murderers and his lawyer have all stated that the murder had nothing whatsoever to do with the woman's refusal to have an abortion. The Conservatives are using this barbaric act to threaten the right to abortion, even if this right was not the issue. This was a case of domestic violence.

With Bill C-510, the Conservatives are moving forward with their right-wing political agenda instead of attacking the real problem, which is violence against women. The real solutions are based on achieving equality between men and women. This has to do with better access to the justice system through legal aid, financial assistance for victims of crime and their loved ones, pay equity and other improvements to social programs.

In addition to being so creative, the Conservatives also have a talent for bringing women's rights groups together. The Fédération des femmes du Québec is opposed to passing Bill C-510. It has declared that since the Conservatives took power, “abortion has never been so threatened”.

The Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances has also spoken out against Bill C-510. The federation expects the bill to have a number of negative consequences, one of which is that it will open the door to the criminalization of abortion. The federation also fears, with good reason, that workers in this area could be prosecuted if the bill is passed. The very vague concept of “coercion” would give the unborn child certain rights to the woman's detriment.

For these same reasons, a number of other organizations, including Canadians for Choice, are strongly opposed to the initiative of the hon. member for Winnipeg South.

At the very least, it can be said that the Conservatives do not give up. Since coming to power, they have tried every sly tactic they can think of to reopen the debate on abortion, but have been unsuccessful. On September 2, 2010, the infamous Dimitri Soudas stated that his party did not want to reopen the debate on this issue. Since that time, several members have made similar statements. Nevertheless, last May, the hon. member for Winnipeg South said that it is “always important to take steps, small steps, to acknowledge the value of the unborn”. Finally, a Conservative member who is willing to tell the truth about his intentions.

Twenty-two years ago, the Supreme Court invalidated the anti-abortion provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. Since that time, there has been a strong consensus in our society that the debate on this issue should be over. However, from time to time, the Conservative Prime Minister agrees to reward the most well-behaved radicals in his party by letting them introduce regressive bills. Each time, the members of the House oppose these bills, with the exception of the Conservatives and a few misguided Liberals.

But that does not matter. Listening to the peoples' representatives in Parliament is not an option for this government. Not only is Bill C-510 downright disgraceful, it is also useless.

Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen women to ensure that they have not been coerced into abortion. Clinics refuse to perform abortions on women who are not sure of their decision or who are being coerced by a third party. In addition, the Criminal Code prohibits threats and assaults against women. That is why the criminals who murdered Roxanne Fernando are in prison. Nathanael Plourde was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Manuel Toruno was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. Their 17-year-old accomplice was given the maximum sentence for a minor: six years in prison and four years of probation. The maximum prison sentences proposed by this bill, five years and two years, are totally absurd and useless.

A woman's decision to abort is rarely made alone, although it is a decision that must clearly be made without any persuasion. As I just said, such coercion is already prohibited by the Criminal Code. However, it is normal for an adolescent or a woman to seek advice from those close to her. If this person's mother, father, brother, sister or partner counsels her not to keep the baby, the bill is so vague that the pregnant woman's family could be subject to jail time. That is completely unacceptable.

Bill C-510 is also condescending towards women. It suggests that they are often coerced into abortion and that they cannot make the decision on their own. But women are free to make that choice and they must continue to be free.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that my political party and I are fiercely opposed to this bill. As a woman and a mother, I am personally insulted by these dangerous measures that restrict freedom of choice regarding abortion. In the name of women's right and freedoms, I ask all members to oppose it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this important debate today.

As the youngest woman in the House of Commons, I do not believe we would be discussing a bill in 2010 that would seek to take away the rights for which women before me have fought so hard. While the bill claims to react to a tragic situation around coercion and the discussion of abortion, it is an attack on a woman's right to choose.

The bill is mostly redundant because threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. In fact, this part of the debate is so critical to the discussion. It is certainly not a discussion about the facts. Unfortunately what is in the Criminal Code is not being discussed in the House. Bill C-510 is unnecessary and it is redundant. Threats and illegal acts are already covered under the Criminal Code. Counsellors at abortion clinics already screen for possible coercion in women seeking abortions.

The anti-choice movement has noted claims that women are coerced. However, when we walk by abortion clinics across our country, and certainly even the one close to Parliament Hill, we see a much greater movement to coerce women not to get an abortion, often with very aggressive tactics, taking advantage of women who are already in a vulnerable situation, who are already having to make a very difficult decision, often a very conflicted decision.

This debate is also one that is so critical because it identifies the notion of fetal rights that challenges the discussion and the way abortion and a woman's right to choose are legally framed, noting that women have the control over their bodies. The discussion is about the fetus, not the child. As we enter into this discussion, many of us fear that this will open the door to making abortions in our country illegal. The bill attempts to reintroduce the notion of fetal rights through indirect means, by presenting abortion as a social harm to be criminalized.

I noted earlier that while the foundation of the bill is based on a tragic experience, one that took place in my home province, it is important to recognize that much of what has come out has been misrepresented. We note that in this legal case, the murderer, the lawyer and the crown prosecutor all agreed that coercion to have an abortion was not the motive. The bill claims that it would prevent what happened Ms. Roxanne Fernando from Winnipeg. However, when we look at it more closely, it attacks the rights of women to choose, it challenges the work of abortion providers and it rolls back the rights of women in our country by decades.

Unfortunately this is not a new development. The Conservative government and members of it have promoted an anti-choice agenda since they were elected into government. Ironically, in past elections it was stated that a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion. Yet the bill deals entirely with that issue. It strives to take a major step in challenging that right of women to choose.

Unfortunately, the bill and the words used to present it have been framed in such a way as to claim to deal with the violence that women face, not only in the discussion around a woman's right to choose, but generally violence that women face. We all know that women face levels of violence, domestic violence, physical, sexual and mental violence in a way that we do not see it with men.

Unfortunately, the bill would do nothing to deal with those levels of violence. Not only would the bill not do anything, the government has done nothing. Not only has it failed to reinvest in and continue programs that are critical, it has sought to take away gains that have been made in policy, governing structure and the supports that women look to in order to seek equality.

How many signs do we need to know how much further we have to go forward, not just in the levels of violence that women face. We also need to look at the absence of women in power structures and positions of decision making? It is shameful that in the year 2010 only 21% of the members in the House of Commons are women.

Young people ask me why that is the case. I believe we can look, unfortunately, at very recent policies that seek to strip away the voice of women, as well as men, to speak out as to what is needed for us to eradicate gender-based violence and for women to truly achieve equality.

Let us look at some of the Conservative government's work, not only in the discussion around attacking women's right to choose, but the overall attack on women to achieve equality.

From 2006 onward, we have seen the elimination of equality as an objective in the Status of Women Canada's mission statement. We have seen a 100% cut in funding for advocacy, lobbying and independent research projects funded by the Status of Women Canada.

Dozens of feminist organizations have had their funding severed and have had to close their doors. In the past year, nine groups have lost their funding, including the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition and Réseau des tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec.

We have shamefully seen the lose of funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative that has sought to counteract the tragic and historically perpetuated levels of violence against aboriginal women. While the government promoted the work of Sisters in Spirit for years in the House, it did not renew the funding for an organization that clearly made known the barriers that aboriginal women faced.

We also saw the loss of funds for over 130 projects in the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the cancellation of the pan-Canadian child care program and the elimination of the court challenges program.

We need to look at ensuring women have economic support. In my home community in the province of Manitoba, women are going to be losing their jobs in the smelter and the refinery, only to be made more vulnerable in an economy facing a recession.

These are the messages, the actions we need to support women in their work to achieve equality, in our work as Canadians to achieve equality. We need to leave alone the battles for which women, along with men, have fought, which are the right to choose, the right to shape our futures and the right to be equal in our country, Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-510, an act to prevent coercion of pregnant women to abort, which was first introduced in the House by the member for Winnipeg South in April.

In his press release dated April 15 of this year, the bill's sponsor stated:

This bill would help protect a pregnant woman who does not want to terminate her pregnancy...No woman should ever feel intimidated to have an unwanted abortion. Anyone who attempts to force a woman to abort her wanted fetus should face consequences.

At the outset, I certainly agree with that sentiment and I have great respect for the sponsor, my friend from Winnipeg South. However, I am troubled by the legislation before the House.

I am sure we all agree that the safety of all Canadians is paramount, in particular protecting the most vulnerable in our society from violence. It is clear that violence against all women, pregnant or not, is a serious issue, with far-reaching effects and consequences.

Violence against women is a persistent and ongoing problem in Canada and around the world, affecting women's personal safety and their ability to contribute to society. It also affects their children, who witness this violence and experience its aftermath, therefore contributing to intergenerational cycles of violence. Although Canadian women fare better than women in most parts of the world, violence against women, sadly, persists in Canada.

However, Canada's criminal law provides a broad range of measures designed to protect persons from violence, including provisions prohibiting all of the following: assault and sexual assault, murder and manslaughter, kidnapping, forcible confinement, trafficking in persons, criminal harassment, uttering threats and intimidation. This government has taken concrete steps to build on these protections through further recent criminal law reforms to ensure that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, feel safe and secure in their homes and communities.

The government is proud of its accomplishments in promoting safe streets and communities. For example, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, enacted in 2008, includes enhanced mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences and strengthens the danger offender provisions. Bill C-48, which is recently before the justice committee on which I proudly serve as a member, would protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. It will return to the House in short order.

The Criminal Code also takes violence against women into account in its sentencing provisions, which requires that spousal abuse and abuse of positions of trust or authority must be considered as aggravating circumstances for the purposes of sentencing. In other words, this fact should increase the sentence imposed against the perpetrator.

It is evident that Canadian criminal law aims to protect all women, indeed all Canadians, from violence in its many forms.

As I understand it, Bill C-510, also known as Roxanne's law, was introduced in response to the tragic murder of Roxanne Fernando because of her unexpected pregnancy in a volatile relationship. She was tragically murdered by her boyfriend and two of his friends. One of the reported motives was that Ms. Fernando was murdered because she would not have an abortion.

It is important to point out that all three offenders involved in this murder are currently serving prison sentences for that murder. There is no question that this is a tragic case, but appears to be one where the criminal justice system has been used to its fullest extent.

Since the case of Ms. Fernando was the inspiration for Bill C-510, let me now discuss the legal effects of the bill. I apologize in advance that some of it is technical and legal, but it is important that members understand the legal ramifications of the bill.

Bill C-510 would create two new hybrid Criminal Code offences. The first would be the offence of coercing a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum sentence of five years on indictment and 18 months on summary conviction. The second proposed offence would be the offence of attempting to coerce a woman to procure an abortion she did not want. This would be punishable by a maximum of two years imprisonment on indictment and six months on summary conviction.

The bill proposes a number of definitions to help bring clarity to these offences. Most notably, the bill defines “coercion” and explains where coercive behaviour would reach the level of attracting criminal liability.

The bill states that a person coerces an abortion when he or she engages in conduct that directly or indirectly causes a pregnant woman to consent to an abortion that she would otherwise have refused. The bill goes further to include anyone who conspires with another person to engage in coercive conduct.

Also in the definition of coercion is a list of conduct that could amount to coercion if it were undertaken for the purpose of causing a pregnant woman to have an unwanted abortion. The conduct includes, but is not limited to, violent and threatening behaviour directed either at the woman, her fetus or a third party. Also included is removing, or threatening to remove, financial support or housing from the pregnant woman in attempting to compel by pressure or intimidation including “argumentative and rancorous badgering and importunity”.

While most would agree, and I certainly would, that we would not want to encourage such conduct, it is not conduct that normally attracts criminal sanction.

The bill states that the conduct outlined in the proposed definition of coercion is not exhaustive. Therefore, it could encompass much more conduct than is currently outlined in the bill, or for that matter, that the author of the bill foresaw, but it leaves this open to be determined be a court.

A final part of the definition of coercion is what I call the charter exemption. It is a novel approach in crafting a criminal offence. The bill states that speech, which we all know is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would not be captured by the definition of coercion and therefore would not attract criminal liability.

There are two other sections of the bill that are worth noting.

First is the limited exemption for a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant woman to have a medical intervention, which may result in the death of the fetus, when the woman's physical health is endangered.

Second is the unique severability provision, which states that if any provisions of this bill are found to be invalid or unenforceable they are to be severed from the bill and shall not affect the application of the other provisions.

In summary, the impacts of this bill would be to criminalize conduct that is already captured by several Criminal Code offences.

For example, conduct such as committing, attempting to commit or threatening to commit physical harm is captured by the offence of uttering threats in section 264.1, assault in section 265 and the general attempt provisions contained in section 24 of the Criminal Code.

Other types of conduct, such as compelling by pressure and rancorous badgering and importunity, are not defined in the bill and would most likely lead to interpretative difficulties and subsequent charter challenges.

Further, interpretive difficulties would most certainly arise because of the charter exemption, which attempts to insulate certain types of conduct from criminal liability if the conduct is protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This exemption would require individuals, police and prosecutors to determine whether the conduct in question is protected by the charter, though ultimately it would be the courts that would have to pronounce and be determinative on this issue.

Finally, the novel severability provision, which aims to sever any provision of the bill that a court finds unenforceable, could be interpreted as fettering the discretion of the court to determine the appropriate remedy in the event of a charter breach.

In short and to conclude, I certainly appreciate the objective of the bill and support its author in bringing this matter forward to this House for debate. I believe all members of this House support better protection of pregnant women against any specific form of violence and, in fact, protection for all members of society against all forms of violence. However, I strongly believe that the existing Criminal Code protections adequately protect women, as evidenced by the convictions and significant penalties imposed in the Roxanne Fernando case.

With all due respect and for those reasons, I will be voting against Bill C-510.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in support of this great bill.

It is important for all members to be fully informed before they vote on Bill C-510, so I want to address several misconceptions about this bill that were revealed during the first hour of debate.

First, the bill was criticized for using language that was vague and would therefore be subject to a charter challenge. The member who made these comments referred to phrases used in the bill, such as “compel by pressure”, which he said was quite new, and “rancorous badgering”, which he said was extremely new.

Quite honestly, in fact, while the language may seem unusual, the member for Winnipeg South has been assured by legal experts that it comes from long, settled legal jurisprudence.

I also understand from legal experts that the threshold for deeming a law vague is high, and in their opinion the wording used in Bill C-510 gives clear direction as to what is prohibited and how the section should be enforced.

Terms used, such as rancorous badgering, as previously mentioned, and coercion have been considered and upheld by various courts in both criminal and labour law cases. These terms, along with others found in the bill, therefore provide sufficient guidance to avoid allegations of vagueness.

Second, during the debate, one member claimed that this bill would restrict access to freedom of choice. The truth is that the bill actually expands the pregnant woman's choice and freedom to protect her against anyone who uses coercive means to take away her freedom to continue her pregnancy.

The only choice restricted by this bill is the choice of a third party who wants to impose an abortion on a woman against her will.

Should this bill be enacted into law, full legal access to abortion will still be available to women who freely choose that option. It would be no different, the same as today.

Third, a very serious misreading of the existing Criminal Code is obviously behind the statement made by a member who said, “This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status”.

If the member's comments were actually true, that is, if recognizing the fetus as a child in the Criminal Code implies that the fetus is a person with legal status, then that would mean that the fetus is a person with legal status right now, that is today, because the Criminal Code as it exists today also refers to the fetus as a child. Obviously that would have a legal impact on abortion today without Bill C-510.

The member was incorrect in stating that the use of the word “child” implies anything about personhood. The Criminal Code currently uses the term “child” and only that term when referring to the fetus. The Criminal Code, much to the disappointment of pro-life people, quite honestly defines human beings in section 223(1) as follows:

A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.

Fourth, the same member was also incorrect when she stated that Bill C-510 contradicts the election promises of the Conservative Party. During the last election, its platform stated, “A Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion”.

Of course there are two problems with this statement. First, Bill C-510 has nothing to do with the Conservative government. It is a private member's bill, not a government bill. Second, while it is true that the Conservative government does have a policy as described by the member, Bill C-510 does not go against that policy.

As I said before, and it bears repeating because people do not seem to understand this point, this bill does not regulate abortion in any way.

Bill C-510 does not prohibit a single abortion and it does not regulate a single abortion. It deals only with behaviour that aims to impose an abortion on a woman who does not want it.

Not only does Bill C-510 not go against existing Conservative policy; it actually is supported by another Conservative policy adopted in 2008, which recognizes the need for additional protection for pregnant women.

Fifth, another member criticized the bill for being totally redundant. She claimed it was entirely covered already by existing Criminal Code offences. Whether every single behaviour that could conceivably be captured by Bill C-510 is already sprinkled throughout various existing provisions in the Criminal Code is not at all clear. While there is certainly some overlap, it is almost certain that some of what constitutes abortion coercion in Bill C-510 would not be a crime today.

What is clear is that, while coercion clearly occurs, we are all well aware from various reports, as well as from personal testimonies, that no one has been charged with this offence. This means that our current laws are not doing their job.

It hardly matters if something is already illegal if no one, including the victim, the perpetrator or the police, actually knows it is illegal. Bill C-510 would clarify the law. With a clear law on the books, a law that defines abortion coercion explicitly, which no law currently does, pregnant women would be more aware of their rights and would be empowered to take action before it is too late, not after.

The general public would also become more aware and this would help curb coercive behaviour against pregnant women in the first place. I believe Bill C-510 would raise the public conscience to a new level of respect for pregnant women, which would have a positive impact not only on the lives of women but the whole of Canadian society.

We already have offences that one could argue are not necessary because more general provisions would cover them. For example, let us use the definition of assault. It is intentionally very broad, intended to encompass all sorts and forms of assault, but Parliament chose to add sections specifying assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm. These crimes were specified because they were deemed unambiguously worthy of condemnation. I hope the critics of Bill C-510 are not implying that coercing a woman to abort a wanted pregnancy is not especially worthy of condemnation.

It is significant to note that this type of law also exists in other free democratic societies. For example, translation of a German law states, “whosever unlawfully with force or threat of serious harm causes a person to commit, suffer or omit an act shall be liable to imprisonment...”. An especially serious case typically occurs if the offender causes a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy.

In Italy, any person inducing a pregnancy termination without the consent of the woman shall be liable to four to eight years imprisonment. Consent extracted by violence or threats or under false pretenses shall be deemed not to be granted.

Laws also exist in France and some U.S. states.

Bill C-510 has the potential to do much good. The criticisms made against it are based on misunderstandings of the bill and misunderstandings about laws that exist today. Numerous other jurisdictions worldwide have similar laws. Women today, especially those who are in vulnerable situations, can only be helped by such a law. It would have no impact on the current legal status of abortion in this country.

I support this bill, and I see no reason to prevent it from getting a fair hearing at committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 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 do not have a full 10 minute speech, but there are a couple of things that have come to the discussion today that need to be addressed. I am not sure if the members opposite, particularly the member for Churchill, were uninformed or deliberately trying to give the wrong impression about the bill, but I got the sense that the member for Churchill seemed to be implying that Roxanne Fernando's death did not come about as a result of her refusal to have an abortion.

It is important to point out that the crown prosecutor at the sentencing hearing was very clear when he talked about the fact that this was specifically a motive by these young men who took her life.

We need to remember that a young lady lost her life over this issue. We have heard people this morning say this is all covered in the Criminal Code. Her murder was covered in the Criminal Code and these young men are serving their time for that, which they rightly should be doing, but the issue of coercion was not covered in the Criminal Code. Those men were not charged with that.

We need to refocus the debate today back on the element of coercion and the fact that women should not be coerced in their dealings with their children. It is not in the interest of women or children to pretend otherwise.

We need to be clear this morning that the debate has been about the issue of coerced abortion. This is not a bill about abortion and restricting abortion rights. I think those folks who have indicated that either do not understand the bill clearly or are trying to perform some mischief.

As we heard just a few minutes ago, other countries have felt it is important to bring this level of protection. I heard the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex talk about the fact that Germany has brought in protection on this issue; that Italy has felt it is important that women be protected in this area; and that France also has seen that this is an important issue in terms of protecting women and children.

In this country we need to have a better and more honest debate than we have had on this.

There are states in the U.S. that have taken this up as something they feel is important to protect women's rights.

I will wrap up by encouraging my colleagues to support the bill. It is an important bill. When my colleague presented the bill I said during questions and comments that this is a necessary bill. I thought it was necessary then and I think it is necessary now.

I encourage my colleagues in the House to stand and support the bill and see it pass second reading.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

With his five minute right of reply, the hon. member for Winnipeg South.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a father, I love my children and I know their mother perhaps loves them even more than I do, if that is possible. Some mothers fall in love with their children even before birth in a way that few of us can understand. These mothers should never have to make a choice between protecting themselves or the child they love.

Forced abortion should be made illegal in Canada. Roxanne's law would accomplish this. The main argument used against Roxanne's law is that the bill is totally redundant because, so opponents claim, abortion coercion is already covered in the Criminal Code under existing provisions for assaults, uttering threats or intimidation. If I wanted to oppose a bill whose sole purpose was to protect women from abortion coercion, I too would want to find some excuse that made it sound like I was in favour of forced abortion. Saying it is already illegal gives me that cover. It allows me to oppose the bill for what sounds to be a legitimate reason while still professing how terrible it is to coerce a woman into having an abortion. After all, who wants to be known as someone who supports what the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada called a crime against humanity? The problem is that the argument that it is already illegal falls apart upon analysis.

Although some of the conduct described in Bill C-510 could fall under existing provisions in the Criminal Code, depending on the circumstances, not all behaviour that could fall under the definition of coercion in Bill C-510 would be captured under existing provisions. It is important to note that the list of examples of coercion in Bill C-510 is not exhaustive. This allows the court some discretion in deciding what constitutes abortion coercion given how it is defined in the bill. Above all though, the fact that no one has ever been charged with coercing an abortion in Canada is absolute proof that clarification of the law is desperately needed, a law Roxanne Fernando could have used to protect herself.

Even in cases where a more general provision would suffice, there is tremendous value in having a new Criminal Code provision specific to abortion coercion. Criminal law scholars say we use the criminal law as a way of indicating a serious condemnation of an activity or action not only to punish people but also to state our most important social values and to send a clear message expressing society's rejection and intolerance of a specific act. When we single out coerced abortion as a separate offence, it is a signal that such behaviour should be denounced as a serious offence. It reflects a social value about the unacceptability of forcing a pregnant woman into ending a pregnancy she wants to continue.

Creating specific provisions when a more general provision already exists in the Criminal Code is not a new idea. There are three such bills currently before Parliament which have passed at least one parliamentary vote. Bill S-9 makes it an offence to steal a motor vehicle even though theft is already an offence. It received royal assent last month. Bill S-215 and Bill C-464 also bring important clarifications to laws that perhaps already capture the crimes contemplated. These are excellent ideas and important clarifications, just as Roxanne's law is.

Thus, it is clear that as legislators we often create offences and provisions even when a more general provision would suffice. We do this in order to send a strong message of denunciation to affirm society's deeply held values and to educate the public. Should one choose to vote against Bill C-510, it will be seen as a choice to turn a blind eye to a horrible injustice.

Roxanne Fernando's story has now been heard across the country and if not now, someday soon she will be considered a Canadian hero. In this Christmas season, I ask members to consider bringing additional protection to mothers with child who are facing dangerous circumstances.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, December 15, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of SittingCriminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:55 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:00)

The House resumed from December 10 consideration of Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, since I have only 10 minutes and we are at the amendment stage, I will address that particular topic right away. The government proposed three amendments and I would like to set the record straight once and for all: we will be voting against those amendments, which would reinstate the short title. The government has a tendency to politicize things in these matters. The title of Bill S-6 begins with “An Act to amend the Criminal Code”. We have no problem with that. Where we do have a problem is with the short title: “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act”. Clearly, we will vote against these amendments. Clearly, we will vote against Bill S-6. Clearly, this government has no direction and is using this bill to try to appeal to the public.

Bill S-6 pertains to the faint hope clause. I would remind those watching us that in 1976, Canada abolished the death penalty for those who commit the most appalling, most serious crime in the Criminal Code: murder. Under the Liberals, the bill that abolished the death penalty also introduced what is known as the faint hope clause. Here is what it is all about. After a certain amount of time, after serving between 15 and 17 years in prison, offenders have the right—I hope they will still have this right—to apply to the Superior Court for the district in which the original sentence was handed down to be granted the opportunity to appear before the parole board. I am saying all this because Bill S-6, a bill from the Senate, is just not right. It makes absolutely no sense.

The bill does not make sense and I hope the Liberals will wake up. I hope the Liberals will hear the truth and hear what is being said today and what will be said on this bill in the coming weeks, or months if necessary. In any event, this bill absolutely must not be passed. The faint hope clause, and I am quoting from the Library of Parliament:

...was added to the Criminal Code in the hope that it would provide an incentive for long-term offenders to rehabilitate themselves and, therefore, afford more protection to prison guards.

I can understand where the Conservatives are coming from. They say they are in favour of protecting victims and that we absolutely must protect victims. They keep saying over and over again that we absolutely must protect victims.

Therein lies the problem because the faint hope clause is working quite well. I hope my Conservative friends will listen, I cannot help it if they do not, but we will repeat this ad nauseam in the coming months: as of October 10, 2010, because the death penalty was abolished, there were 4,774 inmates serving life sentences in Canada. Contrary to what our Conservative friends think, and I hope the Liberals will finally hear the truth, those convicted of and serving time for murder are not sentenced to 25 years in prison. That is not true. They are sentenced to life imprisonment—for the rest of their days. I know that the Conservatives will never listen and never understand that.

These individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada for the rest of their days. I repeat: it goes without saying that, for the rest of their days, these individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board

I only have five minutes for my speech and then there will be a five-minute period for questions, which I will be pleased to answer. I would like to provide some statistics. I did not make them up; they are from the Correctional Service of Canada. I asked the Conservatives to provide statistics to rebut the CSC data, but no one came up with any.

In Canada, there are 4,774 inmates serving life sentences. Of these, 1,508 were eligible for judicial review. The death penalty was abolished in 1976, and therefore we had to wait 15 to 17 years before the first hearing was held in 1987. Since then, 181 decisions have been made: 146 resulted in a reduction of the ineligibility period for parole, and 35 were refused. Proof that the system works lies in the fact that it protects the public and therefore the victims.

I will continue with the Correctional Service of Canada statistics: 144 inmates have now reached their revised eligibility dates and 135 have been released. Half of those released, or 68 inmates, have not posed a problem; they have reintegrated into society and been rehabilitated. Thirty-five had their parole suspended, but not revoked. They had minor breaches of conditions, such as returning home at midnight instead of 10 p.m. The rules are very strict and the National Parole Board monitors them very closely. Thus, 23 had their parole suspended, but afterwards things went smoothly. Only 23 of the possible 4,000 inmates had their parole revoked. Only 2 of those 23 out of the 4,000 were convicted of other violent crimes, such as aggravated assault or assault with a weapon, but not murder.

So the system is working well. I do not understand the decision of this side of the House, the Liberal side. The Liberals are the ones who introduced the faint hope clause in 1976 after they abolished the death penalty. And it has been working so well that even the farthest-right, right-wing Conservatives are unable to provide us with any statistics to show that murders have been committed by parolees. This has not happened since 1987. The murderers who have been released from prison have all respected the conditions of their parole.

I know that we are at the report and amendments stage, but I will come back to this later. I will certainly have the opportunity to rise in the House again and speak out against the cheap populist approach that the Conservatives are taking with this bill. It is a cheap populist approach to say that anyone can be released on parole when such is not the case. The organizations that are currently taking very good care of the public and victims are the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service of Canada. They manage to keep criminals who are not ready to return to society from doing so.

I will gladly answer any questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague from the Bloc that as we took the evidence at the justice committee it seemed to me very clear. I do not think that anybody who is objective about the evidence we heard could deny that the faint hope clause and the system we built up under it, in terms of how one is able to apply for and get that result, has been as successful as any program in our correction services, bar none. The rate of recidivism is the lowest of any program we have.

I know my colleague from the Bloc has practised criminal law for an extended period of time before being elected selected to this House.

Does he feel there is a better system than the faint hope system?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for his comments and question, as well as for the work he does on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In my opinion, there is no better system. It is the best system.

Even though this system works well, the Conservatives are getting ready to increase violence in prisons and take all hope away from inmates with this bill. They are going to take away all hope of returning to society. There are 135 former inmates who have been released under this system and today are functioning members of society. I even know some who are doctors. I argued such cases. These people returned to society and are now doctors. Yes, they committed murder, the worst crime a person can commit, but they came back into society after spending 17 years in prison.

With the Liberals' support, the Conservatives are getting ready to destroy a system that works very well. I hope the Liberals will think again.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am beginning to wonder how much the public really knows or understands about this whole issue about the faint hope clause. Does the public really understand that in 1997 the Liberal government changed the law to eliminate faint hope clause applications for multiple murderers so that it would never apply to multiple murderers like Clifford Olson, who are in prison right now?

Does the member think the public also understands that the changes the government is bringing in, in this bill, would not take effect for 15 years?

In actual fact, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors here. The government is trying to present to the public that it is tough on crime, that it has eliminated the faint hope clause, which, as I said, had already been eliminated for multiple murderers in 1997, and the faint hope clause elimination for individual murderers would not actually be applied in Canada for 15 years, long after most of us would be gone from this House.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. This bill will not prevent Clifford Olson from applying and saying that he has the right to do so. It will not change anything. With this bill, the government would have us believe that it is being tough on crime, but the bill solves nothing.

If only this bill at least addressed some issues. I can understand the minimum sentences the Conservatives are calling for. They are playing politics. But Bill S-6 not only fixes nothing; it will create problems in our prisons.

If the member for Beauce listened carefully—God knows he should listen so he can talk to his colleagues, instead of plugging his ears—he would understand. I hope he will be able to tell his colleagues that Bill S-6 solves nothing. The Conservatives are going to create problems in very short order, because when an inmate realizes that he has no more hope and no chance of returning to society, he is going to go to work for the worst of the worst in prison. So there will be big trouble in the coming years.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on the government's Bill S-6 at report stage.

The government, through its Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was all over the media yesterday denouncing the three opposition parties and claiming that the opposition was delaying government bills in general, and Bill S-6 in particular.

I would like to put certain facts before the House. Bill S-6 in the previous session of the 40th Parliament was Bill C-36. The government tabled it in the House. The bill went through the three stages in the House, was adopted and sent over to the Senate. The government, in its wisdom, did not move second reading in the Senate. Instead, the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House in December 2009. The House was prorogued for close to two and a half months.

When the second session of the 40th Parliament began on March 3, there was a throne speech. Did the government at its first opportunity reintroduce Bill C-36? No, it did not. It waited 48 days after the throne speech before tabling its legislation again. Then after tabling it 48 days after the throne speech, it let the bill sit, collecting dust, for 99 days before it moved second reading debate. If anyone has held up this bill it is not the opposition, definitely not the official opposition, but the government itself.

The government counts on the fact that most Canadians are not paying enough attention to what is actually happening in the House and what the procedures are to realize that it is their own government that is holding up its own justice legislation.

One could speculate on the reasons the Conservative government has for doing do that. I speculate, given that every end of session in December and June for close to the last five years, the minister of justice, whoever he or she has been under the Conservative government, has gone to the media to claim that the opposition is holding up the government's justice bills and if the opposition would be conciliatory and work with the government, the justice bills would get through.

When we look at each of the bills the government identifies at each one of those periods, June and December of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and now 2010, those are the very bills that the government itself has held up, either by letting them sit at first reading and not moving second reading debate, or by not even introducing them initially.

With those facts on the record, I would like now to speak to the content of Bill S-6.

We know that victims and their families want the faint hope clause to be abolished. No one wants those found guilty of serious crimes to get out of jail without serving a long enough sentence. It is for that reason that when we, the Liberals, were in government, we placed restrictions on the faint hope clause so that anyone found guilty of multiple murders would not be eligible. Contrary to the claims of the Conservative government, the amendments it is proposing to make to the law will not apply to dangerous criminals such as Clifford Olson. Russell Williams also will not be able to avail himself of the faint hope clause to obtain a judicial review because of the changes made by the previous Liberal government.

