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House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.

Topics

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for dealing with the social deficit in Canada rather than being preoccupied, as the government is, on fiscal deficits, particularly with regard to seniors' pensions.

As the member knows, on January 1, 2011, the first budget year, the government will be imposing a 31.5% tax on income trust, which was used by seniors to provide for an emulated pension.

The member will also remember that when the government introduced income splitting for seniors' pensions, what it did not explain to people was that only 25% of seniors had eligible pensions that qualified and if we included people who did not have a partner to split it with or were already at the lowest marginal rate, it turns out that only 14.2% of the highest income-earning seniors actually qualified for any benefit under that plan. The government has not been straight with Canadians.

I thank the member for raising that issue, as well as the maternal child health. There is no question that Canada can play a role. I want to give her an opportunity to comment further on the social deficit issues that we should also address.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will try to address all of my colleague's points.

His point about income splitting is very significant. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women investigated this and found that single, unattached women were left out, as were single, unattached men in terms of pension splitting. This measure was only helping a very small group. Those at the top of the income group were benefiting while those who were living below the poverty line received absolutely nothing from this program.

In terms of income trusts, we would much rather see decent pensions for all Canadians. That can be achieved by the measures proposed by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, with support from the Canadian Labour Congress. We believe the GIS should be increased by 15% and that there should be a doubling of CPP benefits.

I would point out that the tax cut introduced in January was $1.2 billion. This is for the most profitable corporations. Half of that would have lifted all seniors in Canada out of poverty.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for pointing out the choices the government has made, choices it does not like to talk about. The fact that even a portion of the tax cuts going to some of these companies were choices that the government is now preventing itself from making in terms of helping Canadians and lifting those out of poverty who most need it.

While she was speaking, I received an email from a fellow in Terrace, British Columbia named Rob Hart, who works with the United Church as a volunteer. He has for many years followed the work of the group KAIROS in its efforts to help people around the world.

I wonder if my colleague can explain the logic that is being promoted by the government in cutting all the funding to this international church-based aid group that was helping in some of the most difficult and desperate situations around the world. The government sought to eliminate all of its funding with no substantive argument at all. This fellow in Terrace is pleading with the government to offer some rationale or reason why the funding was cut to this group that is doing so much good internationally for women, children and those in the most desperate situations around this planet.

I wonder if my colleague could offer any insight into the government's hypocritical stance when it says that it is for women and children and alleviating the poverty that it has helped exacerbate by its funding cuts.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course KAIROS did help in terms of maternal health. It helped children and families in Gaza, Palestine and around the world.

I can only assume that the reason its funding was cut had to do with the fact that it had the audacity to criticize the government about its deplorable response to the environmental crisis we are facing with climate change. KAIROS criticized and pled for the government to address the issues that are endangering our planet and its funding was cut. Anyone who criticizes the government is levelled, and that is quite despicable.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the debate on the Speech from the Throne. Unfortunately, we cannot begin to participate in this debate without talking about how the last session ended.

It is very apparent that there was no excuse for the prorogation move that the Prime Minister undertook back in December. The government clearly wanted to change the channel. It wanted to divert attention from the political problems that it was experiencing at the time, like the hugely unpopular HST and the Afghan prisoner transfer and torture scandal.

Unfortunately for the government, Canadians cottoned on to its plan and hundreds of thousands expressed their concerns online and thousands protested across the country. So changing the channel did not work.

The Conservatives talked about wanting to recalibrate where the government was headed but, unfortunately, this Speech from the Throne and the subsequent budget have included scant recalibration. There is really nothing much new in terms of what was set forward. The irony is that the Conservatives have done more perhaps than all of the opposition parties combined to block progress on their own agenda. They have done it more effectively by prorogation and early elections than any tactic opposition parties could undertake.

Usually in any speech from the throne there is something we can agree with. No speech from the throne is ever a complete bust, and the one issue in this Speech from the Throne that I was glad was mentioned was where the government stated that it was:

Recognizing the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear materials and technology to global peace and security, our Government will support the initiatives of President Obama and participate fully in the landmark Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April.

As the chair of the Canadian section of parliamentarians for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, I was glad that there was some reference in the Speech from the Throne on the issue of nuclear disarmament and proliferation. It was high time there was some public statement from the government on the issue of nuclear disarmament. That was long overdue. Now we have this one sentence in the Speech from the Throne. I suppose one sentence is a start but the government must go much further immediately on that.

