House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.


Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, this is a continuation of an argument on a point of order that I raised last Tuesday and which was responded to by the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale yesterday. The point of order I raised at that time was with regard to Bill C-317. It is an act to amend the Income Tax Act as it affects labour organizations in this country.

When I raised the point of order, I asked the Speaker at the time that he rule that the proceedings to date under Bill C-317, standing in the name of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, that the introduction and first reading has not respected the provisions of our Standing Orders and is therefore null and void, and that he direct that the order for second reading of Bill C-317 be discharged and the bill be withdrawn from the order paper.

I will summarize that quickly. What I was asking for and continue to ask for is a ruling that the bill, in effect, is improperly before the House and should not even have made to this stage, so we should be taking it off the order paper and not allow it to proceed into the future.

My objections to the bill were laid out on the grounds that the bill would have the effect of creating taxpayers where ones did not exist before.

This, of course, is the sole prerogative of the ministers of the Crown and cannot be done through private members' business.

The attempt here, by doing it through a private member's bill, is clearly contrary to all sorts of precedents where governments, when they are doing this, do it through the form of a government bill, a ways and means motions and a budget bill.

In his remarks, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale attempted to discredit the arguments that I presented on October 18.

Over many years in the legal field and in the courts of this country, I came to recognize that type of argument, that type of case presented by an opponent counsel. It always represents the last gasp of a lost argument, which is what we saw yesterday. It was a bit disturbing. I felt that he had misrepresented and, in one case, actually misquoted my words, attributing words to me that I did not say. He also ignored my most substantial argument. Finally, he held on for dear life to the straws of a paraphrased reference while ignoring the actual precedent on which the reference was based.

Madam Speaker, if you go back and look at my original argument, you will see the distinguishment I was making in that regard.

In his brief remarks he said:

My colleague also raised the issue of my bill creating a “new class of taxpayer”. According to the Income Tax Act....

He said that was what I said. He went on from there and spent the next 276 words of his response critiquing my apparent reference to the creation of a new class of taxpayers, as though it were the crux of my argument, which it was not at all.

Unfortunately, the member opposite attributed to me that I used the word “class” only one time. He repeated it I do not know how many times in his argument. I used the word only once. When I used that word, he appeared to have completely lost that context that was coming forth or he ignored it. I used it to point out that the guideline for determining whether or not a ways and means motion was necessary, and I was quoting from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition at page 900 where it uses the words, “extension of a tax to a new class of taxpayer”.

The root of that reference is Beauchesne, not me, who does not use the words “class of taxpayer” at all. In quoting me in such a way would be a similar way of me saying that he agreed with my case where, in a fragment of one of his sentences he said, “It is accepted that the bill may have the effect claimed by my colleague”. That is the kind of argument he was making. It was completely out of context and it was quite erroneous of the argument I was placing before the Speaker on October 18.

Such a selective use of quotes would be irresponsible and misleading, as it was when my colleague opposite did so yesterday.

Madam Speaker, while clearly lost on the member opposite, I am confident that you will see the marked difference between the paraphrasing he used for my argument, “a class of taxpayer”, and the actual reference from Beauchesne's, which states, “an extension of the incidence of a tax so as to include persons not already payers”. The difference between them may seem negligible but, in this case, it means the difference between it being eligible for a private member's bill or being required to be brought forth by way of a ways and means motion by the government of the day and, therefore, ineligible for a private member's bill.

The member went on in his remarks to counter my assertion that a member of a labour organization's dues were actually discretionary. This one actually blew me away in the sense of the level of lack of knowledge on the part of the member. He was arguing that the fees that union members pay were akin to the contributions one makes to a charitable organization. They are not.

I know very well that union members are required by the laws of this country, if they are represented by a union,to pay union dues. This came out of the Rand Formula, which came out of the city of Windsor as a result of a Ford strike back in 1946. It was a long fight. It is very much a major part of the history of this country. Mr. Justice Rand at that time was appointed to deal with it. He created the Rand Formula, which makes it mandatory for members of unions to pay dues. It is not a choice.

