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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.

Topics

The House resumed from May 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook had the floor. There are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, from where I left off a couple of weeks ago, a concern that I find with this legislation is the relatively broad scope of powers that it would afford with such a simple change of Canada's Competition Act.

The bill would give Canada's Commissioner of Competition unlimited powers to call an inquiry into an entire industry sector, with no evidence of any wrongdoing, and place entire sectors under scrutiny, through no fault of their own.

Not only would this investigative process cause problems by shifting the focus of a company away from its day-to-day operations to co-operating with the commissioner's investigation, it would also place a great deal of pressure upon the office of the commissioner. As I said previously, the office of the commissioner is one that exercises its authority with the utmost care and responsibility. However, with what this bill is proposing, a great deal of pressure would be placed upon the office to investigate virtually any rumour of wrongdoing by the industry sector, regardless of the grounds upon which these suspicions were made known.

I had begun to talk about our government's budget implement act in the first hour of debate on Bill C-452 and would like to finish my thoughts on that.

In March 2009 this government introduced the most substantial amendments to Canada's anti-cartel laws in over 100 years. These changes introduced an outright prohibition on agreements between competitors regarding prices, output levels or market sharing. They also significantly increased the penalties for these offences to $25 million and/or 14 years in prison. To allow business to adjust, the government also allocated a one-year period for them to review their practices and bring about compliance with these measures.

With the coming into force of these provisions on March 12, the Commissioner of Competition finally has the types of improved tools she needs to aggressively pursue and convict those engaged in the most harmful types of cartel behaviour which distort competition and undermine confidence in the marketplace.

Our government has made great strides in legislation to strengthen competition and punish non-compliance of the fundamental principle of a free market system. Broadening the Commissioner of Competition's powers from simply being investigative to the much more comprehensive level of launching inquiries may quickly prove to be ill-thought, both in terms of time and resources.

One thing our government seems to recognize more than the opposition parties is that just as anti-competitive behaviour drives up prices, so too does costly bureaucratic red tape.

In conclusion, the question that we must ask as we consider this measure is whether we as members of Parliament are willing to impose the types of burdens on businesses that would flow from this bill. Do we want to subject businesses to costly and time-consuming investigations where there is no evidence of wrongdoing? Is it appropriate to distract the commissioner's focus for enforcing the Competition Act?

We are very wary of imposing any new regulatory burdens on business, especially in light of today's harsh economic realities.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague for introducing Bill C-452 with regard to the Competition Act. I would like to commend all of my colleagues for participating in the debate on this particular topic. We all, I believe, understand the value of competition.

Certainly, we in the Liberal Party value and understand the importance of competition in the market and understand that a competitive economy is a more prosperous economy. We also understand the need for protecting consumers and to ensure that the market itself is not so much protected but operated in a manner that prevents distortions in the market that may result from concentration or inappropriate behaviour.

Although the Competition Act and the Commissioner of Competition have important rights, which we value in terms of investigating particular businesses and their activities, the commissioner can only do that as a result of a specific complaint from an entity, individual or some other enterprise. In the market there are times when an individual or entity may, in fact, be hesitant for competitive, market or other reasons that we may not be aware of to raise a specific complaint with the Competition Bureau. In that sense, where those situations exist, it is important to give the Commissioner of Competition the opportunity to look at an entire industry sector.

I have no intention today of raising specific industries. My view is that this is an opportunity for the Commissioner of Competition, when it is appropriate, regardless of the industry, if there are issues that have been raised that suggest that an investigation is warranted into the industry as a whole. This is indeed an improvement to the Competition Act that would allow the commissioner to do just that.

I would like to thank my colleague for introducing this bill, which would enhance the Competition Act. Liberal members understand how important it is to have marketplace competition, but we also recognize the importance of protecting consumers by ensuring that prices and products on the Canadian market comply with the law.

There have been a number of arguments put forward in debate in this House that perhaps this gives too much discretion to the Commissioner of Competition. I would argue that this is not a situation where the commissioner would undertake an investigation willy-nilly. The history of the Competition Bureau has been one of operating with significant understanding of the Canadian market in all the different industries that have been looked at.

I would also argue that the Commissioner of Competition has had the opportunity to review certain industries as a result of investigations into particular business activities, particular activities engaged in by particular enterprises. That particular study ends up being done appropriately but too often through the back door. The addition of this provision would allow the competition authorities to engage in that larger investigation of an entire industry where warranted.

To address a concern that somehow this would provide an opportunity to go looking for problems, I completely disagree with that. The history of the Competition Bureau has been one of real understanding of the need of when to be involved and when not to be involved. I will repeat my earlier comment that up until now the opportunity has only arisen when a specific complaint has been laid.

The addition of this clause would allow the Competition Bureau to investigate an entire industry sector. That would not happen out of the blue. The entire history of the Competition Bureau would suggest that any such investigation would only happen when there was sufficient information available, whether through the market or through other indications that such an investigation would in fact be warranted.

In that regard, I have considerable faith in the Competition Bureau as an entity and in the people involved not to be engaging in witch hunts but, in fact, to take advantage the addition of a clause like this one to enhance their ability to balance the needs in the Canadian market of encouraging competition and competitive activity in this country in order to ensure the most prosperous domestic economy that we can achieve. We must also ensure the greatest level of global competitiveness that we can, all the while understanding the need to ensure that consumers in Canada are able to obtain the best products at the best prices without any undue influence in the market or any distortions in the market that may be seen in any particular industry.

I want to again thank my colleague for introducing this amendment to the Competition Act. I want to thank all of my colleagues who have participated in this debate. I have heard some of the arguments against it, but I would suggest that we should have a greater level of confidence in the Competition Bureau and the people who work in the Competition Bureau to use this to enhance their ability to encourage competition, and to ensure the best market and economic opportunities, and the protections that consumers need in Canada.

I look forward to hearing continued debate.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-452. I am happy the member introduced it as it is a long overdue measure in Canada. It would amend the Competition Act to authorize the Commissioner of Competition to inquire into an entire industry sector.

For the past 100 years, we have had a situation that is not necessarily peculiar to the gasoline industry but it is an industry that the average consumer can relate to. For many years consumers have been phoning their politicians and telling us that there is something wrong in the gasoline retailing industry. When one gas station raises the price, the one across the street raises it a couple of minutes later, and then when one lowers it, the other lowers it as well. They work in concert.

Over the last number of years numerous studies have been done on price-fixing in the gasoline retailing industry. After about 150 studies, many feet thick sitting on the desk of the minister, the conclusion is always the same. We know something is going on, we know someone is doing something but we do not know how they are doing it and we cannot prove that they are doing it. That is why we have not made progress.