Canada must definitively and actively call for a nuclear weapons-free world and there are a number of ways Canada can do this. Canada could do this by supporting the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's detailed five-point plan on nuclear disarmament and disarmament issues. Canada should endorse that plan and begin to work in cooperation with the Secretary-General to promoting that plan. President Obama, as the government mentioned, has put the issue of nuclear disarmament high on his priority list in his chairing of the special security council meeting with an indication of just where he sees this important issue. We are all talking about the possibility of the Obama moment when it comes to the whole issue of nuclear disarmament.

Recently the foreign ministers of Australia and Japan made a joint statement on nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. There are other countries that are taking high level, high profile initiatives around this issue. Here in Canada, almost 800 Order of Canada recipients have been outspoken in their call for Canada to be active in this task.

The Interparliamentary Union made a statement on nuclear disarmament at its last meeting in Addis Ababa. Also, over 100 world leaders are supporting the global zero movement calling for zero nuclear weapons. There are a number of initiatives that, if the government were truly serious about this, it could get on board with. We need a strong public statement from our Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

We need a broader commitment, including support for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention. Such a proposal has been put forward by Costa Rica and Malaysia. The government needs to ensure that the convention is referenced in the final document of the upcoming non-proliferation treaty review conference.

There are specific actions that the government should be announcing and publicly supporting to ensure that nuclear disarmament is truly on the agenda of Canada.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech From The Throne

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas will have five minutes left to finish his speech the next time this motion is before the House.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

March 11th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

moved that Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of my bill, Bill C-473, which focuses on the protection of military medals, orders and decorations awarded to Canadians who have selflessly put themselves in harm's way in the defence of Canada.

Generations of Canadian veterans, through their courage, determination and sacrifice, have helped ensure that we live in a free country and have aided in spreading peace and security throughout the world. The tabling of Bill C-473 allows us to reflect upon the importance of Canada's military heritage and the role of government and federal institutions in preserving it.

On any given day, approximately 8,000 Canadian Forces personnel are preparing for, engaging in or returning from an overseas mission. They follow in the footsteps of Canadians who, for more than 200 years, have answered the call and sacrificed all they knew, all the comforts, love and safety of home, in order to defend the freedom of others. The efforts and sacrifices of Canada's armed forces throughout history, and as we speak, must not be forgotten. They must be remembered and honoured as an integral part of our country's heritage.

Bill C-473 recognizes their importance and the importance of the honours and awards given to them in recognition of their sacrifice, and this government recognizes the need to protect our heritage, including our military heritage. Certain medals and other honours are already protected through legislation. More than 30 years ago, at a time when World War II and the Korean war were still fresh in our memories, the Government of Canada responded to the need to protect Canada's heritage by introducing the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. This act seeks a balance between the need to protect the nation's heritage and the property rights of private owners. The same approach underlies Bill C-473.

The Cultural Property Export and Import Act includes, among other elements, a system of cultural property export control, which requires export permits for a range of cultural property, including medals. This existing act is an important tool in helping to keep objects of outstanding significance and national importance in the country.

Let me explain how this works in relation to historic medals, to set Bill C-473 in the broader context of heritage protection.

Regulations under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act specify categories of objects which require a permit to leave Canada for any reason, temporarily or permanently. Military medals, orders and decorations are of course included, but like other protected objects, they must be at least 50 years old. Export permits are refused for objects that are deemed to be of outstanding significance and national importance.

That refusal may be appealed to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. On appeal, the board may create a delay period of up to six months to allow Canadian cultural institutions the opportunity to purchase the object in question so that it may remain in Canada. During the delay period, a program of grants is available from the Department of Canadian Heritage to assist institutions in purchasing these national treasures.

Bill C-473 would provide a similar opportunity by requiring owners to offer the Government of Canada, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, a right of first refusal before transferring certain medals, orders and decorations to a non-resident. Therefore, we have effective legislation and financial support.

Legislation and regulation are one tool when owners want to sell medals outside the country, but the government also wants to encourage Canadians to donate their medals to museums where they can be preserved for future generations. Under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, a system of special tax incentives exists to provide further encouragement for owners to donate outstanding historical medals to Canadian institutions. The regular charitable tax regime also provides incentives to donate other medals to museums.

However, more is needed, and this is what Bill C-473 would do. It recognizes that recent military honours, unlike historic medals, orders, and declarations, are not controlled for export. They may be freely sold and taken out of the country, out of the reach of Canadians and their public museums.

When I tabled Bill C-473, I indicated that my objective was to keep important military medals, orders and decorations in Canada. That is also the government's long-held objective.

