House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was funding.


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5:55 p.m.


Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, very eloquently my colleague from Abbottsford explained why we need this bill to protect Canadians. He explained how other countries have similar bills. He mentioned the United Kingdom and Australia. An important part of this bill would be what he talked about: the safeguards and the checks and balances. Perhaps my colleague could further explain some of the checks and balances and the safeguards in this bill.

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5:55 p.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, there are safeguards. We looked to the Australian model and the U.K. model. We realized that the period of detention might not necessarily meet with the favour required to pass the legislation. There are provisions that provide for a short period of detention in order to get at the information that our authorities need to prevent terrorist acts from occurring in Canada. I am confident that Bill C-17 is reasonable, temperate, and modest. I believe Canadians will understand what we are trying to do here. It is all about providing our police authorities and our investigative authorities with the additional tools they need to protect Canadians.

We do not hear much from the other side of this House about victims. We do not hear much from them about protecting the public. I believe the focus of this House of Commons needs to return to the sacred trust that is imposed on each one of us, and that is to stand up for protecting our citizens against violence, crime, and terrorism.

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6 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to beg your indulgence today. The allergies are getting the upper hand on me. I am hearing things in this place that throw me for a loop, but I am comforted by the words of an amateur politician from many years ago who said, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half what you see”. That amateur politician was Abraham Lincoln.

In this debate and for the last number of years, we have seen the abuse of the word “terrorist”. The justifications for sacrificing of the rights of Canadians on the altar of terrorism, and fighting the war on terror, are reprehensible. Recently, I was sitting in my home, watching a ship full of Tamils coming to our west coast seeking refuge. I remember the government standing up and saying that terrorists were aboard that vessel. If that was true, the government should have stopped the ship long before it ever got to Canada. What evidence did it have?

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6 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, please.

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6 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Go ahead, I will wait. I will pause. I am quite thrilled to pause.

The reality is that the government had no evidence at that time. This is the issue before us today, the fundamental rights that we have in this country. When we are accused, we have a right to see our accuser, to see the evidence against us. All this was trashed and thrown away in the name of terrorism. The fundamental rights of Canadians were thrown away.

We hear, in the debate today, one of the people from the Conservative side of this House saying that if we had only had these laws in place we probably would not have had the Air India tragedy. That is offensive to the victims of the Air India tragedy. Those people know better. Those people know that the investigation was fumbled.

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6 p.m.


Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

That is what the chair of the Air India association said.

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6 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Pardon me, but I gave you your turn. You give me my turn.

Mr. Speaker, it is a fundamental offence to the people who have suffered. The government and these members talk endlessly about the rights of victims and the concern for victims. In this place is where we protect the victims, where we work together, or should work together, to protect them. In this debate, on something so fundamental as the rights of Canadians, the long gun registry is tossed in, the long form is tossed in. Anything to score crass political points is tossed into this debate.

Are they really standing up for Canadians? I do not think so.

In our history as a country, we have failed Canadians. We have failed people from around the world. There have been times in this country, in the second world war, where we detained our own citizens. Subsequently, we had to apologize. In my home community of Hamilton, in the spring of this year, there was a gathering of folks well into their eighties, remembering how they were interned and how their fathers and grandfathers of Italian descent were interned. That was a mistake that seemed to be right at the time, because people were fearful.

Again in 1970, watching television one night, 48 hours after Mr. Pierre Laporte and another gentleman from the British consulate were taken hostage, we had the War Measures Act proclaimed against Canadians. It was not against those people who today might be called terrorists. It was against Canadians. They went into the law offices. They went into offices of labour unions and took files that had absolutely nothing to do with it. That was a time when there was free rein in this country to do whatever one wanted, in the name of the War Measures Act.

We are sitting here today, looking at another place in history, another opportunity to say to ourselves that maybe, just maybe, because we have not used this since we put this act into place, it may not be necessary.

Earlier today, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh was talking about the War Measures Act. He said that we have learned in the last eight years that there was no need for that legislation. The justice minister said today that we might need it.

If it were not for the fact that we are dealing with fundamental human rights and liberties, there might be some merit to this and some logic to the argument, but these two sections of the anti-terrorist legislation contain a serious incursion into rights that have existed in this country since pre-Confederation, rights that go back 400 or 500 years.

