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House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

The House resumed from March 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages), be read the third time and passed.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-232, An Act to amend the Supreme Court Act (understanding the official languages). The bill would create a requirement that all individuals appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada be able to understand the proceedings before them in both English and French without the aid of an interpreter.

Our government is committed to promoting the use of both official languages in Canadian society. Canada's bilingual nature is a fundamental aspect of our national identity. As Canadians, we pride ourselves in our country's bilingual institutions. This is particularly the case with respect to the Supreme Court of Canada, which plays a fundamental role in our democratic society as the ultimate guardian of the values enshrined in the Canadian Bill of Rights and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court's mission statement, as set out in its public website, is to serve Canadians by leading the development of common and civil law through its decisions on questions of public importance. In the context of this mission, the court has declared its commitment to the rule of law, independence and impartiality, and accessibility to justice.

There is no doubt that the judges of our Supreme Court faithfully pursue these important goals on a daily basis. Indeed, the court consistently provides all Canadians with the highest quality of justice they expect and deserve.

Hon. members are well aware that the Supreme Court of Canada is recognized nationally and internationally as a model of collegiality, professionalism and superior capacity. Canadians may take tremendous pride in the stature that our judges hold around the world.

In light of the important role of the Supreme Court, as the pinnacle of our justice system, the government's overriding consideration in the appointment of judges to the court is, and must continue to be, merit based on legal excellence and personal suitability. Bilingualism remains an important factor in the assessment of candidates considered among other factors, including proficiency in the law, judgment, honesty, integrity, fairness, work habits and social awareness.

The composition of the court, including a number of judges, is established by the Supreme Court Act, which provides that at least three of the justices must come from Quebec. As a matter of long-standing practice, the composition of the Supreme Court of Canada has reflected regional representation with the remaining judges appointed from Ontario, Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and British Colombia.

The practice of ensuring regional representation guarantees that the most qualified and deserving candidates across the country are appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Bill C-232 proposes to circumvent this exemption, which would in fact hinder regional representation to the court.

We must draw a distinction between institutional bilingualism and individual bilingualism. Institutional bilingualism is a fundamental and historic component of the government's responsibilities in ensuring that both official language communities can be served in either English or French. Individual bilingualism, which is improperly advocated by Bill C-232 as a requirement, would undermine that component.

Currently, the Supreme Court, as an institution, provides services of the highest quality in both official languages. The proposed amendment would make bilingualism a pre-condition to appointment. Given the extraordinary complexity and the importance of the cases heard by the court, this would require the highest level of linguistic capacity necessary for understanding the most refined and difficult judicial arguments, based on extensive factual evidence in both official languages.

There are subtleties of language that many of our best legal minds across Canada may not have fully mastered, and the stakes are high. Our most important rights hang in the balance. It is the government's position that the proposed amendment is not necessary to ensure access to the court in either official language.

The court provides all its services and communications in English and French. In addition, every individual who appears before the court is free to use either English or French in written and oral proceedings. The court's decisions are issued in English and French, thereby also contributing to a growing case of bilingual case law that is accessible to all Canadians and others worldwide.

The goal of ensuring the rights of Canadians to be heard and understood in the language of their choice is already being fully met by the court. The current composition requirements of the Supreme Court Act, together with the historical practice of regional representation, allow us to preserve our important commitment to legal pluralism, while at the same time ensuring that Canadians are served by judges of the highest distinction and ability. It has provided Canadians with a strong and independent judiciary that is the envy of free and democratic governments throughout the world.

The effect of Bill C-232 would be to have linguistic considerations override the central consideration of merit by reducing the pool of otherwise highly qualified candidates in some regions of the country where there may be fewer lawyers and judges capable of hearing a case in both official languages. We recognize that there must be sufficient linguistic capacity in our courts to provide equal access to justice in both English and French. The government has been and will remain vigilant in seeking competence in both official languages to achieve this goal.

Thus, bilingualism will remain an important criterion in the process of selecting judges to Canada's Supreme Court. However, such a factor should not eclipse the overruling consideration of merit and legal excellence in maintaining and nurturing the fairest justice system in the world.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it will surprise anyone to hear that I will support this bill, but I want to say it to avoid any confusion. I support this bill, and I encourage all my colleagues in the official opposition and those in other parties to do the same. I will use my time to try to explain as openly as possible why I support this bill.

I hope we can all agree that our society is not static; we live in a society and a world that is constantly evolving. Everything changes. We hope that it is for the better. Pressure leads to change, and we always hope that it improves the situation. So it is not surprising that our laws reflect this desire to improve our society and to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

Today we are looking at the results of enacting of Canada's Official Languages Act in 1969, over 40 years ago. In those 40 years, the application of this legislation has continuously evolved, so much so that no one now opposes the notion that Canada has two official languages, French and English. That just shows how our society and our federation are always evolving.