Bill C-473 would also balance the rights of individual owners of these military honours with the desire to protect them for the public. That is also the long-held public policy of the government, as evidenced in the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.

Historic medals, decorations, or other honours have been well served by the existing act. Recent examples demonstrate this. Through the export controls, grant system and tax provisions of the act, the Victoria Cross of John MacGregor was acquired by the Canadian War Museum for the benefit of all Canadians.

It is through this effective legislation that the Government of Canada acted to ensure that Fred Topham's Victoria Cross was not lost to Canada. The act also enabled the government to take measures to ensure that the medals of Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt and Sergeant William Merrifield were retained in a public institution in Canada.

It is time for our modern medals to receive the same protection accorded to our historic medals, and that is what Bill C-473 seeks to achieve. Bill C-473 recognizes the important role played by federal museums as custodians of our military heritage. The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, together with other museums across the country, including the Canadian Forces museums, take on the task of preserving our military heritage.

In my riding of Perth—Wellington, local historians and small museums are playing an enormous part in maintaining the proud record of Canadian military achievements. There have been efforts made by people like Dave Thomson of St. George, Ontario, Philip Fowler and Dave Gazelle, who, on behalf of a group of Stratford citizens, have purchased several medals won by residents of Perth County and returned these to the Stratford Perth Museum, with the help of its director Linda Carter.

Over the past two years the following medals have been saved and donated to the museum, where they will be forever protected: Sergeant Lorne Wesley Brothers, World War I British War Medal; Private George Grimditch, World War I Service Medal and Victory Medal; Lieutenant William Warren Davidson, World War I British War Medal and Victory Medal; Private Douglas Thomas Hamilton, World War I Silver Cross; Private George Buckingham, World War I Service Medal; and Private Alexander Connolly, World War I British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Canada's military history collections are part of the heritage of all Canadians. In some respect, they matter most to those who have grown up in the peaceful aftermath of war, and to those who have adopted Canada as a home free from the tragedies of other lands.

The story of our military past is understood and made meaningful to Canadians, many of whom have no direct experience of war or the part played by conflict in our history.

Museums, of course, are much more than collections of objects, but with artifacts as material evidence, they illuminate and document our history. Military museums are unique in their commemorative role and they are uniquely placed as repositories of important objects, such as medals, orders and decorations, that tell the story of the sacrifices of Canadians.

This government has recognized the importance of preserving our military heritage, both through legislation and the establishment of museums.

Bill C-473 speaks of the importance of our military heritage as well as fills an important gap by focusing on Canada's modern military honours.

Bill C-473 would ensure that federal museums would be given the opportunity to acquire and protect modern military medals, orders and decorations, which are no less deserving than those given 50 or 100 years ago to brave Canadians.

For the spirit of a country and the courage of its people, I am pleased to support Bill C-473 and urge all members to do so, too.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill sounds very good in terms of its intent. However, there are some issues that some members have raised, which I think the member may be able to help us clarify.

First, on the position of the museums, they would get right of first refusal, but the issue is that if museums do not have the money to purchase the medals, then we have a problem.

The second issue is about donations. Clearly the family members have some ranking as well because they may want to keep them in the family. Eventually there will not be anybody to donate or give them to. They do have some value.

First, could the member help members understand what the implications are vis-à-vis the museums? Second is ultimately to keep things in Canada, but allow them to be sold within Canada. Would that be prohibited?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the existing act allows those members who own those medals to pass them on to their family, to next of kin. At the same time, the act provides special funding to museums to purchase these medals at true market value, so that would not have to be added.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to our colleague's speech. Upon reading this bill, I realized that there is an omission. The definition of near relative includes parents, brothers, sisters or grandparents of the insignia's owner. The bill makes no mention of the spouse. Why can an insignia not be transferred to a spouse?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that a spouse is next of kin. I think it says next of kin, including those particular people, brothers, sisters, et cetera. To my knowledge, if the veteran was a male who passed away, his next of kin would be his spouse and vice versa. I do not think that would be a problem.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, generally speaking, I think the NDP likes Bill C-473. We will hear from the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has a lot of knowledge about this whole area.

In general, we feel that medals should not be a currency. They should end up in museums and not be handled as commercial transactions.

Does the member have the support of the Canadian legion for the bill?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, at this particular time, the legion does not support the bill. The Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada Association do. I am not sure whether the legion supported the previous bill.