From 1988 to 1999, I was the consumer critic in the opposition in Manitoba and among the many issues that I dealt with as the consumer critic, one of them was the area of prices increases. We looked at the regulation of gas prices in the Maritimes and concluded that was not the way to go because the regulations seemed to be always going up to the highest price. The minister of the day, Jim Ernst, had a very open mind on this issue. He was not taking the side of the industry but he was prepared to let things go as far as they could. He commissioned a study at the time and once again the same conclusion was that the law had to be changed, that we were not catching the industry because the law was not broad enough.

That is a federal responsibility. The member is a federal member and he is doing what has to be done in this situation.

The government said that it brought in new changes in its omnibus budget bill last year, and I applaud it for the changes, but the member who just spoke for the government said that we should stop there because we do not want to give the Competition Bureau unlimited powers. It could go on a wild goose chase and tie up the companies in red tape and cost the economy a tremendous amount of money on some sort of whim.

I do not know where the member got his notes on this subject but the fact is that having tough laws are what prevent businesses from doing exactly what we are trying to prevent, which is price fix and collude.

In terms of price-fixing, we always think of large industries. We think of the gasoline industry, the credit card industry and other major industries but price-fixing and collusion can happen with small entities as well.

Price-fixing can appear in very small businesses. In a small town, two real estate firms could get together and decide that commission rates will all be 5%, 6% or 7%. Travel agencies in a small market could get together and collude. Until the Competition Bureau laid down the law a number of years ago and sent out promotional videos that indicated to the industry that this would not be tolerated, many businesses were unaware that it was even against the law. In other words, there was a law but the businesses were not aware of it.

However, once the Competition Bureau became proactive and started to chase the travel industry and the real estate industry, little businesses became aware that it was against the law and if they were doing it, and some were, they stopped doing it. We need very stringent laws, strict fines and we need promotion so that businesses do not get involved in it.

A year or two ago, no lesser a company than Sotheby's, the big worldwide auction firm, we saw two major auction houses in England come together and set prices for auctioning off items at Sotheby's. This practice went on for two or three years until one of the customers who was auctioning his store of art decided to investigate and started to make complaints. Eventually, one of the employees of Sotheby's or the other firm went to the authorities and gave all the information. Can anyone guess what happened? As a result, one of the firm's owners went to jail for a few months and, if he did not go to jail, he certainly paid very big fines, but the company is back to competing again. There was an end to the price-fixing.

However, that only happened because a customer was motivated to investigate, make the complaints and the charges to get things done.

In this House, we had the Liberals in power for 13 years. I have read the speeches in Hansard on this bill and others, and the Liberals have absolutely no credibility on this issue. They were the government all those years and there is only one member of the entire Liberal caucus who has any credibility on this issue at all and that is the member for Pickering—Scarborough East because, while the Liberals were the government, he was the lone member who actually attacked his own government and said that it should take off the blinders, that price-fixing was going on in the retail gasoline business and that something needed to be done about it. What did the Liberals do to him? They simply moved him back a couple of rows and ignored him.

The Conservative government has made some tentative steps, and I applaud it for that, but it is important for the member's bill go to committee where we can call in witnesses and discuss at length the matter of adding on extra powers for the Commissioner of Competition to inquire into the entire industry sector, which is what we want to do.

There is an another reason we want to do this. In case there are some industries that want to continue to flaunt the laws because they do not think that even the new penalties and laws are strong enough, then we want to give the commissioner the power to initiate her own investigations and not have to take direction from the minister, which is what happened during those 13 years of inaction under the Liberals and the previous 100 years of inaction in this country.

Let us pass this bill on to committee, let us study it and let us give more power to the commissioner.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Shefford for introducing Bill C-452. The Competition Act is a very relevant topic, particularly with all of the news lately about oil. A huge quantity of oil is spilling into a natural environment and causing terrible pollution. I do not believe that such a major catastrophe has ever happened in our oceans. Those who authorize the construction of drilling platforms should make sure that they will be problem-free before construction begins.

The introduction of Bill C-452 virtually coincides with the study of Bill C-14. The Conservatives call this bill the Fairness at the Pumps Act, but that is just for show and yet another con on their part.

It is a little like the bill whose title referred to trafficking in children, but that contained nothing on the subject at all. That is how the Conservative Party operates. Calling it the Fairness at the Pumps Act is just a marketing strategy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act cover all measuring instruments, from scales used at the grocery store to weigh fruits and vegetables to those that weigh gold extracted from a mine. The acts cover all weights and measures. The Conservatives are calling this bill the Fairness at the Pumps Act because they want to look good in the public eye by positioning this as an issue that has a financial impact on Canadian and Quebec families.

The summer will soon be here. Some companies will get together to fix prices, because they know that gas use goes up in the summer. So they make the price fluctuate. Obviously, when we point a finger at the oil companies and say that there must certainly be collusion, proponents of economic theory and of the oil sector say that it is a result of the law of the market and the price of crude oil on the stock exchange, and even the price of gas on the stock exchange. I think it is a combination of faulty basic economic principles and people who speculate on the important issue of gas.

There is no doubt that we missed our chance, and that we have a problem with our dependency on oil. We must not be afraid to admit that society has failed. It is too easy to extract oil, but it is becoming a little more difficult. People are starting to think of alternatives. In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois has been saying for a number of years that we need to reduce our dependency on oil.

Right now, on the island of Montreal, the Shell refinery will perhaps force us to reduce that dependency more quickly. However, we must not forget that, as I was saying earlier, there has been a failure in terms of alternative and renewable energy.

The Competition Bureau still does not have the ability to launch its own inquiries. There must be a complaint from the private sector. Then, the Bureau can launch inquiries regarding potential collusion among oil companies, and even gas stations themselves, as we saw in the Eastern Townships two years ago. Time certainly flies.

We really have to change our attitude toward the oil industry and competition.

We need to develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with oil price hikes. For some time now, the Bloc Québécois has been pressuring the government to take action to address the rising cost of petroleum products. We recommend a three-pronged approach.

First, we must bring the industry into line. That is the goal of Bill C-452, which gives teeth to the Competition Act. We should also set up a true monitoring agency for the oil sector.

Second, the industry must make a contribution. With soaring energy prices and oil company profits, the economy as a whole is suffering while the oil companies are profiting. The least we can do to limit their negative impact is to ensure that they pay their fair share of taxes. The Bloc Québécois is therefore asking that the government put an end to the juicy tax breaks enjoyed by the oil companies.

Third, we must decrease our dependency on oil. Quebec does not produce oil, and every drop of this viscous liquid consumed by Quebeckers impoverishes Quebec and also contributes to global warming.