The faint hope clause, also known as judicial review, gives inmates who are serving a life sentence the opportunity to request a judicial review after 15 years of incarceration in order to determine whether or not they may apply for parole. Parole is not automatically granted. The application must first be heard by a jury selected from members of the community where the crime took place. If the 12 jurors unanimously agree, the inmate may apply to the National Parole Board. If the inmate proceeds, the National Parole Board determines whether the inmate, once released, may pose a risk to society or if release will contribute to his or her rehabilitation.

The Liberals believe that a balance must be struck between punishment and rehabilitation in our correctional system. We would like the government to invest more in crime prevention and programs for the victims of crime. Although the faint hope clause helps make our prisons safer and contributes to the rehabilitation of offenders, we believe that access to it must be limited.

The government is not taking into consideration the facts around the faint hope clause. Despite this clause, someone convicted of premeditated murder in Canada serves 28 years in prison on average. That is longer than in any other country that imposes life sentences with possibility of parole, including the United States. Prison guards feel that the faint hope clause helps keep them safe. The Correctional Investigator of Canada believes that the current faint hope clause serves the purpose for which it was conceived.

The Liberals proposed amendments to the Conservative bill in response to calls from various victims' groups. These groups told us that they live in a constant state of anxiety because of the faint hope clause, so we amended the bill to require that the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada notify victims when an inmate applies for judicial review of his case. The commissioner already notifies victims' families when an inmate applies for judicial review. But under the current law, the commissioner is not required to notify victims' families when an inmate does not apply. Under the bill, once the inmate's opportunity to apply has passed, he must wait five years before reapplying.

The Liberal amendment moved and passed with the support of the Bloc and the NDP was as follows.

When an inmate does not exercise his right to apply for a judicial review under the faint hope clause, the commissioner should notify the families and indicate the next date on which the inmate will be eligible to apply. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted against this amendment. I am puzzled by that.

We also proposed a second amendment that would extend the 90-day period for applying for a judicial review to a maximum of 180 days when the judge feels that extraordinary circumstances beyond the inmate's control prevented him from applying within the 90-day period.

I will stop here, because I see that my time is up. I invite hon. members to ask me questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to ask my colleague who also sits on the justice committee with me the same question as I asked the Bloc.

With regard to the system whereby the faint hope clause is available, I know the member has analyzed this and listened to all the evidence that we heard at that point. Is she aware of any other system within corrections, parole or probation that has been as successful in terms of limiting recidivism? By that I mean not only the very minor breaches that sometimes occur but in particular there have been only two cases, in all of the cases where the faint hope clause has in fact been used, where there is even a suggestion of a serious crime being committed by individuals who are released under that program.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Tecumseh for the question he asked. According to the evidence we heard from justice officials, from victims groups and from organizations that work with inmates and with people who are out on parole, no, we did not hear of any other program within our sentencing regime and our Criminal Code that pertains directly to the Correctional Service of Canada that appears to work as well as the faint hope clause regime does and has proved itself to do--

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for another excellent speech on the bill.

I want to make a Hansard correction. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that I inadvertently indicated that the Liberals changed the faint hope clause, removing the faint hope clause option for multiple murderers such as Clifford Olson, and it was in 1997. I know I have mentioned that several times already, but I evidently have used a different year. Therefore, I want to correct that in Hansard.

However, the Liberal government did change the faint hope clause in 1997 to remove that option for any multiple murderers like Clifford Olson, like Mr. Williams. The fact of the matter is I do not know how much the public knows or understands about that.

This particular bill is to remove the faint hope clause for other murderers, but 15 years from now. The Conservative are going to campaign on the issue that somehow they have removed the faint hope clause. The reality is that it is going to take 15 years for it to take effect.

I would ask the member to comment on that particular piece of information.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from the member from the NDP and I am glad that I now realize that I misstated the name of the riding of my earlier colleague from the NDP. It is not Tecumseh, it is Windsor—Tecumseh. So for the record I would also join in correcting a misstatement.

The member is quite right that if one looks at the bill, the repeal of the faint hope clause will actually only have effect 15 years after the coming into effect of this legislation, should it pass all Houses, be adopted and receive royal assent. Clearly the Conservative government has no interest in educating the public, educating groups that represent families of victims and victims themselves of the actual facts of this case.

It is not surprising. We see it with a number of other pieces of legislation, such as the white collar crime bill, which the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP were clamouring for back in 2007-08. The government finally brought it through after letting it sit for 216 days before actually pushing it forward. That is a bill that Liberals attempted to amend in order to remove the early release at one-sixth of the sentence. The Conservatives voted against it. How about that?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the amendments proposed by the government as a result of three changes the justice committee made at committee to Bill S-6.

I want to be clear that, like the Bloc, the NDP is totally opposed to the legislation and we will be speaking to that when this matter gets to third reading. With regard to the amendments, we supported the changes made at committee but now the government is trying to reverse those changes. One change is the deletion of the short title. The second change deals with the amount of time, which was very short and still is, an individual who was looking to apply for this would be given in order to make the application. The third change was a response to an issue of victims rights and sharing information with the families of murder victims and perhaps more extended members, loved ones and friends.

I will go through those three amendments one at a time, but before I do, it is important that at every opportunity we get we make it clear to those who are opposed to getting rid of this legislation and this regime that Canada has at the present time the longest sentences served, not given but served, in the world, with the exception of a very small category in the United States.

In the United States, where people are sentenced to life as a result of a murder, first degree murder in most cases, are granted the opportunity to get parole but they only serve 18.5 years. In Canada, people who are convicted of first degree murder serve 28.5 years.

In the United States there is a category where people can be sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. It does not happen very often but there are cases like that. Even in those cases, however, the average person in the United States who is convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life with no opportunity for parole ever, only spends 29 years in prison and then, on average, die in prison at year 29.

We heard this from practically everyone who works in this area and we heard the question being put to the Conservatives on the justice committee. They wanted to know where the problem was and where we were going with this legislation? The only answer was that it would make it less onerous on the families of victims of murder to be faced with the likelihood that they will need to go repeatedly before a judge to defend why the person should not be given the faint hope clause opportunity.

Then again, here are the facts. We have had 3 cases in the 4,715 either first or second degree murder cases where people applied more than once under the faint hope clause. Out of the 4,715 cases since this faint hope clause came into effect, the people who were eligible to apply for the faint hope clause, we had 3 applications. That is what this bill will do away with.

The other reality is that the average person who was released under the faint hope clause in 2009, the average sentence the person served was 25 years.

Even though we hear of reinstating this title of truth in sentencing, that they do serious time for the most serious crime, they are doing that time. If we were to look at the last five years, not just 2009, we would see that the average person was released under the faint hope clause after about 23 to 23.5 years.

The Conservatives have run around the country stirring up emotion and scaring the families and close ones of murdered victims by telling them that they will be faced with repeated applications every two years, which is what the law allows now. They have been told that every two years they will be before a judge or a judge and jury, or before the Parole Board and they will have to relive the crime. That is simply not true. As I said before, there have been three cases where there has been a second application. By the way, there was only a second application in those three cases. There has never been a case where a person has applied more than twice.

Therefore, this fear that every two years, from the 15th year when a person can first apply under the current law in a first degree murder case, until the 25th year when people could theoretically be faced with this, if my math is correct, five times, there has never been more than three cases, and that has only occurred on the second application three times. However, this fear is stoked and the Conservatives repeat it and repeat it.

My colleague from Winnipeg was telling me that Tom Flanagan, the mentor of the Prime Minister and the guy who suggested that Assange should be assassinated, was quoted in one of as saying that it does not have to be true what one is saying, it just has to be believable, which t is what this is about. This is believable because it is in the law that a person can apply every two years from the 15-year mark in first degree murder. Of course, if one is a multiple murderer, he or she cannot apply until the 25th year under the Parole Act. However, the Conservatives continue to say it.

We have witnesses who come before us out of fear. We had the ombudsman come before us and she recounted the stories of victims she has been in touch with. One of their fears was to wake up at around the 15-year mark and worry that for the next 10 years, every two years they will be faced with an application. Does anybody within the correction system, the justice department or the government tell them that is not what will o happen and never has happened? No. However, the Conservatives' minions run around the country saying that this is what people will be up against. They tell people who have suffered the tremendous loss of a family member that they will be faced with this every two years. That is absolutely false.

I want to speak to one of the amendments being proposed here. The reason the majority of the justice committee deleted the phony title was that it did not reflect the reality of what happens in Canada. When we are talking about a serious crime, and there is nothing more serious than murder, Canadian victims have every right to know that we keep murderers in custody longer than anybody else in the world, and that is 28.5 years on average.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely correct in what he said. The public actually do believe that somehow Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams are, almost on an annual basis, making applications under the faint hope clause.

In fact, in 1997 the previous Liberal government introduced legislation that was passed in the House to ban faint hope clause applications for any multiple murderer. Clifford Olson has not been able to apply at all since 1997 and, even if he were, he could not apply on an annual basis anyway. This is a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Tom Flanagan did say that what one says does not have to be true, it just has to sound plausible. That is the mantra of the government and that is the strategy it follows.

The member did mention that out of 4,715 cases there were only 3 applications, since the faint hope came into existence, made for a second case.

I would like to ask the member to repeat some of those arguments because I think the public should hear them over and over again.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, of the 4,715 cases since the faint hope clause came into existence, we have only had, on average over that period of time, and it has fluctuated slightly, 16% of people apply for the faint hope clause.

As I said earlier, in 2009, when prisoners did not get out until the 25th year, most of them applied quite late in the process as opposed to when they could have applied. Usually somewhere between 21 and 22 years is when inmates make their first applications. That is the normal pattern. It takes them about two years to get through that process and another year to get through the parole process.

We must remember that the faint hope clause only allows the right to apply for parole. Inmates still need to go through the parole process and they are at times not granted.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member just pointed out the minuscule effect this would have, if any, in increasing public safety. I know he has some good advice for the government on what it could actually do that would affect a significant number of people and make Canada safer, and maybe he could outline that.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me deal with the issue of alternatives.

In terms of reducing the fear people have of multiple applications, we should be examining the Parole Act and giving the Parole Board the authority, as we have under the faint hope clause. A judge and jury under the faint hope clause as it exists now can tell inmates that they have heard their application, that they will never get out and that they do not need apply again. They can do that right now and, in fact, have done it with Clifford Olson the one time he applied.

The Parole Board should be given the same jurisdiction so that we could then tell the families of the victims of murderers that the person was allowed to apply for parole, at this point it would be at 25 years, the individual was turned down and was told never to apply again or not to apply for another 10 years.

I want to be very clear on this for my friend from Yukon. The key here is that the government must communicate that to the families of victims and it is not being done right now. The families are oftentimes left in ignorance and then the Conservative Party plays on those fears. If we tell families what they will be facing, that they will never be faced with another application or that it will be 10 years from now, that is a great way of empowering them into being able to deal with the system.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

The recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred. The next question is on Motion No. 2. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

The recorded division on Motion No. 2 stands deferred. The next question is on Motion No. 3. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

The recorded division on Motion No. 3 stands deferred.

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at report stage of the bill.

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12:45 p.m.

Blaine Calkins

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the votes on Bill S-6 and the amendments be deferred to the end of government orders today.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I request that the votes be deferred to tomorrow, Tuesday, December 14 at the end of government orders.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

As members of the House may be aware, the whips for the government and the opposition, or their designates, may approach the table and ask for the deferral of a vote. If both should do so, it is the Chair's wish that the two would come to some agreement in terms of when that would be. The Chair is willing to give the two designated whips a moment to consult and possibly re-approach the table with an agreement.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, in a case like this, the latest date for the votes is the one that has to be accepted by the Speaker.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It would appear that the two designated whips are unable to come to an agreement, but are in agreement with the argument made by the hon. member for Yukon that when there is a disagreement, the votes shall take place on the later date proposed. As such, the recorded divisions stand deferred until the end of government business tomorrow.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

moved that Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the bill before us today. As background, I think I join all members of Parliament in saying how much we appreciate the men and women of the RCMP who have for generations, and continue to, served Canadians from coast to coast. They have done that with professionalism, with courage, with commitment and with dedication. From the most remote areas of our country to highly urbanized settings, the RCMP has been there for us and continues to be. Citizens recognize and appreciate that from coast to coast.

I especially learned more about the RCMP and its workings in a previous portfolio, public safety. During that time, my appreciation for the RCMP and the work which it did only grew. In fact, I had a great opportunity to see how the RCMP was recognized, not just nationally but internationally, as a policing force and as a police organization that had demonstrated time and time again that it had the professionalism, the dedication and the commitment to do the job that Canadians had come to know and respect and to appreciate.

No organization is beyond having an inward look. No organization performs perfectly 100% all the time. That is certainly true of this chamber in which we now stand and even of the occasional political party. It has been known that 100% perfection is not always achieved.

It was an honour for me, as one of a number of highlights with the RCMP and my involvement with it, to preside over the first ever appointment of a female commissioner of the RCMP, particularly in a difficult time. She did an admiral job and had the resounding support of members throughout the organization. I was also able to preside over the appointment of the first ever non-RCMP officer to the appointment of commissioner. Therefore, the RCMP has shown that it is, in many ways, a modern organization facing the challenges of international crime, national crime, modernization on a technological basis and in virtually every other level.

A year ago, April 6, a court ruling in the Ontario Superior Court looked at the labour management regime of the RCMP. Presently the labour management regime has a staff relations representative program, one that was contested in court in terms of its constitutionality as recently as 1999. In fact, the constitutionality of the labour relations setup in the RCMP withstood that constitutional challenge.

The RCMP, as we would all know here, is the only police force in Canada that is not unionized. It was more or less on that basis that a challenge was taken to the Ontario court, which came to a conclusion that it was not constitutional for RCMP members to be represented in this present manner because it had not yet fully allowed them the choice of having a collective bargaining process that would be recognized as a union-based process. Therefore, the court said that the present regime was not constitutional.

Now people may debate that back and forth. Even within this chamber there may be different views on that, but that was the ruling of the court. The court wisely put an 18 month stay on its decision because it said that if we declared April 6, 2009 to be the day that the present staff relations representative program was null and void, there would be the possibility for a high degree of chaos within the organization.

Individual groups could spring up all around the country. We could even have the possibility of an organization represented by a number of unions or a number of different organizations. Therefore, the Ontario court said that it would stay this for 18 months, until something was in place that would meet the demand of the court.

The government appealed that, for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was there was another case at the Supreme Court of Canada, the Fraser case. The outcome would have some direct bearing on this one. Therefore, the Government of Canada appealed the Ontario ruling and asked for that to be taken into consideration.

The courts ruled favourably on the federal government's appeal on that. The present situation is this will be addressed 30 days after the result of the ruling on the Fraser case by the Supreme Court of Canada. We will have to wait to see when that happens. We do not have a date for that as it is at the pleasure of the Supreme Court.

However, there has to be an immediate vehicle in place, should the rulings go in such a way that the Ontario ruling is upheld and the present labour relations regime is upheld as being unconstitutional, to allow RCMP members to decide what type of labour management regime will work best for them.

I want to make it clear. The modernization act before us is not an act which would force or require unionization of the RCMP. It is an act that would meet the demand of the court and say that certain provisions would have to be followed, certain constitutional guarantees of representation by members would be put in place, but it would leave that choice to RCMP members. That is the nub of the issue.

The act looks at modernizing a number of other areas also. The entire grievance and disciplinary process in the RCMP needs to be addressed. Right now, the way it is set up, members do not have available to them certain elements of appeal within a grievance process that other members of similar organizations have. This would put in place in the Public Service Labour Relations Board certain abilities for the board to appoint adjudicators. It would allow for disputes or grievances to be addressed early on where members could be face to face with others in the grievance process to look at a possible early resolution of a grievance matter.

Right now, members who face a disciplinary process may have to wait months, in fact, even longer than that, sometimes years, before the resolution of a particular grievance. That is not a fair process to have members going through, having a decision or a cloud hanging over not just their head but possibly their careers for an interminable amount of time. This would speed that process up and would allow for some early intervention and possible early resolution.

There are a number of grievance and disciplinary-related areas in the particular modernization that would to assist the public and assist RCMP members.

Also some changes would be foreseen on the part of the commissioner, whomever the commissioner of the day might be. Presently deputy heads of organizations within government have available to them the levers and the mechanisms to take disciplinary action and also to allow for rewards. That is fairly limited in the present legal situation related to the commissioner. Therefore, there would be some provisions that would allow the commissioner to act with the responsibility that would be commensurate with that position.

The staff relations representatives, certainly the ones I have known and have worked with previously as minister, and I am sure members in the House work with on a local basis, have served with sincerity and with commitment, always looking to the best interest of their members.

This particular legislation is not a reflection on the way they have performed the tasks which the members have asked them to perform. As I said earlier, it is a reflection on the court ruling which is demanding a change. The decision will ultimately rest in the hands of the members themselves, and that is the way it should be.

Adjustments will be made to the past process of pay and having a pay council making recommendations. There will be an external advisory capacity. A number of areas will be directly affected, which are in place, should members here agree. I believe there is some support for having this legislation in place pending a final ruling so that whatever happens the members of the RCMP, the men and women who have committed their lives to keeping us safe, to serving us as admirably as they do, will have the assurance that a mechanism will be in place that will not leave their concerns unattended whichever way the final ruling in court goes.

That is what we have before us today. I would invite careful analysis of this particular modernization act. I hope that we will find support for it. This is being done in a non-partisan way because the interests and the safety and security of our communities, our families, our businesses are paramount at this point in time. I believe members on all sides will see it this way and that is what I anticipate as the bill moves forward.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the overview of this important legislation. I am sure the minister is aware that some civilian members of the RCMP have concerns about this particular piece of legislation. They have some unique issues and concerns and special needs which they think need to be addressed. They are concerned that this bill would not do that and would lump them in with the officers.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague would address those concerns, please.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend recognizes what some Canadians may not and that is the public's perception of an RCMP detachment. People who work there are uniformed members of the RCMP. Also, throughout the force there are what we call civilian members who are not members of the RCMP. For example, there are people who work in laboratories, people who do administrative work, and people who do the dispatching. In any variety of these job classifications individuals may find themselves as public servants or civilian members.

They are being consulted. We want input from them. We do not see a change at this point. This legislation would not affect people within the public sector union who are working with and for the RCMP right now. We want to hear from those individuals who are regarded as civilian members to hear how they would be affected. I have talked with uniformed members of the RCMP and civilian members. There is a variety of views on different issues.

I can assure my colleague opposite that we want to know their views and we want to make sure they are represented.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the previous member's question, because I too have received representations on the issue of civilian members.

Constituent Deneene Curry is one such member. In her email to me she said that civilian members are considered subject matter experts in their fields. They are individuals with specialized training, skill sets that are unique to the RCMP and its environment. She also said that civilian members are required to work various hours during the day, often on short notice, to meet investigational demands or court deadlines. They may be transferred or dispatched in the event of an emergency, disaster, special events such as the Olympics and the G8, or to fill shortages in resources. She is very concerned about what is going to happen to them under this new regime.

I am wondering why the government has not been able to clarify some of that in advance of where we are right now with this bill.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, the purpose of this modernization is to reflect a court ruling, at this point the Ontario Superior Court. The Supreme Court will have something to say on this in the ancillary case, the Fraser case, but it is to do with the labour management regime and the process by which members are represented.

That is why the primary focus of this is to have in place the legislation that would make sure that representation for members continues, depending on how this ruling goes. That is why civilian members who in many cases do have very specific training and expertise, which my colleague mentioned, are called on in ways in which perhaps somebody under a public sector union may not be called upon. We want to make sure that they also will have full representation and consultation.

We see this clearly as a collaborative process. It is not meant in any way, shape or form to exclude or limit anybody's ability right now to have their concerns known. In fact, I would say for the member opposite, it can be stated that what we are putting in place actually will improve their situation, because the types of members he is referring to fall under certain grievance and disciplinary procedures which have been seen as somewhat limiting for an employee. This would give them a little more comfort and breadth in terms of having grievances addressed.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also would like to ask my hon. colleague to discuss the changes that are being considered for the commissioner himself.

In his opening remarks, he talked about more powers being given to the commissioner. Could he elaborate on what powers those might be and why he feels these are necessary at this time?

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, right now in the public service, deputy ministers have certain levels of legislative ability to deal with situations either on the side of grievances or disciplinary issues, and with that increased capability comes increased responsibility.

The commissioner himself does not have some of that leeway. We believe that the commissioner should be fully responsible, just as a deputy minister has responsibility, although it is not a direct 100% comparison, over employees, the implementation of the various policies that affect employees, and how to move expeditiously if some of those processes are not being followed. There is a limitation right now. Just as employees themselves and RCMP members in disciplinary and grievance processes need a little more leeway and need to be able to access more broadly the types of assistance that somebody under a grievance process would have, there has to be a balanced right and responsibility at the level of commissioner. Those are laid out in the bill itself.

These are seen as natural, evolutionary steps in the modernization of a labour management regime. It moves the commissioner into the position of having an equality of capability that would be found at similar levels in other large organizations throughout the public service.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that a court decision is what is prompting the action here, but the fact of the matter is that whenever government introduces any type of legislation, there is normally a period of consultation. One would think that the civilian members would have been consulted rather than leaving them out and their becoming alarmed at the government making initiatives without checking with them.

Mr. Deneene Curry and other people I think would have appreciated some sort of statement from the government as to what would happen with them. How many civilian members are we dealing with throughout the entire RCMP procedures? Were they consulted in any way, shape or form at that stage?

I recognize that when we get the bill to committee, there will be opportunities for people such as Ms. Curry to make presentations to the committee, but I would like to know what sort of consultations, if any, were done prior to this date.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, the numbers change from month to month but we could use a rough number of about 24,000 people who would be called RCMP members, depending on the fluctuation in hiring that takes place. For instance, over the last almost three years we have put in place the funding to hire 1,500 more RCMP officers all across the country. Whenever that happens there are a certain number of civilian members that have to back up those particular jobs. Overall there are about 24,000 and somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 would be classified as civilian members.

When a court rules, there is no consultation per se and the court makes a ruling. All parties affected look at it. The principal focus of the ruling is to have a provision in place pending our appeal. If the ruling stands, there would be no effective representation or a staked out framework for representation for any members, be they uniform members or civilian members. That is the principal focus.

As a member of Parliament, I have certainly met with civilian members and have heard some of their concerns. I am sure other MPs have done that also. We want to make sure this is in place and that members, as my friend has mentioned, should go through their own associations to get in their views. This is generally seen as very favourable to all members in terms of protecting them and giving them a greater say in their own affairs.

This is not seen in any way to be limiting any of their freedoms, rights or responsibilities. Certainly at the committee stage we would welcome hearing from members of Parliament who may have heard from some civilian members who may think that is not the case. I would be interested in hearing that. We would want to address it.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-43, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization Act.

At the end of the day, Bill C-43 is all about choice. This legislation, if enacted, would give the RCMP's membership the choice of whether or not they want to unionize and be represented by a bargaining agent.

In my opinion, the membership of the RCMP deserves the choice to make an informed decision as to whether or not a union is the best way in which to represent their views and negotiate on their behalf.

At present, the RCMP is the only police force in Canada not represented by an association. Looking at other police associations across Canada, we can see that they have worked quite well and have given police officers a strong voice, whether it has been fighting for improved working conditions or the gun registry, for example.

One thing that is important to keep in mind is that this legislation would not allow the RCMP the ability to strike. Just as it would with other police associations and emergency service personnel, a strike would greatly risk the safety and security of Canadians. A union or an association would exist to bargain on members' needs and members' behalf and represent their views to management.

Whether or not the RCMP should form an association is a longstanding issue, and there are arguments on both sides. Organizations such as the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association have been vocal supporters of unionization.

They took this matter to court, and on April 6 of last year an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that section 96 of the RCMP regulations breached the freedom of association guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The conclusion was that Canada's 20,000 RCMP officers have the right to decide whether they should or should not unionize. That is a choice I believe they deserve to make and are best suited to make.

Now on the other side of that argument, there are some valid issues being raised. There are some individuals within the civilian membership of the RCMP who have expressed concerns. They worry that a future union could lump them in with the officers and that their unique issues and needs may not be appropriately represented.

That is a valid concern and something we should explore in greater detail at the committee stage by having witnesses from all sides come forward to explain their views.

I have before me a letter that was written by the staff relations representative, Steve Raine, chair of the SRR national staffing committee, who raised a number of concerns. Under the category of employee review, which is currently being undertaken by senior management, he indicates in this letter that there has been this type of review in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, as well as 2007, and they are under the understanding that it is again being reviewed.

The civilian members feel that not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars because, of course, it has been reviewed so many times but also the reclassification that could occur as a result would have a serious impact on the operational efficiency of the RCMP and could jeopardize public safety.

They raise this issue of the category of employee review because they also feel it is causing great unease with the regular members at a time when Bill C-43 is also potentially going to dramatically change the entire system of staff representation.

The regular members do not want to be treated like every other police force in the country. The civilian members do not want to be viewed as simply public servants. The letter says, “The RCMP is unique and it is our membership—regular and civilian—that makes it so”.

There are concerns being raised by the civilian membership, and I think they have to be taken into consideration when we look at this bill.

Bill C-43 is about more than just giving the RCMP the choice to form an association. It contains a number of other significant changes to Canada's national police force.

It would give the commissioner of the RCMP new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of members, including commissioned officers. These are authorities similar to those of deputy heads of the federal public service and those of heads of other large police services.

I asked my hon. colleague who presented this bill for his response to giving the commissioner additional powers and he gave his viewpoint on this. There has been concern expressed because of some of the changes that have occurred under the commissioner in the last number of years, and a thorough review of those powers needs to be conducted because we do not want to do something in haste that would cause more concern and more grievance within the RCMP.

The commissioner would also be granted the authority to implement a structured discipline system that would attempt to bring more transparency, consistency and efficiency when dealing with conduct resolution. These changes would be consistent with the discipline systems found throughout other Canadian police services and the rest of the public service.

It is something that needs to be thoroughly investigated at committee stage. We have heard some of the concerns through media reports, including concerns from a whistleblower, on some of these changes to the RCMP and things that have occurred over the last number of years. These powers need to be thoroughly reviewed.

The bill would also establish a total compensation advisory committee, which would provide recommendations to the Treasury Board president on overall compensation of RCMP members not represented by a bargaining agent. A consultation committee would be created to address workplace issues. Members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers either individually or as a group. This could include discussing potential workplace improvements or identifying areas of concern. It is just one more way in which communication within the RCMP could be improved.

A public service relations board would be created to act as an independent, external third party, which would make final and binding decisions relating to discipline and grievance issues of the RCMP members. Some issues would not be referable. These would be grievances related to the assignment of duties, law enforcement techniques or uniform standards. Such a board would have to take into account the unique role the RCMP plays as Canada's national police organization protecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Bill C-43 is not a small piece of legislation. It is 116 pages filled with clauses that could make significant changes to the structure and operation of the RCMP. Therefore, we must ensure an in-depth study at committee stage to allow witnesses the opportunity to voice their support, concerns and general opinions. For instance, the new powers that would be granted to the commissioner, as I indicated earlier, must be studied further to ensure transparency and accountability.

I look forward to hearing further debate on this bill from all of my colleagues and from witnesses at committee stage. The men and women of the RCMP deserve to decide for themselves whether they feel adequately represented or whether an association would better their working conditions.

As I said earlier, some of the background on the development of Bill C-43 deserves mention. Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, was introduced in the House of Commons by the hon. President of the Treasury Board in June of this year.

Bill C-43 is a direct response to an April 2009 decision, over a year later, by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Regulations breached the freedom of association accorded to RCMP members under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a very important clause.

The decision concluded that under the charter, Canada's 20,000 RCMP officers are entitled to decide whether they wish to bargain with the force's management through a union of their choice or remain under the existing arrangement, which is ultimately under management's control.

As part of the decision, the court struck down section 96, but gave the federal government 18 months to provide a new statutory framework for collective bargaining. This period was to have ended in October 2010, but at the last minute after three previously unsuccessful attempts by the government to obtain a stay of the court ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted a stay lasting up to 30 days after the release of the related Supreme Court of Canada decision involving the rights of farmers to organize. The Supreme Court decision is expected some time this fall or in the spring of 2011.

As I said earlier, Bill C-43, if implemented, would give RCMP members the choice of whether they want to continue to work in a non-unionized environment or pursue the unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. It would also give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members including commissioned officers, quite significant powers.

It would also establish, as I said earlier, the total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on the overall compensation, pay and benefits, of the RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario this would include RCMP officers, for example inspectors or the ranks above, executives or other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.

It would also establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and/or working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.

The bill, if implemented, would also maintain the existing formal conflict management system whereby options would continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial. It would also provide the commissioner with the authority to implement a structured discipline system, which would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly.

RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial, external decision-making body. As I said, it is a very complex and lengthy bill. It would also establish a Public Service Relations Board as an independent external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of the RCMP members.

As I stated earlier, there have been concerns. There has been some stakeholder reaction. For example, the right of the RCMP members to unionize is a longstanding issue and various informal RCMP labour associations such as the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association, which were the ones who brought the issue to the courts to begin with, have been particularly vocal on granting RCMP members the right to associate. As part of the temporary court-ordered stay, these groups have also been given access to the RCMP's email system as well as its intranet and intranet bulletin boards to post information about the benefits of unionization.

There have been many pieces of correspondence that have been sent out by these associations to ensure that members of the RCMP have been apprised of their rights. In fact in a member communication, they talk about the historic reason why they have been forbidden to do this and that they really do feel that collective bargaining is essential for members of the RCMP. They talk about collective bargaining simply referring to work-related negotiations between an employer and group of employees that has members of the association permitted to negotiate on their behalf.

They talk about some of the successes that these associations have been able to achieve. For example, police associations in Canada succeeded in improving the lives of their members, as they say in their correspondence, and they talk about the elimination of voluntary overtime. In negotiations, for example, in mid-2000, the Toronto Police Association fought to retain an existing minimum staffing requirement of two officers per patrol car. They talk about the Police Association of Nova Scotia, which recently defended its members against a pension deficiency. They talk about the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary from my own riding introducing the public awareness campaign that resulted in an increase in the force's budget, which resulted in the hiring of more officers and improvements in training.

They list these types of achievements of the bond of association, and say that if the RCMP felt so inclined they feel that these associations would be able to bring forward positive changes on their behalf.

They have been bringing forward this issue, speaking not only very strongly in the court-related process but also to members of Parliament on these very serious issues that they feel need to be addressed.

Again, I bring the House back to the staff relations representatives who have an alternate view. They feel that we should rethink this whole move toward an association by the RCMP or at least give them the opportunity to voice their concerns on these matters and give them the opportunity to say why they should not be included in this group or association, why they are concerned about some of the issues around the category of employee review.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I think the bill provides a new labour relations regime for the RCMP, that it should go to committee for further review and further analysis, that we need a fulsome discussion about this issue, bringing forward some of the internal concerns of the RCMP, some of the staff relations concerns, and as well giving the RCMP members and officers themselves an opportunity to come forward with why they feel it may be to their benefit or not to their benefit to come forward in this manner.

I think we also need a full discussion on some of the review panels and the tribunals that are going to be created under this act. I think as well that we have to consider the powers of the commissioner and whether or not they are at the right level of powers, the right actions at this particular time, and how we can move forward to ensure that the RCMP, that most respected institution, is given even a greater opportunity.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I followed this issue for many years. In the province of Quebec the RCMP members of Quebec, the gendarmes, have asked for unionization or an association of some kind for many years.

It is unfortunate that RCMP officers and their group have to go to court in order to facilitate even the discussion of whether or not RCMP members should have the right to join an association or to unionize.

That was problem number one, as to why these fine men and women had to go to court to get what so many other police officers in the country have as their granted right, the right to, if they wish, form an association to collectively bargain for future pay and benefits and for packages for their members and their families.