The medals belong to the recipients and the next of kin. It has been the practice that they can do what they want with them. What this does is it gives us first right of refusal, as government, to ensure that those medals, which are so dear to our hearts and to our heritage, are kept in the country.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard from my friend's speech that the point of this bill appears to be to keep the medals in Canada. As a general theory, I support that, but I want to point out a couple of factors in the bill.

Clause 3(2)(a) and (b) states in terms of what the prohibition is, that it “does not apply to the transfer of an insignia to a near relative of the owner of the insignia”. Obviously that person could reside outside Canada. If the goal of the bill is to keep these various medals inside Canada, the bill does not do it entirely. Paragraph (b) refers to “an heir of the owner of the insignia upon the death of the owner”. The heir obviously could live outside Canada. If once again the point is to keep the medals inside Canada, the member needs to do something different.

Another point is, how is this going to be enforced? Perhaps it could be put on a customs declaration form when people are entering or leaving the country. Something has to be thought out. If the member wants the bill to do something, it has to have some mechanism.

In terms of the general concept, I support the bill. I have no problem with it. My particular problem is that we are here discussing the medals of veterans and not the veterans themselves. The hon. member has indicated previously that he sees this as an opportunity “to honour our veterans and support our troops”. While I like the goal, the bill does not do that.

I would like to review the various multiple failings of the government in terms of veterans. He has brought a bill forward in terms of veterans and that is what we should be discussing, how we are helping veterans, rather than focusing on the medals.

The one remaining national hospital is Ste. Anne's Hospital in Quebec. Last fall the Conservatives announced that they were considering transferring it to the province of Quebec. The issue is not whether it should or should not be transferred. The issue is where the treatment is going to be provided and who is going to take care of these various veterans.

Veterans are aging and will require long-term care and beds. Where is that going to come from? Veterans will be coming back from Afghanistan with serious issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Where are they going to find treatment? Who is going to take care of them?

There needs to be a national strategy for that. When I hear that the Conservatives are simply going to transfer the last remaining hospital in theory to Quebec, I want to know the practical effect of that. That issue has not been addressed.

That particular transfer has been opposed by 57 different veterans groups, comprised of the National Council of Veteran Associations.

Members of the regular forces who are coming back have significant problems in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They rely upon Ste. Anne's Hospital to get their treatment.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have reviewed the bill and I believe that the speech being delivered by the hon. member has nothing to do with it.

I would ask the Chair to call the member to order insofar as his remarks are not pertinent to the matter on the floor.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I just remind the member of the rules of relevance and to ensure that he keeps his remarks as close as possible to the private member's bill before the House.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps we should look at the bill and see what it talks about because it refers to veterans. I do not know how it could be possibly argued that this bill does not deal with veterans. If my friend wants to interrupt, that is fine, but I do not think his point is a valid one.

In terms of these issues with respect to veterans, homelessness is a severe problem. The veterans ombudsman, Patrick Strogan, last year took the Conservatives to task for not doing enough about homeless veterans. Since then nothing has been done.

Veterans advocate Claudia Schibler of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman indicated that the mandate and authority of the veterans ombudsman is very weak. She complained about it and nothing has been done. As well, the veterans advocate has indicated that the department is spending more and more money in terms of discounting and denying veterans' claims than it is in actually helping them.

In terms of the department's budget, I would like to know from my friend in terms of the bill why the Department of Veterans Affairs is returning so many millions of dollars to the Department of Finance when the money could be used on behalf of veterans.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I know the hon. member may be bringing his remarks close to the bill. I will just read the title of the bill again. This is Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations. While it may have something to do with veterans in an abstract way, it is very specifically aimed at insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has made a point of relevance. I would encourage the member for Brampton to speak to the substance of the bill at second reading.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the medals and insignia of veterans, I presume, because that is who gets them. We are talking about veterans having to sell those very medals and insignia to get money.

They have to sell their medals and insignia to get money because they find themselves in dire circumstances. They find themselves in dire circumstances because they are not receiving income from the government. They require medical assistance because of various disorders they get from fighting in combat. When they come back to Canada, they cannot afford to pay for the treatment on their own. They are not getting help from the veterans department, so they then have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

Some veterans are homeless. There is a Calgary shelter that has over 40 veterans. I would like to know why they would have to sell their medals and insignia to try to find some place to live rather than being able to keep them and not having to sell them to other institutions.