This was what he said, and it blew me away. He said:

—union members whose union has lost its tax exempt status for refusing to disclose have the right to exercise certain options. Those options include the option to be represented by another union....

That is totally false. It is not how the labour relations system in this country functions at all. An individual union member cannot just go across the street and tell another union that he or she now wants to be a member of that union and ask that it represent him or her. It does not work that way. The argument is really at the level of being preposterous.

Labour unions or organizations are democratically elected by their members. It is very similar to a government in that respect. There is a formal election process. I wonder if the member would feel that the taxes citizens pay to the federal government are discretionary in this sense as well. The answer to that is obvious: it is not at all discretionary. It is not discretionary for people to pay their taxes and it is not discretionary for people to pay their union dues.

As I said, after his remarks yesterday, his efforts to discredit my remarks had virtually no substance and my argument today confirms that. There was one exception to that and that was his contention that his bill did not actually change the tax rules. This was basically a new point that he had raised. I will summarize what he said. He said that it made the provisions of financial disclosure that must be followed that much more stringent, so it was not changing things. I disagree strongly with that interpretation, but the argument got me thinking about what door we would be opening if in fact, Madam Speaker, you found that line of argument persuasive

I will now take this idea close to the limits of its application. There are provisions in the Income Tax Act that, if broken, revoke the tax benefits of businesses, charities or non-profits, just like the one dealt with in this bill. The member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale asserts that no ways and means motion is required for amending the rules which would trigger the loss of those benefits.

Just last month, in September, the government adjusted some of the tax benefit rules in its second budget implementation act, specifically the rules around the business partnerships that allow taxes to be deferred within the partnership arrangements. In fact, what happened with regard to that change in benefits was that the government tabled a ways and means motion ahead of the bill being presented. That is what is required in that circumstance. It is what is required in the circumstances that we are dealing with in Bill C-317.

I do not want to be extreme in my examples regarding the ability to allow this type of an amendment. However, we have to look at the door that we would potentially open here. I say that from this vantage point.

A few years ago, as part of the G8 preparatory meetings, I happened to be in Russia and in the course of the meetings we met with a number of human rights groups, set up by our embassy there. Human rights groups were showing the leadership of that country, at that time, taking extreme measures, and I equate that to some degree with what we are seeing here. We are certainly away ahead of where this bill would be, but it is along the same slippery slope.

What Russia was doing was imposing such onerous requirements on the human rights groups to report and report that even large organizations were having to spend anywhere from 25% to 50% of their human resources and budgets on this reporting function. It made it virtually impossible for them to continue to function. The law was just coming into effect at that point, but since then a number of the organizations have collapsed under the weight of that kind of rule.

We could see the same thing happening if we continue to go down this route, where we have private members' bills coming forward, in one of the examples I used, that require a human rights non-profit group or union to have a transcript of every phone call or communication made by an employee of the organization and that information had to be provided to the government.

That was the kind of thing being done in the Russian legal system to, in effect, thwart the good work that a number of those human rights agencies were doing. That is the kind of thing we could be seeing, in any number of sectors, where that kind of an approach would have the effect of either significantly encumbering the operation of the organization or, in fact, putting it out of business.

To some degree, that is a problem with this bill. The requirements of this bill are so onerous, especially to small local unions of, say, 100 or 150 members in the local community. They would be required to do so much to comply with this bill that they could be put out of business, leaving their membership with no representation.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

And they talk about red tape reduction.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

My colleague from St. John's mentions that the government always talks about red tape reduction, when in fact in this case it is just piling it on for ideological reasons in its ongoing attack against the labour movement in this country.

Let me conclude with these few remarks. This precedent with Bill C-317, for all intents and purposes, allows private members' bills to increase taxes on entities that are covered by these income tax laws by putting a hair trigger on those requirements. That is exactly what is happening here.

It goes contrary to the spirit and the letter, I believe, of the Standing Orders of this place. I am confident that once you, Madam Speaker, have reviewed all the arguments you will agree.

I once again renew my request to the Chair that what has happened up to this point with regard to Bill C-317 be dismissed from the record of this House and that Bill C-317 be found to be out of order, and not allowed to proceed on to second reading.

