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House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was allegations.

Topics

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

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

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

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to continue the Liberals' attempt to get answers from the Minister of Natural Resources on the issue of government spending.

I asked almost a month ago for information regarding the awarding of an $185,000 contract to a company chaired by a caucus colleague of the minister, the member for Calgary Centre. I have not yet received a real answer to this question, but not getting answers seems to be the trademark of the current government.

The Conservatives announced with great fanfare their Federal Accountability Act, yet the complete lack of accountability is evident by the current government's behaviour.

We have seen the Minister of Labour stonewall when confronted with serious allegations about the activities at the Toronto Port Authority. We have the former minister of foreign affairs whose resignation was given only when it became obvious that his indiscretions were about to become a public nuisance. We have a Minister of Fisheries whose son-in-law receives lucrative contracts from the government.

It seems obvious there is a pattern emerging with contracts and access going to current and former members of the Conservative caucus.

The Conservative Party campaigned on issues such as transparency and honesty, yet, once elected, it has become the most opaque and dishonest government this country has seen since the Mulroney years.

The last few days have seen question period focused on matters concerning the member for Simcoe—Grey, which again comes down to lack of transparency on behalf of the government and the Prime Minister. The majority of questions have been centred on asking why allegations of criminal misdeeds are being kept secret.

While I appreciate that matters under investigation have to be handled carefully, Canadians and parliamentarians have the right to know, at least in general terms, what area of the law may have been transgressed. Instead, each day we open the papers to see a variety of increasingly salacious headlines regarding the actions of the member and her husband.

The government trumpets its tough on crime agenda at every opportunity, yet, it is unusually silent when it comes to one of its own under suspicion.

Would the minister tell this House and Canadians at large why it seems that holding a membership card, expired or not, in the Conservative caucus gives that individual an inside track into receiving taxpayers' money?

6:20 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member said that she came here in an attempt to get information on a specific subject. Obviously, her little diatribe was not about that. She should listen because here is a real answer that is connected directly to the question she asked in the House of Commons.

Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated is the developer and owner of innovative technology which reduces energy consumption for street lighting. It does so by reducing illumination during periods of low activity by remote and Internet interfaces. The technology has been piloted in British Columbia, with the support of BC Hydro.

Under the Government of Canada's clean air regulatory agenda, funding was authorized for Natural Resources Canada to enter into contribution agreements for collaborative projects that demonstrate technologies that promise to reduce energy use.

In the case of Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated, its technology could conceivably reduce the electricity consumption of street lights by up to 50%. There are four million to six million street lights in Canada, and it has been estimated that the electrical consumption of those street lights may make up to 30% of a municipality's electrical bill.

Projects for this program are chosen on the basis on the potential energy savings and the amount of support leveraged from other stakeholders. In view of its potential to reduce energy consumption, Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency considered the proposal from Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated.

As with any similar proposal, a panel of departmental program officers assessed the project under the criteria of the energy efficiency standards and labelling program. It was determined that the project satisfied all program criteria, as well as all other legal requirements of the Government of Canada.

Once all the requirements were met, and not before, and all documentation was received from Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated, the contribution agreement was finalized. Thus, the project from Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated met all program and financial criteria, making it eligible for funding.

A contribution agreement between Natural Resources Canada and Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated was subsequently completed, dated March 31, 2009.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a pattern and that pattern is the lack of transparency, accountability and honesty. What transpired a month ago has now become very important for Canadians, and they have been asking: what is the government doing?

Last Friday the Prime Minister, in regard to the Minister of State for the Status of Women, said:

I've referred the allegations to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner and to the RCMP.

Yet, this very morning the same ethics commissioner said:

I have not had an official request from the Prime Minister to investigate anything relating to [the member for Simcoe--Grey].

Why is it that the government in general and the Prime Minister in particular have such problems in clearly stating the truth?

The well paid spin doctors in the Prime Minister's Office seem to have their hands full. I think it is important that statements be clarified.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed in the member opposite. I thought she was actually better than that. I think she needs to understand that as she tries to smear everyone else, she is just going to get mud on herself.

I want to point out that the proposal put forward by Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated, which is why we are here tonight, met all program and financial criteria under Government of Canada requirements. The potential for conflict of interest concerns was dealt with by all parties involved in the contribution agreement in accordance with legal advice.

Because it was clear that Canadians would benefit from the proposal put forward, a contribution agreement was completed between the Government of Canada and Streetlight Intelligence Incorporated.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians have new words creeping into their vocabulary: global synchronized economic downturn, recalibration, and listeria outbreak, rather than preventable incident. This carefully crafted spin attempts to remove blame from the government and instead imply action when little or none is taken.