I would like to know why the Conservative government's promise in terms of compensating victims of agent orange and holding a public inquiry has not taken place yet. Perhaps if that had taken place, the veterans would have money and they would not have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

I would like to know why the Conservatives' promise to extend the home care program for all widows and veterans has not yet taken place. If that had taken place, perhaps they would not have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

I would like to know why the Conservatives' promise to resolve the clawback of service income security insurance plan pensions for disabled veterans has been broken and not been taken care of. Perhaps if it had been and they had more money, they would not have to worry about selling their medals and insignia—

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With the greatest of respect to the hon. member, this narrative is completely beyond the bounds of relevance to the topic at hand. I would encourage the Chair to please get the member back on topic. Mr. Speaker, you may want to consider moving on in the debate. Again, with the greatest of respect, these points may be heartfelt but they are just not on topic.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There is only one minute left for the member's remarks. While I understand that he has tried to make a link between the topic he was focusing on and the substance of the bill, there is only a minute left. The Chair does give some latitude at second reading on bills, but a number of points regarding relevance have been raised.

If the member could conclude his remarks by staying as close as possible to the substance of the bill, the Chair would appreciate it.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is quite correct that this particular hour is a non-partisan hour. I think it should be very non-partisan that veterans deserve better. They should be helped and should not be put in a situation where they have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in rising today on Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations.

I must say it is surprising to see the Conservatives taking an interest in the cultural aspect. They are often much more interested in the military angle. However, as the Bloc critic for veterans’ affairs, I would like to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for introducing this bill.

As its title indicates, the purpose of Bill C-473 is to protect Canadian military medals and insignia of orders that are culturally significant to Canada. The word culture here obviously has a historic meaning. The cultural importance of a decoration is determined by the regulations.

In order to keep these decorations in Canada, the bill we are studying today would impose restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals. It would be prohibited to transfer culturally significant insignia to a non-resident, that is to say, someone who is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident of Canada.

The bill would, however, allow anyone who so desired to transfer a decoration provided that they have first tried to sell it at its fair market value to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization or the Department of Canadian Heritage, in other words the Government of Canada. If the government refuses to purchase it and provides written confirmation to this effect or has not accepted the offer within 120 days after receiving it, the person may then transfer the decoration to a non-resident.

It is important to emphasize that the bill introduced by the hon. member for Perth—Wellington states that all these restrictions do not apply to the transfer of a decoration to a near relative, that is to say, to parents, children, brothers, sisters, and grandparents or to an heir.

Finally, the bill stipulates that if a Canadian transfers a decoration considered “cultural property” in violation of the provisions I just mentioned, that person is committing an offence punishable by a fine in an amount that does not exceed five times the market value of the insignia. It might be interesting to see how owners of insignia or medals can be informed about the new provisions in this bill. We will have to find ways to inform people.

The Bloc Québécois has analyzed Bill C-473 thoroughly and has decided to support it in principle so that it can be studied in committee. That will give us an opportunity to hear from witnesses and examine various aspects of the bill in greater depth.

I think it is important to emphasize, as I pointed out in one of my earlier questions, that this bill is flawed. We agree with the principle that near relatives should be exempt from the restrictions set out in the bill. However, I think that spouses should be included as well. We will definitely be proposing some amendments to this bill in committee.

As I said before, the definition of “near relative” includes parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the owner of the insignia, but does not include spouses. I think that should be specified. We find it unacceptable to exclude spouses from the bill. That will have to be corrected.

Overall, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-473 in principle because its purpose is to preserve our heritage.

The bill before us today focuses on military history and the insignia, orders, decorations and medals awarded by the country to recognize the merit and actions of Quebec and Canadian military personnel.

In bestowing these decorations, a country recognizes the sacrifices and achievements of those who have served the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world over the years.

It is important to acknowledge the devotion of the men and women who have fought in various conflicts. Everyone here knows that our military personnel work hard and overcome many challenges. Many sustain serious injury, and some die.

Without hesitation, they accept the most dangerous missions with humility, determination and courage. We have an obligation to recognize and support these soldiers.

As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. We believe that all governments can and must do what they can to preserve the cultures and histories of the peoples under their authority. Military history and recognition of the dedication of the men and women in uniform are important parts of the history of a people or a state.

The federal government must do what it can to preserve this history whenever possible. I am thinking, for instance, of the work being done by the Canadian War Museum, which we appreciate.

That said, I must point out that this bill introduced by the Conservative member aims to protect a cultural asset that is military in nature.

That is all well and good, but it is not enough, because when the time comes to protect Quebec culture, we see less action and there are fewer bills introduced in the House. We are more likely to see cuts to culture.

Remember that in August 2008, seven federal assistance programs for the cultural sector were abolished, including the arts promotion program—PromArt—in the foreign affairs department, the Trade Routes program, as well as other programs totalling $23 million.