As this debate continues in this, Canada's home of law and justice, our House of Commons, I want to give a brief history lesson that puts in place what the member for Windsor—Tecumseh was talking about. This is going to sound strange in the beginning, I assure everyone.

What happened in the year 1215? What was the major event of 1215? Of course none of us sits around thinking about it, but it was the Magna Carta. It was issued in that year and then issued later in the 13th century, a modified version. At the time, it had removed certain temporary provisions. Is everyone now hearing the words “temporary provisions”?

The bill that we are addressing, Bill C-17, had a sunset clause. I often find fault with the official opposition, but it did one thing right in the moment of fear following 9/11 when we were wondering what we should do as a country. Opposition members knew they were going to try to put into place legislation that would allow incursion into the rights of Canadians. When they did that, they said maybe it was not something that should be permanent, so they put in a sunset clause. The Supreme Court of this country ruled on it, as everyone will recall, and that is part of the reason we are here today.

I want to take everyone back to the Magna Carta. The charter was first passed into law in 1225 and then again in 1297 with the long title, “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest”, which remains in the statutes of England and Wales.

People will remember that in 1215 King John was the king of England. It was his barons who forced him to proclaim those certain liberties. It is amazing that he had to accept that his will was not arbitrary. He accepted that no free man, which was the language of the day I say to my sisters here today, could be punished except through the law of the land. That is a right that exists to this day. That is the right that our veterans have fought for in conflict after conflict. It is enshrined in law in almost all the democracies of the world. No free man could be punished except through the law of the land.

What do we have today? In the name of terror, terrorism, or whatever the latest word is, we are going to change the law of the land to take away, permanently, the rights of Canadians. In Parliament, our home for establishing laws for Canada, following 9/11 we strayed from the goals of the Magna Carta. Maybe, just maybe, we began acting a little too much like King John and others who would seek too much control.

We saw a similar thing occur in the United States. I can still recall, following 9/11, the picture of the Congress and the Senate gathered together. They had been under attack. Several thousand people died and it was a country that was very worried about what was coming next, and rightfully so.

Nobody in this place will try to minimize the fact that there are people in the world who seek to do destructive things. The hardest balance that any government has to make, the one that faced this House of Commons about nine years ago, was to balance rights against protecting the people.

We have had nearly 10 years now where it has not been needed. Even though the sunset clause did not run its course properly, we could get into the why of that, but I think I will pass on that.

Where once the king, or in our case, Parliament, was tasked with protecting the liberties of its citizens, the government of the day set out to legally circumvent the rights inherent to all Canadians.

The Magna Carta was forced on an English king by a group of his barons. It was done in an attempt to limit his powers.

Here we are today, doing the reverse of that. We are trying to increase the subversive kind of powers of government, those powers that we do not want to have hidden behind doors.

In this place I have defended Omar Khadr repeatedly and called upon the government to do the right thing in Omar Khadr's case. My point is that if we look at Guantanamo Bay and how the United States government moved to Guantanamo to avoid being subject to the laws of its country and they still call it a democratic country, we are here today talking about doing something similar. We are not setting up a hidden place; we are doing it in the House, no doubt. However, in the year 1100, there was a Charter of Liberties, when King Henry I had to specify particular areas where he would allow his power to be impinged upon, or be pushed back, or be controlled. That was at the behest of the people, one more time.

The people in my riding who have talked to me repeatedly about the injustices that we saw with the Japanese in World War II, the Italians in World War II, the Komagata Maru at the turn of the 20th century and other mistakes that were made in Canada say, “Beware. Be cautious. Be careful. Do not so cavalierly give away the rights of Canadian citizens”.

In the 13th century, to refer again to the outcomes of the Magna Carta, nearly all of its clauses had been repealed by that time. We should think about that for a second. We had, back in the 12th and 13th century, a move toward rights and freedoms for people, and over the next centuries they were repealed and pulled back.

However, there were three main clauses that remained part of the law of England and Wales, and to a great extent they are to be found elsewhere in the world because they are the fundamental basis of so many important things in law.

Lord Denning described it as the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of a despot.