In 1988, the Conservative government at the time, led by the right hon. Brian Mulroney, supported by the official opposition at the time, even made two amendments to this act. Furthermore, in 2005, another amendment was made by the Liberal government of the day, supported by the official opposition, which was led by the current Prime Minister of Canada. This shows that on both sides of the House, whether it is a Liberal government with a Conservative opposition, or a Conservative government with a Liberal opposition, we all seem to agree on the nature of this linguistic duality and its evolving nature.

The adoption of a charter of rights and freedoms within a constitutional framework and of amending formulas in 1985 is another example of this. It was quite a dramatic change, and it had been discussed for several decades in this country. I later had the opportunity and the honour, as a member, of sitting on a special committee that was formed to bring about a bilateral constitutional amendment between Quebec and Canada that changed the nature of the school boards in Quebec. With this amendment, the denominational school boards became English and French boards. This is yet another example of the changing nature of our society, its legislative framework and our institutions.

I can give other examples. New Brunswick declared itself officially bilingual when the official languages legislation was passed. It was the only province to do so. That was another occasion. Since then, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all passed legislation, made regulations and adopted policies to give effect to Canada's linguistic duality.

Each of these occasions was marked by a strong determination to better reflect Canada's reality and ensure that all Canadians can be served in both languages, as well as the desire to learn together. There have also been changes at the municipal level. Moncton has declared itself an officially bilingual city. These are examples.

I now come to this bill.

I congratulate my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on his bill and the work he has done in this area. This bill is in keeping with the changing nature of our federation and its institutions.

When the National Assembly of Quebec began debating this bill, the party leaders—Mr. Charest, Mr. Dumont and Ms. Marois—had their say. The vote was unanimous; everyone was in favour of such an initiative. They saw that it made sense.

Our two solitudes sometimes need to come together and learn to get to know each other. Sometimes they unite, but above all they have to get along. I am going to give some other telling examples that concern all the members of the House.

In order to reflect the will of the people, the party leaders have learned both official languages. Some of my colleagues, those on either side of the House—government or opposition, I make no distinction—may hope to become ministers. People who are learning French or English in the House know that anyone who wants to become prime minister, must be able to address constituents in both of our country's official languages.

People who preside in the House must also learn the other official language. It shows respect, good will and recognition towards the two official languages. Those in charge of our institutions, such as Canada's Parliament, the political parties and the Supreme Court, must also speak both languages and be able to understand their fellow citizens, no matter which of our official languages they use. It is the same for the upper house.

Things are moving in the right direction. Bilingualism is part of our country's identity and my colleague's bill is part of this evolution.

I am not disagreeing with the Conservatives' argument that Supreme Court judges must be chosen based on their legal skills and good judgment. I believe that one of those skills is the ability to understand the language in which a person is presenting to them, be it French or English, our two official languages. It is logical to ask that the nine Supreme Court judges be able to understand both languages.

During the debate in Quebec, the party leaders I mentioned also recognized the fact that the judges from Quebec should speak both languages too.

I encourage all parties in the House to support my colleague's bill, which is fully in line with our country's evolution.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-232 introduced by my NDP colleague.

I am especially pleased to do so because I firmly believe that everyone, whether they speak French or English, has the right to be heard by someone who understands them. Of course, Mr. Speaker, you understand me, but if I am not lucky enough to have an interpreter who gives an excellent translation, you will not understand me.

Sometimes certain differences in terms of culture or language might not be properly understood. There are certain nuances in the language spoken by a particular group of people or nation that cannot necessarily be translated, regardless of the quality of the translation.

That is only one of the main reasons the Bloc Québécois and I personally believe strongly in this bill. Indeed, everyone is entitled to a full and complete defence. Everyone is entitled to be heard and understood by the Supreme Court judges who must rule on these matters. They are asked to make very important decisions and examine very serious issues. If they cannot read the files in their original language, they may not be able to understand the essence of the issue, not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather because of a lack familiarity with the culture associated with the other language.

When a judge cannot read newspapers or listen to the news in French, and cannot hear a conversation in French and understand the essence of it, how can that judge rule on potentially disturbing facts and on important decisions that may become part of case law?

I would like to give an example. Last week, from March 13 to 20, we were in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That week, a big story in Canadian papers, especially in Quebec papers—because there was a time when Quebec was a very religious nation, a nation of believers—was the scandal in Rome concerning pedophile priests. Apparently, the Pope had trouble removing pedophile priests from their functions.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, this was the top story on television and everyone was talking about it. It got constant airtime all day long. That is because people in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are still very religious. The news was of tremendous importance to them. However, in the United States, Canada and Quebec, other stories were on the front page. In the United States, the top story was the health care bill that Barack Obama was trying to get through the Senate and the House so that all Americans could have access to health care. Here, Afghanistan and the documents we were supposed to get from the government but had not yet received were still making headlines. We have received some documents since then, but they are so heavily whited out that they are unreadable.