The other point is the last thing I personally would like to see is the current Commissioner of the RCMP getting any more powers than he already has. As we know, this was a Conservative who was appointed to the RCMP. He never once served a day as an RCMP member. I think that was a tragedy. The Commissioner of the RCMP should be an RCMP member.

When we look at the fact that they were denied VIP services and they were denied many other aspects that veterans get, for example, I think it is sad when a commissioner does not stand up for the men and women in his service.

I would like the hon. member from Newfoundland to comment on the fact that it should be a commissioner from--

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I think my hon. colleague hit a couple of the key points.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is about choice. At least this bill does address the fact that the RCMP has a choice as to whether or not they want to form an association. The RCMP had to go through the court process, associations had to bring forward these issues and I believe the Toronto police had to bring forward these issues to the courts. It is unfortunate that particular point was delayed. It is about choice. Every other police department across the country has that association and has that choice.

The second point the member raises, one that I have raised as well, is on the power of the commissioner and granting the commissioner these additional and pretty wide-ranging powers. If we look to some of the concerns that have been expressed, that my hon. colleague has expressed, I think these are the types of issues that need to be fully vetted at committee.

The third point, and I am sure if he had more time he would have raised it, is on the issue of some of the non-commissioned officers in the RCMP who are concerned about whether or not they are in the right place at the right time on this bill. There are civilians within the RCMP who are concerned about this bill and I think we have to hear from them as well.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was in the labour movement for 28 years and so my bias is very evident.

I am pleased to hear that the Liberal Party agrees with the RCMP officers' right to form a union. I would ask if it supports the right of the RCMP officers to choose the union of their choice.

As well, we have heard a lot about collective bargaining and the representation factor. In the RCMP it is well known that there has been a fair amount of intimidation of late, or at least it was reported as such. Does the member agree that RCMP officers should have the right to have a union representative available to attend all meetings with management?

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure my colleague is very learned in this particular area.

I think he has raised a few points that should be brought up at committee. I very strongly support Bill C-43 going to committee for these types of issues to be reviewed.

As I said, the bill gives the commissioner new powers, helps to establish a board for compensation purposes, establishes the RCMP consultation committee to address workplace issues, and makes the Public Service Labour Relations Board and the external body resolve some of the personnel issues.

Does that go far enough? Are there other issues that need to be addressed? That is why I want to send this to committee to talk about what needs to be done in this act.

From my own personal perspective, I think it is about choice, as I have said at the very beginning. It is for the RCMP officers to make that choice about association and how they go about associating. That is why I am strongly supporting sending this to committee.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have some concerns about this bill as well, and I am sure that we will have ample time to deal with them at committee.

One, the bill dictates that only a bargaining agent that primarily represents workers in the field of policing would be eligible to be certified as the recognized union for RCMP officers. In effect, this is a restriction on the right of the workers to pick whomever they want as their bargaining agent. I would ask the member for her comments on that particular issue.

Second, the bill puts some limits on topics that might be negotiated at the bargaining table, including some substantial components of a contract such as pensions. I would ask the member to comment on whether or not there should be restrictions on what can be negotiated, such as pensions.

Third, there is a provision that gives the Treasury Board the power over the civilian members of the RCMP. They would be put under a separate framework, which violates the rights of those workers to make a free choice. It is all about free choice. We are not concerned about what the choice is, we just want them to have the choice. We want free choice for the civilian members as to how this sees the light of day.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am hearing that, again, Bill C-43 is not a small piece of legislation. It contains 116 pages of various and sundry significant changes to the structure and operation of the RCMP. That is why I think it needs that in-depth study at the committee stage. The committee can get into some of the issues that my hon. colleague is raising, bring forward witnesses and give them the opportunity to express their concerns or suggest changes that may be required in this bill.

This bill deserves the review and recommendation of going to committee so that it can have the fullness of discussion and debate.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as members know, the RCMP have a tremendous record over the decades of service to Canada, but there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents recently, such as the terrible tragedy of Mr. Silverfox in my riding.

I wonder how the member thinks the provisions of this bill would affect those situations. Does she think they might have prevented them or that they would make the situations less likely in the future?

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raises a very important point. The RCMP has had some challenges over the last number of years. In fact, even in my province, this past weekend, we had an issue of a person who escaped from surveillance. It is unfortunate that these things do occur.

I think that my hon. colleague raises a very important question about the future and the roles and responsibilities of the commissioner, the powers that would rest with the commissioner, some of the training issues and some of the freedom of association issues. I think that is the kind of in-depth analysis that needs to be done at committee stage, where we really get into some of these things.

I do not know whether or not this bill would solve all the ills of the RCMP. I sincerely doubt it. However, I think it is a step in the right direction for us being able to address some of those concerns and bring them forward when we are looking at the powers and the responsibilities of the commissioner.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to be speaking about Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. The Bloc will be pleased to discuss and debate this bill in committee with its usual thoroughness.

The Bloc believes that unionization of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers would lead to more harmonious and fairer labour relations. In addition, it is useful to remember that the Conservatives introduced this bill following an Ontario Provincial Court decision, which was appealed by the government three times.

In April 2009, Justice Ian MacDonnell of the Ontario Superior Court extended the right to unionize to the 22,000 officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The judge ruled that the federal law governing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which prohibits unionization, is unconstitutional. However, police cannot strike because the Canadian Police Association gave up that right.

This decision put an end to a century-old tradition of RCMP management believing that unionization would hurt the officers' morale. This is not the first time that RCMP officers have requested the right to unionize. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out the case of Gaétan Delisle, a former officer who invoked the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to allow RCMP members to unionize.

This bill introduces human resources management processes for grievance procedures, disciplinary measures and the review of conditions of employment. It also gives the commissioner authorities similar to those given to deputy heads in the federal public service as well as the heads of large police services to support the effective management of the RCMP workforce.

According to the new labour relations regime, RCMP members will be able to choose to work in a non-unionized environment, enabled through joint consultation, or to work in a unionized environment, represented by a certified bargaining agent. As is the case with most police forces in Canada, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.

In either a unionized or a non-unionized environment, the new labour relations regime for the RCMP would include the following features.

The proposed legislation gives the commissioner human resource management authorities similar to those of deputy heads in the federal public service—as I said earlier—and to those of heads of large police services in Canada. This includes the authority to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.

The President of the Treasury Board will establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide him with recommendations on overall compensation, that is, pay and benefits, for RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent.

If members choose not to be represented by a bargaining agent, the total compensation advisory committee's recommendations would apply to all RCMP members.

If members choose to be represented by a bargaining agent, the committee's recommendations would only apply to officers, that is, inspectors and ranks above, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.

The committee would be comprised of up to five impartial and external members who, together, would have an appropriate mix of knowledge of policing operations and of compensation issues and principles.

The total compensation advisory committee shares many similarities with the advisory committee on senior level retention and compensation, which provides, among other things, independent advice and recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on compensation and overall human resources management matters for executives, deputy ministers, chief executive officers of crown corporations and other Governor in Council appointees.

The proposed legislation requires, among other things, that a consultation committee be established to address workplace issues. This could include the co-development of workplace improvements; that is to say, members could also participate in identifying and collaboratively resolving workplace issues and challenges. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.

The bill maintains the current informal conflict management system and integrates it into all labour relations processes. This system will continue to offer options to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.

The proposed legislation provides the commissioner with the authority to implement a restructured discipline system. Consistent with discipline systems found throughout other Canadian police services and the broader public service, the new system would ensure that the RCMP is able to address and resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. It would give RCMP members the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to an impartial, external decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.

The proposed legislation would include a more timely and effective grievance process. This new process would give members the right to refer certain decisions to an impartial, external, decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.

What role does the Public Service Relations Board play in the public service? The legislation proposes that the board act as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members. Members would not be able to refer grievances to the board on issues such as assignment of duties, law enforcement techniques or uniform standards.

To fulfill its role, the Public Service Labour Relations Board will take into account the unique role of the RCMP as a police organization, protecting Canadians and national safety. It will have to ensure it has to the capacity to perform its new powers and functions, including the ability to assign adjudicators who have knowledge of policing and police organizations as required.

The bill is a step in the right direction but the Bloc Québécois has some concerns. There are some issues that could be debated in committee if the bill is passed here in the House. One of our concerns is the definition of “employee” found in clause 2(1). This definition is much too strict. In our opinion, there is no reason to exclude employees who are hired outside Canada, part-time employees, casual employees and students.

These people carry out the same duties as their unionized co-workers but are denied the right of association. Members will recall that the Public Service Alliance of Canada is currently before the courts in order to have the rights of these types of employees recognized under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is also worth mentioning that the so-called confidential positions are not defined clearly enough. According to clause 31 and following, people who are in confidential positions are those who have been deemed to be so by the employer. It is then up to the union to prove otherwise. This vague or extremely flexible definition could easily lead to cases of abuse that would ultimately be harmful to labour relations.

The bill refers specifically to a certification process. When an application for certification is filed, the board must ensure that a majority of employees in the bargaining unit wish the applicant employee organization to represent them as their bargaining agent. This is a fairly unusual situation and, in our opinion, it places a very heavy burden on the shoulders of the employee organization.

Subsection 29(2) of the Canada Labour Code sets out a mechanism similar to that provided for under section 28 of the Quebec Labour Code. This mechanism involves a representation vote when the board is satisfied that the union has obtained the support of 35% or more of the employees.

In our view, this is a much more realistic approach to truly determining what the employees want. It allows for a vote, when everyone has their say.

Upon reading the bill and the rulings that led to it, we have to wonder what opportunity members of the RCMP will have to join an existing union. The unclear provision, in our opinion, is clause 56 of the bill. We wonder whether its purpose is to ensure that the employee organization actively defends its members or whether it is to limit the organization's role to defending police officers only.

Clause 56 states that:

The Board must revoke the certification of an employee organization as the bargaining agent for the bargaining unit if the Board, on application by the employer or any employee, determines that the organization no longer has as its primary mandate the representation of police officers.

In our opinion, the first solution should be adopted. With the exception of three Canadian provinces, all the other jurisdictions allow their police officers to be part of diversified employee organizations.

As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, this is a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois notes, however, that everything in this bill is geared to limiting the number of individuals who can join the ranks of an employee organization. Whether it be by excluding employees whose jobs are not very secure, or by designating confidential positions, there seems to be a real desire to give a limited number of people the right to organize.

What is more, having a certification process that is different from what is done under the Canada Labour Code and in other provinces shows the government's desire to make the certification process difficult.

The confusion around a number of definitions and clauses in the bill also reflects the government's attitude. We sincerely believe that with some amendments, Bill C-43 would benefit RCMP employees. In committee, we will be able to question witnesses and move and debate amendments.

Needless to say, I do not believe the government was too happy about introducing this bill. I do not get the feeling the Conservatives like unions much. I think they moved second reading of this bill quite reluctantly. In their plan to help the auto sector, the Conservatives wanted to include a condition that would have imposed a salary reduction, in spite of the collective agreements in effect.

I have another example to back up what I am saying. In the 2009 budget, the Conservatives included an amendment to the collective agreement for public service employees that unilaterally imposed new salary conditions on some public servants. This provision is found in part 10 of Bill C-10. They also voted against Bill C-395 introduced by the Bloc Québécois, which would exclude the period of a labour dispute from the employment insurance qualifying period. This bill is designed to fill a gap that, in theory, could be used by an employer to pressure a union.

Lastly, the Conservatives have always been opposed to anti-scab legislation, which once again puts workers at a disadvantage compared to employers.

This bill should be debated in committee so that we can improve it and propose amendments to give police officers and RCMP personnel the opportunity to unionize and defend their rights fairly, rigorously and effectively.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on her excellent speech that clearly explains the Bloc Québécois's position on unionization, especially for this group of people who work for the government and enforce the law across the land.

The issue of unionizing members of the RCMP comes up often. The last time it came up, it was studied by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. We were told of a problematic and distressing situation for many members of the RCMP. Senior officials had been involved in an embezzlement scheme. Several years ago, they had taken money out of an insurance plan and put it into a retirement plan, or vice versa. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts made a number of comments and recommendations on the matter. According to one of the recommendations, unionizing RCMP members would diminish the risk of such situations happening again and would correct them before they ever happened.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about this situation in particular.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is our critic on the Standing Committee on International Trade and he always has very pertinent questions. He diligently represents his voters.

In response to his question, I would say that the point here is that they are being forced to introduce the bill. The government was forced, in a way, to introduce this bill. It is not pleased about it and has its doubts. We know that the Conservatives are no friend of the unions and do everything possible to limit their ability to intervene. Therefore, the bill before us, with over one hundred clauses, must be analyzed and debated with fairness and rigour to provide RCMP officers with appropriate and effective working conditions and representation.

Compassionate VolunteerismStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Waterloo region, including Kitchener Centre, was built on a merger of the ideal of hard work with the ideal of compassionate co-operation.

Our Governor General, who spent many years in our community, referred to this as a “barn-raising” mentality.

Our heritage also includes an ability to see past appearances and accents, to treat every person as valuable. These ideals have made Kitchener-Waterloo the economic engine of Canada. People are asking, “What is in the water in Waterloo region?”

Let us celebrate the Kitchener ideals of hard work, compassionate co-operation and respect for every person.

I want to pay special tribute to Connie Dietrich, a constituent who recently lost her life. Connie lived out these ideals with conviction, dedicating 15 years of her life to volunteering in palliative care.

I am very proud to be the member of Parliament for the great community of Kitchener.

Community VolunteerismStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to pay tribute to an outstanding constituent in my riding of York West.

Paul Nguyen is a proud Vietnamese Canadian, living in the Jane-Finch area, who has dedicated his life to ending discrimination in at-risk and marginalized communities. As a volunteer, Paul has helped to give residents a strong voice and to combat negative stereotypes.

Recently Paul was awarded the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship from the Lieutenant Governor. This adds to an already impressive list of awards, which includes the 2010 Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the 2010 Canadian Ethnic Media Association award of excellence in ethnic Internet journalism, and the 2009 William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the City of Toronto.

Paul Nguyen is someone who has made a life of giving back to his community and to our community. I would like to send a special note of personal thanks for all he has done and all he continues to do.

Postal Services to Deployed TroopsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the fifth consecutive year, Canada Post is offering free delivery of letters and parcels to troops deployed in war zones overseas.

Until January 7, 2011, Canada Post's 6,600 post offices will offer free parcel service for family and friends of Canadian Forces members currently in Afghanistan and other overseas theatres of operations.

It is particularly hard to be separated from loved ones during the holiday season, which is filled with festivities and visits with family and friends. This is why receiving mail can be comforting.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I would like to salute the efforts and especially the courage of our men and women in the service. May the new year bring them peace and serenity.

Public Security PersonnelStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, at this time, prior to the Christmas season, I would like to stand in this House and give special tribute to all those veterans and their families, to all those RCMP members, to those emergency responders, those firefighters, those paramedics, and to all our military men and women serving overseas, to wish them and their families a very merry Christmas and very happy new year.

These are the people who allow all Canadians to have a good night's sleep.

I would also remind all my hon. colleagues in the House of Commons to make sure that when they are in the malls or in the stores or on the street corners, in big towns and small communities, from coast to coast to coast, they put a little bit of change in the Salvation Army kettles, because this is the one organization that does not ask questions; it just looks to the humanity of the season.

If we all give generously this year, then maybe everyone in Canada will have a very warm and generous Christmas. God bless.

Centre Dufferin District High School War MemorialStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to recognize four exceptional students: Alissa Droog, Alexandra Berry, Sarah Callaghan, Corah Lynn Hodgson, and their dedicated teacher, Mr. Neil Orford.

On November 10, after two years of tremendous effort, their vision to honour former students of Centre Dufferin District High School who served or are serving in Canada's armed forces was finally realized.

The new granite war memorial, which now hangs in the front entrance of the school, will forever commemorate the sacrifices made for democracy and freedom by our country's finest.

Through their own initiative and under the guidance of their teacher, these four students raised over $6,000 from the community to make the memorial a reality.

On behalf of the residents of Dufferin—Caledon, and most especially the veterans of the Shelburne Royal Canadian Legion, I sincerely commend these four outstanding students and their enthusiastic teacher for giving our community a special and enduring tribute to veterans, active service personnel and Dufferin military history.

Terence Bay LighthouseStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Terence Bay Lighthouse Society has been recognized for its community spirit and dedication to preserving local heritage. The Terence Bay Lighthouse, built in 1903, is an important landmark.

Unfortunately, maintaining this iconic historic structure is not a priority for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Battered by the sea and rain and neglected by the Conservatives, the lighthouse was in a dismal state. It was left to members of the society to repair this landmark when the Conservative government abandoned it.

I hope this will be an example to the minister that maintaining our lighthouses is a priority for the people.

Charitable GivingStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the holiday season, Canadians share in the spirit of peace and goodwill, but some in our society suffer hardship and isolation and are unable to enjoy what many of us take for granted. At this time of year, charitable organizations are called upon even more as they work to fill the needs in our communities.

Statistics Canada has recently reported that charitable donations have declined in Canada, likely due to the pressures of the global recession. My private member's motion, Motion No. 559, seeks ways to encourage increased charitable giving and to consider new ways to give, such as through donations of private company shares and real estate.

I urge members of the House to support my motion and I ask all Canadians to remember to share generously with those less fortunate in our communities.

Artists in OttawaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, on November 30, more than 100 artists from Quebec converged on Ottawa to condemn Bill C-32 on copyright. The expedition inspired internationally renowned lyricist Luc Plamondon, who was part of the protest. Here is an excerpt from his poem, which appeared in the media on Saturday:

We had a great trip to Ottawa-land
Hand in hand, heart in hand
The whole family was there, great and small
And I felt like the father of them all!
...
My God, it was swell!
In Parliament's halls
Our shouts shook the walls
'Til the fire alarm rang
And we cleared out again
How irate was our gang!
The Conservative cabal—
Moore and Harper et al—
Did not think to greet us
Or deign to talk to us
Or even to look at us
They answered with sneering
Our copyright querying
Taking industry's side
While claiming to protect the little guy
...
And that
Was our great trip to Canada!

That was by Luc Plamondon.

Artists in OttawaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. The hon. member knows that she may not name members in the House.

The hon. member for Portage—Lisgar.

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted ChurchStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, earlier this month, Christians all around the world gathered for the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church to remember those Christians who face violence and oppression every day.

A recent Toronto Star article pointed out that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. For example, recently in Iraq, more than 50 people died when they were attacked at a church in Baghdad by an armed group called the Islamic State of Iraq.

In many countries, Christians face daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment and torture, and a further 400 million encounter discrimination in areas such as jobs and housing. It is not acceptable that any religious group should face persecution, and it is not acceptable that 75% of all religious persecution in the world is directed against Christians.

We need to raise our voices for those who cannot speak, by informing the world of atrocities committed against Christians, and we need to honour their courage and their faith.

Human RightsStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, Gilad Shalit, abducted during a ceasefire arrangement, has been held incommunicado in Hamas-ruled Gaza for over four years. Accordingly, we call upon the government to ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Quartet and humanitarian agencies uphold the relevant standards of humanitarian law, including proof of life, visitation rights and communications between him and his family, as a bare minimum.

More specifically, we call upon the government to work with the Israeli, French, American and German governments to secure the release of Gilad.

We ask that the Palestinian Authority join in these efforts; that Hamas be held accountable for its international criminality underpinned by its anti-Semitic charter; and that Canada use its good efforts to put an end to these violations of international humanitarian law, to secure Gilad Shalit's release and to return him to his family as a matter of fundamental decency and elemental justice.

Aerospace IndustryStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, today, the Minister of Industry announced an investment of $300 million for Pratt & Whitney, a major aerospace company.

This investment will create and maintain research jobs and will also encourage public and private partnerships.

This investment is expected to create and maintain over 700 highly skilled jobs during the project work phase and more than 2,000 jobs during the 15-year benefits phase.

Our government's investments in the aerospace industry give Canadian businesses the opportunity to contribute to major international projects in the aerospace and defence industries, such as the global F-35 program.

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, since the 1930s, the Senate has always respected the will of those elected by the people. That was the case until Conservative senators decided otherwise a couple of weeks ago.

This despite the fact that the Prime Minister said that an unelected chamber should not block bills from an elected one.

I am asking Senator Comeau and all senators to respect the will of the elected Parliament by sending to committee the bill requiring Supreme Court justices to understand the official languages. It is their duty to protect the rights and interests of Canadians, especially minority groups.

The fact that the Conservatives promote unequal rights for anglophones and francophones is unacceptable. The English and the French have equal rights and privileges. They need to understand that formal equality is not true equality.

I call on all Canadians to remind senators how important this bill is for a fairer country for all.

JusticeStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, today the Conservative government called upon the coalition headed by the leader of the Liberal Party to stop blocking a bill that would eliminate pardons for serious crimes.

At present, criminals who sexually assault children are eligible for a pardon. That is why last spring we introduced a bill that would eliminate pardons for those who commit serious crimes, including sexual assault. For nearly six months now, the coalition headed by the Liberal Party leader has been blocking the bill in committee. We are calling a special committee meeting this week to force the opposition to vote on the bill.

Canadians can rest assured that the Conservative government will do whatever it takes to ensure that this bill passes and to make our streets and communities safer.

High TidesStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week, high tides combined with high winds caused a great deal of damage in eastern Quebec in particular.

To make matters worse, on December 9, the helicopter transporting Government of Quebec experts, namely from the public safety and sustainable development department, over the Gaspé Peninsula to assess the damage crashed in Cap-Chat. Among the passengers was Pascal Bernatchez, geography professor at UQAR and Quebec research chair in coastal geoscience. Fortunately, thanks to the pilot's experience, everyone survived and no one has any life-threatening injuries. In any event, we wish them a speedy recovery.

As people assess the damage and begin reconstruction, the Bloc Québécois wants to commend the courage of all the victims affected by these high tides and the efforts made by municipal authorities and volunteers to lend a helping hand.

Human RightsStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this past month we paused to reflect on the 1932-33 famine genocide executed by Soviet dictator Joseph Staline against the Ukrainian people.

Today I stand with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and urge the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to include a permanent display devoted to the Holodomor.

The museum is set to open its doors in 2013 in Winnipeg. Now is the time for the Content Advisory Committee to commit to a permanent exhibit to commemorate the many Ukrainian lives that were lost.

As we in the House of Commons and the thousands of Ukrainians in Winnipeg remember and pledge that “never again” will finally mean never again, let us allow all Canadians and the world the chance to learn about the Holodomor at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

JusticeStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, Vancouver residents woke up to yet another example of why the coalition needs to stop blocking legislation to make our streets and communities safer. Early Sunday morning, 10 people were shot in an outrageous display of brazen violence, believed to be gang-related.

Our Conservative government is committed to making our streets and communities safer. We need to make it clear that violent crime will not be tolerated on our streets. In the spring we introduced legislation to eliminate pardons for serious offenders. Sadly, the coalition has been blocking this legislation at committee for nearly six months. It is obvious that the Liberal-led coalition cares more for the rights of criminals than for law-abiding citizens. That is why we are calling a special committee meeting to force the opposition to vote on the bill. This will take place on the six-month anniversary of the bill being sent to committee.

Canadians can rest assured our Conservative government will do everything possible to protect Canadians against violent crime.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the purchase of fighter jets without a competitive bidding process would be a huge mistake. Not only would a competitive bidding process give us more jobs and more industrial benefits, it would also save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Why is the government letting the Americans choose our aircraft at the expense of our industries and our taxpayers?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. There was a competition. In fact, the competition took place under the tutelage of the party of the Leader of the Opposition.

In fact, what we are seeing here is a win-win situation. It is certainly a win for the Canadian Forces for the new state-of-the-art aircraft, the fifth generation aircraft, the only one available to our country. For the Canadian aerospace industry there is the potential for contracts of up to $12 billion and 150,000 jobs. This is great for the Canadian economy. I do not know why the Liberal leader opposes it.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the defence minister's credibility on this issue is in tatters. On May 27, he promised Parliament an open and competitive bid. On July 16, he reversed himself. He made one estimate for the maintenance costs of this airplane. It has now more than doubled. He has overplayed the industrial benefits, downplayed the cost. None of his numbers about this plane add up. When will he put a stop to this boondoggle in the making?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why it is every time push comes to shove, every time the issue is about getting the Canadian Forces new equipment to protect them, to promote their interests and Canada's interests abroad, the Liberal Party is against it. We saw it with the EH-101 cancellation. Now we are seeing the same thing again, a page ripped out of the 1993 red book. When they cancelled that contract, it cost the country $1 billion.

Here we have a chance to improve upon that record. We could have the Liberal Party be consistent for a change and support the Canadian Forces and the equipment needs that they have.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, this is about value for taxpayers' money. I defy the Minister of National Defence to tell the Canadian people what this plane will actually cost. In the United States the estimates go from $50 million, to $95 million, to $125 million. The maintenance contract estimate goes from $5 billion to $12 billion. This is an issue of credibility. No number the government presents on this issue is credible.

How can the Conservatives ask the taxpayers to foot the bill without a competitive bid?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, let us look at the actual contract. What the Canadian government has committed to is a $9 billion contract for the acquisition of 65 fifth generation aircraft. This includes not just the aircraft, but also includes the onboard systems, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds. This is a terrific investment for the Canadian Forces.

The members opposite have changed their position. When the Liberals were in office they began this process. With $12 billion in potential contracts and 150,000 jobs, how can the Liberal Party oppose that type of progress?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in order to be the Minister of National Defence, a person must be both competent and honest. We talk a lot about the taxpayers' money. The facts contradict the minister on the issue of the F-35s. There was no competitive bidding process in Canada to choose a new aircraft, and the cost per aircraft is not guaranteed. In addition, the industrial benefits are not guaranteed, and the total cost is uncertain.

Is the minister incompetent or is he deliberately deceiving Canadians?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to see the member bring such a class act to the House prior to Christmas.

Let us listen to what Claude Lajeunesse of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada had to say about the production of 3,000 to 5,000 aircraft. He said, “This amount represents more than $12 billion in opportunities on the partner's fleet...”. The association went on to say, “We urge members of Parliament to support the future of our aerospace industry and the 150,000 direct, indirect...jobs it generates”.

I do not know why the member from Montreal is opposed to his local aerospace industry and the Canadian Forces' interests.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, from one class act to another, the minister of defence does not understand his job. He has also deliberately misled Canadians from the beginning. He says that there is no Canadian competition: not true. He says that the price is guaranteed: also not true. He says that we will get $12 billion in industrial benefits: prove it. He says that the whole project will cost $16 billion: again, prove it.

Does the minister need some help on how to do procurement properly? I will give him a hand. So far there has been nothing but monumental incompetence.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, if the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who is a former astronaut and a former member of the Canadian Forces, continues to ignore the interests of the local aerospace industry, if he continues to belittle the former colleagues he had in the Canadian Forces and the pressing equipment needs they have, calling them generals' toys, if he continues to do all of this, his constituents in Montreal and the local aerospace industry just might say, “Montreal, there is a problem”.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few days ago at the Cancun summit, the international community came to an agreement in principle that is consistent with the Kyoto protocol. Despite extensive efforts, Canada did not manage to bring down the talks. In order to avoid being isolated from the rest of the international community, Canada was forced to sign the agreement.

Can the Prime Minister explain what Canada's signature on this agreement means in terms of concrete action to fight climate change? Does the government have a plan or is this nothing but lip service?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:20 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, the Government of Canada went to Cancun to get results on five issues. I am proud to announce that we made progress on each of Canada's five priorities.

We worked well with the Obama administration and with the Europeans. We made progress. It is critical that major polluters help us in our efforts to achieve an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We have real progress in mind for next year.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, all scientists agree that global warming should not surpass 2oC. To ensure that, industrialized countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% to 40% compared to 1990 levels. The Conservatives' so-called target of 17% compared to 2005 levels would actually be an increase of 3% compared to 1990 levels.

Does the minister realize that the target set by his government contradicts the Cancun agreement?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:25 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, if we want to reduce greenhouse gases, we must stabilize them over the next five to ten years. It is also essential that all of the major polluters actively participate. We are making significant progress and we are working very well with the Obama administration and the United Nations. If other countries joined us, we could achieve real results for our planet.

High Tides in Eastern QuebecOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week's devastating high tides are indicative of an increasingly frequent challenge facing coastal communities, including those on the east coast of Quebec.

In light of the increase in such natural phenomena linked to climate change, can the government assure us that it will do everything possible to combat increased shoreline erosion and that it will provide funding for regions along the river to adapt to climate change?

High Tides in Eastern QuebecOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean Québec

Conservative

Denis Lebel ConservativeMinister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, this is obviously a difficult situation for those who have recently experienced flooding as a result of the fall high tides. Our government always stands beside the people. I am sure that the Bloc Québécois above all does not want us to take the place of the provinces and be the first to intervene. The province must do its job. There are federal programs. The province will be able to apply to the federal government for assistance in the proper way, through Public Safety Canada.

High Tides in Eastern QuebecOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the City of Rimouski is a marine technology hub that already has important research structures such as the UQAR coastal geoscience research chair, and its director, Pascal Bernatchez.

Would the federal government agree that this is a fine opportunity to develop a research centre on climate change that has serious consequences on maritime regions?

High Tides in Eastern QuebecOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean Québec

Conservative

Denis Lebel ConservativeMinister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, our government recently made a number of announcements in Rimouski to intertwine the marine technology hub and strategy with the development of Rimouski and the Université du Québec à Rimouski.

That said, we must congratulate the first responders on the scene who helped the people affected by this crisis. Of course our government, through the Department of Public Safety, will be there, as usual, to support the people.

Financial InstitutionsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Bank of Canada is saying that Canadians are overstretched in terms of debt, that they now owe $1.48 for every $1 they earn and that the personal debt risks are destabilizing the whole economy.

The Prime Minister is lecturing Canadians not to go into debt, but his own policies make it worse. He slaps on the HST and refuses to take action against gouging credit card companies.

When will the government pass binding new laws to protect Canadians as we head into this season when they are supposed to be buying a few things for their families? When is he going to protect them from the gouging credit card companies?

Financial InstitutionsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty ConservativeMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, we clearly do not want Canadians to be overextended on credit. Ensuring Canadians can make financial decisions is a priority for our government. That is why in the budget in 2009 we created the financial literacy task force. It has been hard at work the past almost two years and will report early in the new year.

We also introduced credit card reform to ensure Canadians would have the information they needed. Canadians can see that now on their credit card forms they get every month. They can see exactly what it costs to carry balances and so on. Information is power.

The EconomyOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians can now see that they are being gouged even more with a larger font size, thanks to the government.

The latest welfare report describes a dramatic reality.

Those receiving welfare today are living in worse conditions than 10 years ago. They are living below the poverty line. The economic crisis is going on and on. An increasing number of Canadians no longer have access to employment insurance benefits.

Why are we abandoning those in need and letting the provinces bear the burden of social protection—

The EconomyOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

The EconomyOral Questions

2:25 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 have seen some great economic progress in the last 16 or 17 months, the creation of some 441,000 net new jobs. However, the job is not finished. There are still far too many Canadians looking for work. The very best social program, everyone would acknowledge, is a job.

That is why we have Canada's economic action plan, a plan designed to reach out and to ensure that economic growth continues in Canada. More work has to be done. We are pleased to work with the provinces. We also acknowledge that social policy is a provincial responsibility and the federal government can play an important role.

However, I would remind the member opposite that we must respect provincial jurisdiction. He should ask his—

The EconomyOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Toronto--Danforth.

Foreign TakeoversOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, when Vale took over Canadian icon Inco, it was a takeover with conditions. Those conditions were designed to protect Canadians, workers and their communities. However, according to reports today, Vale broke its deal with the government and broke its word to our communities and to all Canadians. The minister's response: silence.

The government cannot be counted on to protect Canadians from predatory foreign investment. Why did the minister allow Vale to break its conditions, to break its word, to violate its own signature and to break the rule—

Foreign TakeoversOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. Minister of Industry.