They were thinking in terms of a monarchy, but when a government, any government, gives itself too much control, it is setting itself up for that accusation.

In the year 2005, in a speech, Lord Woolf described the Magna Carta as:

the first of a series of instruments that now are recognised as having a special constitutional status.

The three things that were important were the right of habeas corpus, or the Habeas Corpus Act; the Petition of Right; and the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement.

However, if we think in terms of habeas corpus, if we think in terms of what I started this speech talking about, the right of a person, a Canadian, to know the evidence against them, to face their accuser in a court of law, and to have the apprehension of that individual done in conformity with the laws of Canada, we had the situation recently of the Toronto 18. We had the apprehension of those folks. It went through the process and we had a turn of guilt in one instance. We have had, right here in this community, other arrests that have taken place.

I want to go back again to the charter as an important part of the extension of history's process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English-speaking world.

I keep talking about the foundation of our rights. In practice, the Magna Carta in the medieval period did not, in general, limit the power of the kings. However, by the time of the English Civil War, it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show the king or queen that they were bound by law.

What does this ancient document have to do with limiting the power of kings, and how has that happened within the structure of Bill C-17?

It seems that with the government, on this issue, as with the previous Liberal government, the rights of Canadians were denigrated and dismissed in the name of the war on terror. To the credit of the Parliament that sought to limit the rights of Canadians under the Anti-terrorism Act, the government added the sunset clause, which was referred to earlier, to see an end to these abuses in the year 2007.

Today the Conservative government argues that it needs the same oppressive tools again, those that we find today in Bill C-17. I would argue that the provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code are effective enough. Again, I refer to the Toronto 18. We had arrests and we had convictions in those cases.

In Canada we are not required to give testimony that incriminates us. Being a child brought up in the 1950s, I always called that the fifth amendment, because I did not realize that we were referring to the United States. It is a fundamental aspect of justice. One is not required to incriminate oneself.

We have rights under habeas corpus. We have the right to a speedy trial, to see the evidence against us, and to meet our accusers face to face. I would ask whether the members present are prepared to sacrifice the rights given to free people that have been in place since the time of the Magna Carta, that have evolved over the history of this country and other primarily English-speaking countries, the so-called British Empire countries.

Those are our roots. That is who we are. Again, the question is whether we will allow the government to become like the court of a kingdom that represents the interests of the king. Do we know any kings in this place? Will we stand with and for great Canadians everywhere?

In terms of the change in this country and the change that has happened to Canadian citizens as brought about by this government, there is a change in the fundamental direction and attitude of services provided and the protection of Canadian citizens, such as the G20 protection of Canadian citizens. I am sure that we will hear much more about it in this place. We saw protestors marching. In amongst those protesters there were people misbehaving. There were people breaking the law, but we saw wholesale arrest and detainment. I know the story of one lady who was picked off the line, put into a police car, driven for four hours, and then released.

Are we going to allow people to be picked off the streets, detained with no charge, and released and told they are free to go because the event is over? That is what happened at the G20.

On behalf of the constituents of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, I am supposed to trust a government to allow that G-20 type of activity to take place. It was a peaceful march, and they could have easily apprehended those people who were the problem that day. If it was allowed to go to the place it went, how am I supposed to trust the government with more powers and more authority?

I say that if we pass Bill C-17, what we are actually doing is giving away fundamental rights of Canadians and opening them up to the kind of abuse, in a broader way, we saw at the G-20.

I will conclude today by saying that I stand here proudly with the rest of my friends, and particularly with my friend from Windsor—Tecumseh, who gave such an eloquent speech earlier today. I almost tried to give the same speech again. It was so tempting, because he spoke directly to the heart of this issue.

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6:20 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to give the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek the opportunity to clarify his earlier comments. He was responding to questions on his position. He stated that if we suspected that there were terrorists on ships in international waters, Canada would have the obligation and the right to go into those waters and turn those boats around. It was unclear whether it was his position or that of the NDP. I am giving him an opportunity to clarify that.

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6:20 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was responding to what was put before Canadians by a minister of the government when that minister said that he knew that there were terrorists aboard that ship. He said that there were terrorists and other immigrants coming to this country aboard that ship.