Clearly, one nation's realities are not the same as another's. To understand these realities, the people who legislate and who decide what goes into a Supreme Court report or ruling must be able to understand not just the words, but the overall context. The people who do that have to be bilingual at the very least. The Commissioner of Official Languages was absolutely right. He dismissed claims made by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who was elected by a francophone majority and then had the gall to act against its wishes and, as a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, decide that English was the most important language for judges to speak.

I do not understand why that hon. member thinks an anglophone judge is better qualified and more knowledgeable than a bilingual francophone judge.

What is more, most francophone judges and lawyers speak English as well. We very rarely see a bilingual anglophone judge. Most anglophone judges have not bothered to learn French. But when someone wants to rise to such a high position, a position where they represent the people and make the important decisions, they should at least make the effort to learn both official languages of the country they represent. It is an indispensable condition.

It is hard to believe there could be a Supreme Court justice who does not understand French, who is unable to read and understand rulings that have been made and who has to rely on translations. Even though these texts are translated well and convey the meaning, basically, they do not explain motivations.

As the Liberal member was saying earlier, Quebec has decided to replace the religious school boards with linguistic school boards. I do not know if that has been done elsewhere, but the nation of Quebec has made the necessary decisions. Even if this is not being done elsewhere, the Supreme Court of Canada has to make decisions that reflect all of Canada, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

My honourable NDP colleague has mounted a strong defence of the Francophone cause. However, we must ensure that measures are in place to protect the rights of French-language communities—those inside as well as outside Quebec—in 10, 15 or 20 years. Every day, senseless decisions are made.

For example, the Vancouver Olympic Games showed that it is difficult to ensure respect for the French language. Not long ago, the citizens of Burnaby, British Columbia, received a brochure that was printed in five languages, but not in French. This was highlighted in our press review this morning. And yet, Francophones make up a fairly large segment of British Columbia's population. Why continue to deny it?

The City of Ottawa is bilingual. However, the mayor does not speak French; he cannot speak to citizens in French. When Ms. Harel wanted to run for mayor of Montreal, she was accused of not speaking English; she was never told that she speaks impeccable French. And yet, that is the case. It was not the English press, but the French press that objected to the fact that she did not speak English. We are quite concerned about the Anglophone minority. However, this should be the case for the Francophone community.

True concern for the Francophone community does not mean talking out of both sides of one's mouth. The Conservatives are very good at that, as demonstrated by their advertising campaign. One day, they will have to face the facts: the Francophones of Quebec and Canada will no longer be pushed around. We will not put up with it. We have rights and we will ensure that those rights are respected.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, since March 20 was the 40th anniversary of the International Day of La Francophonie, I am happy and very proud to have the opportunity to speak about why the members of the House of Commons should support Bill C-232.

The bill proposes that any judge appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada must be able to speak to the people in both official languages.

A number of organizations support this bill, which would ensure that statements made by someone addressing a Supreme Court judge are understood without the need for interpretation.

Canada's laws must be written in English and French so that judges and lawyers understand them well and the latter can better represent their clients.

The Supreme Court of Canada itself, citing a decision made in Ontario, recognized that Canadians should have the right to be served in the official language of their choice.

There are many francophones in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing in northern Ontario. It is up to all members in this House to tell the communities they represent that the government takes bilingualism seriously.

Any document tabled in the House of Commons must be tabled in both official languages. Every member has the right to speak in either of the two languages. It is just as important for this requirement to apply to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is unbelievable that legislation requires the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada to offer bilingual services, but not the Supreme Court.

I completely agree with my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst on this bill.

My constituents want bilingualism to be a requirement for judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.

My riding extends from Timmins to Sudbury to Thunder Bay, an area with a vibrant francophone community. In Hearst, for example, 99.9% of the people are francophone. Most of them are originally from Quebec.

Last year, one of the mayors wrote a letter to the government requesting that any judge appointed to replace a unilingual anglophone judge be bilingual so that citizens would be properly represented.

The Minister of Justice sent the following answer:

Dear Madam:

Thank you for your letter, in which you added your concerns about the appointment of a bilingual judge to the Superior Court of Justice in Cochrane, Ontario—at the time—to those raised by elected officials from the City of Hearst.

I would emphasize that the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting the development of minority language communities.

On the one hand, he recognized that these communities have a need, but on the other, he said that it is not necessary to recognize the needs of francophones when it comes to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Furthermore, I can assure you that this government is determined to ensure that our courts function as well as possible. One way to do that is to make sure that they can hear cases in both official languages.

He recognized that a need existed, but later on in the letter, he said that he would make sure people were receiving proper services. The government may have some influence, but ultimately, he is the one making decisions about who to appoint to the Supreme Court of Canada. Clearly, the government is not yet committed when it comes to official languages.

I worked for Probation and Parole Services for about 13 years. People who have to appear before a judge and want a French-language trial are often at a disadvantage compared to others because they have to wait until a French-speaking judge is available. Wait times in the courts are getting longer and longer. We want this kind of bill to pass so that nobody will have to wait any longer than anyone else for their trial.