Oil is making Quebec poorer, and we have to put an end to the bloodletting. All the oil Quebec consumes is imported. Every litre consumed means money leaving the province, thus making Quebec poorer and the oil industry richer.

In 2009, Quebec imported $9 billion worth of oil, a reduction because of the recession. In 2008, oil imports totalled $17 billion, an increase of $11 billion in the five years between 2003 and 2008. At the same time, Quebec went from a trade surplus to a trade deficit of almost $12 billion in 2009, not to mention that the increase in Alberta's oil exports made the dollar soar, which hit our manufacturing companies and aggravated our trade deficit. The increase in the price of oil alone plunged Quebec into a trade deficit.

Meanwhile, the oil companies are shamelessly taking advantage of this situation. They are posting record profits. In 1995, the entire Canadian oil and gas sector posted combined sales of $25 billion. By 2004, this figure had climbed to $84 billion.

Using and importing oil has a very significant impact on Quebec. Consequently, oil prices must be competitive and allow for alternative solutions to reduce our dependency on oil.

The best way to do that in the short term is to vote for Bill C-452, which would take fairness at the pumps beyond weights and measures and extend it to the oil industry as a whole.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the second reading debate on Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector).

As I understand it, the underlying objective of this bill is to address potential problems associated with investigating the petroleum sector. We are all concerned with high gas prices and as many in the House are aware, gasoline prices have long been a focus of the Competition Bureau.

High prices in and of themselves are not illegal under the Competition Act as long as long as they result from free market forces and are not the result of anti-competitive behaviour. The bureau does not hesitate to take action to protect both competition and consumers when there is concrete evidence that the high prices are the result of anti-competitive conduct.

In this regard, since 1972 the bureau's investigations in the gasoline and heating oil markets have led to thirteen trials involving charges of local price maintenance, eight of which have resulted in convictions. The bureau has also conducted six major investigations into allegations of collusion and other anti-competitive behaviour in the petroleum sector since 1990.

Those investigations did not find any evidence to suggest that periodic price increases resulted from a national conspiracy to limit competition in the supply of gasoline or from abusive behaviour by firms holding a dominant position in the market. Instead, they found that market forces such as supply and demand and rising crude oil prices caused the price spikes.

That has not stopped the bureau from remaining vigilant regarding the activities of this industry. In 2008, the bureau's investigation into certain cartel activities led to criminal charges against 13 individuals and 11 companies accused of fixing gasoline prices at the pumps in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines, Magog and Sherbrooke, Quebec. As of December 2009, ten individuals and six companies have pleaded guilty in this case, with fines totalling over $2.7 million. Of the ten individuals who pleaded guilty, six have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment totalling 54 months.

The same vigilance is evident in the bureau's work in reviewing mergers in the petroleum sector. In July 2009, the bureau announced that it had reached a consent agreement with Suncor Energy and Petro-Canada regarding their proposed merger. If this transaction had proceeded without the bureau's intervention, Suncor and Petro-Canada would have been in a position to restrict supply at the wholesale level, as well as to reduce competition in the retail sector in southern Ontario.

The consent agreement in this case required the merged company to sell terminal space and distribution capacity at its gasoline terminals in the GTA to an unrelated third party to ensure continued competition in the market for wholesale distribution of gasoline in southern Ontario and the GTA. This agreement also required the merged company to supply 98 million litres of gasoline to independent gasoline retailers each year during the 10-year period.

To address competition concerns in the retail sector, the consent agreement also required the merging parties to sell 104 corporate-owned gas stations in the GTA and southern Ontario.

Bill C-452 proposes a single amendment to the Competition Act. It would provide the Commissioner of Competition with the ability to launch formal inquiries under the Competition Act into entire sectors of the economy.

We need to be vigilant with respect to the duties that we impose on the bureau. Currently, the commissioner has the ability to conduct limited market studies as part of her role as an advocate for competitive markets. Studies into generic drug pricing and the practices of self-regulating professions are two recent examples where the commissioner examined the specific practices of various industry sectors and made recommendations to promote a more competitive marketplace.

There is evidence that these studies have been effective in improving competition in these sectors. The costs to business and the resource requirements within the bureau of such studies were minimal and did not interfere with the bureau's priority which is to enforce the act.

If a formal inquiry into an entire industry sector is required, the government may invoke its powers under the Inquiries Act. Such inquiries would include the authority to compel either oral or written evidence from witnesses and require witnesses to produce documents that are relevant to the matter that is under inquiry.

The government may also launch an inquiry under section 18 of the Canada International Trade Tribunal Act. This provision allows the tribunal to inquire into and report on matters of economic, trade or commercial interests to Canada. In the past, the tribunal has carried out studies on the competitiveness of the beef industry and the fresh and processed fruits and vegetables industries in Canada.

Given these existing avenues for inquiry and the range of issues that have been examined under the commission's current authority, I must say real doubt arises as to whether a new broader power is needed.

As we have seen, the Competition Bureau continues to aggressively enforce the Competition Act whenever violations occur in the petroleum sector. In addition, provisions in the act exist to ensure that action can be taken against abusive behaviour by dominant firms in any market. As well, the bureau has used its existing limited market studies authority to proactively promote constructive measures to improve competition in markets where structural problems exist.

Should Bill C-452 be referred to committee, I hope that there will be a thorough and detailed analysis of this proposal to determine whether it would truly advance the protection and promotion of competition for Canadian consumers and businesses.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity take part in the second reading debate regarding Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector).

I begin today by taking a moment to make a few remarks on Canada's competitive landscape and the government's plan for improving Canada's competitiveness.

A strong and competitive economy is central to the quality of life for Canadians. A strong and competitive economy means jobs, more opportunity, choices for consumers and enhanced prosperity for all. The government continues to take actions that will allow Canadians to thrive and capitalize on economic opportunities at home and abroad, while at the same time safeguarding Canada's interests.

Productivity and growth are at the heart of our standard of living as individuals, as firms and ultimately as a country. Responsibility for a better Canada rests with every individual, as well as with government, which is responsible for implementing appropriate public policies, ensuring effective management and providing strong leadership. Canada must step up its game to become more competitive both at home and abroad.

In the global economy, the pace of competition has accelerated and our competitors are becoming more successful. As a country, we must position ourselves for more wins in this new global marketplace. As a result, the government is focusing on policies that generate future growth and opportunities to boost our economic productivity. It starts with everyone adopting a more competitive mindset.

Competition in our economy is of enormous importance to consumers and their employers alike. The government has recognized that fact by taking significant steps over the past two years to modernize Canada's competition regime and align it more closely with the competition laws of our country's major trading partners. This allows for improved collaboration with other countries and facilitates more transparent and coordinated enforcement initiatives.