My challenge to my colleague is in a rhetorical sense. If the minister knew this, how did he know this? Where did he get the evidence? Who was supplying the evidence? It would have been investigative authorities who, if they knew this, would have known it before that ship left the country it left from. If that were the case, the intervention should have been made there. That is my point about dealing with it before it comes to Canada.

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6:20 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech made by my hon. colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I appreciated and enjoyed his comments.

I wonder if he would agree with my assessment of part of what is happening here. We have seen that whenever the government does not like the way things are going, it brings forward one of its crime bills. In fact, at times over the past few years we have seen some of the so-called tough-on-crime bills languish. They just sat around for months when the government did not bother to call them. The Conservatives would then try to blame this side of the House or blame the Senate or whomever for the fact that those bills had not gone forward. In fact, the government had not put them on the order paper each day to make that happen. They had not brought them forward.

When the government wants to change the channel, it tries to create fear in people. We have seen that with the census. The Conservatives want people to be afraid that those terrible census takers are going to arrest them. My hon. colleague from Abbotsford was actually claiming a few minutes ago that this is the reason we have the census. I do not think there is a question on there asking if one has been arrested or jailed for not answering the long-form census. In fact, no one has ever been arrested for that.

We have seen the fear the Conservatives create by suggesting that Russian bombers, propellor aircraft that are 40 years old that do not even enter Canadian airspace, are a huge threat to us. Therefore, we need these F-35s, these $16 billion worth of fighters. I wonder if my colleague would agree with that.

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6:20 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

No offence to the member, Mr. Speaker, but that is a wandering type of question.

To be serious for a moment about an incursion by the Soviet Union, now Russia, and the capabilities they have, no matter what kind of airplane they have in the air, 15 minutes after that missile is warmed up, it is going to be visiting us in downtown Ottawa. To be very clear, we do need to have an air defence system with the capacity to protect our country.

Our concern, as a party, was the method with which these aircraft were ordered. They were ordered in a single-source type of venture. There should have been discussion in this House. It should have gone to committees of this House. We should have had the input of our generals, who clearly, from the freedom of information we read today, were expecting to have the posting for the sale and purchase of these particular aircraft. We have $16 billion. If we had bought half, we would have $8 billion to do something for seniors and other people.

Coming to the point of fear, the government relies on the fear of Canadians, unfortunately. We see it on many fronts. The Conservatives were not so concerned about it that they could prevent themselves from proroguing the House twice.

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6:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in his presentation, the member pointed out the fact that this legislation was introduced under very tough circumstances in 2001 but that it did have, and rightly so, a sunset clause after five years, which legislation of this type usually has and should have. However, when it did expire after not having been applied or used, no movement was made to renew the legislation.

We have provisions under the current laws to deal with these sort of situations. As the member pointed out, we have the situation in Toronto with people being caught and charged with terrorism. We have a similar situation in Ottawa. I would also like to point out that only a few years ago in Manitoba when the Queen visited, there were two or three people who made some threats and I was told that they were simply picked up and removed for the period of time of the Queen's visit. I do not know where they were taken or what the police did with them but they just disappeared from the scene for a period of hours. Clearly, under the current laws in this country, there is ample provision for dealing with threats. We have been dealing with this issue for years.

This is a lot of window dressing on the part of a desperate government that is sinking fast in the polls and trying to recover. It comes up with some boutique crime bills that it hopes will translate into some gains in the polls. The government should know by now that it did not work in the past, that it does not seem to be working right now and that it probably will not work in the future. It should look back to the minority Parliament of Lester Pearson where, in roughly the same period of time of six years, the Lester Pearson government worked with the opposition and brought in a new flag. It joined the armed forces, brought in medicare and did many progressive things. The sooner the current government figures out that it should start working with the opposition we then could have some new initiatives for this country, but nothing is happening because of the Conservatives' belligerent attitude toward the opposition and to Parliament.

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6:25 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we think in terms of those types of legislation that come before us, we ask ourselves what they are about. One of them is the street racing bill. For criminal negligence causing death or injury, those tools are available to the police to deal with these offences. It was a serious issue in a part of Canada. and I will not go into the particular area, but the reality of the situation is that the tools were there. We have not heard about a massive usage of this new legislation and that is an example of where a demonstrated fear was taken advantage of for crass political reasons as far as I am concerned.