Foreign TakeoversOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, before the hon. leader gets on his soapbox too far, I do not know what the hon. member is talking about. It did not break any of its preconditions or any of its undertakings. Therefore, the report he relies on and his excellent research for question period is absolutely flat out wrong.

HealthOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, the views of the Prime Minister on the health care system are well known. Instead of defending our public health care system, the Prime Minister has argued for the scrapping of the Canada Health Act. Last year he had a chance to defend our system against Republican attacks in the U.S. He stood idly by and let the lies persist.

The federal government has a role and the jurisdiction, along with the provinces, in health care. Therefore, the federal government must track its path into the future.

Why are the Conservatives missing in action?

HealthOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the statements are ridiculous. Our government is committed to a universal public health care system that respects the Canada Health Act. The provinces and territories are responsible for ensuring the delivery of insured health services in compliance with the act. They are responsible for investigating any infractions to the Canada Health Act.

Our government will continue to make investments to the provinces and territories. This year alone we have increased the transfers by 6%.

HealthOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, since 2006, the Conservatives have not given one extra dime to health care. The scary thing is not just their inaction, but their opposition to a kind of plan which would improve our health system.

A national family care plan would do just that. Instead, the Conservatives say that easing the load of the hospitals would be reckless, that improving the financial stability of our public system would be reckless and that helping 600,000 families care for their loved ones at home would be reckless.

Not having a plan is what is reckless. Where is their plan?

HealthOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Nunavut Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq ConservativeMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, we continue to make health care a priority. Under the Liberal government, I recall cuts to health care to provinces and territories. We have increased transfers to the provinces by 6% every year to $25 billion this year alone. Additional investments were made with H1N1, medical research, food and product safety, wait times, electronic health records and aboriginal health.

We are committed to supporting our provinces.

Millennium ScholarshipsOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are taking $121 million away from students, money that was intended for the millennium scholarship fund. This $121 million disappeared without a trace, wasted by this government without governance.

Now that artists, women's groups and seniors have been targeted, it is students' turn to pay the price of the Conservative government's fiscal incompetence.

Why did the Conservatives put an end to the millennium scholarship fund, a program that has proven to be beneficial to Canadian students?

Millennium ScholarshipsOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we did. We took the money in the fund that had not been spent and we used it to increase the donations given to students, donations that benefit 280,000 students or nearly twice as many as the Liberal program did.

Millennium ScholarshipsOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, every government in the world seems to know that education is the cornerstone to the new economy, except the Conservative government, which has no plan.

The Canadian Council on Learning was building an educational road map. The government killed it. The Millennium Scholarship Foundation was doing world-class research and helping students. It killed that. It took the $120 million and put the exact same amount into government propaganda. Instead of giving students a hand, it gave itself a hand.

How does that prepare Canada for the new economy?

Millennium ScholarshipsOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should be given a hand for his distortion of the facts.

Let us face it. There were $120 million that was not spent by the millennium scholarship fund. We took that and invested it in our Canada grants program, which now is benefiting 280,000 students with grants. That is almost double the number that were benefiting under the millennium scholarship fund. These are grants that they do not have to pay back. We want to ensure that they graduate with the lowest possible debt load and that we have the best educated, most skilled flexible work force in the world.

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government is sitting on a report that recommends improving the lives of seniors by making access to the guaranteed income supplement automatic. It was about time the government woke up. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for this measure since 2001, when we learned that nearly 70,000 Quebeckers were being deprived of the guaranteed income supplement even though they were entitled to it.

What is the government waiting for to automatically grant the guaranteed income supplement to older people who are entitled to it?

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, no government has done as much as this government to help our seniors, who built this country. That is why we expanded the GIS program. We are making renewal of this program automatic through the filing of income tax forms. This measure will help seniors, which the Conservative Party is already doing very well—better than the other parties.

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, they are talking about making initial access to the guaranteed income supplement automatic. Automatic payment of the GIS is a good start. However, if we want the guaranteed income supplement to really fulfill its role, it must be improved.

Will the government increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month in the next budget, as called for by seniors and by the Bloc Québécois?

Guaranteed Income SupplementOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, a few years ago, we offered seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement an increase in the exemption from $500 to $3,500 in order to put more money into their pockets, and the Bloc Québécois voted against that initiative.

It voted against seniors. How shameful.

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the government is refusing to disclose the facts about the scandal at Revenue Canada, we have learned that an official working in the investigations unit was beaten up. It seems that the investigation into collusion between Canada Revenue Agency officials and construction companies is bothering the criminal element.

Can the minister tell us how many officials at the Montreal office are being targeted by the investigations, how many were laid off and what level of responsibility they had?

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield ConservativeMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, due to privacy concerns, I cannot comment on the specific employees. However, I can tell the hon. member that we take the safety and security of our employees very seriously, and we will ensure that they are safe at all times.

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, two of Tony Accurso's companies and numerous smaller companies created specifically to generate false invoices have been caught so far. It is not known how many other businesses outside of this network were able to benefit from the complaisance of corrupt individuals plaguing the Canada Revenue Agency.

Can the Minister of National Revenue tell us how many businesses like Tony Accurso's benefited from this fraudulent system?

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield ConservativeMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, these are ongoing issues of investigation, and I cannot comment on that.

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members of Parliament, we have been elected to represent our constituents in discussions on the big issues affecting our country, like Canadian sovereignty.

Yet the government is engaged in secret backroom negotiations on the so-called perimeter security proposals that could result in vast changes to our sovereign right to determine who gets in and who gets out of our country.

After softwood lumber, climate change and F-35s, how can Canadians trust this government to negotiate anything and maintain control of our own borders?

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent ConservativeMinister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas)

Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague does not expect me to answer a question based on media speculation. However, I can say that our government always puts the interests of Canada first.

Since we took office, we have been focused on creating jobs and promoting economic growth through free, open and secure trade. That means our shared border is open to trade and investment but closed to security and terrorist threats.

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, just because the government cannot manage our foreign policy does not mean that it should simply abandon it.

The American government continues to believe that Canada is a haven for terrorists, which is untrue.

Will this myth limit the rights of Canadians to determine their own border policies and their right to cross this border as they please?

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent ConservativeMinister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas)

Mr. Speaker, I will not answer a question based on media speculation, but I will say that, contrary to the Liberal leader's coalition with the Bloc Québécois, this government will always stand up for Canada and for Canadians.

I will say again that Canada is the top export destination for 34 American states. More trade flows between Windsor and Detroit than through any other border crossing in the world, and we intend to keep that border crossing open and secure

HaitiOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the suffering in Haiti continues to grow as cholera continues to spread and a disputed election holds the country's future in the balance. In particular, the women of Haiti have experienced incredible misery. Since the earthquake, rape and gender-based violence, already a crisis for Haitian women, has become an epidemic.

What has the status of women minister done to prioritize the needs of Haitian women in discussions with her cabinet colleagues?

HaitiOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that there is always a concern about the protection and safety of women in all the countries where Canada is working, particularly in Haiti.

We have set up protection centres, not only for women but also for their children, as well as ensuring that senior women have access to needed food and medicines and ensuring that women's access to food and basic necessities is always foremost in the minds of those we work with.

HaitiOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, Haiti is in a major political stalemate. This morning there was a meeting between the Mexican foreign secretary and Secretary of State Clinton. Cholera is another part of the reality. I know that there is talk of a resolution through a recount, but the main candidates are against that idea. Ms. Manigat and Mr. Martelly are against it.

What role does Canada intend to play in resolving this political stalemate?

HaitiOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent ConservativeMinister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas)

Mr. Speaker, again I thank my colleague for his question and his contribution to communications on this crisis.

Our government continues to stand with the people of Haiti as they rebuild their country. We are all concerned with the violence that has taken place following the release of the preliminary election results. Indeed today the Minister of Foreign Affairs met with the U.S. Secretary of State and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, and they agreed to continue to work together, to collaborate and to encourage all political actors in Haiti to fulfill expectations of them.

Public SafetyOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, currently criminals who commit sexual offences against children are eligible for a pardon. Victims and law-abiding citizens think this is unacceptable, and our Conservative government agrees.

Could the Minister of Public Safety update this House on the government's plans to move forward with this important bill?

Public SafetyOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, nearly six months ago, our Conservative government introduced legislation that would eliminate pardons for dangerous criminals. Unlike the Liberal-led coalition, we do not put the rights of criminals before those of victims.

Our Conservative members on the public safety committee have called a special meeting to advance this important bill, a bill that would prevent those who commit sexual offences against children from ever receiving a pardon.

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, while North America's foreign ministers meet in Wakefield, it is what is happening in the backrooms that is really concerning Canadians. A deal to give the U.S. access to personal information of Canadians and more influence over our security and immigration laws is apparently in the works. Even with this government, it is shocking that our sovereignty and private information would be secretly signed away.

What exactly is in the plan? When will it be made public? When will this Parliament see that to debate and discuss it?

Canada-U.S. BorderOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, our government is of course always concerned about the safety and security of our citizens. We also understand that in order to grow our economy, we need to work together with our allies and especially our closest ally, the United States.

We want to see an open border that ensures that there is traffic between our countries in terms of legitimate goods and travellers and yet ensures that our joint security interests are protected.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we would like to see an open debate.

However, the Conservatives and the Liberals claim that in Afghanistan, one of the roles is to provide security for development, but most Canadians would be surprised to hear exactly how we are providing that security. The Dahla Dam, Canada's largest development project in Afghanistan, is being entrusted to a private security firm with drug trafficking ties, a firm that the U.S. has blacklisted.

Will the government explain why Canada's precious aid dollars are actually going into the pockets of drug traffickers?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that my colleague, a member of Parliament, cannot be proud of the work that Canada and Canadians are doing in Afghanistan. The Dahla Dam is helping those who live in the agricultural area and will provide increased food.

The security of all of our projects is the responsibility of our partners. They must abide by Canadian laws and regulations. We are assured that the protection needed for this work to continue, the protection needed by our humanitarian workers, is going to be provided responsibly.

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is not renewing a pilot project to ease the criteria for employment insurance. She says she would rather offer more training.

By denying young people and workers in unstable job situations access to employment insurance, the minister is denying them training because in order to access Emploi Québec programs, the unemployed must first qualify for employment insurance.

If the minister wants to train more workers, does she realize that she must first ease employment insurance criteria?

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is wrong. It is true that we believe the best way to help people is to prepare them for the workforce. That is why we have invested more in training than any other government before us. Under the economic action plan, 1.2 million Canadians have received training.

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development claims to want to train more workers, the Canada summer jobs budget has not been indexed since 2006. If we consider the cost of living increase and the minimum wage increase—$1.75 in Quebec—there is a $26 million shortfall compared to 2006.

Will the minister improve the Canada summer jobs program in order to maintain the number and duration of internships offered to students?

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we did during the past two summers.

Our economic action plan recognized the difficulty students have finding employment. That is why we added $2 million each of the two years to help students and create more than 3,000 additional jobs.

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it appears that the in-and-out scheme was not the only way that the Conservatives cheated in the 2006 election. The Conservative Party used local riding spending allowances on regional campaign offices that worked almost exclusively on the national campaign. This cheating allowed it to spend over $100,000 more than the rules allowed.

Can the minister responsible confirm that Elections Canada has launched an investigation into two of the Conservative Party's regional campaign offices?

The Conservatives do not like that very much, do they?

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, may I begin, on behalf of the government of Canada, by commending the member for her extraordinary passion in this House. We disagree, however, with Elections Canada on this matter.

In unrelated matters, it is important to note that Elections Canada has been wrong in its classification of expenses. In fact, two courts have already ruled against Elections Canada and in favour of the Conservative Party.

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, Canadians have the right to know whether political parties cheat during elections by fraudulently circumventing spending limits established by law. According to the chief electoral officer, that is precisely what the Conservative Party regional offices were being used for.

Is the minister responsible waiting for another RCMP search of Conservative Party offices before requiring his government and his party to stop cheating? Is that what he is waiting for?

Elections CanadaOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the member did not hear my last answer because I already pointed out that we disagree with Elections Canada on this matter and that, in unrelated matters, it is worth noting that Elections Canada has been wrong in its classification of expenses. In fact, two courts have ruled against Elections Canada and in favour of the Conservative Party.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the F-35 fiasco continues to grow. The choice for this jet was made without competition behind closed doors.

The minister has said that F-35 maintenance over 20 years will cost $5 billion. His parliamentary secretary has said $7 billion. However, in 2009, DND told industry that the cost would be $12 billion. Meanwhile, a competitor, Saab, told the defence committee that its maintenance costs would total $1 billion over 20 years but it did not even get a chance to bid. That is a big difference.

When will the government come clean, show us its math and stop pulling numbers out of thin air?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the member is wrong on all fronts. We have said all along that we expect the cost of sustaining the F-35 will be in the same order of magnitude as the current fleet when we factor in the 2016 dollars. This will be in keeping with the projections that we have maintained all along. A 20 year contract would mean somewhere between $5 billion and $6 billion.

Members should keep in mind that as more countries decide to purchase the F-35, which they may very well, this will bring the price down for Canada. It is a win-win situation for the Canadian Forces. It is a win for the aerospace industry. I wish members opposite would support the Canadian Forces in this important purchase.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are sick of the Conservative government playing fast and loose with numbers.

Wild claims about 16,000 jobs simply do not add up. An industry witness told the defence committee last week that the number of jobs created, even if $12 billion in work were obtained, would only be about 1,800 jobs, and even those would not all be new jobs. It is time for the Conservative government to stop its cynical approach designed to mislead the public.

When will the minister stop the fairytales and start telling Canadians the truth about the fighter jet purchase?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, let us put aside the partisan rant for a moment.

Claude Lajeunesse of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada said that this was a contract that would give the Canadian aerospace industry the ability to bid on aircraft, up to 3,000 to 5,000. He referenced the $12 billion in opportunities. It was the association itself that referenced the 150,000 direct and indirect jobs that this contract would generate.

The hon. member should take his radio off broadcast and put it on receive.

Aerospace IndustryOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, today, the Minister of Industry joined the member for Mississauga—Erindale in announcing a $300 million investment into a $1 billion project by Pratt & Whitney to develop lighter aircraft engines with more power, better fuel consumption and improved durability.

Would the Minister of Industry please explain to the House how the government's continued commitment to research and development is keeping Canada at the forefront of the international aerospace industry?

Aerospace IndustryOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Industry

The hon. member is quite correct, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly what I and the member for Mississauga—Erindale did earlier today. We announced a major investment by the Government of Canada through a repayable contribution but also by the industry itself, a $1 billion R and D investment in the aerospace sector. That translates into 700 jobs for research and development and over 2,000 jobs when it comes to the actual production phase.

We are in favour of research and development, whether it comes to F-35s or whether it comes to the aerospace industry. We are onside with the aerospace sector. When will the Liberals do the same?

Railway ServiceOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government's own review panel found that the central cause of inadequate railway service is excessive railway market power. No one in farming, forestry or mining thinks that this power will magically disappear in the coming years.

Instead of waiting three valuable years, why will the government not immediately legislate to counteract excessive railway market power and ensure shippers receive the rail service that they need and deserve?

Railway ServiceOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Yellowhead Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, farmers and shippers across this country waited 13 years for the Liberal government to do absolutely nothing for them. We struck a panel and the Liberals should at least wait for that panel to come out with its recommendations before criticizing. We will wait for those recommendations and we will make the best decision in the interests of Canada when it comes to where we go from here.

Highway InfrastructureOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the federal government reneged on an agreement it made with the Government of Quebec by refusing to share up to 50% of the cost of widening Highway 175. This refusal to pay represents a double windfall for the federal government. Not only is the federal government paying only one-third of the bill but it will also collect taxes on the third phase of work on Highway 175.

Is the minister going to stop being so stubborn and negotiate a new agreement with the Government of Quebec to fully share the cost overruns of Highway 175?

Highway InfrastructureOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, let us be clear. We have come to an agreement with the Quebec government, just like we have come to agreements with all the provincial governments across our great country.

If it were up to the Bloc, there would be no new arenas, no Canada's economic action plan, no highways and no contribution agreement on Highway 175 because the Bloc voted against all of that. The Bloc continues to oppose every good investment this country needs from this Conservative government.

PensionsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Friday, a high court in the United Kingdom handed down a game-changing ruling. Pensioners in that country have been moved to the front of the line of creditors during bankruptcy proceedings. Here at home, Canadian retirees are at the bottom of the list when it comes to claiming the money owed to them.

New Democrat Bill C-501 is at the industry committee right now but the Conservatives have opposed it from the beginning.

What are the Conservatives waiting for? When will they support Bill C-501 and stand with Canadians instead of their friends on Bay Street?

PensionsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement ConservativeMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the expert evidence is very clear.

Once this place starts to retroactively change contracts and retroactively change the priority, then these things are in court for years as other priority bondholders seek to enforce their rights. That is the expert evidence that has been before the Senate and it is the same evidence that will be before the House of Commons.

We are for real and realistic solutions rather than the empty rhetoric of the other side.

Citizenship and ImmigrationOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, our Conservative government wants to punish human smugglers with serious prison time and deport illegal immigrants who pay human smugglers.

The Liberal Party, however, wants to give human smugglers a slap on the wrist and reward the illegal immigrants with Canadian citizenship and the ability to sponsor their entire family into Canada.

The Liberal MP for Ottawa South even said that the arrival of illegal boats of Tamils was a “manufactured crisis”.

Would the minister tell this House what the government is doing regarding human smuggling?

Citizenship and ImmigrationOral Questions

3 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, we are again hearing the total irresponsibility of the Liberal Party members.

Just like they tell victims of crime that crime is not a problem, they tell Canadians, including immigrants, that illegal immigration and human smuggling are not a problem.

Canadians know better than that. Canadians expect this Parliament to take strong action to stop people from jumping the immigration queue and abusing this country's generosity. They will not allow the Liberal Party's ideology to trump common sense.

We will not allow the Liberals to reward those who abuse our immigration laws and jump the queue. We will take action.

Railway ServiceOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, shippers have already waited during three long years of review and the time for the government to act is right now.

The shippers have been complaining for years that the rail companies overcharge and under-perform.

Why does the government not take immediate legislative measures to fill the gaps in this service?

Railway ServiceOral Questions

3 p.m.

Yellowhead Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, shippers and farmers waited 13 years of getting nothing from a Liberal government.

I would think that once we had struck a review panel, the Liberals would at least wait for the recommendations of that panel before commenting. Now they are playing politics with farmers and shippers.

We will wait for those recommendations and then we will make our decision based on the best interest of Canada.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of two ministers from Manitoba: the Honourable Dave Chomiak, Minister of Innovation, Energy and Mines; and the Honourable Steve Ashton, Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the 2010 Killam Prize Laureates: Ellen Bialystok, Mark Henkelman, Ming Li and James Tully.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, during members' statements, I was not able to finish reading the poem by internationally renowned lyricist Luc Plamondon. I was only able to quote some lines. As the members will understand, I had to refer to two members of Parliament by name in the text, because they were part of Mr. Plamondon's artistic work. I did not feel I had the right to infringe on his moral rights.

I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to table Luc Plamondon's poem, entitled Our Trip to Canada, in its entirety.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this poem?

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There is no consent.

Canada Account Annual ReportRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeMinister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the Canada Account Annual Report for 2009-10 prepared by Export Development Canada.

Foreign AffairsRoutine Proceedings

December 13th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, under the provisions of Standing Order 32(2), I have the pleasure to table, in both official languages, seven treaties, entitled: “Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour”, adopted at Geneva, on June 28, 1930, as modified by the Final Articles Revision Convention, 1946; “Convention concerning Tripartite Consultations to Promote the Implementation of International Labour Standards”, adopted at Geneva on June 21, 1976; “Convention concerning the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health”, adopted at Geneva on June 15, 2006; “Amendments to the Text and to Annexes I, II, III, IV, VI and VIII of the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants”, adopted at Geneva on December 18, 2009; “Amendments to Annexes V and VII of the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants”, adopted at Geneva on December 18, 2009; “Amendment to Appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”, adopted at Doha from March 13 to 25, 2010; and “Amendments to Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”, notified on May 25, 2010 and July 16, 2010. Explanatory memoranda are included with the treaties.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 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 seven petitions.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-604, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (appeal process for temporary resident visa applicants).

Mr. Speaker, as the holiday season approaches, thousands of Canadians are looking forward to their relatives coming from overseas to visit them and share a few joyous days in Canada.

Unfortunately, one in five visitors will have their applications rejected. No clear reasons will be given, as there are no clear criteria and no minimum standards. Canadians and their relatives are extremely frustrated because they have no idea why they are rejected and what they can do to qualify.

Millions of tourism dollars are also lost because 200,000 visitors are refused entry each year.

My visitor visa fairness bill would provide an appeal so there would be transparency and clear standards for all applicants. Such appeal tribunals are already available to all visitors to England and to Australia. It is time we bring fairness to those who want to visit Canada and their Canadian friends and relatives.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

National Strategy for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemic Disorders ActRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-605, An Act respecting a Comprehensive National Strategy for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemic Disorders.

Mr. Speaker, my bill, a national strategy for sickle cell disease and thalassemic disorders, addresses the challenges faced by children and adults living with these inherited blood disorders. The bill calls on the Minister of Health to initiate discussions with the provincial and territorial health ministers to develop comprehensive patient care throughout the life cycle, develop national standards regarding universal screening, develop centres of excellence for both pediatric care and adult care, assess best practices for patients to succeed at school and in the workplace, develop information for medical education to prepare health care workers to meet the needs of Canada's diverse populations, develop adequate clinical guidelines and prompt pain management for patients in crisis, establish a program for funding to advocacy groups, and recognize June 19 as sickle cell anemia awareness day in Canada. I hope all hon. members will support the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Foreign AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of constituents concerning Saeed Malekpour, who is facing a potential death sentence in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He is in the Evin Prison, and he is calling upon the Minister of Foreign Affairs to intervene with the government of Iran on his behalf.

Millennium GoalsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two wonderful petitions before me.

The first is a petition signed by students and staff at Mgr-A.-M.-Parent high school in Saint-Hubert. This petition was started by Renée Pronovost, the spiritual life and community involvement leader. The 1,222 signatories are encouraging the government to act as quickly as possible to honour its promise to achieve the eight millennium goals.

Veterans AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition that I have before me was signed mainly by veterans from the Saint-Bruno and Saint-Hubert Canadian Legions. They are asking that the veterans charter be amended to restore the lifetime monthly pension as a means of compensation for injured military personnel.

This petition is an initiative of my colleague, the member for Québec.

Veterans AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition addressed to the Government of Canada from Canadians of all ages and from all walks of life who genuinely support and value the contributions of our veterans. They regard a veteran as a veteran regardless of where he or she may have served and in what deployment. The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to extend the mandate of veterans hospitals to include veterans who have served in conflicts and in peacekeeping operations since 1953, end the clawback of veterans pensions, eliminate the reduction of veterans pensions at age 65, change the widows benefit to a non-taxable benefit, create a veterans advisory panel to provide input on the selection of future veterans ombudspersons, and ensure that Veterans Affairs Canada remains a stand-alone department.

Prevention of Coerced AbortionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am really proud today to introduce this petition that was collected in Winnipeg at Church of the Rock. In a matter of two hours, over 1,167 signatures were collected in support of Roxanne's law, Bill C-510.

I want to thank all the pastors who were engaged in asking for these petitions to be brought in: Pastor Mark, Pastor Tim, Pastor Keith and Pastor Aubrey. I want to pass along my congratulations to them for finding a way to get 1,167 signatures in a matter of hours. It was very amazing.

SeniorsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table a petition signed by 648 people who are primarily from the upper north shore, the region of Tadoussac and Forestville, as well as the north shore.

The signatories are calling for an increase to the spouse's allowance and the survivor's allowance and are asking that the federal guaranteed income supplement program be increased by $110 a month. Those living alone, particularly seniors, are living below the poverty line and are having to ask themselves if they should buy medication or food.

Unfortunately, far too many of our seniors are living in utter poverty.

AfghanistanPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by dozens of Canadians calling on the government to end Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan.

In May 2008, Parliament passed a resolution to withdraw Canadian forces by July 2011. The Prime Minister, with the agreement of the Liberal Party, broke his oft-repeated promised to honour the parliamentary motion, and furthermore, refuses to put it to a parliamentary vote in the House.

Committing 1,000 soldiers to a training mission still presents a danger to our troops and an unnecessary expense when our country is faced with a $56 billion deficit. The military mission has cost Canadians more than $18 billion so far, money that could have been used to improve health care and seniors' pensions right here in Canada.

Polls show that a clear majority of Canadians do not want Canada's military present to continue after the scheduled removal date of July 2011. Therefore, the petitioners call upon the Prime Minister to honour the will of Parliament and bring the troops home now.

Vale IncoPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to bring forward the voices of the people of Thompson and Manitoba.

Today I would like to present a petition on their behalf calling for the federal government to stand up for Canadians and Canadian jobs.

On November 17, Vale announced devastating news that they are planning to shut down the smelter and the refinery in Thompson. This announcement means the loss of over 600 jobs and a devastating impact on the community, the northern region and the province of Manitoba.

The people of Thompson are saying that the federal government must stand up for them. Not only did the government allow the foreign takeover by Vale, it also gave them a loan of $1 billion just over a month ago.

People in Thompson and Manitoba are asking: when will the government stand up for the Canadian people rather than foreign companies? They are asking the federal government to stand up and work with stakeholders at the table to save the 600 jobs and the Thompson Vale smelter and refinery.

International TradePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition urging the federal government to immediately cease negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU until national-wide public consultations have been held.

The EU is seeking to have the Government of Canada implement changes to a number of important policy areas. Provincial and municipal procurement, copyright, telecommunications, cultural rules, postal services, liquor boards, banking and financial regulations all stand to be affected by signing on to the comprehensive economic trade agreement.

In order to ensure that our industry, services and regulations operate in Canada's best interest, the signatories implore the federal government to undertake public consultations before signing this potentially damaging agreement.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 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, Question No. 530 will be answered today.

Question No. 530Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

With respect to the Department of Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC) contract for Engineering and Technical Services (ETS): (a) for each task to be completed under this contract, did the contractor perform the task as stipulated in the contract and, (i) if not, for each of the uncompleted tasks, what are the reasons for which the tasks were not completed and what are the details of the paragraphs of the contract that were changed, (ii) if yes, when did the Department confirm the work had been completed for each task; (b) what measures did the Department put in place to ensure that the contractor respected the contract; (c) has the contract already been audited; (d) how many reports did the contractor provide with a progress update on the tasks; (e) when were the reports in (d) presented to the contracting authority and what were their titles; (f) who was responsible for monitoring and approving the transition from the former contractor to the current contractor; (g) what measures were taken by the contracting authority to verify progress on outstanding tasks; (h) did the contractor inform PWGSC of its staffing plans, which included using people hired by the former contractor; (i) ten business days after the contract’s start date, (i) how many CVs had been provided, (ii) what were the names of the people suggested by the contractor and how many of them then worked on the contract; (j) was the ETS contract changed and, if yes, what changes were made and on what dates; (k) was the contractor paid for all the services provided before the end of the transition period; (l) regarding the drafting process for the request for proposal, (i) what is the detailed explanation of the process and the milestone dates, (ii) who were the public servants who participated in drafting the request for proposal; (m) regarding the proposal evaluation process, (i) what is the detailed explanation of the process, (ii) what exactly does the “reconfirmation” step consist of, (iii) who were the public servants who participated in evaluating the proposals and approving the choice of contractor; (n) what are the names of the people or specialized companies that participated in drafting the request for proposal and how were these people or businesses selected; (o) what are the names of the people or specialized companies that participated in evaluating the proposals and how were these people or businesses selected; (p) what are the names of the people or specialized companies that participated in the contracting process and how were these people or businesses selected; (q) did the evaluation documents and relevant computer files remain in the possession and under the control of public servants during (i) the drafting of the request for proposal, (ii) the evaluation of proposals, (iii) the awarding of the contract; (r) can the Department confirm that it still has all the documents in (q) in its possession; (s) regarding the services of a fairness monitor for this contract, (i) who made the decision not to use the services of a fairness monitor for this contract, (ii) when was this decision made, (iii) for what reasons was a fairness monitor not retained; (t) as to a forensic audit, (i) who decided not to refer this file for a forensic audit after allegations of interference and conflict of interest were raised, (ii) when was this decision made and for what reasons; (u) did the office of the Minister of PWGSC, the Minister himself, or his deputy minister have discussions with public servants regarding the content of the request for proposals for ETS, the evaluation of the proposals or the contracting process and, if applicable, (i) what was the purpose of these discussions, (ii) who instigated the discussions, (iii) when did these discussions take place; (v) during the period from February 6, 2006, to June 24, 2008, did the Minister of PWGSC announce he was in a conflict of interest and, if yes, (i) when and with respect to what file, (ii) what was the nature of the conflict of interest; and (w) did PWGSC require that the references submitted by each of the bidders be checked and, if applicable, (i) who was responsible for carrying out the reference checks, (ii) when were the checks done for each of the bidders, (iii) who identified the mention of a company associated with the bidder, (iv) what were the reasons for approving a bid with references to an associated company, (v) was Innovapost Inc. identified in one of the bids?

Question No. 530Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Edmonton—Spruce Grove Alberta

Conservative

Rona Ambrose ConservativeMinister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, Public Works and Government Services Canada cannot comment on this matter as it is currently the subject of litigation before the Federal Court of Canada, TPG Technology Consulting Ltd. v. Her Majesty the Queen, Court File No T-494-08.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 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, if Questions Nos. 523, 528 and 529 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 523Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

With respect to the multiculturalism programs administered by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, since 2006: (a) how many applications for the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) grants and contributions have been (i) received, (ii) accepted, (iii) rejected; (b) for each application to the CHRP that was approved, (i) what was the name of the applicant organization, (ii) how much money was given to the organization, (iii) what was the nature of the approved program or event; (c) for each application to the CHRP that was rejected, (i) what was the name of the applicant organization, (ii) how much money did the organization request in its application, (iii) what was the nature of the rejected program or event, (iv) what was the reason for the rejection, (v) how was the rejection communicated to the group in question; (d) how many organizations in (c) submitted further applications related to any program or event following an initial rejection and how many of these subsequent applications received approval; (e) how many applications for the Multiculturalism Grants and Contributions Program have been (i) received, (ii) accepted, (iii) rejected; (f) for each application to the Multiculturalism Grants and Contributions Program that was approved, (i) what was the name of the applicant organization, (ii) how much money was given to the organization, (iii) what was the nature of the approved program or event; (g) for each application to the Multiculturalism Grants and Contributions Program that was rejected, (i) what was the name of the applicant organization, (ii) how much money did the organization request in its application, (iii) what was the nature of the rejected program or event, (iv) what was the reason for the rejection, (v) how was the rejection communicated to the group in question; and (h) how many organizations in (g) submitted further applications related to any program or event following an initial rejection and how many of these subsequent applications received approval?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 528Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

With regard to charities that issued tax receipts under tax shelter gifting arrangements and all such receipts that were disallowed by the Canada Revenue Agency: (a) what was the name of each charity that issued disallowed tax receipts; and (b) what was the dollar value of disallowed tax receipts issued by each charity in (a)?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 529Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

With regard to security spending for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics: (a) within the overall security budget, what was the total portion of the budget funded by the government in dollars and as a percentage; (b) what amount of the overall security budget was allocated to the RCMP; (c) what amount of the overall security budget was allotted to government departments and agencies other than the RCMP, specifying (i) the name of the department or agency, (ii) the amount of funding it received, (iii) the reason for or purpose of the funding; (d) what is a breakdown by category or kind of expenditure of the RCMP’s security budget, including an explanation of the reason for or purpose of the expenditures in each category; (e) at the end of the Olympics, what amount of the RCMP security budget (i) remained unused, (ii) remained unused in each of the categories identified in (d); (f) what about the budgeting process explains any discrepancy identified in (e) between the amount budgeted and the amount spent; and (g) how will any remaining funds be used or reallocated?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Situation in HaitiRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair has received a request for an emergency debate from the member for Bourassa. I will hear his submissions now.