I am not off topic as there is a cultural component to this bill.

More recently, in the 2010 budget, the Conservative government did not provide any direct assistance to artists and creators of cultural assets. There is no direct assistance for artists, no funding for tours, no increase in assistance for filmmaking. In short, it is unacceptable that no new cultural measures were introduced other than this bill.

Are we to surmise that, for the Conservative government, the only things that qualify as cultural assets are medals and Olympic Games souvenirs? Their actions since coming into power indicate as much.

The Conservatives wish to prove that they want to preserve military history. Although we support this praiseworthy initiative, the Bloc Québécois urges them to do much more to support the cultural sector.

The Bloc Québécois believes that supporting the cultural sector will help Quebec emerge from this economic crisis. For that reason, we must reinvest in this sector and inject $300 million starting this year.

I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois supports in principle Bill C-473, which will protect military cultural artifacts, so that it can be studied in committee. We believe that all governments can and must do what is necessary to preserve the culture and history of its peoples.

We support the bill to protect one form of military culture. However, we insist that this government invest more in the protection and promotion of the culture of Quebec, a distinct nation and people.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant debate before the House of Commons. That is the luck of the private members' lottery. It is his turn, and rightfully so.

I want to start by reading the summary of Bill C-473. It states:

This enactment places restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance to persons who are not residents of Canada.

That is more or less the summary.

I also have a private member's bill in the House of Commons, Bill C-208, that is not entirely similar but very close to Bill C-473. Its summary states:

This enactment prohibits the sale or export for sale of any medal awarded by the Government of Canada in respect of service with the Canadian Forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or in respect of service as a police officer outside Canada on behalf of the Government of Canada.

I would like to say at the outset that we in the New Democratic Party will be supporting the legislation through the committee process. During the committee process, we will be asking certain questions of witnesses to see if we can not only improve the intent of the legislation but also, and I will be honest here, to see if I can piggyback some of my legislation on this bill and maybe the two of us together could produce a really good bill.

When anyone goes to a legion hall, ANAVETS hall, or any hall where the military, RCMP and veterans meet, debate is stirred up about medals. As we know, many of us have been lobbied for a new cold war medal. We recently had the Wound Stripe changed to the Sacrifice Medal. The government did a very good thing with that.

Medals represent a significant achievement of a person who has served his or her country, be it RCMP or military, past or present. The families of those who have passed on have the medals, usually in shadow boxes with pictures and stories of the recipients. It is quite significant that they are able to retell the stories of the brave Canadians who served their country so well.

There is one concern I have with the bill, and I have already spoken to the hon. member about it and we will have further discussions on it. For many years I have told people that the medals hanging on their chests are not currency. When someone receives his or her CD, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross or whatever significant medal they receive, including the Afghan Star many soldiers are now receiving, these medals the government has given them are not currency. The government did not say, “Thank you for your service, here is some money”. The medals' significance is to show others, when the recipients wear them in public, on parade or wherever, that they have served their country and what particular theatres of war or conflict they have served in.

We see many young people in their late 20s or early 30s with four or five campaign medals already, because they have served many tours overseas in various conflicts, either Bosnia, Suez, Turkey, Haiti, Afghanistan, et cetera, including our World War II and Korean veterans, of course, and all the medals they wear.

They are extremely proud to wear those medals. In fact, they wear those medals for pride, devotion, loyalty and dignity. Nonetheless, when I speak to veterans, service personnel and RCMP across the country, the number one reason they wear the medals is that there are 118,000 Canadians who served their country and never had the chance to wear theirs because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. That is the significance of these medals.

I have a personal belief that these medals should never be turned into currency. They do not have to be commodified. Do we have to put everything we have in this country under a mercantile system?

Because that I have argued this with certain bureaucrats and ministers in previous governments, I understand that it would be very difficult to enact legislation to stop people from selling medals. It would be very difficult because of private property laws. I agree with some of that argument, but surely we can do something that replaces money when it comes to these medals.

Some people have asked me what happens if somebody has to sell their medals for food or prescription drugs. I have only been around here since 1997, not as long as some colleagues, but I have yet to meet one veteran, one RCMP officer, who has come to me and said very clearly, “I have to sell my medals for food”.

I have said publicly that if there are veterans out there right now who feel they have to do that, give us a call. I know members of Parliament would immediately be there to help them on that. I am sure of that. There is not one member from any party who would not help that person out.