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

6:25 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question.

As I recall, in 2005, the current Prime Minister stated:

I remind the House that the motion was nonetheless adopted and that the government is duty bound to respect the decisions made by the House of Commons....the Liberal controlled and Liberal majority Senate found yet another way to delay it...

I would like to discuss the bill I introduced, Bill C-232 to amend the Supreme Court Act. The House of Commons, by a majority vote, decided to support my Bill C-232 to amend the Supreme Court Act. Now the bill is before the Senate, where the Conservative government nearly has a majority. It does not quite have it, because the independents can shift the balance one way or the other.

My question for the government is this: will the government ask Conservative senators to refer Bill C-232 to committee for further study, or will the senators delay things, as was done in 2005 when the current Prime Minister, who was Leader of the Opposition at the time, said that Liberal senators were delaying a bill?

Would the Conservatives be in the same position? This government said that it wanted to be transparent and wanted to change things. It said that it disagreed with having the Senate vote on bills from elected members of the House of Commons. In this case, elected members passed Bill C-232 to amend the Supreme Court Act. Will the Prime Minister order or tell his senators, who support him 300%, that the elected members of the House of Commons made a decision and that he would like Bill C-232 to be studied in committee and things to go as they should?

Otherwise, that goes against what he believes in, or what he wanted to make people believe when he was in opposition. He claimed to be opposed to the Senate voting on bills from elected members of the House, but now that he nearly has a majority and the system works in his favour, we no longer hear him talking about that.

Will the government order or ask the Conservative senators to send Bill C-232, an Act to amend the Supreme Court Act, to committee to be studied?

6:30 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec


Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to affirm this government's commitment to providing access to justice in both official languages.

The Government of Canada is strongly committed to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minorities in Canada and fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society, including our justice system.

The member for Acadie—Bathurst raised the issue of filling vacancies in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, in particular the appointment of a bilingual judge last August in Yarmouth, in southern Nova Scotia. This appointment enhances the court's bilingual capacity, with two other supernumerary judges.

We recognize that there must be significant linguistic capacity in our courts to provide equal access to justice in both French and English. I can confirm that bilingualism is already one of the enumerated criteria in the assessment of the judicial candidates by the judicial advisory committees. This ability is evaluated along with 14 other criteria, such as intellectual ability and analytical skills.

I am confident that the current appointment process was crafted in a way that permits the Minister of Justice to address the need for access to justice in both official languages and to ensure that the federal judiciary linguistic profile provides adequate access to justice in official language minority communities.

Under the current process, before recommending appointments, the minister confers with the chief justice of the relevant court to determine the court's needs, including linguistic capacity. As hon. members are likely aware, a chief justice's primary responsibility is to determine the overall direction of sitting on his or her court and to assign judges to cases. The chief justice strives to ensure that all cases, especially criminal cases, are heard in a timely manner.

The chief justice is, therefore, in an excellent position to understand the needs of the communities served and identify particular needs where vacancies arise. As a result, the minister consults with the chief justice of the court for which a candidate is being considered to determine any particular needs to be addressed, including linguistic capacity. The minister also welcomes the advice of any group or individual with respect to considerations that should be taken into account when filling current vacancies.

It is important to understand that the federal judicial appointments process operates on the basis of detailed personal applications from interested candidates and, as such, relies primarily on a system of self-identification.

With a view to improving the pool of bilingual judicial candidates, the government invites the French-speaking jurist associations and their national federation to identify individuals with the necessary qualifications and encourage them to apply, and to share their recommendations with the Minister of Justice.

While bilingualism remains an important criterion considered in the appointment process, it is not and should not be the only factor in the selection of our judges. The primary consideration in all judicial appointments is legal excellence and merit. Other criteria must also be taken into account, such as the specific needs of the court, be it criminal or family.

6:35 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary is very confused. He is talking about the federal court in Nova Scotia, but I am talking about the Supreme Court of Canada. As for the federal courts, the law already requires each province to have bilingual judges. There can be up to three judges sitting on a federal court. There are more than one, two or three judges in each province. According to the law, all citizens can have their cases heard in their own language.