The Competition Policy Review Panel report entitled “Compete to Win”, released in June 2008, and the government's actions to implement the panel's recommendations reflect this government's commitment to reach a better standard of living for all Canadians. To do so, we need greater competitive intensity, which in turn yields higher productivity and growth.

The panel spent a year reviewing Canada's competition and investment policies. In its report, the panel concluded that in order to prosper, Canada must adopt a more globally competitive mindset. It concluded that intensifying competition would build a stronger economy, better products at lower prices, more jobs and higher earnings, stronger firms and greater prosperity.

The panel called on the government to reduce or eliminate legal and regulatory barriers to vigorous competition within Canada, at the same encouraging more foreign investment, and to take a series of other measures, including a tax reform, attracting and developing talent and harmonizing our competition laws with those of the United States.

The panel recognized the importance of ensuring that consumers and legitimate businesses did not fall prey to illegal activity and, if they did, they had confidence that the law would be enforced effectively and that penalties would be tough enough to deter future illegal activity. That is why it recommended a number of important amendments to the Competition Act to ensure it promoted the most effective competitive landscape for Canada's consumers and businesses.

These reforms were implemented by the Budget Implementation Act, 2009. They are all about building a better foundation for Canadian businesses to succeed and fostering increased confidence in the marketplace among Canadians consumers and all those carrying on business or considering carrying on business in Canada.

We toughened our approach to clearly anti-competitive acts, made changes to ensure that the law would not chill legitimate business activity and simplified the law in many respects. The reforms introduced tougher penalties for price fixing and other hardcore conspiracies, while narrowing this provision to ensure it did not discourage potentially positive strategic alliances.

To summarize, the Competition Act now provides more certainty to businesses and supports the type of honest competition that benefits all Canadians. We now have robust laws that will protect and promote competitive markets in Canada so Canadian employers thrive and consumers can have confidence in the marketplace.

As we made clear in the Speech from the Throne, this government's goal, as we move forward in our recovery, is to ensure that all Canadians benefit from our agenda of providing more jobs and growth. Over the last year, our government has taken decisive steps to protect incomes, create jobs, ease credit markets and help workers and communities get back on their feet. Moving forward, our strategy for the economy is to create the conditions for continued success in the industries that are the foundation for Canada's prosperity.

Our government is committed to identifying and removing unnecessary job-killing regulation and barriers to growth. This government stands for free and open markets. Open and competitive markets are the best way to promote new, dynamic and innovative products and ideas. Businesses do not need unnecessary government oversight or new regulations to dictate how they should operate.

It is in this context that I wish to remind the hon. member of the significant new powers this government has provided the Commissioner of Competition in order to investigate and deter the types of activities that lie at the heart of the bill. These tools will be far more effective than the measures provided and proposed in Bill C-452.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak during second reading to ask each member to recognize the importance of Bill C-452 for the voters in their ridings.

When this bill is studied in committee, we will need to find answers to the questions being asked. I will give a few examples of questions we have in mind. The committee will hear witnesses, and I hope that we will get some clarification. I also hope that this bill will be passed soon and that we will not be debating it again.

The Conservative members are talking about amending the Competition Act and about Bill C-10. These measures provide for new legal powers, but no real powers for the Competition Bureau.

Industries and the public need to be protected, but the real problem lies in identifying the guilty parties. If the bureau does not have the authority to make an inquiry, then it cannot apprehend them. Yet the government is refusing to give it that authority. If it cannot initiate an inquiry, it cannot issue fines. But that is not all. in 1869, just after Canada was founded, the Competition Bureau was given certain powers, which gradually increased.

Did members know that in 1976 the investigative powers that we are currently asking be granted to the Competition Bureau were already included in the legislation? This is not new. In 1976, under section 47, the director of the Competition Bureau could independently launch an inquiry into the existence and impact of conditions or practices related to the product being investigated. Who took this power away from him?

This bill aims to give the director of the Competition Bureau the power to investigate. Who was in power in 1986? Brian Mulroney's Conservative government. When the Competition Bureau was restructured, that government took away some of its investigative powers. We simply want to reinstate the investigative powers taken away by the Conservatives in 1986.

There were also claims that section 47 had been repealed, at least partially, as a result of objections expressed by the business community. In 1981, the oil sector was investigated to determine whether there was any collusion among the oil companies. The Competition Bureau's power to investigate was taken away because companies complained to the government that it was too expensive, that the government was spending far too much money to protect consumers. They wanted the Competition Bureau's power to investigate to be taken away, so that industries would no longer have to worry and could do whatever they want. That is what we hope to correct with this bill.

I have three, four or five more points to raise. For instance, the price of gas is higher in some regions than in others. Why does a litre of gas cost $1.05 in Granby and only $1.00 or $1.01 just a few kilometres away? It is not complicated; the price varies depending on the population base. The more residents there are in a municipality, the higher the price of gas. The industry tries to tell us that the price is not the same everywhere and there is competition.

There is no competition. There are fewer people, so it is cheaper.

In conclusion, I hope my colleagues will vote to send this bill to committee.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Motion agreed to.

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

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

Suspension of SittingCompetition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The House is now suspended until 12 o'clock for government orders.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:53 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:00 p.m.)

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

moved that Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Museums Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be here to begin the debate on Bill C-34, a bill that will amend the Museums Act to create a new national museum, the Canadian museum of immigration, at Pier 21 in Halifax.

Investing in Canada's national museum was a commitment our government made during the campaign. Creating a new national museum at Pier 21 in Halifax was a commitment we made in the throne speech adopted by this House. We are proud to bring this bill before the House. It will confirm Pier 21 as the second national museum created in 40 years, and the second national museum outside of the national capital.

No country in the world has benefited more than Canada has from our immigration regime. As the Prime Minister said in Halifax at Pier 21 last June:

In every region...new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life....Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.

Our government believes in our national museums and recognizes their tremendous value to Canadians. We want Canadians and visitors to Canada to have access to our rich heritage. The Canadian museum of immigration at Pier 21 will help recognize and celebrate the experience of immigrants arriving in Canada, the fundamental role immigrants have played in building Canada and their contributions to Canada's identity and all aspects of Canadian society. The museum will be a significant symbol of Canada's contributions and commitment to pluralism and the role of immigration in shaping Canadian identity.

This new museum will be located at the historic Pier 21 site in the Halifax seaport. That site holds very special memories for the one in five Canadians who can trace their lineage back to Pier 21. It is the port through which, between 1928 and 1971, their families immigrated to Canada. It is the port that saw more than 500,000 members of Canada's armed forces embark to defend Canada's values in the second world war.