I have encountered some problems with translation. Even though someone is interpreting the trial of the person who wants to be judged in French, it is not the same thing. During one of my elections someone needed a short sentence to be translated. The English sentence was: “Please post in window”.

It was translated as, “S'il vous plaît, poteau dans la vitre”. “Post” was treated as a noun instead of a verb, and the sentence became “Please stake into the window”! That is why it is not enough to say that translators are available. Even here in the government when documents are translated, we always have to double-check because not all translators have the same skills. That is why it is very important that a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who is going to hear the cases, is truly able to grasp the intention and meaning of the legislation. That is not really possible if one is unilingual.

As I was saying, I support this bill. I want to read a few comments made by certain judges and lawyers on their support for this bill. Graham Fraser said:

So when someone comes forward and says, or says about a candidate, that he is very competent, that he has all of this experience, but he doesn't have the ability to hear a case that's presented before the Supreme Court in the language in which that case is presented, then he is missing a critical competence. He is actually not as competent as a candidate for the Supreme Court who does have that ability.

Michel Doucet, a lawyer, said:

In my opinion, in a Canadian setting, with the legislation that we have and with our interpretation of bilingual legislation, to be competent to sit as a justice of the Supreme Court one must understand both languages.

I could read many more quotes like that, but more and more people support the fact that we need legislation to protect bilingualism in the Supreme Court of Canada. Its judges will understand both official languages. Lawyers and judges, and those aspiring to those professions, will realize they have to learn French to better serve the Canadian public.

Again, I support this bill introduced by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-232, introduced by my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst.

I was expecting this bill would be passed unanimously in Parliament. I read through the past debates in Hansard and was surprised to find that members of the Conservative Party were very reluctant to proceed, especially when they should be open-minded enough on principle to vote in favour of the bill at second reading and get the bill to committee. If they had any concerns or amendments, they could present them at committee and we could proceed from there.

I believe the Liberals are onside on this bill. The Bloc certainly indicated support. The NDP caucus is solidly onside. I also read with interest the speeches of other members of our caucus, the member for Outremont and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I would like to echo their sentiments on this bill.

The bill puts in a new requirement for judges of the Supreme Court to understand English and French without the assistance of an interpreter. That is all it does. That should not be difficult. When appointing judges at that level, we are dealing with extremely competent, qualified people who have considerable education and can understand concepts. Language training should not be a problem for people at that level.

Once again, I am a bit taken aback that Conservative members would present the view that they have.

My wife speaks Spanish and French. Members of her family have sent their children to French immersion schools in Manitoba for the last number of years. As other members have indicated, there is no shortage of French immersion schools in Manitoba. As a matter of fact, the number of people who go to French immersion is rising. That part of the school system is expanding and people are interested in sending their kids to French immersion schools.

My home province of Manitoba has had difficulties over the years. In terms of the province itself, I get questions about Manitoba politics. I was involved provincially for a number of years. There was an issue back in the 1970s which had its roots in 1890 when Manitoba passed the Official Languages Act, which rendered the province unilingual. In 1975 a unilingual parking ticket was issued to Georges Forest. That case and the Bilodeau cases targeted the 1890 Official Languages Act and they won. The province had to deal with the issue.

Rather than translate 100 years of old statutes, the NDP government of the day, of which I was a part, after negotiations with Société franco-manitobaine and the federal government, arrived at an agreement for a constitutional amendment which would have led to the expansion of French language services in Manitoba. We had an agreement. Société franco-manitobaine was in favour of all the new services that it wanted. The provincial government was in favour. The federal government was in favour.

Everything was proceeding as it should, but it was the Conservative opposition of the day that decided to make hay on the issue. It led to acrimony in the legislature, bell ringing, a virtual shutdown of the legislature and a virtual destruction of the government. The government at the end of the day backed down and said it would translate the laws, and that is what happened. What we did not want to happen, to spend millions and millions of dollars to translate 100-year-old laws, happened.

Having said all that, since that time French language services have expanded in Manitoba, so we translated the laws and now we have very good services. As a matter of fact our current premier, Greg Selinger, who is bilingual, who speaks French, has been personally in charge of French language services for the last 10 years, ever since he was the finance minister in 1999 when Gary Doer formed the government. I know he has attended francophonie conferences. He is very active on that file. I have certainly heard him in caucus enough on the issue. I think if we checked, we would find that French language services have expanded in Manitoba under the NDP, under Mr. Selinger, to the extent that there has not been a complaint, a story or any acrimony over the last 10 years. No one has complained that they are not able to get services in the French language.

Our solution at the end of the day has all worked out favourably, while it certainly caused a lot of political problems in the province, caused us to have a bad reputation across the country for a while partly because of some misunderstandings. I do not think there is or should be a role for parties to say one thing at one level in one place and then the opposite on the campaign trail, an election situation or another venue. That is what happened in Manitoba. The opposition basically took an issue and twisted it and tried to make political hay out of the situation.

