Mr. Speaker, it is a delight for me to add my comments at second reading to Bill C-31, eliminating entitlements for prisoners. I will confine my remarks to the things that are actually in the bill, not the wild speculation of the previous speaker.
I commend the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development for sponsoring this important legislation and also for her excellent speech just over one hour ago.
The eliminating entitlements for prisoners act, Bill C-31, is a very important bill. It is important for taxpayers and for victims of crime and it is important for the principles of fairness.
As the minister has noted, our Conservative government is strongly committed to ensuring fairness for hard-working taxpayers. Ordinary, every day tax paying Canadians deserve fairness from their government, and this government intends to deliver fairness to those taxpayers.
The government provides many services and it also provides help, but that help comes from the tax dollars that the government collects. It comes out of the pockets of every hard-working tax paying Canadian, the Tim Hortons crowd if I may.
Income security is one of those things the government provides and it is important. It is important the government provide that help fairly to Canadians since, as I have said, that money belongs to Canadians. It does not belong to the government. It is taxpayer money.
When we are talking about fairness, and in this case we are talking about treating hard-working and law-abiding Canadians and their tax dollars fairly. We are also talking about doing what we can to ensure that victims of crime and their families are not faced with more pain. These victims should not have to watch the painful sight of their money and their community's money going into the pockets of the very criminals who hurt them and their families.
The Prime Minister has said it, the minister has said it and many of my colleagues, including me have said it. We will continue to put victims and taxpayers first, ahead of criminals.
Our government believes that Canadians who work hard, contribute to the system and play by the rules deserve government benefits such as old age security. This is what our government believes and I think it is what Canadians expect. I certainly know from hearing from many of my constituents by letter, by email, by phone call, that this is what my they expect.
It is obviously wrong and obviously unfair that prisoners who have broken our laws, who have broken our society's trust receive the same taxpayer-funded benefits as law-abiding Canadians. I am perplexed as to how it could be otherwise. I believe this, the government believes it and my constituents believe it. I am happy to say that the Prime Minister believes this, as do all Canadians.
Bill C-31, which I welcome, would ensure that criminals, those who have broken trust and broken our laws and made victims of their fellow Canadians, would no longer receive taxpayer-funded benefits while serving time in jail.
Right now, without this change to our laws, child murderers such as Clifford Olson are receiving these government benefits, notwithstanding that he brutally murdered 11 children.
As the minister told the House, in a few short years Paul Bernardo similarly will be entitled to these benefits. Some day in the not too distant future so will Mr. Robert Pickton. This cannot happen and that is why it is incumbent upon the House to act expeditiously.
These criminals, these murderers, to take just a small example, brutally and heartlessly took the lives of people living in their communities. Many of those lives were young, and they shattered and forever diminished the lives of those families who had members torn from them.
For criminals such as these to easily, blithely receive the same “assistance” from our government is simply wrong.
The assistance that the government provides is intended to help older Canadians with their costs of living after many decades of work and much contribution to their families, their communities and their country.
Prisoners on the other hand, criminals who have broken our laws so seriously that they are incarcerated in federal institutions and provincial prisons for long periods of time, do not need extra cost of living assistance. Why? Because they already have their costs of living paid for by the taxpayers of our country, the same taxpayers from whom these criminals have taken so much.
This is offensive and outrageous to our government, to our Prime Minister and to our Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. This is also offensive to Canadians all across the country, and that is why I believe there is wide support for the bill, at least at second reading. We have heard from members on both sides of the House and it appears the bill will be near unanimously favoured when it comes to a vote. It is offensive to all Canadians.
As soon as this shockingly unfair and unjust situation was discovered, the Prime Minister asked the minister to take action as quickly as possible to put a stop to incarcerated criminals receiving old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits. The abbreviations they are more commonly known by are OAS and GIS.
It is our government's intention, our commitment and our goal to fix this. Our government has shown that when we make a promise to Canadians, we take action. We follow through on our commitments to Canadians. That is why the minister acted with the haste that she did.
We are going to remedy this inequity and we are moving quickly to do so. Why? Because that is what Canadians want and that is what they demand. That is exactly what my constituents want, and it is happening here today. Today is part of that process, a process that I hope will continue to move swiftly.
I am going to touch on the main details of the bill. I think the attention is good and the details are relatively straightforward.
A prisoner's needs, such as food and shelter and their standard of living, such as it is, are already met and paid for by public funds, and that is by the hard-working Canadian taxpayers. That has a cost and we pay it. We pay it voluntarily and we pay it gladly.
What I and my constituents are not okay with is the provision of benefits that are meant for law-abiding hard-working seniors to instead go to prisoners. Canadian taxpayers should not be paying for double for income support through OAS and GIS benefits to these same prisoners. It is grossly unfair to force law-abiding Canadian taxpayers to pay for the criminals twice, first, by paying for the room and board and second, by paying for the supplemental benefits, the OAS and the GIS.
Once passed, the bill will terminate OAS and GIS benefits for federal prisoners. The federal government will then work with the provinces and the territories to stop these benefits for prisoners who are serving 90 days or more in a provincial or territorial institution.
I hope all provinces and territories respond as favourably to the minister and to this legislation as the British Columbia government has. I understand British Columbia is already on board and once this legislation is passed, it will similarly apply to provincial prisoners in the B.C. detention system.
I also hope all my colleagues in the House will respond positively and quickly. Our constituents, who are our bosses, our fellow taxpaying Canadians, expect us to use their hard-earned tax dollars fairly, responsibly and prudently. They have told us that, loudly and clearly.
I am sure all members of the House have received feedback with respect to the bill after it was announced last spring. Speaking on behalf of the considerable correspondence that I received, it was universally positive.
In fact, what encourages me most is the overwhelming response from Canadians. They have truly told us, loudly and clearly, what they believe is right and fair. We have heard publicly from the families of the victims of Clifford Olson. We have heard from the national victims support groups. Those people whose lives have been so damaged by the actions of these criminals are pleased and supportive of our government's action. They support the bill.
We have also heard from rank and file police officers from across the country, people who often see the damage first-hand that is brought on by these criminals.
We have heard from regular, everyday taxpayers across our country, as I referred to earlier the Tim Hortons crowd.
The minister received a petition in support of the bill. It was signed by nearly 50,000 Canadians. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more thousands of people have told us, have told the minister and our colleagues that the bill is necessary. The response that we have seen and heard has truly been remarkable.
When circumstances like this unjust entitlement are discovered and when Canadians speak out so clearly and so loudly, we must listen to them and heed to their calls, advice and demands.
It is not a credit to us that this unfair and wrong practice came into being and continued, with little if any notice. It is not a credit to any of us that those who did not know it, did little, if anything, to change it.
We cannot change the past, but we can certainly fix the present and improve things for the future. That is what we are doing today with the continued second reading of Bill C-31.
The bill is also in line with many of our Conservative government's other related actions with respect to the victims of crime and their families. We have a strong record of action and this legislation only builds upon that record.
The bill is in keeping with our Conservative government's commitment to put victims and law-abiding Canadians first, and certainly to put them ahead of criminals. It puts an end to the hard-working taxpayers paying twice for prisoners and to having victims of crime see their victimizers receive unjust public help.
Finally, the bill is about the responsible use of taxpaying public funds and the fair treatment to all Canadian taxpayers. It is the fair and right things to do and it is what Canadians want us to do. We need to listen to Canadians. We need to pass the bill.