I would like to congratulate the leaders of the Pier 21 museum, who deserve recognition for their enthusiasm for and contributions to this project and its remarkable achievement. They include Ruth Goldbloom, chair of the Pier 21 Foundation and one of the original driving forces behind the creation of the Pier 21 museum; John Oliver and Wadih Fares, the current and past chairs of the Pier 21 Society; and of course, Bob Moody, the current CEO of Pier 21.

The Canadian museum of immigration at Pier 21 will pay tribute to a mission that affects all of Canada. It will tell the story of Canadians who entered the country through the Vancouver gateway at the end of the 19th century. It will tell the story of the first nations whose ancestral knowledge of the land helped newcomers to survive. It will speak to the new Canadians who have arrived recently at the Montreal, Toronto or Calgary airports.

It speaks to Canadians whose ancestors took the dangerous journey, represented by the Underground Railroad. It is a mission that speaks to all Canadians and to our values.

Until 2008, all national museums were located in the national capital region, despite the fact that the Museums Act clearly states that the head office for a national museum can be anywhere in Canada.

This government recognizes that our national museums belong to all Canadians. Under this government, funding for our national museums has never been higher. In every one of our government's budgets, we have increased funding for the national museums. Not only is funding at its highest level under the leadership of the Prime Minister, but our government has also created two new national museums; one in Winnipeg and one in Halifax.

The executive director of the Canadian Museums Association, John McAvity, said recently about our support for museums at Canadian Heritage that the Prime Minister “deserves credit for delivering new funds--indeed, the largest new investment in culture in recent memory”.

Pier 21 will draw on the model that has been well tested for our long-serving national museums. This legislation will establish the museum as a federal crown corporation with the same status as other national museums. It will be accountable to Parliament, and its board of trustees will be appointed by the government in accordance with the Museums Act.

Just like other national museums, it will offer its services in both of Canada's official languages, and it will have an obligation to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities.

The bill will ensure that the museum will begin, as soon as it is created, to develop the public programming that reflects its mandate.

Our museum of immigration at Pier 21 is only the sixth national museum to be created in 143 years since Confederation. This museum is about the people of Canada, and it is for the people of Canada. It will belong to all Canadians, and I am proud to present this enabling legislation on behalf of the government.

Finally, I would like to add that I am very proud to work with all the opposition parties on this legislation to ensure that it passes in a non-partisan and effective way. Of course, partisanship is what gets highlighted in the daily news, but the reality is that when members of Parliament see a common goal and something that is clearly in the best interest of all Canadians, we can rally around certain key projects. I think all parties did that with regard to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and I think we have done so again here with regard to Pier 21, Canada's national museum for immigration.

This is a good project. It comes from the greatest sentiments that are at the root of Canada's history. We want to cherish the fact that Canada is, always has been, and will continue to be a country of immigrants. We are very proud to sponsor this legislation and to have the full support of the members of the opposition parties.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-34, an act to create a national museum at Pier 21 in Halifax-Dartmouth. I am very pleased to give my personal support to this bill.

Before I continue, Madam Speaker, I would like to ask for consent to split my time with the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Does the hon. Leader of the Opposition have the unanimous consent of the House to split his time?

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rising today to speak on behalf of this project.

I spent a very happy Friday morning at Pier 21, as it happens, with that force of nature, Ruth Goldbloom, and Wadih Fares and all the incredible civic leaders of Halifax who have made this dream a reality.

I want to announce the support of my party for this wonderful project, but I also stand for a very personal reason. One of the greatest things about Pier 21 as a project is that it contains all the records of Canada's immigration service in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, not just for the port of entry at Halifax but for the ports of entry at Quebec City and Montreal and other ports of entry. Therefore, all Canadians will be able to go to Pier 21 and find the place where their part in the national story begins.

That is what happened to me on Friday. I asked Pier 21 whether they could locate a certain George Ignatieff, age 15, who came ashore in Canada in Quebec City in September 1928. I wanted to find the moment at which my family's story began in Canada. Thanks to the wonderful researchers at Pier 2, they went down the long columns of those admission registers, and they found that young 15-year-old, my father.

It is meaningful to me to stand in this great Parliament and acknowledge with gratitude what Canada has done for my family. I think that everyone who goes to this great national museum, everyone whose life started as an immigrant, who started the new adventure in Canada, will find this museum especially moving, especially emotional, because it is the place where when we study all those records, Canadians can find the moment when their dream began.

For that reason, I feel especially proud to stand as the leader of this party and urge the House to give rapid assent to this marvellous bill so that we can create a museum that will allow all Canadians the joy and pleasure that I enjoyed on Friday. Thanks to the work of Ruth Goldbloom and Wadih Fares and that wonderful team, all Canadian families will enjoy that moment of thrill, discovery, and emotion I experienced on Friday.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, it has always been my view that every Canadian should, at least once in their lifetime, attend a citizenship ceremony, to see the pride of new Canadians, to hear them take the citizenship oath and to stand ramrod straight and sing O Canada. Whether born in Canada or, like myself, come to Canada at a young age, one cannot help but be absolutely touched and amazed by the pride and the passion of those who have chosen Canada.

Every Canada Day, a citizenship ceremony is held at Pier 21, and a more perfect union could never be made. New Canadians from all over the world become citizens on the very ground that started the Canadian journey for so many others.

As the first nation to embrace multiculturalism as a national policy, it seems natural that we would have the National Museum of Immigration, but it has only come about through vision, dedication and unrelenting hard work.

Many people played a big role in the evolution of Pier 21. It is not possible to pay tribute to all of the volunteers, donors, partners and staff, but if there is one thing that ever person who ever worked for Pier 21 could agree on, it is that Ruth Goldbloom is the driving force, the heart and soul, the energy that made Pier 21 come back to life.

In 1989 Mr. Leblanc asked her to join the Pier 21 Society and in 1993 she became its president. At the time, Pier 21 was a dusty, empty old shed on the waterfront that reeked of history, and likely reeked of much else, but seemed an unlikely candidate to be chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of Canada. However, Ruth could see something and, more important, she could translate that vision to others. She not only encouraged people to get involved, she appreciated everybody who ever helped with Pier 21, whether they worked in the gift shop or whether they gave $1 million.

The most remarkable thing, in fact, about Ruth Goldbloom's leadership is her sincere belief that she is genuinely privileged to have been able to serve. When she speaks of people like Bill Snooey of the Dutch Reformed Church, who visited Pier 21 when it was an old shed on the harbour and how she connected with him and his ancestors, we get a sense of her humility and her connection to those who loved Pier 21.