At the end of the day, guess what? The opposition was successful in causing the government to back down, but the government was re-elected anyway. So the proof is in the pudding, and the proof is that playing angles that should not be played in issues like language, because they can be divisive, does not necessarily get the results we think we should be getting in the long run.

I thought I would deal with that issue because I read Hansard on this issue. Also, I do want to correct an error I might have made at the beginning of my speech when I indicated the Conservatives should support the bill at second reading. My whip, and the author of the bill, points out that we are at third reading right now. Having said that, my intention is still to encourage the Conservatives to come on side. We do have the majority now with all three parties supporting the bill. It makes sense to me that members opposite join the coalition, as they put it, to make this a unanimous bill rather than trying to find ways to slow it down and thwart what is essentially an excellent idea from the member. The member has already gone through a lot with the bill, given that the Prime Minister prorogued the House a few months ago and then we had to start over again when we just spoke on the bill a few months ago.

I am very pleased to have my time on the bill and I know the member wants to make his closing arguments.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the members who stood up here in the House to support the bill—the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, the member for Gatineau, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, the member for Laval, the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing and the member for Elmwood—Transcona—as well as all the members who support Bill C-232.

It is important to understand that Bill C-232 does not say that Supreme Court judges must understand French, but that they must understand English and French.

We are not trying to say that anglophone judges appointed to the Supreme Court have to understand French so that francophone judges do not have to learn English. We want the judges to actually speak both languages.

My argument has never changed, and I disagree with the Conservative government's position that it may be difficult to find qualified judges. That is what the Conservatives are saying.

However, the ability to hear a case in both official languages is a skill. Opponents of the bill have often raised the point that highly qualified judges might be overlooked because they do not understand both official languages. That makes no sense. Given that the laws of this country have been written in both official languages without being translated, the ability to understand both versions of the law without translation is an important legal skill.

Mr. Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, said this:

So when someone comes forward and says, or says about a candidate, that he is very competent, that he has all of this experience, but he doesn't have the ability to hear a case that's presented before the Supreme Court in the language in which that case is presented, then he is missing a critical competence.

That is what the Commissioner of Official Languages said. He was appointed by the Conservative Party. I hope it trusts Mr. Graham Fraser. The Conservative Party has appointed Mr. Graham Fraser as Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Commissioner of Official Languages said that.

Then he said that the candidate is missing the critical competence:

He is actually not as competent as a candidate for the Supreme Court who does have that ability.

That is from the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The National Assembly in Quebec has expressed that it is in favour of the Supreme Court being bilingual, being able to understand the two languages. By saying that, it is the two groups that represent the two people who have founded this country, the anglophone and the francophone both being able to understand both languages.

A lawyer who was a teacher from the University of Moncton went to the Supreme Court. He was talking about Mr. St-Coeur and the translator was interpreting the name as “Mr. Five O'clock”. When we have a case like that, we have a problem.

The lawyer, Mr. Doucet, went to the Supreme Court about seven times. He added:

In the week after I had argued a case before the Supreme Court, I had an opportunity to hear the English version of my arguments on CPAC.... The translation did not allow me to understand my own words.

There is a problem then. The Supreme Court of Canada is there to show our country, to show by example. I think it is time to do this.

Just last week I had to raise a question in the House of Commons about appointments of two judges to the appeal court in Nova Scotia being bilingual, because the last time they replaced two bilingual judges with unilingual judges.

That is what I am putting to this House. I hope we have the support of all the members. Then that will become the past and when judges are appointed to the Supreme Court, they will represent what actually happens in our country, the two official languages of our country.

I think this would be the honourable thing to do. I hope I have the support of all of the members.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time allocated for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Supreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 31, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of SittingSupreme Court ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

We will now suspend until 12:04 p.m. when we will return with government orders.

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

(The House resumed at 12:04 p.m.)

Canada-Jordan Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

Noon

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to debate Bill C-8 at second reading. The quicker we can get this free trade agreement through the House, the quicker we can get it to committee and back to the House for third reading. This is excellent legislation that would benefit all Canadians and certainly all Jordanians.

These agreements are the latest examples of our government's strategy to open doors for Canadian businesses and investors in these challenging economic times. This agreement will be the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement and related agreements on labour cooperation and the environment.

An aggressive free trade agenda will foster economic growth, encourage competition and provide more choice for Canadians, and it was highlighted in both the Speech from the Throne and budget 2010. As the global economy continues to recover, the one thing that is clear is that free trade, not protectionism, is the key to long-term prosperity for Canadian workers.

Expanding our market access and engaging in free trade partnerships rather than protectionism is part of the government's strategy to help create jobs, growth and opportunity for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. In particular, this free trade agreement would benefit a number of sectors across Canada's economy.

Today I would like to outline a few of these sectors and talk about why our trade relationship with Jordan is so critical at this time in our history.