Listeriosis was a real tragedy that cost 22 Canadians their lives in 2008. Depending on what media advisory we read, it was either an outbreak or a preventable incident. If the spin was outbreak, it implied an act of God and was beyond the government's control. If the crisis was in fact a preventable incident, it was absolutely in its purview.

Following the listeriosis disaster, the government ordered a secretive inquiry into the deaths. Weatherill concluded:

We cannot wait for another food-borne emergency to occur and more lives to be lost before we act. While there will be costs in implementing some of these recommendations, the costs of inaction—whether measured by the damage to individual Canadians’ lives, lost revenues and reputation for industry, or Canada’s global competitiveness in an increasingly food safety conscious world—are far greater.

There were 57 recommendations in the Weatherill report, including: provinces should follow more strict safety rules; Ottawa should review the training of federal inspectors; manufacturers must design meat processing equipment that is easy to clean; and Canada's Chief Public Health Officer must take the lead in any future cases of food-borne illness.

Unfortunately, the government ignored the chief recommendation, namely, to have an independent third party verify whether there were enough meat inspectors.

This past fall the American government warned Canada that its meat inspection procedures were too lenient. Had Canadians known, this would have caused us to wonder whether the current food safety regime was as effective as the federal government claimed.

Unless Ottawa took action, Washington might have forbidden the import of Canadian processed meat. As a result, Canada's agriculture minister promised the government would spend $75 million over three years on meat inspection and would hire 70 new inspectors.

Regrettably, in March when I asked my question, it was over two years since the listeriosis tragedy and eight months since the Weatherill investigation, and little had changed. While the government claimed to be moving forward, one of its most over-used phrases, no additional inspectors had actually joined the front lines of food inspection according to the meat inspectors union.

Cameron Prince, vice-president of operations, CFIA, confirmed this fact in his clarification on how the agency would continue to move forward on the Weatherill report. He explained that CFIA had hired and was training 35 inspectors and that an additional 35 inspectors would be hired over the next year.

If in the words of the minister, food inspectors “don't grow on trees”, why did he not take immediate action to ensure enough examiners to avoid a second listeriosis outbreak? Moreover, what can another of Prince's comments actually mean, when he said, “We have adopted a policy of enhanced inspector presence at all federally registered meat processing plants--”?

The federal government continues to have some explaining to do about Canada's food safety system.

6:30 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, as the House is well aware, the government is fundamentally committed to the continuous improvement of Canada's food safety system.

In fact the member knows that at the committee level, parliamentarians struck a very special committee on food safety. She participated in that committee, in very public hearings. We had many witnesses come in front of the committee, and that committee published an excellent report with good recommendations that have been taken into consideration by this government.

Immediately after the listeriosis outbreak in summer 2008, listeria testing procedures and reporting requirements were enhanced. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada quickly proceeded to review their activities and the measures taken during the outbreak in order to identify any shortcomings and to develop solutions for improving the coordination of federal and provincial efforts to monitor food safety and to fight food-borne illnesses.

The government has taken measures because Canadians and their commercial partners must be sure that the safety of Canada's food continues to be the top priority of the government's action program. The health of Canadians and the safety of food products in Canada remain among the government's top priorities.

On September 11, 2009, the government announced an investment of $75 million and committed to act on all 57 recommendations set out in the Weatherill report, to strengthen our food safety system.

The government is moving forward on all 57 recommendations and is making measurable progress. Health Canada, PHAC and the CFIA have taken collaborative action focused on prevention, surveillance, detection and better emergency response. At this time, the majority of the recommendations are well under way, ongoing or completed. A full report on the progress of the Weatherill recommendations is available on CFIA's website at www.inspection.gc.ca. I invite my colleague to visit that site to make sure she remains current on this issue.

Do members know who agrees that our government is on the right track? The Liberal member for Malpeque and the spokesperson for the Liberal Party on food safety said, on March 15, “I personally believe that our food is safe”.

Perhaps my colleague in the Liberal Party should listen to her colleague in the Liberal Party.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague will remember that his committee actually thanked me for my work on the listeriosis report.

Worse than inaction was the fact that in March, we were under a second listeriosis crisis under the government's watch. University of Manitoba professor Holley wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in January about a study that found Canada's food safety system to be broken. He concluded that inspectors should be going after the source of contamination in food processing plants, rather than doing reactive calls after end-of-line inspections.