At the Supreme Court, it is the opposite. Currently, there are nine justices and they might have to rule upon a section of the Constitution, for example. If such a case is brought before the Supreme Court, it is not heard and understood by all nine justices because some of them are not bilingual.

The Commissioner of Official Languages himself said that they cannot be competent if they do not know the law that applies in a case. The laws are drafted in French and in English; they are not translated.

I would simply like to ask the government to tell the Senate to study the bill—

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

6:35 p.m.


Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the remarks made this evening by the opposition member.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting the development of minority language communities. To that end, in June 2008—I was also here—the government announced the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013, an unprecedented government-wide commitment with a budget of over $1 billion, based on two components: participation of all in linguistic duality and support for official language minority communities in the priority sectors of health, justice, immigration, economic development, arts and culture.

As the government has stated in the past, the overriding principles guiding the selection of members of the judiciary, including those of the highest court, are merit, legal excellence and overall representation. Such an assessment would have to include examining the bilingualism of candidates, but that would not be the only factor.

6:35 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be back on Parliament Hill debating the issues of the day. One of the important issues that I have raised here before is the issue of poverty and that was the question I asked back in the spring session.

We know that poverty has risen with this recession that we have been going through and continue to go through. By how much? Well, we have not had a lot of information on that but the Citizens for Public Justice, along with their partners, released a study back in the spring that indicated that poverty in Canada had gone up from 9.2% to 11.7% overall, which is two and a half percentage points. Child poverty had gone up from 9.5% to 12% as a result of this recession. It showed that employment insurance and other social measures have failed many Canadians. Social assistance caseloads are up, the cost of food is up and the cost of shelter is up. We had the food banks' report less than a year ago showing that food bank usage had gone up 18% in Canada and that the government's response to this has been very weak.

We have no national anti-poverty strategy in Canada. We are one of the few industrialized nations that does not have an anti-poverty strategy. We do have six provinces and one territory that now have an anti-poverty strategy. They all want the same thing. They want the federal government to come to the table and say that it takes poverty seriously.

Last year, the United Nations, in its periodic review, made a very specific recommendation, which I think was number 17, which said that Canada should have and needs to have an anti-poverty strategy. Instead of that, the government turned around and said that it was not its jurisdiction. Everybody in the country, from provinces that have these strategies, to social welfare groups, to academics, all understand that it is part of the responsibility of the federal government to step up and have a strategy. We can debate what is in that strategy but there needs to be a federal anti-poverty strategy here in Canada.

Since that time things have only gotten worse. The ridiculous decision to abandon the long form census will hurt groups that deal with poverty. It specifically will hurt people with disabilities in this country. Organizations, like CCD and CACL, that deal with people who have disabilities are absolutely bewildered at how the government could possibly cancel the long form census. It will have a dramatic impact on the people who are living in poverty and people who have disabilities, many of whom live in poverty. That is the situation we have.

We can talk about the methods that we can use to improve the situation of those living in poverty and of those who are close to living in poverty, such as increasing the guaranteed income supplement and the child tax benefit. There is ongoing discussion in this country right now among many people from all parties represented in Parliament, including the Conservative Party and Senator Hugh Segal, for example, about a basic income for Canadians. What everybody seems to understand except the government is that at the very least Canada needs to have a government that is prepared to say that poverty is an issue and that poverty is again on the increase in Canada.

We did a lot to reduce poverty in the late 1990s with the child tax benefit, the guaranteed income supplement and things like that but we need to reduce poverty in Canada. We all have a role to play in that. Social agencies, provincial governments, municipal governments, everybody from Make Poverty History to the CFIB to the Chamber of Commerce understand that we need to have a national anti-poverty strategy. Why does the federal government not understand that and step forward and say that it will play its role to help those who are living in poverty, especially at time of recession?

6:40 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour back to this session. However, I would like to put things in perspective. Despite some of what he says, we are not talking about what we might be doing. We are taking a number of steps. Even though we have come through a global recession, our Conservative government has made huge strides in helping working Canadians and their families.

The best way to fight poverty is for Canadians to be working in good jobs. Getting workers the skills they need to get back into the workforce and helping those workers find jobs have been the main focus points of our government's actions.