The fact is that sectors across Canada's economy need the kind of competitive access provided by this free trade agreement. Our companies need to be able to compete and succeed in a global marketplace. The agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on the vast majority of current Canadian exports to Jordan. To be more precise, the agreement would eliminate all non-agricultural tariffs and the vast majority of agricultural tariffs on our two-way trade.

Farmers would benefit because the agreement would eliminate tariffs on pulse crops, including lentils, chickpeas and beans, frozen french fries, animal feed and various prepared foods. It would also expand opportunities for Canadians in other sectors, including forest products, industrial and electrical machinery, construction equipment and auto parts.

As I am sure the House is aware, our manufacturers and Canadians employed in all of these sectors need every competitive advantage they can get in these challenging times. Through tariff elimination, our free trade agreement with Jordan would open new doors for these sectors, create new opportunities for Canadians employed in them and help our businesses succeed in global markets. The free trade agreement would help to ensure a level playing field for Canadian exporters, vis-à-vis competitors who currently benefit from preferential access to Jordan's markets.

I want to take a moment to also touch on the Canada-Jordan foreign investment promotion and protection agreement that came into force on December 14 of last year. Signed at the same time as the free trade agreement, it will help encourage two-way investment by providing investors in both countries with the clarity and the certainty they need when investing in each other's markets.

Canadian investors are discovering a wealth of opportunities in the Jordanian market. Sectors, like resource extraction, nuclear energy, telecommunications, transportation and infrastructure, all hold much promise for Canadian investors. One need only look at the great success the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan has found in Jordan. It is now the largest foreign investor in Jordan. We can all also look at the long list of other Canadian companies, like Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin for instance, that have made significant inroads in the Jordanian market.

That is why the free trade agreement and the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement are such important accomplishments. We are standing up for Canadian business and we are standing strong for Canadian workers. In the broader sense, it is only the beginning.

The Canada-Jordan FTA is Canada's first ever free trade agreement with an Arab country. The Middle East and the north Africa region are becoming more important to Canadian business.

This agreement with Jordan would give us access to a critical market in the region. We have opened a number of significant doorways into the region and set the stage for Canadian businesses to create even more commercial links throughout the Middle East and north Africa in the years ahead.

However, Canada also believes that deeper commercial engagement need not come at the expense of labour standards or the environment. We think trade and investment can be a positive force for communities worldwide. We are very pleased to include parallel labour and environment agreements as part of the larger package of agreements we have signed with Jordan.

I will start with the labour co-operation agreement. It commits both countries to respect the core labour standards set out by the International Labour Organization, standards that help eliminate child labour, forced labour and workplace discrimination, and that respect freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. The agreement also commits both countries in providing acceptable minimum employment standards and compensation for occupational injuries and illnesses. I should also add that under this agreement migrant workers would enjoy the same legal protections as nationals, when it comes to working conditions.

In a similar vein, the agreement on the environment commits both countries to pursue high levels of environmental protection and the development and improvement of policies that protect the natural environment. Domestic environmental laws must be respected and enforced. This agreement commits both countries to this goal.

It also commits both countries to ensure that the strong environmental assessment processes are in place, as well as remedies for violating environmental laws. Through the agreement on the environment, our governments are also encouraging businesses to adopt best practices of corporate social responsibility and promote public awareness and engagement. As with the labour agreement, these measures would help ensure that increased trade and investment does not come at the expense of the environment and that businesses can play a positive role in the life of each country.

This is a critical time for Canada's economy. The global economic downturn has hit all nations hard. Our bilateral trade with Jordan, for example, fell from $92 million in 2008 to $82 million in 2009, primarily due to a decline in Canadian exports to Jordan.

We must do the right things to get there. We must continue to take steps to sharpen Canada's competitive edge. The global economy is not going away and one in five Canadian jobs depend upon Canada trading with the rest of the world. We need to continue opening doors to opportunity for our businesses and investors to thrive and prosper today and beyond the current economic downturn. Our free trade agreement with Jordan is an important part of these efforts. So is the foreign investment protection agreement and the two agreements on labour and the environment. Canada needs these tools to be competitive in Jordan.

This free trade agreement resonates with many Canadians. It would eliminate tariffs on Canadian products into this expanding market. In doing so, it would create opportunities for Canadian industries still on the rebound from recent economic turbulence and complement the government's successful strategy to stimulate economic growth for Canadians on all fronts. It would benefit Canadian consumers by eliminating tariffs on virtually all imports from Jordan. In doing all of that, and this is the key, it would also protect the environment and workers' rights.

I cannot mention this fact enough. This is not just a free trade agreement. It has a side agreement on labour co-operation and the environment. They were negotiated in parallel with the free trade agreement and link directly to environmental and labour provisions. Both the environment and the labour agreements contain what the negotiators call a non-derogation clause, meaning that neither Canada nor Jordan may waive or lessen existing environmental and labour laws to encourage trade or investment.