There have been situations recently involving the great Tommy Prince. There will be a movie about him. In his unfortunate state of mind, when he was in a desperate situation, he sold his medals. They got around the system and eventually they got back to their rightful owners.

Those who are computer literate could go on eBay right now and see all kinds of medals for sale. However, the people selling those medals did not earn those medals. They were not awarded those medals. They somehow got hold of them. Either the families sold them off or they found them. A while ago I worked with a guy named Dave Thomson from Ontario. A guy came in, posing as a real estate agent, and stole his medals to try to sell them, which is very cruel.

We just simply do not believe these medals should have a cash value. It is not currency veterans have hanging from their chests. That is our opinion, and we look forward to the debate and to get it to committee. It is very important this legislation gets to the committee where we can have sober, rational thought, bringing in witnesses from various organizations, various individuals, various bureaucrats from departments and ministries or whoever, so we can have a thoughtful, reasonable debate about how we protect the cultural significance of these medals.

There are two schools of thought. Inverness High School in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has a massive hallway with cabinets. Inside those cabinets are shadow boxes, pictures, stories and medals of all kinds of veterans who have passed on, those who served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II, et cetera, and the families have donated the medals to the school. The kids walk by that hallway all the time. They grow up knowing the significance of their forefathers and mothers and the service they provided, not just to their community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but their country. Yarmouth High School does the exact same thing.

There are many places to donate these medals for people who no longer wish to have them, or the children do not want them or for whatever reasons, not only museums, but chambers of commerce, churches and community halls. Our MPs would be honoured to hold these as well. I am sure many members of Parliament would volunteer to hold them in their offices. When they leave office, either voluntary or involuntary, they can pass them on to the next member of Parliament.

These medals should not be in a cupboard, or in a drawer, or on a flea market table, or at a garage sale, or on eBay or on Kijiji. They should be out there for everybody to see. That is why it is critical and we are very pleased that the member for Perth—Wellington has brought this issue forth.

I would ask if the member would accept a friendly amendment, not at this stage but when we get into the debate, to also include the medals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As we know, many police officers serve overseas and they also received these various medals. We believe the RCMP should be treated in a very similar fashion to the veterans when it comes to these particularly significant cultural items of Canada.

If I am not mistaken, 96 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians overall. Just recently we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the William Hall V.C. He was an African Nova Scotian who, in 1850 received his Victoria Cross. He was the first sailor. He served three countries in four wars and was awarded the Victoria Cross. We honoured that memory at the Black Cultural Centre in Preston, Nova Scotia the other day.

We thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant discussion to the floor. We, like the Bloc Québécois, will support sending it to committee. We hope, with further amendments, we will be able to proceed with this debate in a very friendly and cautious manner.

We salute all the veterans and thank them for their service.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in support of Bill C-473 that has been brought forward by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Perth—Wellington, and chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Once again, a fine and outstanding member of Parliament.

This bill has a very noble premise. It is about preserving our heritage. It also respects our veterans who have earned these medals.

We heard an intervention a little while ago from the Liberal member for Brampton West that was unbecoming of this debate. I do not think it was on the topic of this bill, and in fact it unfortunately did not reflect the true history of the Liberal Party when it comes to our veterans. The Liberals may want to rewrite history but I do not think veterans will forget.

We often talk about Liberal cuts to things such as health care and education, with the $53 surplus that it ran in EI, without passing those benefits on to workers. We talk about those things, but one of the things that it cut in the nineties that is often not talked about are benefits and supports for veterans.

The member should look into that before he comes out and starts a partisan rant against this government, a government that has extended VIP benefits to thousands and thousands of veterans that the Liberal Party would not extend them to, a government that has re-extended veterans benefits to Allied veterans, something that the Liberal Party took away in the 1990s, a government that has extended pension income splitting to all seniors, among them certainly veterans, something that the Liberal Party would never extend.

We have a convention around bills such as this in private members' hour where we do not go on these partisan rants and we talk about the benefits to Canadians. On a bill that is noble, as this one is, interventions brought forward by the member for Brampton West are unbecoming. That said, I am going to set that aside and I am going to speak to the bill.

As I said, I am supporting and I believe all good members should support Bill C-473, and the steps it proposes to increase the protection of Canada's heritage.

Heritage means many things to Canadians: our geography and strong attachment to the land; our personal, family and linguistic traditions; the material and tangible evidence of human activity and creativity over thousands of years. Collectively, these various dimensions make up the heritage legacy we have inherited and will bequeath to future generations.