Pier 21 is more than just a special place or an historic place. To many, it is an honoured place and to some it a sacred place. Thousands of Canadians, such as my leader, connect to ancestors at Pier 21. It helps to make them whole. Indeed, Pier 21 helps to make Canada whole.

Today is a special day. I would not be surprised if Ruth Goldbloom, who once was known as Nova Scotia's Shirley Temple, does not have a little celebratory dance tonight, with John Oliver, Wadih Fares, Bob Moody and the many others who are celebrating. This is a special day. Parliament has come together to honour our past, to celebrate our great country today and to prepare for a bright future and let Pier 21 take its rightful place as Canada's National Museum of Immigration.

Congratulations to everybody.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-34, establishing the national museum of immigration in Halifax. The Bloc Québécois is dedicated to the interests and the defence of Quebec, a role that we have fulfilled effectively for 20 years. Any attempt by the federal government—indeed, any temptation it may have—to weaken Quebec's powers, meddle in its jurisdictions or go against its interests will be opposed by the Bloc Québécois. Let there be no mistake about that.

Having said that, the Bloc Québécois's role in Ottawa is not and never has been to hinder the development of Canada's provinces. As the Bloc Québécois official languages critic, I have always worked very hard for the francophone and Acadian communities of Canada and listened carefully to Quebec anglophones. Once again this year, it was this openness to the rest of Canada that led the Bloc Québécois leader to tour English Canada to increase awareness about our ideas.

My point is that the Bloc Québécois supports the creation of an immigration museum in Halifax. Moreover, it agrees that this matter should be handled swiftly in order for Nova Scotians and tourists alike to benefit from it as quickly as possible.

I will come back to the museum in a moment, because I must point out that it is very unfortunate that the government has not acted as swiftly with the Science and Technology Museum.

Twenty-eight years ago, the federal government made a promise to the people of the Outaouais that it would move the Science and Technology Museum to Gatineau. The unfortunate closure in 2007 of the Domtar mill, the oldest pulp and paper mill in Canada and Quebec, housed in the old E.B. Eddy plant in the Hull sector, was a tragedy for many forestry workers in Gatineau. The government could turn this tragedy into something more positive by relocating the Science and Technology Museum to this heritage building. The old match factory could be revived, in a way.

Michelle Guitard, a historian and specialist in industrial heritage, agreed in an article that appeared on the website ruefrontenac.com on January 24, 2010, and I quote:

The federal government must acquire this site...It cannot let this go. [If it were to do so,] it would show that the government has absolutely no sense of what made Canada what it is today, the importance of the first nations and of the pulp and paper industry.

On February 16, Michel Prévost, the chair of the Outaouais historical society, spoke to Radio-Canada about developing the Chaudière Falls sector and transferring the Science and Technology Museum to Gatineau. He said, “Let us hope that this dream will become a reality sooner rather than later”.

Just this morning, the following article appeared on page 8 of Le Droit:

Officials responsible for the [Gatineau science and technology museum] project must now consider wedging the museum inside an abandoned paper factory dating from the mid-1800s. Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show officials have already begun surveying the old E.B. Eddy Co. factory in Gatineau as a possible location for the museum.

The documents suggest that the location meets the needs of the new museum because it includes elements of past, present and future and it is close to downtown.

The collections are currently located in an industrial park far from the downtown core, inside a bakery warehouse the federal government bought in 1967. The location was intended to be temporary, but 43 years later the Canada Science and Technology Museum remains a national orphan.

This contrasts with statements from the Conservative minister responsible for the Outaouais, the member for Pontiac, who is being a real killjoy on this issue.

People in Saint-Constant have been waiting for Exporail to be recognized as the national railway museum since 2007. A report about that from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage was adopted in the House on March 1, 2007, but since then, for some unknown reason, the federal government has done nothing.

My colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant pushed hard for that recognition. She is still pushing for it. But unfortunately, recognition does not seem to mean much to this government. Maybe the Conservatives think that they have more to gain from the immigration museum in Halifax than from Exporail in Saint-Constant or from transferring the Science and Technology Museum to Gatineau.

The point is that this government has done nothing to develop federal museums in Quebec.

That being said, an immigration museum is a good idea. In order to know where we are going, we should know where we come from.

Because of Quebec's minority situation, immigration has always had a special status and a special role to play. As Louis Balthazar told the Bouchard-Taylor commission:

Quebeckers have experienced ethnic pluralism for a long time: aboriginals, Scottish and Irish anglophones, Jews, Italians, etc.

But, because of the Durham report, immigration was perceived as necessarily favouring the anglophone minority. Consequently, beginning in 1840, French Canadians turned inward while still living under British rule and being influenced by both the British model and American ideas. Most immigrants were English-speaking.

As a result, it was alarming to realize that the birth rate was dropping, especially at a time when francophone Quebeckers wanted to establish themselves as the majority in Quebec.

Something new has been happening since the end of the 1960s. An immigration department was established. Federal-provincial agreements were signed outlining the Quebec government's role in immigration: in 1971, a presence in federal offices; 1975, Quebec offices overseas; 1978, selection; 1990, welcome and integration. Quebec's 1975.

Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and 1977 Charter of the French Language are the two pillars of modern Quebec society and lay the foundations for the harmonious integration of immigrants.

Will this particular dimension of immigrant integration and the fear that it created in under-educated Quebec, notably due to the mass arrival of anglophones, be reflected in this new museum in Halifax?

Will the bitter negotiations between Quebec and Ottawa to allow Quebec to control immigration based on its own interest and the integration of immigrants into a French society within North America be presented in this new museum in Halifax?

We cannot forget that, for close to 20 years, Quebec negotiated with the federal government in order to acquire more power over the selection and integration of its immigrants. Four administrative agreements were signed by the Quebec government and Ottawa to this effect.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak today in support of Bill C-34. This bill would create Canada's new national museum of immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.

Pier 21 is many things to many people. It is a place of historical value, a literal gateway to Canada for many Canadian families. It is also a wonderful museum that has captured the story of immigration for all of us to share. As someone who lives in Halifax, it is also a living, breathing community space in Halifax, hosting celebratory dinners, inspiring lectures, and coming full circle to host quite a few citizenship ceremonies for new Canadians.

Today we have the opportunity to bring Pier 21 and all that it represents into the family of national museums. Naming Pier 21 as a national museum is a testament to Canada's history as a place of refuge, a place of new beginnings and a place of hope. Canada has been and will continue to be defined by how we treat those who come to our country seeking asylum, a safe haven or a better life. This museum will be a breathing interactive symbol of human rights, and economic and social justice.

The history of Pier 21 is remarkable and has touched virtually every family in every region in Canada. We can learn so much from the different stories that are told through the history of Pier 21. Each story tells about a different era of Canadian immigration, a different school of thought, and illustrates changes to the role that Canada played in the international community.