In effect, the parallel labour and environment agreements would help to ensure progress on labour rights and environment protection.

I will begin by elaborating on the agreement on the environment that is included in this agreement.

This agreement commits both countries to pursue high levels of environmental protection and to continue to strive to develop and improve their environmental laws and policies.

Canada and Jordan are committed to complying with and effectively enforcing their domestic environmental laws, ensure that proceedings are available to remedy violations of environmental laws, promote public awareness of environmental laws and policies, put in place environmental impact assessment processes, and encourage the use of voluntary best practices of corporate social responsibility by enterprises.

The agreement on the environment also creates potential avenues for cooperation. Areas of activities would include cooperation on enforcement and compliance, corporate social responsibility and environmental technologies.

The agreement's dispute settlement provisions are forward-looking and progressive.

Members of the public would be able to submit questions to either party on any obligations or cooperative activities under the agreement. Canada and Jordan can undertake consultations to resolve any disagreements and, if need be, the matter can be referred to ministers for resolution.

As a final step, both Jordan and Canada would be able to ask for an independent review panel to investigate situations where they think the other party has failed to effectively enforce its environmental laws. In these circumstances, Canada and Jordan will work to develop an action plan to implement panel recommendations.

Environmental and labour protections are integral to the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement. We all know that the environmental and labour standards can go together and even benefit from free trade. Our free trade agreement with Jordan, along with the parallel agreements on the environment and labour cooperation, ensures that they do.

Finally, in summarizing this agreement, I just want to go over a couple more points.

We know that Canada and Jordan would eliminate all non-agricultural tariffs and most agricultural tariffs and have both committed to reducing non-tariff barriers to trade. Canadian exporters wold benefit from enhanced access to the Jordanian market. A Canada-Jordan free trade agreement would also help to level the playing field, vis-à-vis competitors who currently benefit from preferential access against our companies here in Canada.

Under tariff elimination, there would be an elimination of all Jordanian non-agricultural tariffs that currently average 11%. These include tariffs of 10% to 30% on many non-agricultural products of Canadian export interests, including industrial and electrical machinery, auto parts, construction equipment and forest products such as wood building materials and paper. The elimination of the vast majority of Jordan's agricultural tariffs, including key Canadian export interests, such as pulse crops, frozen french fries, various prepared foods and animal feeds, which face high tariffs of as much as 30%.

The vast majority of current Canadian exports to Jordan would benefit from the immediate duty-free access to the Jordanian market upon implementation of this free trade agreement. Upon implementation, Canada will immediately eliminate all non-agricultural tariffs on imports originating in Jordan, as well as most agricultural tariffs. As in all of our past free trade agreements, Canada has excluded over-quota supply managed dairy, poultry and ag products from any tariff reductions.

There are also reductions to non-tariff barriers to trade in this agreement, commitments to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods, provisions to affirm and build on obligations under the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and an agreement to apply the provisions of the WTO agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures in bilateral trade.

A committee on trade in goods and rules of origin would l be created as a forum for Canada and Jordan to discuss any goods-related trade issues that arise, including technical barriers to trade.

There would be a bilateral goods trade overview. Canadian exports to Jordan totalled $65.8 million in 2009, up from $31 million in 2003. Our top exports to Jordan in 2009 included vehicles, forest products, machinery, pulse crops, such as lentils and chick peas, ships and boats and plastics. The top exports for the previous year included paper and paperboard, copper wire, pulse crops, machinery and wood pulp. Canadian merchandise imports from Jordan totalled $16.6 million in 2009, up from $6 million in 2003. Top imports included knit and woven apparel, precious stones and metals, mainly jewellery, vegetables and inorganic chemicals.

All our consultations and reviews of this very important agreement show us that trade will not just be expanded, but will be drastically expanded. It comes at a time when we need jobs and opportunities for Canadian workers. A couple of parties seem to totally reject the free trade agreement. They would take us back to the Great Depression again and work us through all kinds of technical trade barriers that Canadians simply cannot afford.

Finally, in the spirit of co-operation, I think there are a number of free traders in the House, certainly in the Liberal Party. They have been favourable to free trade agreements in the past. I would ask them to look at this agreement and to support it. We cannot afford to close doors on Canadian traders. We cannot afford to close doors on Canadian exporters.

A very good example is my own riding, a very rural riding on the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia. Ninety-seven per cent of all the jobs created in my very small, very rural riding are trade related and manufacturing jobs, whether they are fish processing jobs or manufacturing, it is all value-added. There is an aeronautical sector and an aerospace sector. In the forest products everything is dimensional lumber. It is all manufactured again. Agriculture is all value-added.

If those people cannot sell their products, if they cannot move on to the world market that we have traditionally enjoyed in Atlantic Canada, especially in Nova Scotia, through the days of the schooner trade and before that, then we are taking not only a step backward, we would be taking a step backward to ancient history, where people lived in walled city states and fought one another instead of trading with one another. That would be a tremendous mistake.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade admit his new friendships with the Liberal Party, and particularly with the hon. member for Kings—Hants.