Situation in HaitiRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order 52, I request that an emergency debate be held today during routine proceedings on the extremely tense situation in Haiti at present.

The election results announced on December 7 literally sent shock waves through the Haitian population. Many observers and experts in the international community and in Haiti remain skeptical about voting procedures and the integrity of the election process. It seems clear that the people do not believe the results.

We have also seen an unprecedented wave of violence in Haiti. More than 1.5 million Haitians are currently homeless, the country faces cholera and sanitation problems, and relations between MINUSTAH and the people are strained.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to examine the causes of this major crisis and look at what can be done to solve it. Canada has a leading role to play, and it must speak with one voice. Given that Canada stands in solidarity and partnership with Haiti, we must work to that end as responsible parliamentarians and hold this emergency debate.

Speaker's RulingRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Bourassa for his comments. I also received his letter on the same point. In my opinion, it is possible to hold such a debate, and we will hold it this evening.

The Chair has received notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Scarborough--Guildwood, and I would be pleased to hear the hon. member now.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I am rising under the provisions of Standing Order 48 on a question of privilege alleging contempt of the House by the Minister of International Cooperation and her parliamentary secretary further to a written notice that I gave to the Clerk on Friday.

The core reason for parliamentary privilege is to enable a member of Parliament to discharge his or her function of representing constituents. Within that core is the essential function of an opposition MP to hold a government to account. I will submit that my ability to hold the government to account has been impaired by the Minister of International Cooperation and her parliamentary secretary, who advertently misled Parliament by telling Parliament something that was not true. I will be asking you, Mr. Speaker, to make a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege has occurred.

Specifically, the minister and her parliamentary secretary “deliberately attempted to mislead the House by way of a statement”, and that is taken from O'Brien and Bosc, or in this case a series of statements, and that she and he knew or ought to have known that their statements to the House were either false or an attempt to mislead.

For some time now, I and others have been asking questions about KAIROS' defunding. KAIROS is a church-based non-governmental organization that represents seven of Canada's largest religious denominations working on a range of social justice issues. Its funding was up for review and it had submitted the appropriate application. It was told that it was being reviewed favourably.

Then the rumours to the contrary started to be heard. KAIROS was unfairly slandered as being anti-Semitic by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister has since withdrawn his remarks. It was then slandered as being anti-mining when all it was trying to do was improve the lives of indigenous people living in poverty.

In question after question, the minister and her parliamentary secretary said that KAIROS did not meet CIDA's funding priorities. On October 28, 2010, the minister stated:

After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards.

On April 23 the parliamentary secretary said:

The criteria for the funding for KAIROS is the same as the criteria for funding for anyone else applying for such funding. KAIROS did not meet the criteria. It did not get the funding. There is no surprise there.

On March 15 the parliamentary secretary said:

CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities. This is important.

However, despite these statements which indicate that KAIROS was defunded because it did not fit within the priorities of the government, there are two pieces of evidence to show that this is false. The first is the access to information request, the response for which I would like to table with you today for your consideration, Mr. Speaker. The second is a transcript from the foreign affairs and international development committee from December 9, 2010, which I will also submit.

When looking through the recommendation produced by CIDA for the minister, obtained through the access to information request, contrary to the parliamentary secretary's and the minister's statements in the House, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that CIDA makes an unequivocal recommendation in support of $7.1 million funding for KAIROS, on the signature approval page of this document, which reads as follows:

Recommendation: that you sign below to indicate your approval of a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program.

However, someone has inserted the word “not”. This one handwritten change completely inverts the recommendation. Let me read it again so that the new meaning is clear, “Recommendation: that you sign below to indicate you not approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program”.

There is no name or initials next to the handwritten “not”. After this line are three signatures: that of Margaret Biggs, the president of CIDA; Naresh Singh, vice-president of CIDA; and the Minister of International Cooperation. A reasonable person looking at the end page would reasonably conclude that all three did not approve of the grant. I submit that this is precisely what the government, the minister and the parliamentary secretary want the reader to believe. They want to develop a narrative that KAIROS did not meet the standards and priorities of the agency, when in fact it did, and that the agency had killed the proposal. Their responses are tailored to establishing that narrative, and that narrative, I submit, is misleading.

In testimony before the foreign affairs and international development committee, Ms. Biggs testified that when both she and Mr. Singh signed the document, the “not” was not there. She further confirmed to the committee that the department had recommended KAIROS for funding, contrary to what the minister and her parliamentary secretary stated to the House. Had the access to information request not been submitted, that misleading narrative would have been sustained.

I practised law for 22 years, and I can assure the House that any lawyer would not allow such a significant change, let alone a fundamental change to be made to a $7 million document without all three signatories initialling the change. But it gets worse. I will read from the transcript of Thursday, December 9, at the meeting of the foreign affairs committee:

Member: “Madam Minister, you just said that you signed off. You were the one”

Minister: “I sign off on all of the documents”.

Member: “You were the one who wrote the 'not'”.

Minister: “I did not say I was the one who wrote the 'not'”.

Member: “Who did, then?”

Minister: “I do not know.”

Member: “You don't know?”

Minister: “I do not know.”

Member: “That's a remarkable statement.”

At this point my jaw was hitting the floor:

Minister: “I know that the decision ultimately reflects the decision that I would support.”

It goes on again.

Minister: “I cannot say who wrote the 'not'.”

Member: “Was this 'not' put in by some interloper? Is there some override to the minister's decision?”

It goes on:

Member: “So there's a reasonable possibility that you signed off on this, and that someone put a 'not' in later.”

Further on:

Member: “It may well, but you just said that you didn't put the 'not' in. I'm assuming your president of CIDA didn't put the 'not' in. There's only one other signatory who didn't put the 'not' in. So somehow or another, a 'not' got put in after possibly all three of you recommended the KAIROS' funding”.

Further on:

Member: “Madam Minister, clearly somebody didn't get the memo on priorities because clearly Madam Biggs or the other person to the signatory sent the memo up to you from September through to November. They sent that memo to you, you sat on it for two months, that's fine. That's not an issue. The issue is that they didn't seem to understand what your priorities were, so they didn't get the memo as to what the priorities were. If this reflects government priorities, why is it that the president of CIDA doesn't know what the priorities of the government are?”

I will not carry on with the rest of the interaction between the minister and me, but I just point out that later, and just as concerning, under questioning, the minister could not even say whether or not she had signed this document, if it is an auto-signature or otherwise. In my mind, this should concern us all. If she did approve, why could she not sign the document itself?

We are all aware of the doctrine of ministerial accountability which can be summed up by saying that the buck stops on the minister's desk. Apparently it does not with this minister. Neither she, nor you, Mr. Speaker, nor I, nor this House knows who makes final CIDA decisions.

In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.

On page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May it states:

The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.

Page 234 of the second edition of Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada explains that in order for a Speaker to find a prima facie case in a matter involving a deliberate misleading statement, there must be “an admission by someone in authority, such as a minister of the Crown or an officer of a department”.

On Friday, December 9, I gave the minister the opportunity to retract these statements and possibly clear the record. However, she refused to do so, conduct which is inconsistent with the standards of the House and what the public expects from its members.

She further compounded her difficulties by saying, “The minister ultimately decides what course to take”. That statement is patently false. The transcript of the foreign affairs committee says that she not only did not insert the “not”, she does not know who did. Somebody is making decisions over there, but it is not the minister.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to remind you of the three requirements needed to establish contempt.

One, it must be proven that her statements were misleading.

We have three statements which are recorded in Hansard, one on October 28, one on April 23 and one on March 15, which directly contradict both the documents obtained through the access to information request and the testimony of Margaret Biggs before the foreign affairs committee. Both show that the minister was informed by the president of CIDA, that CIDA had recommended KAIROS for funding and that it did meet the standards and priorities of CIDA, the government, and yet the minister and her parliamentary secretary misled the House into believing that her officials had decided that KAIROS did not meet the standards and that the funding had been turned down by CIDA.

Two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect.

The Minister of International Cooperation was fully briefed on CIDA's position on funding of KAIROS, which has been proven both in the testimony before the foreign affairs committee and in the documentation obtained through the access to information request. Furthermore, in Ms. Biggs' testimony before the foreign affairs committee she stated that she had recommended to the minister that KAIROS receive the funding and that there was “no confusion on that matter”. She even went so far as to say that “My discussions with the minister were quite clear. She did, as she indicated, deliberate on it. She knew what my advice was so she was not misled in any way”.

Third, in making the statement the minister intended to mislead the House.

On three separate occasions over a period of eight months the minister and her parliamentary secretary stood in this place and repeated mistruths about the reason why KAIROS funding was denied. This was an intentional narrative and sustainable if the access to information report had not been made. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you would agree this represents a prima facie intent to mislead the House.

May I remind the House that this is a $7 million grant, an enormous sum of money for the people and organizations involved, and the good that it could do.

At this point, we have a document that contradicts the minister and the parliamentary secretary and the two senior CIDA officials who contradict the parliamentary secretary and the minister. The minister, even as late as last Friday, asserted the minister ultimately decided what course to take. Apparently that is not true with the minister.

One is left with a clear impression that the decision to not recommend was made after the minister's signature had been appended to the document. The minister does not know who put in the interlineations and therefore cannot tell the House who made the decision, when the decision was made and why the decision, approved by the agency and possibly by the minister herself, was reversed.

It is a prima facie case of contempt to mislead members by blaming others for one's decisions. It is misleading to say that one made a decision when no decision was made. It impairs a member's core function of holding a government to account. It erodes the doctrine of ministerial accountability.

In the event that you do make a finding of prima facie contempt, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move the requisite motion.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the time of these events, I was the parliamentary secretary. At this point, I am simply the member for Kootenay—Columbia.

I do have some information that might be of value.

First, I take note of the three points the member brought to our attention, that the statements were misleading, that the statements were known to be misleading and that the statements were intended to mislead.

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention that at no time in the member's presentation did he make any assertion that the minister made any misleading statements. In fact, I do not doubt for a second that the member, his colleagues and his research people will have combed over every solitary word that the minister may have uttered in the House or outside of the House. I note he did not say that the minister made any statement that misled the House.

With respect to myself, on March 15, I did make the statement that CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined that it did not meet the agency's current priorities. For that, I have to apologize to the House. It was an inadvertent mistake on my part. I do apologize. As a person who has been around the House for 17 years, I take that failing on my part very seriously.

Second, the member says that the responses, obviously referring to my responses, because I have clearly determined that the minister's responses were never questioned by the member in his statement just now, were tailored to forward the narrative. This falls into the category of sometimes there is a lot less than meets the eye. In this instance, I was given to the impression that CIDA, as with any agency or any ministry, should take direction from the minister. Had it taken direction from the minister on behalf of the Government of Canada, the recommendation coming to the minister would not have been to recommend. In fact, it would have been against recommending. The fault, then, lies that the agency itself was in fact giving the minister advice that did not reflect the priorities.

I was mistaken. I took a look at the priorities of the government, which by the way I fully support because it gives the government the opportunity to more correctly direct where our funding should go. My presumption on March 15 was that CIDA, as an agency, would have made that recommendation.

If we take a look at it, first, the minister has not been cited with any evidence by the member that she made misleading statements and second, I was wrong, I did make a mistake and I apologize to the House. The second point, though, that I knew they were misleading, I have already clearly stated I could not have known. It was simply a mistake on my part. Third, that I intended to mislead, one follows the other, does it not?

With all due respect to the hon. colleague, the fact is this has been a change in policy that has been unacceptable to him, to KAIROS and to other people in that industry, and so be it. That is part of the political process and part of the discourse that we get into.

In fact, there is no place for a question of privilege other than perhaps, should you, Mr. Speaker, choose to censure me as having been a little bit overzealous in my representation of what I presumed CIDA was going to be doing.

In fact, there is absolutely no case for a question of privilege.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood on his question of privilege.

When using the three criteria cited by my colleague for holding a member of the House in contempt, we would find, I believe, sufficient evidence to indicate that the Minister of International Cooperation, who is responsible for CIDA and its funding decisions, is in fact in contempt of Parliament and that her statements were misleading, that she knew at the time they were misleading and that her statements were intended to mislead the House.

For clarification, I propose to you, Mr. Speaker, that the minister did make a statement, if not more than one, misleading to the House.

It is my proposition that if a member of the House offers a statement that is misleading and knows it to be misleading, the only conclusion at which the Speaker can arrive is that the statement was intended to be misleading.

It is clear, when checking the minister's statements against information obtained at the foreign affairs and international development committee meetings, that the statements made by the minister were misleading and intended to be so.

By way of evidence, I will now cite the debate the minister and I engaged in on October 28 in question period in which I asked:

Mr. Speaker, we have now learned from CIDA documents obtained through access to information and reviewed by the minister one year ago, that KAIROS' objectives are in fact “strategically aligned with our country program objectives”.

The question continued:

On September 20 of this year, the minister for CIDA, in absolute contradiction of her own department's findings said, “KAIROS was recently refused funding as it did not meet the government's priorities”.

Now that we know the minister's pretext for the KAIROS cuts is false, will the minister now finally restore funding to this organization?

In her response to my question, the minister said, “After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards”. Remember, now, on September 20, she said, “KAIROS was recently refused funding as it did not meet the government's priorities”. She has made this statement now at least twice.

We now know both of these statements to be false. Why? Because Margaret Biggs, CIDA's president, and Naresh Singh, the vice-president for CIDA, said so on December 9 at the foreign affairs and international development committee meeting. They testified that they positively endorsed the funding application for KAIROS. In fact, CIDA staff found that the bid met their criteria, received a positive audit report and had an excellent evaluation. Accordingly CIDA staff sent the response for approval to the minister.

The application approval was endorsed by CIDA's president and vice-president, as follows, “that you sign below to indicate you approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program”.

CIDA wanted to fund KAIROS. After departmental deliberation, the president decided that funding KAIROS was the right thing to do. Therefore, it is clear to me that the department standards were met and that it fit departmental priorities.

This is particularly disappointing when we review an order paper question submitted by the member for London North Centre, which asked:

With regard to KAIROS, which has lost its funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as of November 30, 2009 due to KAIROS no longer fitting CIDA priorities: (a) what are the CIDA priorities that did not fit well with the priorities of KAIROS; (b) what sort of criteria does CIDA examine to determine whether or not a non-governmental organization will receive funding...

In response, the minister offered the following:

Mr. Speaker, with regard to a) The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.

The operative words are “the CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS”. CIDA's decision was to continue funding KAIROS, not to discontinue its funding.

The minister is clearly continuing with her subterfuge. The minister's statement is in complete contradiction to CIDA's position that it met the funding criteria. For the minister to state otherwise is misleading.

The response to question (b) is as follows: “Non-government organizations’ proposals to CIDA are assessed on a variety of criteria, which are described on CIDA’s website”.

Further, any distinction the minister may try to create or imply between CIDA's criteria and the government's criteria, if she attempts to make such a distinction, are irrelevant. To find otherwise would bring into disrepute all government websites because people will no longer be able to rely upon government websites as reflecting the priorities of the government. The fact that the minister may have used the words “government standards” or “government priorities” in the House, as opposed to CIDA priorities, is therefore irrelevant because CIDA priorities represent the government's priorities and its criteria are the government's criteria.

Did the minister at the time know that her statement was incorrect?

On December 9, 2010, at the foreign affairs and international development committee meeting, Ms. Biggs made clear that the minister was aware of her department's position. She said, “My discussions with the minister were quite clear. She did, as she indicated, deliberate on it. She knew what my advice was. I don't know where that “not” came from, but she wasn't misled in any way”.

This statement by Ms. Biggs must be considered in addition to the fact that KAIROS received a positive audit report and an excellent evaluation and that it was recommended for funding by CIDA's president and vice-president, all of which facts had to have been known to the minister.

Did she intend to mislead the House? Unless a statement is made negligently, with no regard for the facts whatsoever or with no regard to the nature of the question asked whatsoever, or misleading information was given to her by her department before offering an answer, which is clearly not the case here, then one can only conclude that the answer given was intended to mislead the House. The definition of mislead, according to the Oxford Dictionary is to “cause someone to have a wrong idea or impression”.

Anything stated, designed to, or with the intention of misleading the House, knowing it to be false, imports the conclusion that the person making this statement intended it to mislead or had no regard for whether it would mislead or not, which is equally contemptuous.

The remarks by my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, as well as the information that I have presented to you, Mr. Speaker, make clear that the minister did in fact mislead the House. The statements made by Ms. Biggs in committee make clear that the minister was aware that she was incorrect in making the statements she made, and I therefore submit that the minister intended to mislead the House and its members. The minister said that KAIROS' funding was cut because CIDA did not want to fund it or that it did not meet government priorities and standards.

We know this to be false. We also have demonstrated that the nuance between whether it met government priorities or standards or CIDA priorities is irrelevant as CIDA priorities must be government priorities. How can they be anything less? And if they are, then the government and not Parliament is truly dysfunctional.

We now know the minister's statements to be false. We also know that the minister was aware that it was false while she was offering her justifications to the numerous questions asked of her in question period. As such I strongly believe that this provides sufficient evidence to hold the minister in contempt of the House.

If the minister did not want to fund KAIROS then she should have explained why she did not want to provide funding instead of pinning the decision on the department she runs. I for one would still like an honest answer and I think everyone in the House and in Canada has the right to know why KAIROS was not funded.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I simply want to inform you that the Bloc Québécois supports the initiative of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood. We want to shed light on the funding that was granted or not granted as well as the various statements regarding KAIROS.

With your leave, we will come back to this issue tomorrow with our own observations.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank all my hon. colleagues for their interventions this day. I also want to thank my colleague, the former parliamentary secretary, for his remarks and his clarification of some of the comments made today.

However, since the minister responsible has been named on several of the interventions and she has had further obligations to deal with today, I would ask that the government be given the opportunity to respond more clearly and more fully to these matters at our earliest opportunity. I ask you on behalf of the government, Mr. Speaker.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROSPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I can tell hon. members that I am quite prepared to defer a decision on this and hear arguments on another occasion, so we will move on.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada to speak in favour of Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Our party supports this legislation at second reading, because the bill is generally in line with our party's long-stated support for the right of RCMP officers to engage in collective bargaining, if that is their wish as democratically expressed by the membership.

We, of course, support sending the bill to committee where we look forward to studying it in detail and proposing amendments to deal with a number of specific concerns that we have with the current drafting, to which we have every hope that goodwill on all sides of the House will help us effect positive changes.

The background to the bill is quite straightforward. Bill C-43 was introduced in response to a decision of the Ontario Superior Court, referred to as the MacDonnell decision. Justice MacDonnell ruled in April 2009 that the existing labour relations regime pursuant to the RCMP Act was a violation of the constitutional right of RCMP officers to engage in free collective bargaining, if that is in fact their choice.

Although the government was initially hostile to RCMP unionization and engaged in repeated appeals of judicial findings against the existing system, it appears that the government has come to accept that some form of unionization within the RCMP is not only desirable, but is actually legally required.

Bill C-43 would provide a new labour relations regime for employees of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who are engaged in policing. The proposed legislation is once again the government's response to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision I just referred to, and, again, that court held that to deny RCMP police employees the right to engage in collective bargaining, a right that forms part of the right to freedom of association in section 2(d) of the charter, was indeed unconstitutional.

Once that court decision was made in April 2009, there was no longer any mechanism for establishing a collective bargaining framework for RCMP management to police employees. Recognizing that potential vacuum, the court suggested that Parliament consider establishing a legislation framework for collective bargaining. While the court emphasized that a statutory framework was not a precondition to the establishment of an effective process of collective bargaining, such a statutory framework would, in his words, greatly facilitate this outcome.

In light of this recommendation the court suspended the declaration of invalidity of section 96 of the regulations, that is the part of the act that was struck down, for 18 months to allow the government an opportunity to introduce labour relations legislation for RCMP police employees, and I would like to offer my congratulations to the government for complying with that direction of the court.

I want to start back in June 2008, just before the last federal election. At that time the RCMP had been engaged in a long discussion with the government about the long-standing recruitment and retention problems that it had experienced. Also, there are a number, and have been a number, of pressing issues facing the RCMP that I will go over in a few minutes that require not only resolution, but also the important input of the RCMP officers and civilian members to join into the discussion to find a resolution for those issues.

The Conservative government negotiated increases in the summer of 2008 to address those very real recruitment and retention issues identified by the front-line RCMP officers, and in fact RCMP management, and they actually came up with percentage increases that would help to start the process of alleviating those issues.

What happened? The election occurred and intervened in September and October. On October 16, after the election, we found that the Conservative government reneged on its promises. As soon as it was elected in October 2008, the government betrayed its promise on the very percentage increases that it had agreed to for the RCMP just before the election.

I was engaged in collective bargaining for 16 years. One of the cornerstones of labour relations in this country is the concept of good faith. It is the concept that, when parties come to a table and make an agreement, they keep that agreement.

The Conservative government did not do that. It broke its promise. It broke its commitment. It broke its word. The government betrayed the officers who came, in the summer of 2008, and shook hands across the table on a modest percentage increase that the government did not see fit to honour. That is simply unacceptable misconduct, and that is one of the prime reasons why workers consider unionization. When the employer comes to the table and proves itself unworthy of good faith negotiations, the workers then pursue a regime where the other side is compelled to sit down at the table and bargain under a statutory framework because it cannot be trusted.

The Conservative government that broke its promise to RCMP officers are the same people who, in the provincial election of 2009, also told the people of British Columbia that they would not bring in an HST. It is the same politicians. British Columbia Liberals are federal Conservatives. They also misled the voters of that province. They are getting into a habit of breaking their promises and telling voters one thing before an election, when they want their vote, and then acting in a different way after the votes are counted. I come from a riding where democracy is highly prized. The people of Vancouver Kingsway do not tolerate any longer politicians who say one thing before an election and act a different way after an election.

The government fought the simple request by officers of the RCMP to have the right to choose or not to choose to collectively bargain. We must remember that RCMP officers have not chosen to join a union yet, and New Democrats are neutral in this regard. However, we will stand up for all workers in this country to have the right to make that choice for themselves and the right of those workers to make those decisions unmolested, unintimidated and of their own free will and accord, as they measure the pros and cons of collective bargaining. That is a choice purely of the workers. In this case, it is purely the choice of RCMP officers and civilian members across this country to determine if they want to collectively bargain or not.

The Conservative government spent millions of taxpayers' dollars fighting that simple proposal. The courts found that the government's position was unconstitutional, that the longstanding prohibition in law that prohibited RCMP members from collective bargaining in this country was a violation of their charter rights.

The Liberal government that went before the present government also participated in that violation of constitutional rights, so we will hear no great words of wisdom or principle from the Liberal Party about this issue either, since those members did nothing as the constitutional rights of RCMP officers of this country were violated, abrogated and abridged for decades.

I might point out that the RCMP is the only police force in this country that has been prohibited from unionizing. It is high time we corrected this problem. I am proud that New Democrats are the only party that has stood up for the rights of RCMP members to unionize from the get-go.

I also want to talk a bit about RCMP officer input. It has been my experience that successful economies bring to the table the ideas of the management and the entrepreneurs, the ideas and the energy of workers who carry out those directions, and also a government framework that provides a healthy environment for business and labour to flourish at the same time. What is really important about the unionization process in this case is that it can provide a vehicle for RCMP officers to bring to the table their important input into the workplace. That voice has been missing up until now.

I want to congratulate a few people. RCMP officer Patrick Mehain has courageously and with absolute selfless commitment dedicated himself to the fight to allow his brothers and sisters in the RCMP to decide to unionize or not. He has done that at great personal cost to his career. He has demonstrated time and time again the bravery that one would expect from an RCMP officer, but bravery that goes above and beyond the call of duty.

I also want to give great plaudits to the Canadian Police Association and particularly its president, Charles Momy. The Canadian Police Association has been steadfast in lending its support to its sisters and brothers in the RCMP in helping them achieve the very same thing that every other police officer in this country has, which is the right to collectively bargain.

I want to talk a bit about some concerns with this bill, because it is not perfect.

First, it limits the choice of bargaining agent. Right in the bill, it says that the officers can choose any union they want, as long as it is a union that has an established collective bargaining relationship in the policing world. In theory, that is an unacceptable abridgement of a worker's right to choose the collective bargaining agent as they wish. However, I leave it to the RCMP officers to determine if they can find an appropriate bargaining agent. I think that actually they can.

Second, the legislation prohibits certain topics from being discussed at the bargaining table. Once again, that is an unacceptable violation, in theory, of the rights of people to come to the table and to be able to put on the table whatever issues in the workplace they wish. In this case, the legislation prohibits the bargaining agent from talking about these issues: pensions, appointments, promotions, layoffs and classifications.

One can understand pensions, because most public sector employees fall under an already established pension scheme, and I can see that. However, there is no principled reason, in law or in practice, why the bargaining agent or the workers should not be able to come to the table and talk about how their work is classified and give their input and suggestions about how that should work in practice. There is no principled reason to state why those workers should not be able to talk about a layoff process or a fair promotion process.

These are aspects of collective agreements across this country that unions have been dealing with for decades and decades, so we are going to be looking forward to exploring at committee why the government thinks that the bargaining agent should not be allowed to discuss those cases and have input, just input, into how those important aspects of their work relationship operate in practice. We will be working to try to amend the bill in that regard.

I also want to raise a concern of the civilian members of the RCMP who work very closely with the officers. These are people who provide very critical and important support to the RCMP officers in their day-to-day activities. They do scientific and forensic work. They run the full gamut of the policing work and work intimately with the RCMP officers in the field.

This legislation gives the autocratic ability to the minister of the Treasury Board to determine which bargaining unit they may go into, and that as well is an unacceptable infringement of those people's rights to choose who their bargaining agent is and how they choose to bargain.

There are pressing issues that I mentioned that are facing the RCMP, many issues that have challenged the force. I think I speak on behalf of all Canadians when we say that the RCMP has a long and proud tradition in this country. It has been known as one of the pre-eminent police forces in our country for a long time and it has a storied history, one that is full of its triumphs and also, it is fair to say, some of its tragedies. However, the issues that we face today with the RCMP, as parliamentarians, and that the RCMP force itself has to deal with, include the following.

They have to deal with issues of RCMP oversight and developing a structure that can restore the confidence of the public so we know that, when there are complaints against RCMP officers, there is a fair, transparent and accountable process to deal with those complaints.

We have the issue of the government closing single-member detachments all over this country, particularly in rural areas, and that is certainly not the way New Democrats would like to see this force going. We say we should be beefing up those single-member detachments, because the NDP thinks that a having a single member in a small town provides an unsafe, unacceptable working condition for that officer, but the answer is not to close that detachment and leave that community unpoliced.

The New Democrats have heard from rural politicians who tell us that they may be an hour and a half or two hours away from the nearest policing resource. What happens when there is an emergency, when there is a domestic assault case going on or something more serious such as a murder or a sexual assault occurring? The government likes to talk about how tough on crime it is, but really, it is closing single-member detachments, which is going to leave hundreds of thousands of Canadians farther away from a police officer.

We have issues of member burnout, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, very real issues facing RCMP officers in the line of duty, who are called upon to do a very difficult job on our behalf. They are often the very first person at the scene of an accident, sometimes with fatalities. They have to go to domestic situations where there is spousal assault and children involved. They are the people who have to investigate gruesome crimes of a sexual nature sometimes involving children. They are people who we put into the line of duty every day, into the line of assault and danger to their life and limb. Officers deal with that, and we need to support our officers in that regard.

There are issues of officer morale and at present issues of leadership and management styles in the RCMP. There is the issue of taser use. Just the other day, we found out another person died in this country from the use of a taser, and we need to have a serious look at getting meaningful limitations on the use of that weapon because it clearly is not being used appropriately at the present time. We have issues of RCMP accountability, as I talked about, with civilian oversight.

We also have service delivery issues. I recently met with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which told me that the federal Conservative government has downloaded $500 million of policing responsibilities on to the municipal and rural areas of this country without a dime of compensation. There is a lack of responsiveness to local policing needs. They told me they cannot get the RCMP to do bylaw enforcement because it does not have the time or resources. Once again, the Conservative government likes to use crime as a political issue and likes to talk and say how tough it is, but it has not put the money behind its word. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said this to me.

I also want to talk briefly about what unions do and why this is important. Over the last 30 years, the middle and working classes in this country have been hit hard, primarily because of Conservative policies, the policies of the Mulroney government that were carried on by the Liberal Party in the 1990s. The neo-Liberal policies talked about cutting government spending and downloading expenses to the provinces, policies that saw a downloading of costs that resulted in public services being eroded over the last 25 years.

Here are the statistics. Canada's richest 1%, 246,000 Canadians whose average income is $405,000, took almost one-third, 32% of all growth in incomes between 1987 and 2007. That is the period of Liberal and Conservative governments.

Since the 1970s, the richest 1% in this country has seen its share of total income double. The richest 0.1% has seen its share triple. The richest 0.01% has seen its share increase by more than 500%. In 2009, 3.8% of Canadian households controlled $1.78 trillion of financial wealth or 67% of the total wealth in Canada. This is what has happened under Conservative and Liberal rule in this country. The rich have got richer and the middle class and working class have got poorer.

That is why unionization, which has been proved to show that workers will gain more of their fair share of the economic pie in this country, is so important to the RCMP. It is why the New Democrats will continue to stand up for the rights of Canadian workers of all types, including the RCMP, to access collective bargaining if that is their wish, so that they can have a say in their workplace and in bargaining the terms and conditions of their work, including their compensation packages, which will help build better lives for them and their families.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree with what my hon. colleague said about the difficulty and danger of the work of the RCMP and obviously the importance of supporting the RCMP. I am sure he would agree, in light of what he said, that we should also support the RCMP veterans.

He talked about the infringement of the rights of the civilian members who play a very important role in terms of technical support to the force and very often it is support at the front line. Sometimes it is a civilian member who is right there at the stakeout making sure the equipment is working, making sure the recording devices and the cameras and so forth are operating properly. That is an important role.

What I have heard from the civilian members is that they want to maintain their own separate category. They do not want that category to be removed as is proposed by the legislation, and they feel this is a question of retention, in part, that if they are not maintained as a separate group, if they are put into the regular public service, some members will leave and go off to other departments, when it is very important to keep them there supporting the RCMP.

I would like my hon. colleague's comments on that concern.

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4:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, this bill contains a provision that would give Treasury Board the power to deem some civilian members of the RCMP, which is not to be confused with civilian staff who are already excluded and subject to the Public Service Labour Relations Act, to no longer be “RCMP members” but instead to be taken in under the framework of the Public Service Labour Relations Act themselves.

That would violate not only the right of those workers to make the free choice as to whom their bargaining agent should be, but as my hon. colleague just pointed out, it could have a number of unintended consequences. It could create difficulties in how these members work day to day with the RCMP officers. It could also cause people to leave their jobs and seek employment elsewhere if they feel that their working conditions are eroded and they cannot perform their services in the manner in which they have been accustomed to doing.

I have also met with civilian members of the force and have heard first-hand their expressions of this concern. We should tread very carefully on that because policing requires a comprehensive, co-operative framework among everybody who works on the force, the civilian staff, the civilian members, and the members themselves. We will be looking at this closely in committee to ensure that civilian members' rights are respected.

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4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, have a question about the civilian members because I have had communications from my constituents regarding this situation. They are concerned that they will be losing out here in terms of choice.

More than even the civilian members, we have the issue of the members themselves being restricted in the sense that they are being told that they must pick a bargaining agent who is involved in that particular area of policing and that they cannot choose whomever they want to represent them.

When we send this committee, does the member think there will be sufficient representations on this issue to make these two changes to give the RCMP officers full choice in the matter, as well as to give the civilian members an equally free choice in the matter?