One thing is clear from any visit to Pier 21: the history of immigration in Canada is two-sided. It is both a history to be proud of but at times a history where pride is overshadowed by racist or classist policies. But it is a history that we can be honest about and a history that we can learn from.

During the potato famine of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the city of York, now Toronto, accepted 50,000 Irish refugees, a total greater than the city's population. The city could have rejected these refugees because many of them were seriously ill and public health issues were not very well understood or well managed in Canada. The city of York welcomed these refugees and provided them with treatment and a place to call home.

Only a few decades later in the 1930s many Jewish refugees were sent away. They were refused entry for pretty dubious reasons, reasons that were rooted in discrimination, bigotry and apathy. Only 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted. I would like members to think of the thousands of lives that could have been saved if we had opened our doors to more than that. To say this is a black mark on Canadian history is an understatement. The realities of the government decision were difficult to rationalize after the extent of the Holocaust was fully understood by the end of World War II.

Yet, history repeated itself again in 1914 when the Komagata Maru was turned around, sending some of its Indian passengers to their deaths, and denying all of them the freedoms that those decision-makers clearly took for granted themselves.

These are difficult stories, but they are a part of our history. We can learn from these stories which are well displayed and explained at Pier 21.

I have seen firsthand how the stories told at Pier 21 have touched people. A friend of mine who was visiting Halifax thought he would stop by Pier 21 on the morning he was flying out because he had heard so much about it. He did not have a personal connection to Pier 21. Neither his parents nor his grandparents had arrived at this port, but he thought he would spend a bit of time there before his flight. He became so wrapped up in the museum that he actually ended up missing his flight later that day. That is the kind of effect this museum can have on people.

A couple of summers ago my father and stepmother came out to Halifax for a visit and we went to the museum. We had a nice time exploring. On the way out we thought we would stop by the research centre and see what it was all about. Before long, with an approximation of the spelling of my stepmother's grandfather's last name, we found her family records. Her grandfather had travelled alone on a steamship with $10 in his pocket. Her grandmother arrived later with the children, including her father. It was such a surprise. We had no intention of doing a family search when we went in. The research centre staff were helpful and welcoming, and the information was easy to access. It is an incredible centre. What was intended to be a half hour stop at a museum turned in to several very emotional hours unravelling a family history. This is what Pier 21 does for people.

My own family shares a history of immigration to Canada as well, like many people here in the House. My grandfather, Tauno Paavola, came to Canada, also alone, on a ship that arrived in Montreal. In Montreal, without knowing a word of English, he was loaded on to a train with a placard put around his neck that had a strange English word on it. The same thing happened to a friend from the same village back in Finland, but he had a different word. They soon realized that this word represented the name of a town where they were to be settled: Winnipeg and Edmonton. My grandfather knew that there were Finlanders in Toronto, so as the train approached Toronto, he actually jumped the train and set off on foot to find other Finns.

Eventually, my grandfather made enough money to send for my grandmother, my mother and my uncles. He worked hard as a carpenter and an underground miner, and in one generation, he was able to send his kids to college and university, and the second generation saw me become the second Finnish Canadian member of Parliament in Canada's history. I am sure it was well beyond my grandfather's imagination when he was on that ship, taking the overseas journey from Finland to Canada.

Pier 21 tells us stories like this, the stories of migration to Canada, and it does it in a thoughtful, truthful and inspiring way. It is only right that it become our national museum of immigration.

I would like to take a moment to recognize and celebrate the contributions of the hundreds of people who have worked to create this special place, dedicating their time, their money and their passion. That effort, like that of Canada's immigrants, was made for us all. Collecting, preserving and sharing the stories of those who arrived in Canada, in Halifax, has always been the goal of the Pier 21 Society, and I think it should be a goal of ours. This simple immigration shed on the Halifax waterfront is a place people do not just visit, but to which they make a pilgrimage. As a national museum, it will reach many more people and tell stories. It will honour all Canadians.

Like my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, I would like to recognize the tireless efforts of Ruth Goldbloom, a woman who made Pier 21 the incredible museum that we love.

It is important to note that the historical collection at Pier 21 already contains stories and memories from all ports of entry in Canada from families across the country. It is well suited to be a museum of national focus, but with very special regional significance.

At Pier 21, programs like “Community Presents” and “Diversity Spotlight” ensure that the programming is tied to all aspects of the Halifax community, and the local and regional multicultural communities. The Pier 21 programming slate includes educational tools for teachers and parents, multicultural fairs, summer camps, and public lectures. It is truly a place of learning and sharing, and as a national museum it will bring this element of community development to a broader level. These are not just words on paper. This is something that people in Halifax get to experience and see every day.

I am very proud that parties were able to work together to expedite the passage of the bill. Through its passage, we will send a message to everyone who chose and everyone who will choose to make Canada their home and that Canada is a better place with them in it.

Creating Canada's New National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 10, 2010, Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Museums Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage, and read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from June 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and sent to a committee.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise on this very important Bill C-23. In the few minutes that are mine, I will try to describe the Criminal Records Act and what they are trying to do with Bill C-23.

I want to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois and I feel that this bill is probably not necessary to protect victims, because they are already adequately protected by the Criminal Records Act.

There was an incident, and we all know how today's fine government reacts. A hockey coach, Graham James, committed some really terrible acts, for which he was sentenced. He served a prison term for sexual assault on two well-known hockey players, Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury. He served his time, was released, and now lives in Mexico. He got a pardon and the government blew a fuse because it thinks he should never have been able to do this.

I will define what a criminal record is for the benefit of the people listening to us. It is created after someone commits a crime. I should say right away that someone who commits a traffic offence or a hunting or fishing offence does not get a criminal record. Those are offences against provincial laws, or even some federal laws, such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act. There is no criminal record in those cases. A record is created when someone commits a criminal offence and pleads guilty after having seen the evidence or is found guilty after a trial. I will give an example to explain.

Someone is sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation for armed robbery of a bank. As soon as the sentence is spoken, he automatically gets a criminal record for the rest of his days. Theoretically, he will be stained for life, but the stain can be removed. I will get back to that in a moment. What is important to emphasize is that a person who has been sentenced will have a criminal record that will follow him for the rest of his days, unless he gets a pardon.

It is called a pardon, but actually it is more like a suspended criminal record. A person who was pardoned, in everyday legal jargon, if asked about any prior convictions, does not have to say he has a record. The government wants to change this system by introducing a bill to suspend criminal records. Why? A person who is sentenced to five years in prison plus three years of probation has a criminal record. The government says not enough concern is shown for the victims, but that is not true. The Criminal Records Act gives the National Parole Board all the power it needs to ensure that people who get pardons are entitled to them and have earned them.