In 2009-10 we invested over $4 billion in skills training, helping over 1.2 million Canadians. We have provided extra weeks of EI benefits and extended work-sharing measures to keep Canadians working and help employers. Over 255,000 jobs were protected by these changes to work-sharing alone. We extended EI special benefits to the self-employed on a voluntary basis.

Canadians are getting back to work. Well over 400,000 jobs have been created in the last year alone. As a result of our actions, Canada is leading the G20 out of the recession. Every action we have taken is meant to help Canadians and their families, our society's building blocks, become independent and help them contribute to the economy and to their communities.

We have introduced the working income tax benefit, or WITB as it is commonly referred to, to make work pay for low-income Canadians. The economic action plan doubled the tax relief provided through WITB. WITB helped over 900,000 Canadians just in the first year and it continues to help Canadians get over the welfare wall. We have increased the amount families in the two lowest personal income tax brackets can earn before paying taxes, meaning over one million low-income Canadians do not pay taxes at all anymore.

We have enhanced the national child benefit, the child tax benefit and introduced the child tax credit. All of these amount to thousands of dollars of assistance. We have introduced and strengthened the universal child care benefit, which alone has lifted 56,000 children out of low income.

We have also made record investments in affordable housing. Due to our economic action plan investments alone, thousands of projects are completed or under way, which are creating tens of thousands of jobs. In total, we are providing $7.8 billion in investments and tax relief to help stimulate the housing sector, improve housing and create jobs across Canada.

The Liberal record and the record of that member does not stand up. They voted against enhancements to WITB, even though the member told our committee he thought it was a very positive thing.

In its time in government, the then Liberal government cut social transfers to the provinces by $25 billion, leaving the provinces and many Canadians to fend for themselves. It tried to balance the books on the backs of ordinary Canadians. We did not do that.

Back in 2002, the Liberal finance critic said that the Liberal government made the wrong choices, slashed transfers to the provinces. The provinces are still scrambling to catch up to the lost Martin years of inadequate funding.

As the Liberal leader has said, their plans, simply put, are to add more taxes, higher taxes and billions and billions of dollars of increased spending and debt. The opposition's plans to raise taxes would halt our recovery in its tracks and, according to experts, kill about 400,000 jobs.

Unlike the opposition, our record is strong. In our time of government, we have helped children, lone parents, persons with disabilities, aboriginals. The seniors' poverty rate is among the lowest in the world. This is fact. We will continue to take actions to help Canadians. We will not talk about plans. We will take positive steps, positive action, that will help Canadians right across our great country of Canada.

6:45 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments just do not bear scrutiny. He talked about the Liberal cuts. It was in fact because of Liberal programs that poverty reached its low ebb of 9.5%.

The current government came into office in 2006 and within a year, we were starting to see more unemployment.

Just as an example of something that he touts, he touts an investment in the child tax benefit. His government put $5 million into the child tax benefit. It put $100 million into putting up signs all over the country to advertise their projects and $1 billion for the G8-G20. Just using his example, that means that the Conservatives value their signs 20 times more than they value vulnerable Canadians and the weekend meeting in Toronto 200 times as much as they value vulnerable Canadians.

People in Canada are suffering, people who need assistance. They are not getting it from the current government.

As a simple measure, a first measure, everybody says, “Let's have a strategy. Let's figure out the pieces, but let's agree that there should be a federal anti-poverty strategy in Canada”.

6:45 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, let me talk about the record of the Liberals. It is a failure. Canada experienced, and these are facts, the second highest jump in child poverty among 14 peer OECD countries during the Liberals' tenure.

In 1998 the UN stated that the Liberal government had exacerbated homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence.

We will not take lessons from that party. At a time when Canadians are watching their own pocketbooks and making sacrifices, the opposition has banded together to propose billions and billions of dollars in irresponsible spending that will not create a single job or leave a single dollar more in the pockets of Canadians. The opposition only sees these dollars as tools to build their ineffective, irresponsible, ideological big government pet projects. Its plans will raise taxes, kill jobs and inflate the deficit for years on end.

Our record is strong. We are helping Canadians. We are lowering taxes. We are helping to create jobs and train Canadians with the skills they need to get jobs. Our record is one of giving effectiveness and comprehensive help to Canadians and their families. We stand on that record and we will continue to stand on that record.