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the cornerstone principles of a society that is committed to a free collective bargaining regime is to respect the rights of the workers to freely choose their representative. We cannot have a free collective bargaining system if management, in this case the government, is actually directing or, in any way, truncating the rights of the employees to choose who they want to represent them.

The employees cannot compel management. Management would consider it an absolutely unacceptable intrusion into management rights if employees were to tell management who it could or could not have as its bargaining representative. Therefore, it is absolutely unacceptable that the government would try to do that in this case as well.

Having said that, it is up to the RCMP officers themselves to determine if that is a deal breaker. I look forward to consulting with RCMP officers, like Mr. Mehain, and the Canadian Police Association to determine if they think that is something they can live with. We will, of course, respect the choice of the RCMP officers in this regard.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech was lucid and strong on most points, although not on all.

Would the member to comment on the expanded powers extended to the RCMP commissioner and does he have any concerns in that regard? I did not hear anything in his speech on that but perhaps I missed it.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the part of my speech that the member for Ajax—Pickering probably did not like was where I talked about the Liberal Party's shameful record over the last 25 years of not doing anything to help the RCMP officers unionize. Of course, if I were him, I would probably not like it if someone pointed out that the Liberal government did not do anything to stand up for the rights of RCMP officers to unionize either.

However, it is a fact and it is part of the historical record. I think all Canadians, all RCMP officers and all trade unions should know that it is easy to talk the talk during elections and pretend to stand up for collective bargaining in this country, but when in government, to not actually do anything about it, tells a tale more loudly than words do.

I also would like to mention that the expanded powers as proposed for the RCMP commissioner are problematic and worthy of concern. At the public safety committee, we have been discussing leadership issues. We are very concerned about the management structure and the way that management is being carried out at the RCMP.

The NDP will be looking carefully to ensure there is an appropriate balance and that the RCMP leadership is delivered in a manner that is accountable, done with integrity and done with the furtherance of the best interests of the RCMP at heart at all times.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, having spent some time in the labour movement, I used to hear a saying that the company gets the union it deserves. It is almost like the government is trying to set the stage to take the choice away from RCMP members as to who represents them. What will the government do next? Will it pass a law that says that it will choose the lawyer in a case against it? It is ridiculous. We live in a country where we have the right to organize. The RCMP, if given the right to organize, should be given the choice of who represents its members.

One concern I have after listening to the commentary today is whether an RCMP officer, in meeting with management, would have the right to have union representation of his or her choice present. That is a very fundamental part of protecting an officer from intimidation or even the suggestion of it. I was wondering if the member could comment.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I give full credit to my hon. colleague who gives so much of his career to the trade union movement and to improving the lives of workers across Ontario and this country.

The short answer to the question is that there is nothing in the legislation that would preclude the parties from negotiating representational rights and responsibilities in the collective agreement, which is a positive thing.

One reason my party is supporting this bill going to committee is that it would bring in a legislative framework as the potential to get collective bargaining under way, where RCMP officers can choose a bargaining representative and table a comprehensive set of terms and conditions for a collective agreement, other than the issues that I mentioned we have concerns about. This legislation would prohibit the parties from talking about layoff, promotion, appointment and other things that are standard fare in collective agreements. That is something we will be looking at.

However, to answer the member's question directly, there is nothing in this legislation that would prevent the bargaining agent from tabling terms and conditions that relate to ensuring an RCMP officer has union representation whenever he or she wishes. I leave that to the parties to negotiate at the bargaining table.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. It is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that the men and women in the RCMP do. If there is anything this House can agree on, it is the work that front-line officers do in keeping our communities safe and putting their lives on the line.

I had the opportunity, as the public safety and national security critic for the Liberal Party, to visit attachments across the country and talk with officers. I am always amazed by the work they do and the quality people we have been able to attract to the force.

In that regard, I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill and the portions that are supportable. I will also talk about some areas of weakness that need to be examined in committee.

First, it is important to look at the origins of where this bill came from. The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, who spoke earlier, talked about the fact that it has been a long time that the RCMP has not unionized. However, what the member left out is that it was not an issue until 2008.

I remember in 2008 when the Prime Minister made a commitment to RCMP officers that they would be given simple parity with other forces, that they would be paid the same for the same job essentially. This was brought forward because there was a real problem with retention and recruitment. The feeling was that they had to be paid the same as other forces that were out there. The Prime Minister gave his word in 2008, shook hands with those RCMP officers who were there and made a speech about how important it was to achieve parity.

Mere months later, that promise was broken. The commitment was tossed out the door and the words soon forgotten. The RCMP were left shocked, bewildered and feeling betrayed. As a result, many felt that the time had come to ask for the right to unionize.

Collective bargaining is a right enjoyed by every other police force in the country. One would assume that when the RCMP members asked for the opportunity to put this to a vote and allow them to decide that the government would have said, of course, as that was their democratic right. However, the government did no such thing. It stood in their way and the matter had to be taken to court.

In April 2009, before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations breached the freedom of association in accordance with the RCMP under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. It concluded that the 20,000-plus members of the RCMP did in fact have a right, as did every other police force, to make a decision on whether they wanted collective bargaining and who they wanted as their bargaining agent.

It is not as if this was given freely by the government. The RCMP had to fight for it after the betrayal in 2008.

However, it is not as if the government then pounced upon the finding of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In fact, we had to wait from that point until June 17, 2010. It was more than a year later before the government then tabled this bill. This bill was tabled in June and yet we are only just now beginning the process of debating it at second reading.

Committees are going on right now and, in fact, I am taking a brief break to speak here before I head back. However, in committee we will be talking about whether we should immediately go to clause by clause on a pardon bill. We have already dealt with half of the bill, which was Bill C-23A, and we will be dealing with Bill C-23B, but the government is attacking us for not passing this bill immediately.

However, if we look at the state of that bill, it is already on the verge of going to clause by clause. The government itself has admitted that the bill is flawed and needs amendments, which we still have not seen, and yet the government is saying that we are holding it up.

Here is a bill that is in front of us that essentially nothing has happened with since June. In fact, nothing really has happened since the court decision in April 2009 and yet government members feel free to stand and attack myself and other members, who are diligently trying to do work at committee, saying that we are not moving those bills fast enough. Obviously this has not been a high priority for the government and, as a result, this matter continues to stick and linger.

I will talk about some of the things that the bill does initiate and some of the things that we support. I also will quickly go through some of the items that are weaknesses in the bill.

If implemented, Bill C-43 would give RCMP members the right of choice whether they want to continue to work in an non-unionized environment or to pursue a unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.

It would further give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.

On that point, the committee will need to look in more detail at what exactly is the scope of these new powers and how they would be applied. That is an area of some concern. On the first point, just simply giving the choice to members to unionize or not is something that should be taken as a given and something that RCMP members should not have had to fight for over the last number of years.

It would further establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board with recommendations on overall compensation of RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, this would include RCMP officers, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.

Further, it would establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.

It would maintain the existing informal conflict management system whereby options will continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.

It would provide the commissioner the authority to implement a restructured discipline system that would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial and external decision-making body.

And it would establish the Public Service Labour Relations Board as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members.

There are many items that have been called for over a long period of time, certainly that Liberals have been pushing for, that are commendable and laudable and can be supported. One of the areas that is concerning and will have to be looked at in committee is provisions in the bill that would limit who the bargaining agent might be. I am not sure what the reason is for those limitations and why they would be put into force, but it is certainly something that would have to be explained and at the moment seems contrary to the spirit of the decision that was made by the Ontario Superior Court.

On the fact that it would limit certain matters to be discussed, I am concerned about limiting the ability to discuss classification of work, how layoffs might happen, and matters dealing with promotions. These are normally things that would be included in the collective bargaining process. It seems unusual that they would be cut out. It would certainly not be in the tradition of other collective bargaining processes enjoyed by other police forces. So that is going to have to be described and given some consideration.

As for the provision for the Treasury Board president to be able to decide who the bargaining agent is for civilian members, there has been no good explanation provided for that and obviously has a number of civilian members scratching their heads and being concerned as to why the government would put that provision in and why that power would be granted to the Treasury Board president. That will need to be looked at in committee.

Further, I am also concerned about the additional powers given to the commissioner. These powers need to be explained more fully. The powers are particularly concerning in the context of things that we have been hearing about within RCMP, about the head of the organization, about the structure at the top of the organization not being in shape relative to the rest of the organization.

In that regard, because it really reflects on the overall issue of morale, recruitment and retention, we have to talk about some of the other things happening within the force. I am going to start with those that have a direct impact on this notion of extending additional powers to the RCMP commissioner.

Let us start with the commission of inquiry conducted by Justice O'Connor. Justice O'Connor found that the oversight mechanisms provided to the RCMP were wholly inadequate. To give an example, the RCMP public complaints commissioner was not empowered to proactively initiate an investigation when something went wrong. He did not have the power to force information from individuals and it could only be provided to him voluntarily.

Also, as many of the operations conducted by the RCMP, particularly those dealing with intelligence and security operations, deal with more than one agency, there is no power to follow the bouncing ball. If something happens within the RCMP, there is no power to see what happened at immigration or what happened at the Canada Border Services Agency, so everything exists in a silo.

The notion of giving the RCMP commissioner additional powers in the absence of having adequate oversight, I think, is deeply troubling. If Justice O'Connor's report was new, the government could be forgiven for not implementing it. However, we are coming up to nearly the five-year mark of Justice O'Connor's report being tabled. The government said it agreed with the conclusions of Justice O'Connor, agreed that those had to be implemented immediately, yet those recommendations still sit collecting dust, with no action taken.

This is particularly concerning given the fact that we saw what happened with Mr. Arar and the terrible ordeal he went through in a Syrian prison.

It was repeated with Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, in the report done by Justice Iacobucci where he repeated the call, the need for these reforms to take place and to have that oversight.

For I and other members to sit in a room where we had a replica of the cell that these gentlemen were confined to, as they told their stories of listening and waiting as footsteps went by, wondering when they were going to be pulled from their cell and tortured next, and knowing that detention and torture had at its heart many failures within the Canadian intelligence system, we would think the government would be urgently trying to remedy that so that these horrific circumstances and the torture that these men went through would not be repeated. Yet here again we have a bill giving the commissioner new powers, with no oversight.

I would remind this House that Paul Kennedy, who was the RCMP public complaints commissioner, also talked about the urgent need of reform within his office. He spoke about the import of some of these changes and oversight. Of course, like anyone who criticized the government, he was fired, ostensibly his contract was not renewed, because of the fact that he was being critical, because he was showing what needed to change, what needed to be done. The government got rid of him, which is a terrible tragedy. This is somebody who did tremendous work.

Who replaced Mr. Kennedy? Essentially, it was a wills and estate lawyer who had made all kinds of contributions to the Conservative Party, who we have never heard from since and I do not suspect we ever will.

It is hard to think of a week that went by where we did not hear from Mr. Kennedy, stepping forward and speaking out on behalf of the changes that needed to happen within the RCMP. Yet, of the new commissioner, we hear essentially nothing, which given his background and connections to the Conservative Party is probably exactly what the government was hoping for.

However, when these voices are killed, these independent voices that shine light into dark corners, that give us an opportunity to know what the truth is and what is going on, the whole process is undermined. Frankly, it is offensive that the government would come and ask to give even more powers to the commissioner in absence of moving forward at all with any of these oversight mechanisms.

It is also important for us to reflect upon the work that was done in the Brown report, in the wake of the RCMP pension scam, where he said there had to be important structural changes happen to the RCMP as an organization. Mr. Brown gave the government two years. He thought it was an aggressive but achievable timeline in which to make those changes. The government did nothing. It did not recommend a single one of Mr. Brown's changes. Despite the fact that it said, yes, it agreed with what he said needed to be done, it did not implement those changes. In fact, some six months ago we celebrated the two-year mark he had given for the changes to be implemented.

So it is not surprising, when we look at this, why we are having some problems within the RCMP in terms of morale. Those brave men and women who are on the front lines doing their job are looking and asking why these changes are not taking place; why is reform not happening at the top of the organization; why is the government consistently ignoring commission after commission, inquiry after inquiry?

The public safety committee has issued many recommendations on this, and it too is ignored. The government's response is, “Yes, we are going to do it”, and then it does not.

We also know that Mr. Kennedy spoke very clearly about the need to take action with respect to conducted energy weapons. The report that he did on the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the lessons that came from there still largely has not been implemented. Most of the recommendations, some of them very simple around providing direct guidelines and direction for use of conducted energy weapons, still sit not implemented.

As an example, in the case of Mr. Dziekanski, who was fired upon multiple times, the second and third time even after he was already subdued and riling on the ground in pain, one simple recommendation would simply be that once somebody is incapacitated, to stop shooting them. It would seem a fairly straightforward thing to be able to implement, yet even that is not there.

We also know with respect to conducted energy weapons that it really needs to be placed into that continuum of force training that happens at depot, yet at depot that does not happen. Right now when they are getting their continuum of force training, conducted energy weapons are not part of the training. They have guns, a stick, and pepper spray, but left out of that continuum is the taser and the question of where exactly in application of force it should be put.

When we reflect upon all of this overwhelming desire for change, all of the self-evident changes that need to happen and the fact that the government continually does not do it, I am completely baffled as to why.

I get asked by many members, if all of these things are so self-evident, if these reports have been done with clear and concise recommendations and timelines and it is made clear how the implementation should happen, why has it not been done?

The latest excuse, when we get an excuse, was that they were waiting for Justice Major's report on Air India. After Justice Major tabled his report some seven or eight months ago, there was a lot of hope that we would finally get movement on all of these things that have been outstanding forever.

Yet last week the government tabled its so-called action plan on Air India and absent from the action plan was any action. Instead of actually moving on all these things that have been standing and waiting to move forever, there were some vague, general aspirational statements that we would have expected the day after Justice Major's report came out. There is still no movement whatsoever on oversight.

In the case of Justice Major's report, where there were a number of new things that were talked about, including somebody who could head up counterterrorism to break through those different silos there, the victims of Air India had to wait all that period of time only to be told that after the government had said six months ago that it would accept the recommendation, it is now tossing it out. Too bad.

When it came to compensation for those families, too bad. Wait and maybe one day they will hear from the government.

If Justice O'Connor's report is any example at all, it has been five years and we are still waiting. I wonder if the Air India families are going to be asking the same kind of questions that Mr. Arar's family is asking five years later, or Mr. Abou-Emaati's or Mr. Almalki's or Mr. Nureddin's.

I will conclude with this. I think it is important that we empower the RCMP to make the choice of whether or not it wants to unionize.

The bill needs to proceed to committee. There are a number of areas that are weak. However, I would call upon the government, for the sake of the RCMP, this national symbol that is in desperate need of renewal, with Canadians really calling out and begging for the government to make the changes that do service to the organization, that it act on what has been asked of it and move on what needs to be done, not just on this but on all outstanding matters.

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, certainly the RCMP has a storied history, but in the last few years it has been mired in many scandals that really should not have happened.

I was very interested in the member's comments regarding the expanded powers of the commissioner. I think that is where a lot of the problem lies and I think the member is onto something there.

I hope at committee the member will pay special attention to that and try to at least limit or more clearly define the powers of the commissioner, because we certainly do not want to expand those to any great degree.

Has the member any further opinions about that particular aspect of his speech?

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to be careful because often just empowering one person with vague, general powers is a lazy way of trying to get at a problem. Instead of creating a mechanism that has built within it accountability, we throw a whole bunch of powers to one person and hope he or she uses them judiciously. That is a dangerous approach at the best of times, but in the absence of oversight, it is downright reckless.

We know right now that there are serious questions within the RCMP about how things are working at the most senior level, about how criticism is being taken and how judiciously power is being used. Therefore, I have grave concerns about bestowing additional powers onto one person and one office.

As an adjunct to this, something I did not mention in my speech, which is something for which the RCMP has been calling for a long time and which has been sitting around this place for the last five years, was lawful access. If we are to give police officers new powers, and we very much support that so they can go after terrorist networks, child predators or whomever it might be online and get at them as they move and operate technologically, we cannot move on those new powers unless we correspondingly have oversight. The two must move in tandem. Therefore, it is concerning in the bill, yet again, to see new powers bestowed with no new oversight.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to see someone doing speeches without constantly looking at notes and talking points. There is not enough of that going on these days.

I do want to compliment the member on several aspects, one of which raised concerns for me, and that is the oversight aspect. Quoting from the bill, it states:

It authorizes the Commissioner to make rules relating to human resource management processes and for the training, conduct, performance of duties and discipline of members and for the organization, efficiency, administration or good government of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

It seems to be a highly powerful place in which to be. Could he comment on the oversight issue regarding that? At first glance, I thought this was perhaps a bit overly prescriptive.

There is another issue I want to bring up. One of the issues for me, living in rural Canada, specifically rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and my colleague from the NDP touched on this as well, is the downloading of services to local areas. When it comes to single-member detachments, that is certainly a concern in my area. I personally would like to see single-member detachments beefed up, to have more members involved, but it seems like they will be shut down in many places. Could he comment on that as well?

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising the issue of single-member detachments and the fact that the government is moving to close many down in small and rural communities, which has a devastating impact on public safety to be quite frank. These detachments play an extremely critical role in responding quickly and providing safety and security. It would be very devastating for families in domestic violence situations, for example . When these shut down, it has a big impact in a very negative way on communities.

I know the member has been very active on this and has spoken out about the need to preserve these. I certainly support his efforts in that regard. I appreciate anything I can do to work with him on that to stop the government's actions in that regard.

Regarding oversight, the government, with its solution to everything, whether it is refugees or the RCMP, has to stop tossing enormous amounts of power to one individual and then giving no corresponding oversight. I have spoken a great deal about this, but it is a concern that this is a trend of which we see more and more.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government is very prescriptive in the way it is handling two areas, the civilian members, and I have certainly heard from some of them on that issue, and the basic bargaining group of the officers themselves.

The bill indicates that the bargaining agent has to be represented by a recognized union, a common union from other police forces. The way to go with this would be to allow the workers to come up with their own choices as to who they want to represent them.

The same aspect is involved with the civilian members. The civilian members who are contacting me are very concerned that they are going to be told by Treasury Board what they are going to do. They want to make up their own minds and make their own decisions as to how we should proceed through this.

Once again, the government was forced this far by the court decision to take the choices it had made already to bring in the legislation against its will. Now it is trying to stage-manage the process further.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, a committee was absolutely going to look at this. I can discern no good reason why this choice would be deprived of members.

As I said in my speech, if we look at forces across the country, this is given to any other police force I can think of or have looked at. Therefore, why the RCMP would be treated differently is disquieting. However, it is part of a trend, where our national police force is asked to be treated differently, lesser than other police forces, lesser in terms of pay, ability to collectively bargain and organize on behalf of their members. Why the double standard? Why is the government so tough on police officers? Why is it so hard on RCMP members? That is a question a lot of members within the RCMP are asking a lot of members of the public.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues the hon. member talked about was limited choice when it comes to the bargaining unit. I believe I heard this earlier, and I was not aware of it, that it was limited to the policing world when it came to the bargaining unit itself. Could the hon. member could comment on that and briefly talk about what this does? I know it is a broad issue and I apologize to my colleague. However, could he comment on the current morale of the RCMP? He has worked over the last three years quite extensively on these issues.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer on morale is I have a lot of concerns. RCMP members in the rank and file, the front line officers, are rightfully proud of the work they do. They are rightfully proud of the service they provide to their communities and the fact that they are willing to put their lives on the line to keep us safe and do a tough job.

The things I have mentioned, this issue and the way it has been dealt with, issues around wage parity and around all the changes and reforms that need to happen. seeing all the mistakes happening that are beyond their control and seeing the government not acting on them is wearing tough on those members. It is having an impact on recruitment and retention. There is a real need to act, not just here, but in those other areas to ensure we keep that force strong, not only in terms of its members and bringing in new folks, but also in terms of how it is perceived outside.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-43. We would not be dealing with the bill in the House today had it not been for an Ontario court decision last year. The government has fought this issue for quite some time.

We are talking about giving RCMP members the ability to form a union of their choice if they wish. This issue has been discussed for quite a number of years and governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, have made no effort to be helpful and allow this to happen.

Members of the organization spent a considerable amount of money and time to take this issue to court. When they won the court decision, the government quickly introduced legislation, which appears to take away some of the rights the members wanted by going to court in the first place.

RCMP members want to select their own bargaining agent. This legislation dictates that only a bargaining agent which primarily represents workers in the field of policing is eligible to be certified as a recognized union for RCMP officers. To the average person, this may make a lot of sense, but it is a fundamental restriction on the right of workers to choose who they want as their bargaining agent.

The same issue comes into play with respect to civilian members. The RCMP has now grown to around 24,000 members. The minister indicated today that there were perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 civilian members in the RCMP. They too are being restricted in ways that they perhaps would not have contemplated when the decision to go to court was made. It is left in the hands of Treasury Board to decide their fate.

The Conservative government knew for several years that this issue was before a court. It knew there was a possibility that it might lose, and that is what happened. The government lost the decision and because of a court order, it introduced the legislation.

The government could have quickly consulted with members of the RCMP before it brought the legislation to the House. It could have asked civilian members for their opinion as opposed to simply introducing the legislation, saying it could not consult because it was operating on the basis of a court order, that consulting would happen once the bill went to committee.

The NDP has agreed to support this legislation to get it to committee. However, the civilian members who are contacting me will now have to go through the process of making arrangements and representations to the committee.

We all know that the committee process is not like the process in the Manitoba legislature, which I am familiar with, where we let anybody make a presentation. Provided that the presenters know about the bill they are presenting on in the first place and when the committee is meeting, they can come and register at the last minute, show up by the hundreds if they want and they are given their 10 minutes to present and answer questions. That is how it is dealt with.

However, in this case we are talking about a committee that is held here in Ottawa. How are these members supposed to travel in from outside the Ottawa area at their own expense to present before the committee? The way these committees operate in Ottawa is different from the provincial committees. The provincial committees allow anybody to come in, whether people are experts in the area or whether the come in off the street, and give their opinion. It is a totally different environment here.

These members will not be invited to present to the committee unless they are recognized experts. Certainly that was my experience with the air passenger bill of rights and any other legislation in which I was involved. It is a very selective process in Ottawa.

I am not in any way happy with how this is happening because the civilian members who are contacting me are absolutely right. They missed the consultation before the bill was drafted. We can tell them all we want that they will have a chance at committee but we know better than that. We know they will not be invited to the committee because the committee is very restricted. The committee will only sit for a few days and it will want to hear from expert witnesses.

However, that does not mean that the issue will not be aired. The committee will hear from the experts and, hopefully, the civilian members who are contacting me will be happy. However, the civilian members should have been given more opportunity to make a presentation to the committee.

I want to read an email correspondence from Ms. Deneene Curry from Edward Avenue in Transcona in my riding. She is one of the civilian members of the RCMP who will be affected by this legislation. She expresses concerns about the bill, perhaps concerns that could have been dealt with had she had proper consultation in advance of the bill being introduced.

She talked about a section 20(1)(a) that would place the positions of civilian members under threat of conversion to public service positions, and that the Treasury Board, as we have indicated, would ultimately determine the category of an employee within the RCMP. She is concerned that at no point does it seem that the civilian members will be allowed to collectively vote on the issue or decide on their future status.

I thought this was all about giving freedom of choice to members to decide whether they want a union in the first place and, if they do decide to have one, to at least let them freely choose which union it is will be.

However, that is not what is happening here. It appears that is being preordained. In the area of the civilian members, it appears that the Treasury Board would tell them and in the area of the officers themselves, the legislation would tell them who they can have representing them.

I ask the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek to bear me out on this. In any other walk of life, in dealing with representation across the country, if workers in any other province decided to change representation or change unions they can vote and change representatives. However, that does not seem to be an option here. Members are being told that, in much the same way that they have had the company union association dealing with their concerns over the last several decades, now we would tell them who their representatives will be and, if they do not like them, l really do not know how many other options are out there.

We know that the RCMP, which has 24,000 members, is the last police force without union representation and they are ready for it. I believe every police force in the country with over 50 members has union representation. The member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek might know that.

Ms. Curry goes on to say that the civilian members are considered subject matter experts in their fields and they are individuals with specialized training and skills sets that are unique to the RCMP and its environment. The civilian members are required to work various hours of the day, often on short notice, to meet investigational demands and court deadlines and they may be transferred or dispatched in the event of an emergency, disaster, special events, such as the Olympics and the G8, or to fulfill resource shortages. She says that this may no longer be the case if the civilian members are forced into the public service realm.

She goes on to say that the civilian members are sworn in members of the RCMP and that they are therefore subject to the same sort of standards, expectations, regulations, security clearance and leave restrictions as regular members. Because of these factors, it is not an easy process to fill vacated civilian member positions with qualified individuals. They chose their civilian member positions over applying for other positions that they may have qualified for in other organizations. They are proud members of the RCMP and they devote their skill sets to the organization. If they are converted to public servants, there is a risk that many of these civilian members would seek employment opportunities outside of the RCMP, which would create a loss of valuable resources and put ongoing criminal investigations at a serious disadvantage.

She is certainly concerned, and I think rightly so, but perhaps if the government had made an effort to consult with people like her before it introduced the bill, she and others would not be writing emails to me in this situation. I am sure I am not the only member of Parliament who is getting representation on this issue. We will certainly be in touch with her to let her know that the committee will be meeting and that she should phone the appropriate secretary of the committee as soon as possible to try to get on the list.

I wanted to talk about the history of the RCMP and I found some very interesting historical facts. To make the argument that while it started small and has a very valuable role in our country, it has grown to 24,000 members. As with any organization, as it grows in size and develops there are different types of problems that are to be found in an organization of 24,000 people with the role and mandate of the RCMP.

The RCMP has international involvement as well. It has been deployed on UN missions in Namibia, the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, South Africa, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Western Sahara, the Netherlands, Croatia, Kosovo and East Timor, and the role of the RCMP on these UN missions was not to act as official peacekeepers but rather to act as a temporary civilian police force.

The RCMP has a huge role, and I could get into all the other roles that it has, but it is the police force where there is no local force.

The organization has had a storied past and has been well respected over the decades in this country. However, in the last six years there have been numerous problems that point to an extreme level of difficulty within that organization. We heard about the stress on the job, the morale in the RCMP and the taser issues. At a certain point, the public started to ask questions. Maybe the first one or two problems within the force were simply greeted by the public as something that one should expect given the size and complexity of the organization, but there have been so many lately that I think the public have come to the conclusion that it is time to make some changes, and certainly this is a change.

Perhaps the government does not see this as a positive change and dreads the idea of having a unionized police force. However, in today's environment, with a force of 24,000 people and the complexity and variety of problems they must deal with, having a union involved, the type of union environment that they choose on their own, might be very helpful in improving morale in the force and, I hope, would have something to do with reducing the stress levels in the force.

The big problem right now within the force is that there does not seem to be any real avenue for people to express their opinion. Over the years that the company union was in place in the RCMP, there was much concern on the part of the officers to voice concerns in the workplace for fear they may not get a promotion, or they may not be seen as team players, or they may have some sort of retribution from their superiors.

In forming their own union, one would hope that this would help to alleviate some of these problems. However, at the end of the day we are not 100% sure whether they would proceed with a union. There is a lot of scare-mongering going on out there.

I am not sure of my time, but I know it is never enough.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

It is for us.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I thank the hon. member. It is only a couple more days before the probable election I would think. I guess we all hope to be back here.

The bill will be going to committee and we in the NDP do have several concerns that we will attempt to deal with by amendment. I did discuss one of them, which is the dictate of which bargaining agent the RCMP would have to deal with.

A second amendment to the bill that we would be looking at is in the area of the limitations on the topics that might be negotiated at the bargaining table, including some substantial components of a contract, such as pensions. That would something we would be interested in dealing with in committee.

I also indicated our concern with the civilian members' issues. We could deal with that in committee as well.

I regret that I will not be able to get into the very interesting history of the RCMP and its early trips out west to deal with particular issues at Fort Whoop-Up.

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that through the course of this debate, I am understanding the concept that there needs to be a formal process for people to vent their anger and frustrations about the workplaces they are in, such as the cases of grievances under a normal function of a union or in a union membership. In this particular case, however, I have a couple of issues with how this is structured.

It appears it would establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group. That sounds all nice and everything else. However, the problem with that is that, from what I understand, it would then go directly to the commissioner as opposed to circumventing him and going directly to the Treasury Board.

To me, it seems it is an exercise in employee morale as opposed to a specific issue that needs to be addressed by any particular individual. I believe the member mentioned in his speech that there is fear of repercussions if employees do that and certainly if they bring it directly to the commissioner. That would be a fear I would certainly have as a member of the force.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that we are somewhat unclear as to what the final product is going to be. I get the impression that we have a very reluctant government that resisted attempts by officers to form a union, to the extent that they had to go to court at great expense. Now that the government has been court ordered to produce legislation, it has drawn up legislation in such a way as to make the final product to its liking.

As the member knows, opposition members have a majority on the committee. When the bill gets to committee, amendments will be brought in and hopefully passed to make certain that police officers themselves get the right to choose who their bargaining agent is. It might be one of the police organizations out there right now, or it might not be. And do civilian employees go the same route?

However, at the end of the day what the final structures look like will all depend on what comes out of the committee and how the structures get implemented. The members may decide at the end of the day not to form a union at all. They may decide that some other structure may be in play.

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5:10 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to see NDP members stand up for our military or police officers. I know of situations when they stood up, for instance, when we wanted to arm border guards to stop criminals coming in. They suggested, instead of passing out service revolvers, that we pass out flowers at the border. That is one example of the approaches they take with our military, with no disrespect to the member.

First, I want to know clearly how many civilian members he has talked to and what the empirical evidence was that they brought back. Any good survey, as he knows, would have a good 1,000 members. I would like to hear from him how many members he talked to and what they spoke of in particular.

I want to remind the member that if he does not like the way committees are run, as he mentioned, opposition members have a majority on the committee and they can change it if they want. Clearly, he is trying to indicate that the government has control of these committees, which we do not. We are pushed around by opposition members on a constant basis and we have to continue to work with them to try to get through what our people have told us to get through, which is to get tough on crime and to supply our RCMP members.

This government stepped forward with pay to RCMP members and where was he for that? He voted against it. Clearly, he is trying to suck and blow at the same time.

I would like to know how many members he has talked to. I would like to hear some real evidence from him, not just an occasional letter read out.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to address that rambling, disjointed question in a moment.

The hon. member wants to talk about arming border guards. Just yesterday we had a Liberal member on the Roy Green radio show across Canada talking about how the government has spent $90,000 to train each border guard on how to use weapons. That did not even account for all the excessive cost involved in hotels. That was just the beginning, $90,000 per border guard.

The member may not know this, but in the last five or six years since the border guards have been armed, evidently there has been only one occasion when the border guards had to use the guns, which was a moose, I believe. They had to shoot a moose that was sick.

That is the government's idea of getting smart on crime. The Conservatives are the smart guys on crime. This is a government that in 1979 started sending pension cheques to prisoners in federal prisons.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, during the debate pursuant to Standing Order 52 later today, no quorum call, requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motion be received by the Chair.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to move this motion?

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that we had a fairly reasonable debate going in this place until the last intervention. One of the things that is important for us to understand as a group is that the right of workers to organize is a charter right.

Here we have the government prescribing endless hoops for these workers to jump through, and police officers very surely are workers. If we look at the hours they put in and the duties they follow, they should have every right equal to any other citizen in this country.

The reality for me is that, looking at the bill and now hearing the member for Elmwood—Transcona talk about the committee, I am pleased to hear there will be some interventions at committee, because this bill has not been thoroughly thought out by the government.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very nice to have an excellent question on the part of a member from our party on this issue. The fact of the matter is that this has not been thoroughly thought out. This has been a rushed job, as a result of a court order, on the part of a very reluctant government, which did not like the decision of the court in the first place and I think is now trying to stage manage the final outcome of the process to make certain that the members do not get, as the member said, their charter rights, their right to pick their own union.