Tragically, 27 Canadians have now died in two separate crises. What will it take for the government to make food safety a priority? How many more listeriosis incidents will occur before the government backs its spin with inspectors?

In the spirit of accountability and protecting the health of Canadians, I call upon the government to table the status of each of the 57 recommendations made in the Weatherill report.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I just mentioned, the status of the 57 recommendations and their implementation is on the website I just listed when I last spoke.

The CFIA is dedicated to the task of enhancing Canada's food safety system and has implemented a range of initiatives as a result of the Weatherill recommendations. These include the hiring and training of 35 new inspectors of ready-to-eat meat, instituting new requirements for the control of listeria in federally registered plants that process ready-to-eat meat, enhancing laboratory capacity and research into the development of rapid test methods, and partnering with federal partners to identify new and better ways to deliver food safety messages to the public during outbreaks.

However the member does not have to take my word for it. I will conclude with two more quotes: “I'd say they are good” and “It's a pretty good system”. The person who said those was Bob Kingston, who is the head of the food inspectors' union, and he made those comments last month during media interviews.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, as the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs, I have been hearing from many of the affected groups and organizations concerning the end of funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. However, probably most important, we are hearing from individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by the end of the funding, individuals who were reaching out and finding help, individuals who were on their healing journey.

In Labrador, despite being excluded from the residential schools agreement, several organizations in my riding had obtained Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding for work with former students. Those organizations were the Nunatsiavut government, which represents the self-governing Inuit of Labrador, and the Labrador Legal Services, which works with members of all three aboriginal cultures in Labrador, including the Innu, Métis and Inuit.

Both organizations operated important healing programs with this funding. People were telling their stories in a supportive environment. The programs were working, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. The programs were culturally appropriate. They were community driven. There were programs on the land. There were programs in the Labrador Correctional Centre. Again, the programs were working.

Throughout the country, projects funded by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation have worked with residential school survivors and aboriginal communities to move beyond the residential school legacy to provide healing and reconciliation at the individual and community levels.

Organizations and individuals across Canada have been very vocal in expressing to me and all members of Parliament their disappointment that the recent federal budget did not provide for a continuation of funding. I share that disappointment, especially given that all Canadians and the aboriginal people who have been served through the foundation have received excellent value for money.

The government's December 2009 evaluation report, which was submitted to Indian and Northern Affairs, found:

—AHF healing programs at the community level are effective in facilitating healing at the individual level, and are beginning to show healing at the family and community level.

The report went on to recommend a continuation of Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation was an aboriginal organization run by aboriginal people for aboriginal people. The cuts to AHF undermine the residential schools apology and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and display an ongoing lack of understanding on the part of the Conservative government. We ask the Conservative government that the funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation be restored.

6:35 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is still operating. It began in 1998 with its program and, as of now, we still have 22 of its locations still operating. Where it is not operating, which has been in many parts of the country, even in that 12-year period, we have Health Canada-funded clinics, most often community driven, in first nations communities.

We continue to have a moral and legal responsibility to continue to address the needs of all residential school survivors and their families. Funding is continuing and no one will be turned away based on the qualification that the individual is a survivor or a member of the family.

The lessons we have learned from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation have been very valuable. They have been very valuable remedial actions and that will be built into the Health Canada programming as well as at the community level.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it begs this question. If the Aboriginal Healing Foundation did so well and if there were great lessons to be learned from it, why would it be changed? Why would Health Canada now automatically assume all of the work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation? Something was being done. Something was working. Why change it?

The government, by its own admission, said that it was working. Let us be honest here. There are going to be approximately 130 programs across the country that will evaporate because there will be no funding for them. These were culturally appropriate, culturally sensitive, community-focused programs. What does the parliamentary secretary say to all those hamlets in Nunavut that had community-based programming?

We have to remember that the Inuit only came on six years ago under the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. What do we say to all of those communities, particularly those communities in northern and remote areas, where there is a lack of presence of Health Canada? We had Health Canada in 1998 and we have Health Canada now. We had the Aboriginal Healing Foundation because it was doing something different and appropriate and it was working.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, much has changed in the last 12 years. Much has changed in the last 6 years. We have many agreements and understandings at the community level. We have programming driven by the community level and funded by Health Canada. We have that available in more than 600 communities across the country. We have staffing that includes people involved in this field, one-third of whom are aboriginal. We have more than 400 aboriginal people involved. To say this is not community-driven or not sensitive to the needs of the aboriginal community is incorrect.

I think we will see a transition that will work very well, and the responsibilities are well recognized by the government.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:42 p.m.)