Heritage includes the stories attached to collections, places and communities. Objects can become Canadian icons and symbols. Through our heritage we can experience our underlying values. Through our heritage we strengthen our pride and confidence as a nation. Through our heritage we draw inspiration. We can acknowledge the contributions of successive generations.

Canada's military heritage is an important aspect of what brings us together as a nation, and Bill C-473 recognizes that.

Canadians value their heritage and they value the dedication, bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces. Over the years, individual citizens, veterans organizations and service clubs have established thousands of memorials across Canada to honour the members of our armed forces who have made great sacrifices in service of this country. They have done so to ensure that the stories survive and are honoured as part of the story of Canada forever.

This government understands how important these things are to Canadians and that is why in budget 2010, we announced the creation of the community war memorial program. This important new program will work with communities across the country to construct new cenotaphs and monuments that will honour those who served Canada. The program will provide $2 million to contribute a portion of the capital costs for these materials that provide the public with a tangible focus for their commemoration of the sacrifices of brave Canadian women and men.

We are recently reminded of those sacrifices with the passing of John Henry Babcock, the last surviving Canadian veteran of the first world war. This marks the end of an era.

This government has announced plans to recognize all Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served during the Great War, which was a defining moment in the building of our great nation. A national day of commemoration will take place on Vimy Ridge Day, April 9. It will honour and celebrate the contribution that Mr. Babcock's generation made to the cause of freedom and to the great debt that we all owe to all of them.

It is also worth noting that 2010 marks the centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy. This offers yet another way to honour the military service of Canadians. Celebration of this centennial in events nationwide this year will build public awareness and strengthen appreciation of the Canadian Navy and promote its role within Canada's armed forces.

Canadians will be able to recognize and celebrate the Canadian Naval Centennial by participating in events as diverse as major international fleet assemblies in Victoria and Halifax, the Rendez-Vous Naval event in Quebec City and a musical review by the Navy's bands that will tour more than 50 locations across the country.

It is because the government understands how important these things are to Canadians that Bill C-473 deserves the support of the House. Each time we hear about an important military decoration being sold to those who would potentially take it out of Canada forever, we see how important it is to Canadians that this aspect of their heritage remains in this country.

In 2004 a public fundraising campaign led by the veterans of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion raised more than $300,000 to prevent the sale of a Victoria Cross awarded to second world war medic Fred Topham to a foreign buyer. It was subsequently donated to the Canadian War Museum and we thank them for their efforts.

Canadians care passionately about honouring military medals and decorations, and the people and deeds they represent. Bill C-473 provides us with an opportunity to act to protect our Canadian heritage. Polling and survey results consistently show that Canadians value heritage as central to their sense of identity, their attachment to Canada, and the quality of their lives. Urban and rural communities mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers annually to cherish the places, stories, and objects that illustrate the spirit of the community and reflect our country's history.

In 2008, for example, volunteers contributed more than 35,000 hours in support of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum alone, not to mention the thousands of others. The same research shows that Canadians believe that support for the protection of heritage should continue. Federal efforts to protect and ensure access to Canada's cultural heritage began with the creation of key federal institutions that have evolved into what we see today, such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, whose role in protecting the nation's heritage is recognized by Bill C-473. These national institutions and other national military museums across the country are the custodians of countless historical military honours.

Since its inception more than a century ago, the national collection now held by the Canadian War Museum has developed into an internationally recognized collection of roughly half a million military-related objects that includes a significant number of historical medals and decorations including 30 of the 94 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians. All together the collection of the Canadian War Museum represents the Canadian military experience and promotes public understanding of Canada's military history through exhibitions and public programs.

The Canadian War Museum and other military museums across Canada, including my own Peterborough Centennial Museum that also has a very significant number of medals, given the opportunity are willing and able to come forward and acquire important Canadian military medals and decorations. They understand how important it is that these testaments to the valour of Canadians be preserved for future generations in public collections in this country.

Bill C-473 acknowledges that our national museums are uniquely situated to honour and preserve the heritage legacy that military medals, honours and decorations represent. It proposes that in situations where a modern honour may be lost to Canada, owners must give a first right of refusal to the government and its institutions to acquire these objects for future generations.

I would just add in response to my colleague from the NDP who spoke quite eloquently, perhaps the potential conflict or disagreement that may extend from some of his comments are with respect to who actually owns the medals. When we talk about monetizing them, if we are truly giving them to the veterans for their service, it is very difficult for us to then walk in and somehow intervene in their value. We want to extend to them fair value for these medals if that is what they wish and we want to keep them right here in Canada to preserve our national heritage forever.