Certainly there is the exposure with the civilian members, who obviously have not been thought about too much by the government. It is getting to the end of the session, and all session I have been asking the question as to when the government will tell me why Joe Clark and Don Mazankowski started sending pension cheques out, licking stamps, licking envelopes and sending pension cheques to prisoners in federal institutions in 1979. I want to see the studies. I want to know what studies Don Mazankowski and Joe Clark took part in to justify that decision, because now we have to clean up the mess—

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I think we will move on to resuming debate. The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House of Commons to deliver some comments on what is a very important bill.

Many would ultimately argue that the RCMP is one of those iconic things here in Canada. Many individuals aspire to get into that profession, because it is a noteworthy, honourable profession to be in.

I also like the fact that I am following the member for Elmwood—Transcona, someone who I have known for a number of years, since 1988 I guess it would be. We sat on opposition benches for a good 11 years. I see he has not lost his touch. I look forward to having some exchanges with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

It is very important to recognize the need for labour relations and the important role that they play in the economy and our social fabric and how important it is that we move forward in trying to do what is right as legislators.

I know in the past we tried to provide comment on what is good legislation and make the suggestion that it at least be allowed to move forward, although we want to stop some legislation in its tracks. My understanding and quick reading of this particular bill is that there is merit for it to go to committee. We look forward to seeing it go to committee.

As has been pointed out, once the bill is in committee, opposing parties can work together to enhance the legislation and possibly make it better for our RCMP. That is a positive thing. I look forward to being able to see what type of amendments might arise from the committee stage.

On this issue of RCMP and law and order, I listened to the question from one of the members opposite to the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He talked about the government being tough on crime. When he said that, right away I kicked back into the byelection. In the byelection, that was a major issue. Crime and safety is something I hope to be able to talk about a lot as the days go on here in Ottawa and we are in session.

The RCMP has played a critical role, not only while on duty but also when off-duty, I will suggest. I would like to give an example of the type of dedication our RCMP officers bring to the table.

We see them in uniform. We see them in terms of what they do, particularly in Manitoba, in our rural communities, but also in our urban centres. Maybe what we do not see as much are the things the RCMP officers do during their off-duty hours. I have had the privilege of working with RCMP officers in their off-duty hours. I have had many opportunities to have discussions in terms of the types of contributions they make.

Ultimately I would argue that this is one of the reasons why it is when we debate legislation of this nature that we do need to give it time and to allow for it to go to committee. My understanding is, and I am not 100% up on all the rules of this chamber obviously, that it will go to committee where we will hear presentations and hopefully see some amendments brought forward.

Why I believe it is important, in good part, is that we need to return what we can to those officers who serve and serve us so well. One of the things I want to highlight is the off-duty responsibilities that many members, if not all, take.

I have had the opportunity to be involved with a youth justice committee. These youth justice committees have proven to be fairly successful if they are managed well. Provinces will in fact take advantage of them and incorporate them into the system.

On our committee we had a wonderful RCMP officer who has just recently retired. In the sense of commitment to volunteerism, this officer was fairly impressive.

I would encourage individuals as they start to think about how they want to see this bill develop going into committee to reflect on some of the volunteer efforts that our RCMP officers put in. I offer this as one example of the type of volunteerism that they provide.

In this particular case it was Al Pasquini, a retired individual who made himself available first in the community of Thompson, I believe, in northern Manitoba. He dealt with young offenders and tried to come up with alternative ways in which dispositions could be held for where they had committed a crime. He really put a face on the whole process of justice.

After years of serving with the RCMP in northern Manitoba he was relocated to the city of Winnipeg. Once he arrived in Winnipeg it was only a matter of weeks before he made contact with me and a couple of others and indicated that he wanted to continue doing volunteer work with young offenders. We were most happy to have him primarily because he was not only a great volunteer but he brought his expertise to the committee. He knew how to deal with young offenders first-hand and he understood why some of the crimes took place. He had the ability to communicate and follow through on the issues that were important in terms of dispositions for justice committees. He had so much to offer.

All RCMP officers have phenomenal skill sets that are underestimated in terms of their importance and the role that they play. That is the reason why I would suggest that when we look at this legislation it is defined in the sense of when an RCMP officer is on duty, but that is only a part of it.

For many RCMP officers volunteering is a way of life. I see Al Pasquini as one of those individuals who has dedicated his life to being an RCMP officer. To say that he worked 60 hours a week would probably underestimate the actual number of hours that Mr. Pasquini worked. Knowing other individuals within the RCMP I would say that Mr. Pasquini was not alone. This is the type of dedication RCMP officers bring to the table and at the end of the day this dedication is of great value to all of us. I was the chair of one of the committees on which Mr. Pasquini sat. We benefited because of his expertise and his willingness to volunteer.

There is also the issue of what RCMP officers do during the work week, during their shifts. They put themselves in potential danger seven days a week, 24 hours a day, in order to ensure that we can feel safe in the environments in which we live. I suspect that the House would unanimously agree with me about the dedication shown by our RCMP officers with respect to the type of work they do and the benefits our communities receive as a result.

I have had the opportunity to quickly go through Bill C-43 and I feel it is a bill of great value. We should be looking for ways to improve labour relations between RCMP staff and management. I understand that the government did not volunteer to bring in this legislation. It was forced to bring in this legislation because of a court ruling and somewhat grudgingly brought this bill forward. For whatever reasons the bill is before us today. I do believe that the government has the responsibility to approach it with an open mind once it gets to committee.

I know from the Manitoba legislature that we often got presentations dealing with legislation that we had brought through, and I anticipate that there will be presentations that will be coming to committee for this bill. I look forward to hearing those presentations, or at least participating in that process, because it is an interesting profession. I have always admired the red coats and the roles that they have played. I made reference at the beginning of my comments to what an important symbol the RCMP is for Canadian society.

I have not had, I admit, the discussions with the RCMP officers or the rank and file as to what they feel about the legislation. I have a feeling that we will have some time, maybe not very much time, to be able to do that, and I look forward to having that dialogue. Knowing that this bill could in fact be passing at any point in time, I thought it would be nice just to be able to get up and comment on that today, but also to take the opportunity to emphasize something that has come out of the federal byelection, and that is the whole issue of crime and safety.

Crime and safety was in fact the number one issue in Winnipeg North, and I would suggest it even goes beyond Winnipeg North. Our RCMP do play a critical role in that and we need to look at ways in which we can improve and support our forces, whether it is the RCMP or the local police forces, because it does make a difference.

I suspect that establishing a new labour relations regime would go a long way in terms of just being able to ensure that there is a higher morale among the rank and file officers. That is something in which all sides can win. We do not have to be fearful of unions and organized labour. Organized labour does play a very important role in our society and I suspect that affording the opportunity for the RCMP to make that determination among themselves is something that they will take very seriously, and at the end of the day, I suspect that if we provide them the opportunity it will only be a question of time before it is acted upon.

There needs to be some consideration given in terms of the whole issue of strikes and what would happen in strike situations. There are all sorts of issues related to arbitration. Labour relations can get complicated at the best of times in terms of trying to come up with the compromises and consensus that are necessary. Ultimately, the rank and file might feel better knowing that they have a labour group that has that vested interest to protect the rank and file's interests. That is why, as we are looking at Bill C-43 today, I do not see any reason why the bill should not be going to the committee. By allowing it to go to committee, hopefully we will be able to hear from other members as to what they feel might be amendments that would enhance the bill.

I have had some experience in minority governments from 1988 to 1990, and what I have found is that minority governments can work if in fact the government is willing to look at good ideas and is prepared to compromise.

So I would look to the government benches and appeal to the government to look at ideas that might come from whatever political entity within this chamber and, ultimately, adopt good ideas.

I suspect, I hope and I trust that at the end of the day ideas that might come from the official opposition would in fact be considered and we would be able to garner the support in order to see it passed.

Obviously, if we all believe in the value of our RCMP, I do not understand why it is that we would be reluctant about trying to make this legislation even that much better, that much stronger, because the better we make the legislation, the more effective it would be. And at the end of the day, how would we lose if we have more value in legislation such as this so that our RCMP are feeling that much better and confident in terms of the House of Commons providing the type of support that they need?

I believe, in good part, many members of the RCMP rank and file want to see legislation of this nature. I suspect it has been a long time in coming. Now that we have it here today, it is only a question of how it is that we might possibly modify it. However, at the very least, I see no harm in having the bill go to committee so that we can ultimately see what could be done to maybe even make it even a bit better legislation so that, at the end of the day, the biggest winners here would be our citizens, followed by the RCMP rank and file. This is something that I believe is important to all of us, that we want to have as much harmony as possible within the police ranks. We know that at times the current government's record, in terms of providing harmony, has been lacking as it has, in essence, created controversy. However, I will leave that possibly for another time.

I am thankful for the opportunity to say a few words on the bill. I do look forward to being able to provide comments on other justice-related legislation as we get closer to the issue of the tough on crime type of bills. Members will find that I am very opinionated because at the end of the day what I have seen is a lot of talk about tough on crime, but I can say that in the last five years it has not gotten any better, in terms of crime and safety in many areas of Canada, in particular, in Winnipeg North. I think people want to see action as opposed to words. It is more than just legislation. It is about engaging people. It is about looking at the laws that we currently have. It is about providing programming. There is so much that can be done on that particular front, but I will save that speech for another time.

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5:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for his first speech in the Parliament of Canada. As he has indicated, I have known him now for a while. I was elected in 1986 and he was right behind, in 1988. He certainly fulfilled a very difficult role over the years in the Manitoba legislature, at one time or another, being the only member in the entire House from his party or maybe one of two. He certainly knows how to survive in a jungle, and this is just a bigger jungle than the one he has just come from. However, I do wish him well here.

I want to ask him about the civilian members. I have had representations from various civilian members of the RCMP about this bill, indicating that they have not been consulted, that it is not well thought out, and that the whole process is not very helpful to them. I would assume that the member has been getting the same sort of representations from his office. So I would just like to ask him to expand on that aspect, or any other aspect that he wants to, regarding this bill.

However, my main purpose was to congratulate him on his first speech in the House and I really wanted to be the first person to ask him a question.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, when ministers bring in legislation, they have a responsibility to go out and consult with all the stakeholders. We in opposition like to think they do their homework, that they do the consultation. Much like when I addressed the issue in my comments on the bill, I indicated that I did not really get the chance to talk to some RCMP officers in regard to it, and it is only because of timing, but I will talk to them.

Most important, I believe we all have a role, but especially the minister who brings in the legislation. I am not naive to believe that every minister does his or her job. I have witnessed many provincial ministers who failed to do proper and adequate consultation prior to bringing in legislation.

I would hope and trust that the government has done the consultation. Whether it is with civilians who work within the RCMP, or the volunteers who work in the RCMP, or the RCMP rank and file or the lay Canadian, there is a wide spectrum of stakeholders. If the minister has not done that consultation, chances are will find that out during the committee stage and it will amplify mistakes and ultimately provide a forum for members to be critical of government.

If I were to find out no consultation was done, I would be a little upset, as many people would be.

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5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to welcome the new member and congratulate him on winning the election.

I would like to hear more from him about minority government. When he was talking about how it should work it was music to my ears. However, there must be a little naïveté about the whole thing, and I still retain mine. I have noticed that it is extremely hard to function properly with the way things are now. That said, I understand that he is brand new.

At the first opportunity, would he be prepared to defeat the current government to ensure that we can focus on what really matters?

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day, there is a responsibility to work as effectively as one can in opposition. I had experience between 1988 and 1990 in terms of working in minority situations. Ultimately political parties will do whatever is determined in the best interests of the different stakeholders which they represent.

I like to think the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has done an exceptional job over the last while in terms of going out and consulting with Canadians, more than other leader inside this chamber, whether it is the express tour, the “Open Mikes”, townhall on Internet and so forth. I suspect the government will fall, or it will call the election when it calls the election. The point is when we have legislation here, we have a responsibility to do the best we can in terms of coming up with ideas that could improve it. Hopefully government has the wisdom to see good ideas and allow them to pass.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, like everyone else, I join my colleagues in welcoming the new member for Winnipeg North. I have been here for six and a half years and I do not want to talk to him like he is the rookie because he has been in politics since 1988. Therefore, I am the rookie asking him a question.

In regard to police morale, I have noticed that over the last while the morale has gone down in certain areas. I am from a rural riding and the member is from an urban one. We have predominantly the force representation from the RCMP, so this debate is quite germane to my riding.

Earlier I spoke about single member detachments and I would like to ask the member about that. Dealing with the police and the police associations involved with those police, because I assume it is mostly city police he deals with, how is the morale today? Is it the same as it was?

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5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a very good question and I appreciate the kind words. The member is the one that has the experience at this end.

When we take a look at the morale, whether it is RCMP, Winnipeg Police, I do not believe the government has done a good job in terms of improving their morale. Why I say that is if we ask a police officer or a RCMP officer what do they need today, they will tell us there is a need for additional policing. The government made a commitment for additional policing. I do not know the exact number. I think it was 2,000 or so officers or somewhere around there. The commitment was made to increase the hard resources of just personnel. That has never materialized.

I do not believe the government has done what it could have done to improve morale, such as in legislation such as this. I do not believe the government has really done what it could to protect the integrity of the RCMP. One could get into the whole issue of the gun registration and how supportive the government of the day has been with regard to that.

At the end of the day, the government has done nothing to improve the morale. If it were not for that natural instinct for our fine officers in uniform to do so well, it would be a lot more challenging. However, because of the good work they do and their sense of commitment, we can feel relatively safe and comfortable in knowing they do the very best they can, given the circumstances in which they are.

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5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague before me said, Bill C-43 should go to committee, but I personally have some problems with it. The RCMP rank and file need to be given voice, not be forced to take direction from the government in the way members may or may not want to be represented.

One of the faults of one of the options in the bill is giving the commissioner of the RCMP more power and that staff relations representatives would have to report to the commissioner. I can see nothing but problems with that kind of proposal.

There were three concerns that led the Ontario superior court to find that the RCMP staff relations representative system was invalid. First, RCMP members had not had the opportunity to decide whether the SRRP was the system in which they wished to associate for labour relations purposes. In other words, they did not make a decision on that through a voting process. Second, the staff relations representative system was not sufficiently independent from RCMP management. Third, while RCMP management listened carefully to the views of staff relations representatives, it retained the ultimate decision-making authority in the SRRP consultative process.

Those are the three concerns that led to the Ontario superior court finding that the RCMP staff relations representative system was invalid. I wanted to lay those facts on the table.

After the superior court's decision, staff relationship representatives decided to comprehensively assess the labour relations needs of RCMP members and their satisfaction with the current SRRP through a quantitative study. Pollara Inc., an independent polling firm, was engaged for that assessment and 6,147 members took part in the survey. The survey has produced reliable and accurate information that can now be used to improve the SRRP to better serve the 22,000 RCMP members and address the superior court's concerns.

It also found that 65% of RCMP members who expressed an opinion were satisfied with the system and 71% of RCMP members preferred to associate in either the current SRRP or a modified version of it. I believe every member of Parliament received a copy of that Pollara report.

It is clear that the wishes of the very strong majority of the 22,000 of RCMP members were not reflected in this bill in total.

Let me be clear. Contrary to the ruling of the Ontario superior court, Bill C-43 would offer no real choice to RCMP members for how they wanted to be represented, either in a union or non-union model of representation. It is either a union or a body established by the RCMP commissioner.

Maybe there are some other alternatives that need to be considered, especially after the staff relations representatives went to their members and looked at potentially different ways of doing it. In committee that discussion can be held and if there are alternatives or other views brought forward that relate more to what the rank and file prefer, then that is the value of the bill being before committee. I hope the committee is open-minded enough to look at all the alternatives at play.

There is a feeling out there, accurate or not I am not entirely sure, that the bill could split the RCMP's existing membership into regular, civilian and special constable bodies. Some of the representatives from my province have made that very clear to me, especially those from the civilian sector of the RCMP.

As a result of this legislation, the RCMP could be treated like any other public sector union. That is one of the possibilities. That means labour groups, like PSAC, would use it as a benchmark in contract negotiations.

Finally, Bill C-43 also endangers, according to some within the RCMP, hard-fought benefits currently held by RCMP members.

There are some very strong concerns being expressed by current staff relations representatives. They are finding that the bill as currently proposed is unacceptable to a fairly strong majority of the RCMP members across the country.

The staff relations representatives informed me that they believe the RCMP is at a crossroads and faces a number of difficult challenges, especially with respect to leadership and representation. Canada's police force does not need further uncertainty and more distractions.

Members of the RCMP would certainly prefer to be focusing their energy on improving public safety rather than worrying about whether the federal government will impose a union on them.

I would also say to those RCMP members that it is critical they involve themselves in this hearing process and make their views known, because if this new system is going to work with an important police force and everything its members do nationally and internationally, and the fact that they are seen as such a model for the country, they need to involve themselves in these discussions and make their voices heard. At the end of the day, whether it is this specific legislation or improved legislation, the rank and file, certainly the majority, have to be in accommodation with this legislation.

From their perspective, Bill C-43 would create some significant problems. It is a top priority for the staff relations representatives and the membership of the RCMP. The members of the RCMP have been represented by the staff relations representatives for the past 36 years on all issues affecting members' welfare and their dignity as a force.

The current staff relations representative program is non-union representation, but in the main it has worked reasonably well. An alternative or somewhat of a take on the current system is not in this bill as it is currently written.

I would refer MPs to the RCMP magazine, Frontline Perspective, which I think has gone to most offices. In the 2010 issue, volume 4, number 2, there is a major article about Bill C-43 from representatives of the RCMP.

I want to read a couple of paragraphs from the article. I would encourage members to read the magazine article. It goes through the bill in detail. It talks about some of the good parts, some of the bad parts and some of the questionable parts of the bill.

It does show that the staff relations representatives who have written the article are into the debate in doing a critical analysis of the bill. We as members of Parliament have an obligation to take this seriously, to listen and analyze, and hopefully improve the bill as a result.

I quote from the article written by Brian Roach and Abe Townsend on page six of Frontline Perspective:

The Staff Relations Representative Program has developed through consultation with its membership a clear alternative to Bill C-43. The program forwarded this to its membership on September 29, 2010 and is noted below for your information, reference and discussion at this time.

The legislation limited the options to either a union or a body appointed by the Commissioner. This was clearly unacceptable based on the results of the recent survey of members' wishes. We have shared this document with government officials and have included it here for your feedback.

This document is not a done deal. It is simply a proposal that we would like your input on. The SRR Program believes that it reflects your views while respecting the Charter of Rights. We urge you to review this document and other associated material.

I am not going to read the whole article; I think members can do that. There is certainly mixed views on this. There is certainly mixed views within my own party and with my colleague, who will speak next. I think that is what this place is all about. It is all about debate and discussion.

To close, I have tried to outline some of the concerns that have been expressed to me by the rank and file of the RCMP and staff relations representatives. These are serious concerns.

The bottom line for me, having been a former solicitor general, is if the system is going to work, we certainly do not want all the power and authority within the commissioner's office. At the end of the day, for the system to work well, the rank and file have to be onside with how their views can be represented and brought forward, whether it is management administration within the force itself, or whether it is bringing forward issues from a policy perspective that the RCMP believes government should adopt and move forward with.

I will close with that, but again, if members want to get a very in-depth analysis of one side of the argument, I refer them to what I consider to be a very well researched, well done and quite open-minded critical analysis of Bill C-43 by the staff relations representative body of the RCMP itself.

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6 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things I have noticed over the while.

First, one of the reasons morale has gone down so badly in the RCMP is the appointment of a civilian member as commissioner. I would like the member's view on whether a civilian commissioner should be given additional powers over the rank and file of the RCMP as well as senior management. It scares the living daylights out of me that this particular commissioner could have additional powers.

Second, in 2008, the member well knows that the pay council of the RCMP negotiated a 3.5% increase in salaries for 2009 and on. Unfortunately, I believe on December 21 or 23, in an email from Treasury Board to all RCMP members in the country, that pay increase was rescinded and the increase was changed to 1.5% with no consultation whatsoever. If we wonder why RCMP members want to unionize, it is to stop this nonsense happening with a dictatorial process of the government of the time.

Instead of being proactive, the government has reacted to a court decision. We firmly believe that the RCMP should be allowed to join the association or union of their choice if that is what they so desire. Other aspects of the RCMP and the civilian members can decide on their own if they wish to unionize or have an association. This would be the true democratic process.

I would like the member's comments on whether the RCMP should be allowed to determine for themselves who should represent their issues when it comes to negotiating pay and benefits with the Government of Canada.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, there were a number of questions in there. I believe it is the rank and file that should make the decision.

I want to make it very clear, and I targeted my remarks at the current staff relations representative system, that option is not in there. If members of the RCMP decide they want to go to a union, then that is their choice. If they want to go to somewhat of a take on the current system and maybe report to Treasury Board and not the commissioner, that should be their choice too, but the current bill only allows two choices, either unionize or report to the commissioner of the RCMP.

The hon. member asked should the commissioner have more power than he currently has. In my view, absolutely not. That is my personal point of view. It would be giving the commissioner too much power. If an individual has a problem within the system, somebody who is a staff relations representative has to report to the commissioner, but the commissioner is the person's boss. It makes no sense at all. No, there should be no power to the commissioner of the RCMP.

From my point of view, the Government of Canada made a terrible mistake in not appointing a commissioner from the rank and file. The next time it appoints a commissioner of the RCMP, it should be from the rank and file.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the hon. member for Malpeque, as a former solicitor general, has a bit of experience in this area.

I have followed this case for some time. In fact, I have had several bills doing what the government apparently is not prepared to do, and well before the MacDonnell case.

Very specific to this point about the power of the commissioner, would the hon. member enlighten this House as to whether or not what the government proposes falls short of the test in MacDonnell, which of course requires that there be an offset at the very least to the power of the commissioner? That offset would be a form of collective bargaining or the right for individuals, rank and file members of the RCMP, to have more than what they have currently, which amounts to a management-run union.

I am wondering if the hon. member could give us his opinion as to whether or not the test, the demand and the requirement of 18 months would probably fail as a result of the government monkeying around with legislation and wording.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree with the member more. I am not sure of the number of bills the member has put forward, but probably there is no other member in the House who has put as much effort into putting legislation forward that would deal with some of the problems that members of the RCMP felt were occurring to them. The member had the courage, did the research and did the drafting to put that into legislation.

The government took parts of that. For whatever reason it did not take the whole package, and some critical areas were missing. That is, as the member said, the kind of off ramp where it would not be a management-run union. It would allow the rank and file a ways and means of having their say without fear from management, but being able to represent themselves as rank and file members, expressing their points of view, expressing their complaints into a system without fear of retaliation as a result.

Those very important aspects of the member's work were left out as the government took what it desired and drafted this piece of legislation that is called Bill C-43.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also look forward to my colleague's speech. I think it was former Bill C-427 by the member for Pickering—Scarborough East.

I have a question for the hon. member for Malpeque, the legend from Malpeque, as we call him. When it comes to this legislation, I find it, in many regards, highly restrictive, which he has already touched on. However, could he bear down on some of the details of just how restrictive this is? One of them is the civilian staff being dictated to about its membership and about the way it is to be organized.

We always hope that when progressive legislation is brought forward in this place, especially when it comes to the rights to collective bargaining, we like to raise the bar to better representation than a group had before. This one, however, lowers the bar in many respects according to the member's speech.

The article that he pointed out is a good illustration. If he could comment on that, plus just how restrictive it is and what key amendments should be made here.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor made it perfectly clear when he said that the bill was very restrictive. One of the concerns that I expressed in my remarks had to do with how it could divide people within the force who feel they are all part of the same system. They could basically defy or separate in terms of their representation, from special constables to civilian members to regular members. These people all work together in one way or another. It is a total system.

Yes, there are some people on the highways and some people in criminal investigation but those people have to be connected throughout the system to do their job appropriately. The bill has the potential of dividing them into silos, which is the last thing we want to see. We see enough of that in this particular city between departments. The bill is worrisome in that regard.

The bottom line is that the bill does not allow the third alternative, which the current representative program is trying to put forward, and that is a dilemma. There needs to be that alternative so that the rank and file can make decisions on the system they want under appropriate choices.

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6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this debate regarding the RCMP.

Although I do thank the government for bringing forward some form of legislation, the unfortunate part is that it is reactionary and not very proactive. In fact, if it were not for the courts, it would not have done this at all. It is unfortunate when a group of Canadian heroes, the RCMP and their associates, need to take an issue of association and unionization to the courts to get a fair hearing.

We know that the RCMP members, or gendarmes in Quebec, have asked for many years for the right to form a union or an association of their choice to deal with their pay and benefits when it comes to their management or with the government of the day.

Let us just go into a little history of the RCMP. It is probably one of Canada's most recognized institutions and, unlike my Liberal colleague from Winnipeg who spoke earlier, it is not a red coat. It is a red serge. Redcoats, of course, are British, and the Americans know all too well what the redcoats mean. However, it is the red serge in Canada and it is an honoured tradition for the men and women of the RCMP to wear the red serge. I have lived in British Columbia, Yukon and now Nova Scotia and I have had the chance to travel through Canada and I have yet to meet an officer who is not proud to wear the stetson and the red serge.

Their families are also part of the uniform. As members know, just like our military, they also have to deal with a tremendous amount of stress when a member of their family, either a man or a woman, goes out and does his or her job for Canada on the domestic side, as well as the many RCMP officers who are serving overseas. Many of them are in Afghanistan right now training the Afghan police force on how to run a functional police service in that country. They are also in Haiti and other countries around the world.

The reality is that it is a fundamental right for workers, in this case police officers, to form a union or an association of their choice. It is not the government's right to dictate what that union or association should be. For this bill to put handcuffs on what the RCMP may do in the future is really unfortunate and, to be quite honest, scandalous. To give a civilian commissioner any more powers than he or she already has will not go anywhere.

It was a sad day in this country when the Conservatives picked Mr. Elliott to be the Commissioner of the RCMP. Can members imagine for one second if they were to appoint a civilian as the CDS of the military? There would be an uproar in this country over that. What the Conservatives have said to those rank and file RCMP officers is, “If your goal is to one day be the top dog in the RCMP, forget about it, because we will appoint our friends, whomever we wish to get in there”.

For years we heard from Liberals and Conservatives, when it came to RCMP investigations, that the RCMP was an independent body and that it will investigate on its own what it wishes to do. However, the minute Mr. Elliott was appointed as Commissioner of the RCMP, the tentacles of the PCO and the PMO were right into the RCMP. With the recent resignation and denial of many of the senior officers of the RCMP, there is no question that the hands of the Prime Minister and the hands of the PCO are all over that, which is most unfortunate.

I attended a Depot ceremony in Regina recently at its national mourning and there had to be at least 1,000 people there. The tension could be cut with a knife between the assistant commissioners of the RCMP and Mr. Elliott. It was a beautiful day and we were all there on a beautiful sunny morning but we could feel the ice out there and that should not have to be.

The members of the RCMP should have tremendous respect for their commissioner and they would have that respect if that commissioner were one of their own. I would hope that the next commissioner comes from the rank and file of the RCMP, exactly the way it should be.

On this legislation, it is again up to the individual RCMP members and its membership to determine what is best for them. If they wish to have an association, if they wish to have a union or whatever it is they wish to do, that should be up to them, independent of government, independent of politics and independent of the commissioner. The commissioner should have absolutely nothing to say about this. It should be free and independent. I am hoping those changes at the committee stage will happen.

When it comes to the civilian members, the bill is so poorly drafted that the civilian members of the RCMP feel they are trapped. They do not understand why they may be dragged into something that they do not wish to have.

If the government had consulted with these members, which it did not, it would understand quite clearly that the civilian members of the RCMP, independent of the men and women who serve as RCMP members, should have the right, if they wish, to form an association or a union of their type or keep the status quo. That is up to them to determine. It is not up to the commissioner, it is not up to us as politicians and it is especially not up to the government to determine that for them.

Unfortunately, because I know the government's heart is not in this, which is why it is such a poorly drafted bill, a reactionary to a court decision, I suspect quite strongly that the government will drag it out through committee, drag it out through the summer and, if it comes back for third reading, it will send back to that other place where those Conservative sycophants we call senators will probably delay it until the next election, and, if we have an election, it will die. I suspect that is the Conservatives' goal at the end of the day. We have seen what these senators have done to good legislation before. When we have a government that says that it would never ever appoint Conservative senators, that it would never ever appoint its friends to the other place and it ends up appointing over 35 of them, we can understand where this is going to go.

Unfortunately, a lot of this debate and discussion will probably be all for naught because we will probably have an election within the year and this bill will probably die an unfortunate natural death.

What does this say to the morale of the men and women who serve our valoured RCMP? What we are basically saying is that the government has recognized that there is a court decision and that the government has brought forward legislation.

However, if the government really wanted to, it could work with the opposition to come up with something that works, is fair, is balanced and is truly representative of what the members of the RCMP wish to have. Then we could get this through committee fairly quickly, on to the Senate and, hopefully, although I do not think it will happen, get this through the Senate so we can say to the men and women of the RCMP, the civilian members and others that we truly respect what they wish to do, which is to have fair and collective bargaining with the management of the RCMP and the government of the day.

I remember 2008 all too well when the current government negotiated for months with the pay council of the RCMP, an independent body to negotiate pay and benefits for the RCMP. It agreed, after months of talking, to 3.5%. What happened just before Christmas 2008? An email was sent by the Treasury Board rolling back and rescinding the 3.5% to 1.5%, no ifs, ands or buts, that was it.

There is absolutely no aspect of discussion for the members in the pay council to go back to the Treasury Board and say “Whoa. We negotiated this is in fairness and in good faith and you turned around and arbitrarily destroyed it”. That is what the current government did.

One minute it talks about law and order and says that it is the party of crime fighters and everything, and yet the men and women who, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, maintain that law and order are treated with complete disregard and disdain by that government over there. It is really unfortunate. It is no wonder that morale is down?

Another aspect is that RCMP members have been asking for years for a veterans' independent program, very similar to that which veterans get. Right now, as we know, World War II veterans or Korean War veterans with a disability, or a spouse of a veteran with have a disability, can apply for a veterans' independence program that allows them to stay in their house even longer. The government would provide services for groundskeeping and housekeeping services. For those who receive the service, it is a tremendous benefit for them. RCMP members have been asking for years for the exact same benefit and for years they have been denied over and over again.

When we talk about heroes in the military and the armed forces, we should talk about RCMP members in the exact same breath. Many of them have served overseas, and many of them do the same type of work within Canada's borders.

Imagine what goes through the mind of an RCMP officer when he or she has to extract three children from a car accident on Highway 401 at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Years later when these officers are looking for help, we should be able to provide them the assistance they need. One of the ways we could help them would be through the veterans independence program, to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity when they get older and retire.

We will support sending this bill to committee and hopefully we will be able to convince the government and the other opposition parties that the RCMP members themselves should be able to dictate exactly who will represent them and who will not. The days of the government telling the RCMP members in any way, shape or form what they should be doing or what they cannot do have to end, because that simply is not right.

I have heard from members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and Conservative members why they think this bill should go to committee.

We are hopeful that rank and file RCMP members right across the country will have the opportunity, through either the Internet or personal visits, to talk to members of Parliament and tell us why they think this legislation needs to be changed, why it needs to be more representative of the men and women of the RCMP. I hope the committee will travel across the country to big and small cities, to wherever the RCMP is located.

While I am on my feet, I want to personally congratulate several members of the RCMP who have done yeomen's work for the RCMP over the years.

Mr. Jim Hill of Fletchers Lake, Nova Scotia, has given 30 years of service to the RCMP but unfortunately had to be medically released. This individual did tremendous work for his country and for the red serge throughout his career.

Another individual I would like to thank is Mr. Murray Brown. After 37 years, Mr. Brown will be retiring from the RCMP at the end of this year. He is now in staff relations with the RCMP and has done a tremendous job of educating members of Parliament and senators, literally anyone who will listen to him, about the value of the RCMP and the problems that members and their families go through, everything from insurance programs to pension clawbacks, to VIP, to PTSD, everything. Mr. Brown has been absolutely fantastic in what he has been able to do. In fact, he was instrumental in getting to most members of Parliament and senators the magazine that my colleague from Malpeque talked about.