6:45 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to respond to my question on the very important matter of funding decisions regarding Status of Women Canada's two programs: the women's community fund and the women's partnership fund.

On May 5, I asked the Minister for Status of Women to tell the House why, while the government claimed to be a champion of women's health, it continued to attempt to silence and neutralize women's organizations here in Canada, denying funding to any organization with the courage to speak out against the government's agenda.

This fiscal year we have seen more than 20 prominent women's organizations have their funding requests denied, many for the first time in their history. On May 26, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women began its study on the funding decisions of Status of Women Canada. At this meeting, we heard from four organizations whose projects met the program criteria, yet they were still denied funding by Status of Women Canada.

The groups that appeared at the meeting were CRIAW, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity and Womenspace Resource Centre. These are all credible organizations and I do not think that anyone would question the work they do for women in our country.

Some of these groups spoke of the impact of Status of Women Canada on their creation and their development as women's organizations. For example, in a special publication on the 20th anniversary of CRIAW, the president at that time noted that had it not been for the financial support of Status of Women Canada over the years, CRIAW undoubtedly would not exist. Status of Women Canada had been providing these organizations with some funding for an extensive period of time. It had provided CRIAW with funding since its creation in 1977.

Over the years, these organizations have proven to be extremely valuable and have demonstrated their expertise in the field. Their programs are highly reputable and have proven results. The research they provided was potentially invaluable in terms of government policy decisions. These organizations are truly bettering the lives of women.

Yet this year the government decided to deny funding. For most, this was a death blow. Because of these government decisions, most of these organizations either have or will shut their doors and cease servicing the women who have come to rely on their services.

The Minister for Status of Women has said that her department is choosing to fund new organizations over old. Absolutely, fund new organizations; it is incredibly important, but not at the expense of older organizations with proven track records. If there is a greater need for funding from Status of Women Canada, then maybe the budget of the program should be reviewed, or maybe the amount of funding allotted to each organization should be reconsidered in order to accommodate both new and existing organizations.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that money is the sole reason that these organizations were refused funding. The significance of these decisions runs much deeper than a choice between new and old; it is part of the mounting evidence that the government does not seem interested in funding programs for women's equality or in funding women's organization with a track record of advocacy.

Therefore, I will ask my question again. Could the parliamentary secretary tell us why the government is continuing to attack women in Canada? When will it end its ideological tirade and start supporting women in our country?

6:50 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec


Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, our government has increased funding for women to the highest level ever seen in our country and abroad.

The women's program at Status of Women Canada has two components: the women's community fund and the women's partnership fund. These programs are essential tools that allow Status of Women Canada to support the work of organizations that promote the equality of women and girls.

In 2007, our government increased the funding capacity of the women's program to unprecedented levels. Consequently, we were able to support more Canadian women and girls, especially those most in need.

The reaction to the increased funding for the women's program speaks for itself: in 2006, we received 145 applications, but in 2009, the call for proposals for the women's community fund alone generated almost 500 applications for funding.

To be eligible for funding consideration, projects must be one-offs and must work to promote the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada. This criterion is consistent with the three pillars established for Status of Women Canada: advancing women's and girls' economic security; ending violence against women, including aboriginal women and girls; and encouraging women's leadership and democratic participation.

The number of groups looking for financial support under the women's program keeps increasing. As is often the case with the funding program, it is unfortunately not always possible to fund all the projects that deserve to be funded.

In 2009-10, 78 valid and important community projects were approved. Of that number, 34 were from groups that were receiving funding for the first time. The full list of projects funded is available in a press release issued on May 6 on the Status of Women Canada website.

According to the organizations whose 78 projects received funding, these projects will have a direct impact on more than 24,000 women in Canada.

These projects will have positive results for women from diverse backgrounds in a large number of communities. I only have enough time to name a few: the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network set up a project called “Empowering Aboriginal Women; Influencing Community Wellness”. This 24-month project will promote violence prevention by facilitating leadership skills development in 84 community workshops with 500 aboriginal women.

Status of Women Canada and our government are concerned about women in Canada and Quebec, aboriginal women, all the women here today.