In the case we are concerned with, it is not true that anyone can get a pardon quickly and automatically. That is not how things work in real life.

An individual is sentenced to imprisonment for five years with three years’ probation, which makes a total of eight years. That is easy to count. The individual has to wait five more years before being able to make an application for a pardon, or, as we are calling it here, an application for a record suspension.

How does it work in real life? The individual serves their sentence, and then they are paroled, subject to conditions, and are still supervised until the end of the five-year sentence. The three years’ probation that the judge ordered when they were sentenced is added. So after serving the five-year sentence, three years are added, during which the individual must keep the peace, be of good behaviour and report to an officer, as the law provides and as the court may direct. The conditions of probation are set by the court.

Let us assume that all goes well, the individual serves his sentence, is released, is a good person, is reintegrated into society, and after three years’ probation has committed no offences and has not breached parole in any way. The individual will then have to wait five years, because that is what the law provides.

For a crime committed by an individual at the age of 18 or 19 or 20, which unfortunately happens all too often, that individual will be under judicial oversight for the next 13 years, at least: a five-year sentence and three years’ probation, plus five more years, because he has to wait five years before applying for a pardon.

All of that absolutely does not happen automatically. The opposite is true. In my former life, when I practised criminal law, I represented people like that, and we filled out the forms. An individual can apply for a pardon on his own, but he can also have a lawyer to help. Generally, the individual gets assistance because the procedure is very lengthy. When I say very lengthy, that is a minimum, and it varies considerably based on the crime committed.

I will come back to the example of armed robbery that I gave at the beginning of my speech, for which the offender was sentenced to five years with three years’ probation. Generally, the National Parole Board will examine the individual’s case very carefully before granting a record suspension, to use the term in the bill. Even in sexual assault cases, the board that grants the suspension does a lot of checking.

The individual must first apply, fill out a form and send his criminal record, fingerprints and recent photos to the nearest RCMP office, which forwards it to the board. At that time, an investigation is carried out. This investigation is not necessarily public because it is the individual who has applied. All police forces in Canada, Quebec and all other provinces are contacted to verify whether this individual may, by chance, be hiding offences to which he has pleaded guilty or has been found guilty of. Naturally, if this is the case, this individual's application for pardon or record suspension will be rejected. He will then have to wait a long time to be pardoned.

Thus, the individual files an application, which is forwarded and then studied. All police forces are contacted to determine whether or not the individual has other offences that he has not disclosed. If there are none, it can take between six and eighteen months. In my experience, it takes a minimum of one year before the individual is notified that his pardon, or record suspension, has been granted.

Thus, this is a very long process. The Bloc Québécois will agree to study Bill C-23 in committee because we must carefully examine how to proceed. I have to say one thing. Unfortunately, someone with a criminal record is marked. This is what generally, and unfortunately quite often, happens. Take the example of an individual who, at the age of 18, commits a break and enter and is sentenced to a few weeks or months in jail, plus one year of probation. Everyone in this House knows that we have a propensity to forget. The individual is sentenced and then later forgets about it. A few years later, he applies for a job. Therein lies the problem with not obtaining a record suspension or pardon. Some jobs are not open to those with a criminal record. They cannot be a member of the bar, and therefore a lawyer or notary, nor can they be a doctor or surgeon. Some universities ask if applicants have a criminal record. Those who have forgotten to declare it will be automatically rejected.

This is something we want to check when this bill goes to committee. We should not do anything to hurt someone who is rehabilitated. We are going to agree on that. I just said that big, important word, “rehabilitated”. The Conservatives always say we are more concerned about offenders than victims. Individuals who are entitled to a record suspension are those who have truly been rehabilitated. They have recognized their problems, dealt with them, served their sentence and been pardoned; they have paid their debt to society. We need to stop getting carried away. Obviously, someone who has been charged with and convicted of murder may have a great deal of difficulty getting a record suspension. The offender is convicted and serves a 25-year sentence. This bill does not target these people. It is aimed much more at petty criminals. I am in no way suggesting we should pardon every crime without checking.

With respect, I believe a person can be rehabilitated. We all know people who have made foolish mistakes in their youth, and I can give some examples. In my former life as a criminal lawyer, I had clients who had driven while impaired and unfortunately had been in an accident. I can tell you that this is traumatic, but on top of the crime he has committed and the wrong he has done to a victim, the offender receives a sentence. However, he will likely be able to obtain a pardon for this sentence once he is completely rehabilitated.

We need to be careful not to deprive individuals of the right to a record suspension if they have made every effort to rehabilitate themselves. This is what worries me about this bill, and we will have to look at it very carefully in committee.

I agree that we need to be tough on criminals, but do we need to be as tough on someone who is completely rehabilitated? I have an example. I represented someone who was sentenced to 36 months in prison for eight break and enters. This person has been completely rehabilitated since then and today works as an expert mechanic. If he had not been pardoned, he never would have been able to get this job.

That is the problem with this bill. We must not deny a rehabilitated individual a decent job if he has served his prison term and successfully completed his probation under supervision. Such a person is completely rehabilitated and after spending some time in society, is entitled to have his youthful mistakes erased.

Some people will point out that there are mature individuals, 40 or 50 years old, who commit sexual assault. With all due respect to my opponents, this bill is not intended for those individuals. A criminal who commits offence after offence is not the focus of this bill. I have some examples. A repeat offender will never receive a pardon. His criminal record will never be suspended. This bill is for individuals who have made a mistake or two over an extended period.

Unfortunately in our society, many people make mistakes and keep making mistakes. Many university applications and job applications ask the applicant if they have ever been convicted of a criminal offence. Having successfully applied for a pardon—or a record suspension—the individual is not required to answer that question. He can say he has never been convicted. By virtue of serving his sentence, resolving his problems with society and receiving a pardon from the governor in council, the individual's record is suspended. That is what we will be looking at in this bill in the coming weeks and months, if we are given the opportunity to do so.

Another aspect of this bill causes me great concern. Someone who is pulled over and suspected of driving while impaired would be taken to the station and asked to do a breathalyzer test. He gets a result of 0.7, which is not so bad, but he would be charged with impaired driving. His fingerprints would be taken and so would his photo. That is what could happen under this bill.

This is completely unacceptable and goes against the charter, under which a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This aspect of the bill should be withdrawn. A person's fingerprints and photo cannot be taken if they have not been found guilty or if they have not pleaded guilty. This bill would change that process and that is unacceptable. We think this is very dangerous. This aspect will have to be explored further.

For now, we are voting in favour of this bill so that it can be studied in committee.