Another big thanks to Mr. Abe Townsend, formerly of Nova Scotia and now living in Ontario. He works very hard in staff relations for the RCMP.

It is very important that members of the RCMP have an unbiased and unprejudiced opportunity to present their concerns and issues directly to senior management without fear of retribution. We have already heard about what happens to senior management in the RCMP when they raise their concerns about a particular commissioner. Their head gets cut off and they are removed or retire suspiciously early. That has to stop.

I firmly believe, and I am sure that every member of Parliament in this House believes, that the RCMP is one of the most trusted and valued institutions in Canada. It has had some bumps along the way, but the reality is that the RCMP is one of the institutions that makes this country great. I for one, and I am sure others, am very proud to know that there are many members in every community across the country who are doing a fantastic job for all of us.

At the end of the day, all members of Parliament have to respect the men and women of the RCMP and allow them, either through legislation or whatever, the opportunity to determine for themselves what is best when it comes to either forming a union or an association or whatever it is they would like to do. If we get to that point and truly respect the men and women of the RCMP, that will be a great day in Canada .

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I certainly like this member and his ability to talk until everybody else is asleep, which is definitely a skill that I do not have and I wish I did. He can talk and talk and he is very effective at it.

My difficulty is that this particular member and the NDP never walk the walk. They talk the talk, and this gentleman is particularly good at that, but he never walks the walk.

That is something that I would like him to do this time. Just like in the veterans affairs committee, talk is cheap, quite frankly, and he may talk yes, but he never votes yes. That is the difficulty. He never stands up behind our men and women in uniform, whether it be our military or the RCMP.

In fact, a few minutes ago I asked one of his colleagues, another NDP member, how many civilian members he actually talked to, how many he surveyed on what they wanted, to find out whether he had a good study and some good background on what he is suggesting today. I did not hear a response from that NDP member. I am hoping that this NDP member will be able to tell me how many civilian members he actually talked to first-hand.

If memory serves me correctly, he voted against increasing depot investment for the RCMP. He voted against paying RCMP members when they were being trained.

Why now is he standing and saying yes, yes, yes? Is he going to vote yes, or is he going to vote no? Is he going to stand behind the men and women in uniform, or is he going to again not do so? That is what I want to know.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

To the civilian question, Mr. Speaker, nine is the answer. I have spoken to nine civilians in my riding.

Secondly, it is so good of the Conservatives. They bring forward a budget that has 1,000 spending items. They take two items out of the budget and say, “These are good but you voted against it; you voted against the entire budget”.

The reality is that what my hon. colleague, the hon. member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, is asking me to do is to vote confidence in him and his Conservative government.

I can assure the House that it will be a very, very sad day in this country when I vote confidence in the Conservative Government of Canada.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The next time the bill is before the House, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore will have seven minutes remaining for questions and comments.

[For continuation of proceedings see Part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the situation in Haiti.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

moved:

That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank you for allowing us to hold this debate, which, in my opinion, is extremely relevant. A number of hon. members will have the opportunity to discuss the future of Haiti in a non-partisan manner. I would also like to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, who will speak about the situation of women in Haiti in particular.

This is an extremely important and non-partisan issue. In view of the meeting this morning between the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, this debate will allow us to shed some light on this issue.

Why must this debate be held today? I would like to quote Dany Laferrière, who said, “You are really dead when there is no one left on this earth who remembers your name.” We must not forget the Haitians. We must examine the situation. We must encourage and support them. The purpose of this debate is to send a message to our friends in Haiti to let them know that Canada is a player, that Canada wants to help them and that Canada will support them. But are we doing enough? Tonight's debate will help us to gain a better understanding of what is happening.

We must bear in mind that because of the earthquake on January 12, 2010, which killed over 250,000 people, there are more than 1.5 million homeless people in the country. The cholera epidemic has affected hundreds of thousands of people and, sadly, has already caused 2,200 deaths. According to UN medical experts, that number could double.

We need transparency and we need to know where the money is going. We must ask ourselves what is causing the current impasse. We have to remember that an election took place recently. The first round was on November 28, 2010. On December 7, the provisional electoral council announced the results. This sent shock waves through the country, because the people strongly suspected electoral fraud. People feel they have been tricked, and that the vote in no way reflects the current situation or the election results.

Today I would like to talk about several things, including possible solutions. I think this can be a positive, constructive debate. We will talk about the election and we must consider various scenarios. We would also like to discuss the possibility of having a special envoy specifically for Haiti, as we do for other countries. Of course we will talk about the cholera outbreak and what we can do to stop it. It seems that NGOs are experiencing some difficulties. Is there enough humanitarian aid? Is it being used wisely? We need to examine the possibility of sending a special force, the disaster assistance response team or DART—although, as we know, the Haitian government must request it—which could play a leading role in this health and humanitarian crisis.

I am extremely concerned. My interest in Haiti dates back over 25 years, and I have visited the country many times. My duties in a previous government allowed me to experience the Haitian reality first hand. Haiti has been through considerable turmoil and still today, they seem to be caught in a never-ending nightmare.

The Canadian government, no matter the political persuasion, has always invested in Haiti through CIDA. Haiti has always received the most aid or has been one of the highest priorities for Canada. Unfortunately, in light of recent events, we believe that a storm is brewing. If we do nothing, if we do not take preventive action, chaos will most definitely ensue. We must not act out of fear. However, senators in that country—they were subsequently set straight, thank goodness—said that if it would take a civil war, then so be it. That is totally unacceptable.

I salute the work of the international community, which called for order. However, many things need to be taken into consideration. With regard to the elections, there are three scenarios. The first would be to allow the process to proceed and have a recount. The Minister of Foreign Affairs talked about this today.

All ambassadors accredited to Haiti signed a press release indicating that the process must be given a chance and that there should be a recount, and that the possibilities should then be examined. That was reiterated today.

Unfortunately, when we listen to the candidates leading the presidential race, we realize that it may not necessarily happen. Mirlande Manigat was the first to refuse to participate in the recount. Michel Martelli has also refused to participate. The other 12 presidential candidates, despite their poor results, unanimously declared that they would not accept a recount.

In my opinion, the role of the international community is to provide assistance. We are not there to dictate anything. We are there to provide guidance. We must provide technical assistance, and we must also encourage people and empower them. What is problematic is that the trust of the people and the candidates in the current government is dwindling.

We have to consider an interesting alternative. Since the first round of elections was held on November 28 and the runoff elections are to be held on January 16, the episcopal group and civil society are suggesting that the runoff election on January 16 become the first round with a simple majority.

There is a word in Creole that sounds exactly like a word in French and that is the word “magouille”. The word “magouille” means exactly the same thing in French and in Creole: a shady deal. People do not trust the system because they wonder how a ballot box can be recounted when that box was stuffed in the first place. An alternative should be considered such that candidates will all run again, the difference being that the first past the post will be elected president. The same would apply to the legislative elections.

There is another option and that is to cancel the vote. To me, there is a problem with cancelling a vote and starting over. In 2004 there was a provisional government, a government of technocrats. Things started off well, but certain problems needed to be taken into consideration and I do not think it is adequate.

I truly believe that we have to give the process a chance. Our role is not to dictate a result. We are not there to pick a candidate and say this is our champion. This is not the case. Our role is to make sure we will respect the process. It is about democracy. We want to help the people cast their votes and make sure that the way it goes, the way the votes are calculated, will be accurate. This is the trust link that we have to build among the Haitian people.

Frankly, if the people who are supposed to accept the recount process are not willing to do so, I think we should go for another option.

A special envoy would allow us to develop political and diplomatic ties.

Since all of my colleagues will be speaking later, I will close by saying that the Creole language is quite descriptive and says exactly what it means. In Creole they say, “Yon chen gen kat Patti Men, li p'ap ka pran yon sèl chemen.” That means that a dog might have four legs, but it can only go down one path.

That is probably what we should do as politicians. There may be many possibilities, but we can only go down one path and that is the path of freedom, hope and respect for the people. Let us help the people of Haiti restore this pearl of the Antilles to its glory days. Ensem ensem nou fo Kin Ben Pa lagué.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:35 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member has rightly pointed out, Haiti is a priority for Canada. Canada has always stood up for the people of Haiti. When the earthquake took place, Canada stood up. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister responsible for CIDA worked very hard.

We, including NGOs from all over the country, have contributed a tremendous amount of money. We have invested heavily there. I agree with the hon. member that there are fault lines gradually coming. The elections he talked about, these are the fault lines. As members will note when the minister speaks and everybody else speaks, we are heavily engaged in trying to close those fault lines. We will work together in this aspect to ensure that.

I just want to remind my colleague on the other side, when he talks about the special envoy, that a former Governor General, the Hon. Michaëlle Jean, has been appointed by the UN Secretary General as a special envoy to look at the case of Haiti. I think Canada has very much stood out at the front, and I am sure we will be working with him over the course of tonight as we discuss this important issue.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the point. If Michaëlle Jean is a special envoy for UNESCO, it means that UNESCO understands the role and the importance of that role.

We can have the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister responsible for CIDA, but they have tons of jobs and the world is big. However, there is red tape, there are some political issues we have to deal with and we can work with the ministers. To have a special envoy would help us be that link, that bridge builder, not only among the domestic venues in our own departments, but we are also focused on Haiti and at the same time we are working with our counterparts specifically on Haiti, and that is why it is important.

I have been a special adviser to the Prime Minister myself. Trust me, 24 hours a day was not enough. However, the issue right now is to seek stability. We need the kind of individuals who will be helpful in settling some issues. Sometimes at the diplomatic level there are ways, but at the political level, when we have a direct link with the diaspora, we can be part of that solution.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I obviously listened with interest to the member's intervention and what he was hoping would happen. Certainly, having this debate tonight is a good opportunity to discuss different ideas.

It is incredibly important right now to look at the priorities, and the priority right now is to save lives. Clearly, the cholera epidemic is having a huge impact. More than 1,000 people have lost their lives. We still have issues around prevention, et cetera, from the cholera epidemic.

I am wondering if the hon. member would like to express his concern about the sequence in which we deal with this problem. Of course, the post-election violence has exacerbated the problem, but I am hearing from NGOs who were on the ground over the weekend that they cannot get out to help the people who need help. So how do we do that in this period before whatever will happen in terms of a run-off or recount or whatever?

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just spoke half an hour ago with Port-au-Prince and there is a situation. However, if Haitians do not have the stability, they will have violence.

It is like embers—burning embers that are currently smouldering.

If they do not have that kind of stability right now, it will be even worse.

I agree with the hon. member, the priority is to save lives. They do not have water necessarily. That is why we should send DART. We should also protect the NGOs, because they cannot get out. However, we need to chew gum and walk at the same time. We need to focus on cholera, but if we do not settle the issue at the electoral level, it will be even worse.

Look what happened on the eve of December 7. There was death and violence all over the place, and it was spontaneous. It was not orchestrated by only one candidate. People were mad as hell, and because of that, there was some retaliation.

I really believe, like the hon. member, that our priority should be on the people, save lives, help them, but at the same time—

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. Unfortunately, the hon. member's time has expired. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate this evening.

One would be hard pressed in the modern era to identify a country outside of wartime that has faced so many catastrophes within such a short period of time, both natural and man-made.

As my colleague has indicated, within the last 11 months Haiti has been faced with an earthquake, with 250,000 people killed and 1.5 million people homeless and massive destruction of infrastructure in the country, and is now faced with the plague of cholera, which is an epidemic with over 2,000 people dead, tens of thousands at risk and an urgent need to address this.

As we heard very much in the news in the last days, there is a crisis of government and of governance as a result of an election for president in November, which was full of irregularities so we can doubt very much the veracity of the voting.

It is facing dire economic consequences as a result of the instability of the governance. There is violence in the streets, humanitarian work is virtually at a standstill and, as we have heard today, the electoral crisis is creating warnings that future humanitarian aid is at risk.

It is imperative that the people of Haiti assume responsibility but equally important is for governments like Canada to work to resolve the democratic impasse as soon as possible.

To my mind, the key issues, and my colleague identified them, are the violence in the country, the lack of stability and the cholera epidemic that is devastating the country.

We have heard some solutions put forward: increased deployment of DART, a special envoy and increased coordination. However what I want to speak to is the crisis of what is being reported as happening to women. Compounding the mayhem and somewhat unreported is what is being called Haiti's unaddressed catastrophe, the violence against women.

Research has been in place that has shown that, when there are catastrophes initiated by weather issues, gender has a profound impact. What we have seen, to give a bit of background, is that in 1980 with the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the police reported that domestic violence increased by 46%. Following the 1993 Missouri floods, the turn-away rates at shelters was over 110%, programs increased by 400% and more women and children were impacted by the floods than anticipated.

In the ice storm in our own country, the Montreal police chief reported that 25% of the calls were related to domestic violence.

What we have heard out of Haiti and what we have heard most eloquently from Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of the international women's rights organization Equality Now, who cites data from the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2006, is a direct link between humanitarian emergencies and the increased vulnerability of women and children to both sexual violence and exploitation.

We know that in Haiti, where sex tourism and human trafficking were a prospering business before the earthquake, violence and this kind of activity has increased many times over. In Haiti with the government in a shambles, women are frequently defenceless and frequently unprotected.

There are estimates that, prior to this situation, 72% of Haitian girls had been raped and 40% were victims of domestic violence. The havoc at play without the structures of government and the impact of cholera are widespread.

Taina Bien-Aimé wrote a very moving article describing what was happening to women in Haiti. She said:

Protection of human rights, particularly those of women and children, is as important as providing immediate medical attention, food and shelter. In Haiti, women come last in terms of protection from violence. One small example of the urgent need to establish special contingencies for women in post-earthquake intervention is underlined by images of men fist-fighting over UN-delivered food, while women, barely keeping hold of their babies, struggled in vain to reach the relief truck. Emergency assistance teams must ensure that coordinated security is in place to protect the most vulnerable and that the full participation of qualified women, in particular Haitian women, is secured to tackle gender issues in the response and management of disaster relief.

She went on to say:

Invariably, foreigners leave Haiti enchanted by the kindness, easy smile and resilience of its people. If we want to invest in Haiti's recovery through which prosperity and stability will replace despair and chaos, we must ensure that protective measures and security systems for women and children are in place.

Last September, the UN launched a new operation in Haiti to combat rape and gender-based violence. The UN police force of 200-strong were pressed into service in six of the high-risk camps sheltering 135,000 people. However, it also said at the time that it was impossible to assume complete security coverage in 1,300 camp, given the availability of forces from Haitian national police or the UN peacekeeping mission.

It is important that Canada make this a priority. There are many issues to be addressed in Haiti, but the violence against women, the marginalization of women is of supreme importance. There must be coordination with local governments, with national governments and local stakeholders that are interested, particularly with issues pertinent to women. They must be given the top of mind and priority of purpose.

I urge my colleagues across the way, in all of their negotiations, both with partners in the process of trying to address some of these issues, to remember that the issues particular to women are singular and must be addressed in a coordinated way.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, we all agree that violence against women is a horrific thing and has very strong negative consequences on society as a whole. The member has brought up a very important point on the violence against women.

However, I would like to discuss the statement she made that humanitarian work in Haiti had come to a standstill and that we were not addressing many of the issues.

I wish to advise her that Canada stands at the front to address the issue of cholera at this time. Let me just give an example of what Canada has done: $2.5 million to the Pan-American Health Organization; $2 million to UNICEF; $700,000 to Médecins du Monde Canada; $550,000 to Oxfam-Québec, $1.3 million to World Vision. All of these NGOs are working very diligently with other donors as well to address the issue of cholera which, at this current time, is very important, as she has rightly pointed, as have others.

Canada is heavily engaged and during tonight's debate, we will indicate how Canada has been helping.

However, humanitarian assistance to Haiti has not stopped, as she has tried to say. It is ongoing and we will continue doing what we can, as will be elaborated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to assist the people of Haiti.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, at no time did I suggest that humanitarian support to Haiti had stopped. I appreciate that Canada is funding many of the not-for-profit organizations, many of which are doing stellar work in extraordinary circumstances. What I am saying is it is very difficult to carry out this humanitarian work. Circumstances are difficult and conditions are uncertain and unsafe. As we heard during the previous line of questioning, it is difficult to move around the country.

I do not want to treat this as a partisan issue. I am not suggesting that aid has stopped. I am saying that it is difficult to deliver that aid and it is incumbent upon us as a country to work with other countries and with Haitian officials to ensure that aid gets to those who need it.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we focus on gender. As Haitians deal with the crisis, particularly after the elections and the violence, it is important that they play a leadership role as well as receive help. Does she have any comments on that?

The government, after a couple of years of being asked, has put forward an action plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the subsequent UN Security Council Resolution 1820. It calls for women to be central when dealing with post-conflict tenuous situations. Does she have an idea of how that resolution 1325 action plan can be put in place? Would this not be a good opportunity for the government to put its plan into action?

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, UN resolution 1325 is important. I recently had the opportunity to read the Government of Canada's action plan. Departmental officials have developed a fine plan. This is an opportunity for Canadians and for the women of Haiti to step up and be part of the negotiating process to prioritize women's issues. This is an opportunity for resolution 1325 and the subsequent resolution to be showcased. This is an opportunity for governments and countries to work together with women to make a difference.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

6:55 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we reacted quickly and decisively to the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12.

Canada took the initiative to organize the ministerial preparatory conference on Haiti in Montreal on January 25, less than two weeks after the earthquake. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Bourassa for his excellent co-operation and support in this regard. The conference made it possible to bring together key partners who are involved in the international efforts in Haiti, civil society representatives and the Haitian diaspora.

The purpose of the conference was to review the situation on the ground, advance coordination efforts and develop a clear vision for the country's recovery and reconstruction. Given the extent of the damage, participants also agreed that long-term assistance for at least 10 years would be necessary. I believe it would be helpful to remind the House of the three strategic objectives set in Montreal: strengthened democratic governance, sustained social and economic development and enduring stability and respect for the rule of law.

Almost a year after the earthquake, we are still a long way from achieving these objectives, as the current political crisis in Haiti so pointedly demonstrates. Let us take a moment to recall the work that Canada has already done in Haiti. In March 2010, at the International Donors Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti in New York, Canada committed $400 million over two years for the reconstruction of Haiti to support the Government of Haiti's action plan and priorities. This funding is on top of Canada's long-term development aid to Haiti of $550 million for the period 2006-11. The Government of Canada's total current commitment is over $1 billion, making Haiti the primary beneficiary of Canadian aid in the Americas, second only to Afghanistan globally.

Among the reconstruction initiatives announced by the Government of Canada, I would like to draw attention to the $30 million CIDA call for proposals from Canadian organizations in order to support short-term restoration and reconstruction projects in Haiti. CIDA also launched new initiatives, including the construction of temporary facilities for key Haitian government departments, a $12 million investment; the reconstruction of the Gonaïves hospital, $20 million; and the rebuilding of the Haitian National Police Academy, $18 million.

The human and material losses resulting from the earthquake have also had a serious impact on the capability of Haitian security and justice organizations, which are crucial to running the country and to ensuring its stability. The Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, START, a Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade initiative, has increased its financial contribution in order to tailor its response to new areas of need resulting from the earthquake. The annual average allocation of $15 million has been increased to $25 million for 2010-11, thereby enabling the task force to ramp up its commitment in its traditional response areas of police reform and prison and border management, and to add justice to its list of priorities.

The task force is working on strengthening the Haitian National Police by deploying Canadian police officers to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, so that they can play a role in training their Haitian counterparts.

The task force is also funding the reconstruction of new headquarters and the reconstruction of police stations in the areas affected by the earthquake, to help the Haitian National Police carry out its mandate and serve the public effectively.

To support the reform of the Haitian correctional system, the task force’s contribution means that Canadian correctional officers can be assigned to MINUSTAH, with the mandate of training and supervising their Haitian counterparts, and renovating and building new facilities to provide appropriate places for the detention of prisoners.

The task force is also funding the construction of the Croix-des-Bouquets prison which is scheduled to open in 2011. In fact, I travelled there with the member for Bourassa this year when we were asked to visit the construction site. That institution will become a model institution for the Haitian correctional system in terms of security, hygiene and health, and respect for human rights.

Canada also has a leading role to play in managing the borders by supplying equipment, infrastructure and training. Reform of the justice and security systems is more central than ever to Canada’s commitment in Haiti, because it helps create favourable conditions for the reconstruction of the country.

At the New York conference, following on the Montreal conference, all participants, including Canada, agreed on the creation of two mechanisms: the interim Haiti recovery commission and the Haiti reconstruction fund. The aim of those mechanisms is to improve coordination of international assistance while applying best practices in respect to transparency and ensuring that the projects funded reflect the priorities identified by the Haitian government in its action plan.

The interim commission is co-chaired by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and the UN special envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton, and is composed of an equal number of Haitian and foreign representatives.

Canada supports the work of the interim commission and in fact sits on its governing board. Canada is also a member of the Haiti reconstruction fund and has allocated $31.3 million to that multi-donor fund to finance priority projects approved by the interim commission.

Canada is also working to strengthen trading relations with Haiti and expand collaboration between Canadian and Haitian businesses.

In the present situation in Haiti it is becoming increasingly apparent that the private sector plays an essential role in the long-term prosperity of the country, that it is an essential engine of development and job creation and that it also contributes to reducing the country’s dependence on development aid and budget support.

Canada is determined to maintain its long-term commitment and help rebuild the country, its infrastructure and its institutions and develop its humanitarian and human capacities. We are also involved in the fight against cholera, which has been ravaging the Haitian population for several weeks now.

I should point out, as I did this morning when I met with my Mexican and American counterparts, that neither Canada nor the international community, working all together, can solve all of Haiti's problems.

I say frankly to our Haitian friends: it is up to you to elect a democratic, effective, honest government.

That is essential to rebuilding the country.

I would also like to say to them that we respect your sovereignty and we understand your frustration. But I ask you to consider everything that the international community has done for Haiti.

The job is not done. But you must do your part by creating democratic institutions, which your country urgently needs.

To support the elections in Haiti, Canada has provided $5.8 million and is continuously working with the UN and the Organization of American States to call for calm political dialogue and compromise. The Canadian government is in the process of exploring various options. It may have to offer further support to proposals currently under discussion. Of course it is important to remember that as a sovereign country, Haiti is ultimately responsible for its own electoral process, supported by the international community.

We affirmed our collective commitment to the principle of Haitian ownership at the Montreal ministerial conference in March, and we must continue to uphold this principle. While it is up to the people of Haiti to decide who they select as their leaders, the international community remains concerned about the democratic process and principles of good governance.

While Haitians are making crucial choices for their future, they need our support. Both Canada and the international community are monitoring events and encouraging calm to prevail.

The elections, the cholera outbreak and the volatile security situation are all complex and interlinked challenges that threaten to further destabilize an already fragile country still reeling from this year's devastating earthquake. Canada views elections in Haiti as a critical milestone in the country's recovery.

It is the newly elected leaders who will lead the country, with support from the international community, through this next crucial stage of reconstruction and development. It is also the new government with which the international community will work to continue to make progress on reconstruction and rebuilding. For this reason, it is vital that the situation regarding elections in Haiti is resolved in a timely manner.

Haiti cannot afford to languish without a strong and accountable government at this critical time in its history. That said, speed must not trump transparency and accountability. This delicate process must be undertaken in a thorough and inclusive manner, for without public support and buy-in, the credibility of future leadership could be compromised.

Last Friday, I personally shared my concerns with President Préval and Prime Minister Bellerive about the irregularities noted during the first round of voting.

I also appealed to the sense of responsibility of the political players and urged them to maintain calm and continue with the electoral process. In the coming days, we will see whether these people measure up.Their attitude will determine what happens next. The sympathy of the international community depends in large measure on what they do.

For my part, I cannot forget that in addition to the very considerable efforts our government has made, Canadians have raised $220 million for earthquake victims, in co-operation with the government.

Frankly, I find it disgusting that after a tragedy that cost the lives of more than 250,000 of their fellow Haitians and in the midst of a deadly epidemic, some unscrupulous people can think only of their own personal ambitions.

In these perilous times, the international community must speak with one voice and send a message to the Haitian people.

The current situation around the elections shows the importance of working on governance in Haiti. Rebuilding infrastructure is pointless if the state remains weak and irresponsible. This includes the ability to manage key institutions and run essential systems. That is why our priority in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the electoral process is brought to a legitimate and democratic conclusion.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his words. We have many points in common. However, I would not want to talk about disbursements. The government can say it gave a certain amount of money, but this may not have arrived yet, and so forth. Apart from that, we should focus our efforts on helping the Haitian people, who are starting to feel they have been had. We are not there to choose one of the candidates but to ensure that the process works. That is why the international community has invested $30 million, including $5.6 million from the Government of Canada. But things are happening in Haiti. People are starting to lose confidence in MINUSTAH. They have already lost most of their confidence in the president. Our role is to help establish a decent environment so that a real future government can emerge.

It may be that the recount will not work. If Mr. Martelly, Ms. Manigat and the 12 other candidates, including Jacques-Édouard Alexis and Jean-Henry Céant, do not want a recount, they cannot be forced. We can lead a horse to water but we cannot make it drink. Instead of a second round on January 16, maybe the election could be held all over again with all the candidates, both for the legislature and the presidency. That would probably be the only way to ensure the Haitian people’s confidence in their institutions.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. He wonders whether I am prepared to agree to a certain option. I would say, quite frankly, that we work in close co-operation with the international community at the Organization of American States and CARICOM and with other partners who are interested in what is happening in Haiti.

As I emphasized in my speech, the international community must speak with one voice and call upon the political players and the government in Haiti to do everything necessary to see the electoral process through to the end. We will not get what we want at this point by suggesting various options. It is important to show respect for Haiti as a sovereign country. When we act, we should ensure that the people who are directly involved in the electoral process are basically doing everything they can to see the process through to the end.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister said that everyone should buy into a solution. That is what we want to see from the international community on the ground in Haiti.

To that point there is a real concern that if we do not see an agreed upon process for the next step in the election process, there will be continued violence. I know that all issues cannot be put on the table tonight, but I would hope that Canada is using its influence working with others in the international community to look at all solutions. One that some have talked about is to get the leaders to agree to some form of interim government to get on with the real concerns that people have with the cholera epidemic and the reconstruction. That would provide some stability first and then there could be talk about elections after.

I am wondering if all of those options are being talked about. I am not asking the minister to tell us exactly what the conversations are, but I just want to know that Canada is involved in these kinds of conversations.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me respond actively on that question and say yes, we are involved in discussions. I mentioned before my phone conversations with both President Préval as well as Prime Minister Bellerive.

The point that I reiterate time after time when I discuss with Haitian authorities as well as our ambassador in Haiti, and the information I put forward, is that we will not be able to do all of the things that we want to do in terms of reconstruction and addressing in a fulsome manner the medical issues that are taking place today without re-establishing the credibility between the electoral process and the number of candidates, as well as the government and the population. There will not be any economic development in that country unless it has a stable government. That is the message that we have been repeating.

We are working with the Organization of American States, our CARICOM partners, and a myriad of other countries that are equally interested. The message we are sending is that this process needs to be respected. I have spoken about correcting the irregularities, and, of course, that is extremely important in order to get the credibility back, but I fundamentally say that we all need to speak with one voice, which is extremely important, while respecting the sovereignty of that country.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, like the minister just said, Haiti is like big, simmering coals right now. Stability is the name of the game, but we have to do better. It is a sovereign country, but because of the violent situation, what are we going to do to help the vulnerable among the population, the children and displaced families?

Because the trust link has been damaged between MINUSTAH and the population, I would like to hear from the minister whether he considered the fact that maybe we should send more Canadian troops there for security since we have a lot of French-speaking soldiers and that would be more helpful. Maybe he could also give a heads-up on DART because given the cholera it may be a good solution if DART goes back to Haiti.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are a few issues that have been raised by my colleague.

First, let me point to one of the issues in terms of the reconstruction. Obviously things are not moving at the pace with which we are usually accustomed. There are still 1.4 million people who are displaced. They do not have any permanent residence. This is fundamental to reconstruction. One of the problems is the land tenure issue, which has not been resolved, and the only way that can be resolved is through a more stable government.

On cholera and DART, my colleague, the Minister of International Cooperation, two weeks ago was able to enter into an agreement with the Canadian branch of the International Red Cross. We are working in tandem with a number of countries, but, indeed, with that component of the Red Cross we are putting together the health capacity that is needed.

Today I was with Secretary of State Clinton as well as the secretary of foreign affairs from Mexico and we were all talking about the need to ensure that dehydration equipment is provided. The international community is doing what it needs to do to be able to put that forward, but again Haiti needs a stable government, and in order for it to have one we need to respect the electoral process.

Situation in HaitiEmergency Debate

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about the situation in Haiti. The violence of the last few days is yet another ordeal for the people of Haiti, who have already suffered so much this year. Peace must be restored so that the recount can be as transparent as possible. The Haitian authorities must do everything they can to ensure there is an unblemished democratic process.

The results of the presidential election announced on November 28 were 31% for Ms. Manigat, 22% for Mr. Célestin and 21% for Mr. Martelly. When these results were announced, violence erupted in the streets. The second round is scheduled for January 16, 2011.

As soon as the results were announced, Mr. Martelly's backers began to protest. Their candidate had been expected to reach the second round. His supporters erected barricades in the streets of Port-au-Prince. There were also clashes with UN forces. Mr. Martelly accused the elections commission of plunging the country into a crisis by publishing false results and claimed that they wanted to prevent him from finishing second and advancing to the next round. He called for non-violent demonstrations.

Most observers said the election was marred by widespread irregularities, just as the first round had been badly handled. More than half of the 19 candidates demanded that the result be cancelled. The United States expressed its concern that the result did not reflect the vote count from one end of the country to the other. President Préval appealed for calm and defended the result. I should point out that Mr. Célestin is Mr. Préval's hand-picked successor.

As a result of the violence, the interim electoral council (CEP) announced last Thursday that it would initiate a special process to review the ballots in the counting centres. In short, there will be a recount. This will be done by a joint commission consisting of the CEP, the candidates for the presidency, and national and international observers.

The political crisis has been deepened by the fact that the first two candidates, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, have said they will not participate in the process. In view of the circumstances and as a result of the violence, Canada announced last Thursday that it was closing its embassy in Port-au-Prince for an indefinite period.

In light of this, Canada must help Haiti ensure that its presidential election procedures are clear and transparent. Haitians have a right to have a democratically elected president with a mandate from the people to address the major challenges facing their country. Canada must also tell the Haitian government that it is prepared to help with any requests for human and material resources to properly carry out the election.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs shared the reaction of the Canadian government and his serious concerns regarding the democratic situation in Haiti. His government's message is that the Canadian government must help Haiti hold a clear and transparent election and that it will do so through multilateral organizations such as the UN, CARICOM and the Organization of American States. He also said that the international community cannot do everything, that it is up to the Haitian government and the Haitian people to ensure that the democratic process prevails and the recount of the initial votes is conducted calmly, transparently and quickly. He also added that Canada has offered to participate in the process as part of a joint commission. Furthermore, the minister declared that there would be no economic progress in Haiti without a stable government.

As he stated previously, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has spoken with President René Préval and his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Bellerive. He expressed his concerns about the electoral irregularities and encouraged them to do what is necessary to correct them.

However, Canada must not let this political crisis lead it to neglect the other problems in Haiti.

It is worth noting that the earthquake caused considerable damage and that the scope of the reconstruction effort is unprecedented. Keep in mind however that the earthquake exacerbated a situation that existed well before disaster struck. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its infrastructure is in many respects inadequate.

In 2009, the United Nations Development Program Poverty Index ranked Haiti 97th out of 137 countries. The scope of the reconstruction effort is commensurate with the poverty that existed in Haiti in terms of poor-quality building materials, the lack of a building code, no means of subsistence for a large segment of the population, and so on