Bill C-317 is currently scheduled for the first hour of debate as a private member's bill on November 4, so it will be necessary for the Chair to give us a ruling on this before that date.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member for his intervention and that information will also be considered by the Speaker in the decision on this bill.

The hon. government House leader.

Bill C-317--Income Tax ActPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, first, on the same point of order, I note that the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale may wish to address some of the points raised by my friend, the opposition House leader, and we will advise whether he wishes such an opportunity to do so.

Bill C-19 — Notice of Time Allocation MotionEnding the Long-gun Registry ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, on another matter, I would like to advise that with regard to Standing Orders 78(1) and 78(2), an agreement has not been reached under those provisions with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at said stage.

I want to advise the House that it is my intention to allot three further days of debate, which would bring the total to four sitting days, including today. Following second reading debate, the bill would be referred to a committee for detailed study of this measure which will cease to treat farmers and outdoor enthusiasts like criminals.

On May 2, Canadians, including the good people of Yukon, Labrador, Madawaska--Restigouche, Nipissing—Timiskaming and Sault Ste. Marie, gave our government a strong mandate to follow through on our commitments. Our government has been clear that we will end, once and for all, the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Second readingEnding the Long-gun Registry ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am rising to speak at second reading on Bill C-19.

We have a bill from a government that has spent at least the last five years using the whole notion of the firearms registry to divide Canadians, to bring about a division between urban and rural Canadians, between aboriginal Canadians and the rest, and between men and women.

Even in rural areas, where the government claims a great deal of opposition to this legislation, we find women being supportive of this legislation. In fact, even women whose husbands and family members may possess long guns in their houses are supportive of strong measures of gun control because of the importance to their personal safety.

What we are seeing happening is that all of the problems that existed could have been addressed by the government over the last five years in a co-operative method of bringing people together instead of showing how they could be divided, as the government has done.

Our party has done a tremendous amount of work trying to bring about measures and bring forward suggestions and ideas that would bring people together. If I may, before I finish today, read a quote from our leader, Jack Layton, on the issue from August 2010, he said:

Stopping gun violence has been a priority for rural and urban Canadians. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to sit down with good will and open minds. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to build solutions that bring us together. But that sense of shared purpose has been the silent victim of the gun registry debate.

[The Prime Minister] has been no help at all. Instead of driving for solutions, he has used this issue to drive wedges between Canadians...[The Conservatives] are stoking resentments as a fundraising tool to fill their election war chest. [The Prime Minister] is pitting Canadian region against Canadian region with his “all or nothing show-down”.

This is un-Canadian. This kind of divisiveness, pitting one group against another is the poisonous politics of the United States. Not the nation-building politics of Canada.

I want to ask members of this House and Canadians to reflect on the words of our late leader, Jack Layton, who talked about bringing people together to find solutions that help us stop gun violence in our country. It is a priority for both urban and rural Canadians.

We learned today from Statistics Canada that, happily, the homicide rate in Canada is now at the lowest that it has been in 45 years, and that is a good thing. We do not want to do anything to change that.

Second readingEnding the Long-gun Registry ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for St. John's East will have 16 minutes remaining for his speech when the House next resumes debate on the motion and also 10 minutes for questions and comments.

It being 5:39 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2011 / 5:40 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved that Bill C-305, An Act to establish a National Public Transit Strategy, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today millions of Canadians were left behind. They were stuck in traffic or they just could not squeeze into the subway car, or the bus was full and did not stop for them. The millions of Canadians who were left behind were on their way to work, to school, to shop, to play, or to take care of their families.

Millions of people across Canada have been left behind: in big cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as in small towns and villages.

Millions of people were left behind because Canada is falling behind on public transit. We are falling behind the rest of the world. All other G8 countries have a national transit plan, not Canada. Most have predictable capital funding, not Canada. Most have transit-related research and development funding, not Canada. Most have recognized the essential importance of transit in this day and age as a national priority, not Canada. We are falling behind. We are failing to invest where it counts and it is costing us dearly.