After receiving the assurance that the Liberal Party would support the free trade agreement with Colombia, he mentioned that two parties were not supporting the agreement with Jordan. The Bloc agrees in principle with this free trade agreement. However, there is a specific issue that I find very disturbing, and I would like to get an answer from the parliamentary secretary in this regard.

My concern has to do with water. We are saying that, despite the fact that natural surface and ground water in liquid, gaseous or solid state, is excluded from the agreement by the enabling statute, this exclusion is not spelled out in the agreement itself.

What assurances can the parliamentary secretary give us that Quebec's water will not be exported under this new free trade agreement?

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I may have misspoke. I do not believe I said anything about two parties not supporting this trade agreement in my comments. I would hope all parties would support the trade agreement. It is a good agreement, a progressive agreement and it will benefit constituents right across the country from coast to coast to coast.

In respect to the surface water, Canada does not trade in surface water. We never have. It has never been on the bargaining table, and it is not on the bargaining table now.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we will get beyond the rhetoric of the parliamentary secretary because we have time during the debate today to talk about what the real impacts have been of the government's misguided trade policy.

Certainly the 2,000 people in my riding who have lost their jobs as a result of the softwood sellout can attest to the fact that government members, at the very best, are trade dilettantes and, at the very worst, are very destructive to our manufacturing capacity and our value-added industries.

This bill was brought forward in September. The NDP at that time clearly signalled that it wanted it to go to committee so labour activists could be brought in to talk about the labour rights component and have human rights activists brought in to talk about some of the concerns that had been raised.

Thank goodness Jordan is not Colombia. Colombia is an appalling state that has abuses and murders occur routinely. The NDP has been signalling that we wanted to send the bill to committee for eight months and the government, in its incompetence, has not brought it forward. Why has the government not brought it forward so we could send it to committee and hear from witnesses?

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, a very quick answer to his question is that is exactly what we are doing. The bill is before the House and it will go through second reading. There is a process and we all respect the rules of the House. I am sure even the hon. member respects the rules of the House. It will go through second reading, it will go to committee and the committee will look at it very closely.

There are not many questions on this legislation but the issue about it is quite simple. If we compare Canada's business with Jordan, we do somewhere between mid-$60 million, low $70 million worth of trade with Jordan this year, which is down from an all-time high in 2008.

If we look at the free trade agreement the United States signed with Jordan, it did about $200 million worth of trade with Jordan. Now it does $2 billion. We should expect the same type of exponential gain from Canada's business with Jordan as the Americans had.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has not answered the question. Eight months ago all four parties signalled they wanted to send it to committee. Instead, the government has been pushing forward with the extremely controversial Colombia trade deal, where very clearly there is no consensus in the House, and systematically refusing to bring forward the Jordan bill, even though it was signalled.

The Bloc member for Sherbrooke signalled that he wanted it to go to committee. He wants to hear from labour activists and human rights advocates. We certainly want to hear from labour activists, human rights advocates and women's rights groups. We want the trade committee to delve deeply into the Jordan trade and see whether the components actually match the government's rhetoric. Yet the government has refused to bring it forward. It simply begs this question. Why has the government waited eight months?

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will try to speak more slowly and distinctly because my first answer was obviously missed by the hon. member. It will be the same answer.

It is in the House and we are debating it. There is a side agreement on labour and a side agreement on the environment. They are good side agreements. We are anxious to get this to committee and we would appreciate the support of the hon. member to get it to committee and back to the House so we get the agreement passed.

At the same time, we intend to continue, with the co-operation of the House, to work on a very important free trade agreement with Colombia. It really has nothing to do with the debate today, but is one that is an extremely important agreement to Canadian businesses, exporters and, therefore, workers.

I would again ask the hon. member to look through his rhetoric and support that agreement as well. All free trade agreements are good for Canadian workers.

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12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster is saying. When we were dealing with the free trade agreement with Colombia, we spent several months looking at this agreement, at its ins and outs, and at the impact that it could have.

However, the members of the Standing Committee on International Trade did not have the opportunity to examine the agreement with Jordan. The free trade agreement with Colombia was signed before the committee had even issued its recommendations. When these recommendations became public, it was clear that Canada should not enter into that agreement.

In the case of Jordan, the work was not done either before the signing of the agreement. Committee members found out about it after the fact. They did not have the opportunity to examine this agreement. We are now at second reading, which is an important stage, but the committee has not done any real work.The parliamentary secretary is asking us to sign a blank cheque and to refer the bill back to the committee for review. The committee could well make recommendations against this agreement.

Here is the process that should be followed: the legislation goes through second reading and is then referred to committee. In some cases, particularly when we are dealing with free trade agreements, it would be preferable to know the impacts of such agreements before signing them.