In 2006, five years ago, traffic congestion in the Toronto and Hamilton areas alone cost $6 billion in lost productivity; $6 billion five years ago and the congestion is much worse now than it was ever before. Canadian cities are now among the worst in the world.

Add to those costs the cost of traffic accidents, wasted fuel and lost opportunities. Billions and billions of dollars every year go up in smoke with nothing to show for it but bad air and road rage. Those are a lot of bucks. We can do better. We must do better. What is required is resolve and leadership.

With the national transit strategy set forth in this bill we have the chance to show that leadership and move Canada forward. If we do so we will have a positive impact on the lives of all Canadians. There is an urgent need for national leadership, so let us not miss the bus this time. Let us not pass the buck and say that public transit is not the jurisdiction of the federal government. Let us take the lead.

Here are some wise words on jurisdiction: “The national transit strategy would mean the leadership to align a common vision and the opportunity for all three levels of government to work together and define the roles, responsibilities and priorities of each jurisdiction”. Those are not my words. They are not words from the NDP. They are not the words of a federal politician. Those are the words of Her Worship Hazel McCallion, the legendary mayor of Mississauga. Those words were in a letter she wrote to me a few weeks ago in support of this national transit strategy bill.

It is interesting that Hazel McCallion was just ranked number one in a Canadian poll as the most popular mayor. Naheed Nenshi, the major of Calgary, is number two. He is the Prime Minister's mayor and he supports a national transit strategy. Gregor Robertson, the mayor of Vancouver, is number three and he too supports a national transit strategy. These mayors are all in touch with their constituents. They all know what is needed.

Here are some more words: “We would encourage all parliamentarians and all parties to support the creation of a national transit strategy” They are not the words of a big city mayor. They are the words of the mayor of Grande Prairie.

The mayor of Winnipeg said that this provides an excellent framework for a national transit strategy. He was talking about the bill.

On the east coast, the Charlottetown city council supports the bill for a national transit strategy. That endorsement is echoed in all parts of the country, the transit authorities of London, Ottawa, Kelowna, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties , the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities which represent over 2,000 cities large and small, from coast to coast to coast.

Business groups such as the Toronto Board of Trade, and just today, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, are on board.

There is a reason that all these great community leaders, business groups and ordinary Canadians are crying out for us to act. Transit is important; in fact, it is vital.

It is hard to imagine anything else that could touch the lives of so many Canadians in so many positive ways in every part of our vast country every single day in every season of the year. People going to work are affected every day, as are students going to university, parents trying to get to the daycare centre before it closes, seniors going shopping or to a doctor's appointment, as well as teenagers going to a movie or a hockey game.

Here are some good words that every member of the House should hear:

Investments in urban transportation help ensure the efficient movement of goods and people, thereby strengthening the economy, reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and improving the quality of life of Canadians.

Those words sum it up in a nutshell. I could not have said it better myself. I am sure that every member of the government would agree because those words are the very words of the government. They are on the Transport Canada website and have been for over a year. I think we all agree that public transit is critical. That is why we must proceed with a national transit strategy.

We had an opportunity to move forward in the last Parliament. My colleague, the hon. member for Victoria, introduced Bill C-466. That bill would have provided tax incentives to employers to support green commuting by their employees, not just by bus, streetcar or subway, but by bike and on foot. It would have achieved more than the current transit tax credit would, and would have cost less. It was supported by environmental groups and municipal politicians, but the government did not get it done. If we proceed with a national transit strategy, we should be able to revisit this forward-looking approach once again as part of a national solution.

Canada has been left behind, but let us not miss the bus again. Let us not pass the buck. Let us not say that it is not our jurisdiction. A national vision is our jurisdiction. National leadership is certainly our jurisdiction and our responsibility. Municipalities are looking to us for help, as is every Canadian who is sitting in traffic or has just missed the bus. Canadians need more than words, they need action and leadership from this House.

It is not just a question of money. Major investment funds are needed, of course. We have a huge shortfall in what is required for transit capital funds, but we need more than money. We need a strategy to ensure a consistent, reliable, predictable, long-term plan and accountability rather than a piecemeal approach. That is what we need to ensure fast, reliable, accessible and affordable public transit in and between cities and communities large and small, east and west, south and north.

Without a strategy that is hammered out and agreed upon by different levels of government, capital funds are often driven by political considerations and do not achieve long-term national goals. Which transit lines are worthy of support? Why choose subway lines rather than streetcar lines when streetcar lines are cheaper? Why are there buses to one town but not to another town of the same size? Should the number of buses be based on current riders, or on population and potential riders?

We need co-operation, transparency and accountability to ensure that we deliver on our goals. It is a national issue and we need a national solution to a growing national crisis.

Let us find solutions to address the public transit crisis that is affecting the entire country, and use this as an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of all Canadians.

This should be a priority for every part of the government, every department and minister, because moving Canada forward with public transit is so important.

Considering the implications for the government and Parliament, clearly a national transit strategy would have a major impact on achieving the goals of the Minister of Transportat and Infrastructure. Nothing could give more bang for the buck, so let us not pass the buck.

Think of all the goals of every government department.

For the Minister of Finance, there would clearly be a major impact on the economy, on growth, on mobility, and on the productivity of the workforce, as well as on the livability and competitiveness of our cities.

Think of the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Mobility of the workforce is a vital goal for them.

The government has made law enforcement a priority. Think what could be achieved by moving forward on transit. There would be fewer traffic accidents, less drunk driving by teenagers, less road rage, the ability for emergency vehicles to get around, fewer muggings, better public safety. Think, for example, of the positive impact of reliable, affordable public transit for a woman going home after a night shift. Think about how many lives we can enhance.

For the Minister of the Environment, a central focus on public transit would help us meet our international commitments on greenhouse gas emissions, would reduce our carbon footprint, and would lead to more innovation and research.

For the Minister of Natural Resources, when it comes to energy, better public transit would mean better energy utilization and lower reliance on fossil fuels, and more emphasis on innovation and research.

For the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, there would be an impact on immigrants. New Canadians bring such a wealth of talent to our cities and rely heavily on transit.

Think of the benefits for the Minister of Health with better air quality, less stress and fewer traffic accidents. Better transit means a healthier Canada. Think of the ability of patients and seniors to get to the doctor, the hospital, the clinic, or the outpatient facility. Think of the ability of ambulance drivers to quickly get through the traffic to the emergency wards. Think of the ability of hospital staff to get to work, to get to a night shift, to get home. People could afford to commute in cities where living downtown has become so expensive.

For the Minister of Industry, major investment in public transit and infrastructure would create jobs. Building train systems, buses and subway cars would improve competitiveness. It would move us forward with innovation and would open up more export opportunities.

We all would win, so let us not miss the bus or pass the buck. I am sure every minister in the government could think of many positive benefits of investing in public transit. It is hard to imagine any negative examples.

Think of children going to school or to their sports clubs, breathing in the fresh air, or going for a walk with their grandparents.

Think of working men and women who would be able to get to work on time and back home and spend more time with their children. People would exercise more.

Think of how many people we could help and how many lives we could touch. Let us not miss the bus or pass the buck. Let us move forward for all Canadians with all Canadians. Let us not leave anyone behind. Let us not hear anyone say that it cannot be done.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, in her opening remarks, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina stated that there is not consistent stable funding for municipalities regarding public transit. Six of Canada's largest cities, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton, invest over 90% of their gas tax fund allocation into public transit. Also, this government, in our budget 2011, made this gas tax funding permanent, a budget which the member voted against. I would like to ask the member, will she explain to these urban centres why she would not support them in that measure?

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, actually I had a lot to do with getting the gas tax to municipalities. I was on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and when I was a city councillor we mounted a very big campaign to persuade the former Liberal government and then the Conservative government to make sure that the gas tax would be transferred to municipalities.

The former leader of our party, Mr. Layton, took one extra cent of the gas tax. Rather than letting it be used as a corporate tax cut, he made sure that the extra cent went to municipalities for public transit only. That fund was allocated through the ridership formula, and not just per capita.

Lots can be done, especially with the gas tax: it should be indexed, it should be more than 5¢, and it would be useful if it were made permanent.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be a seconder of the bill that the member for Trinity—Spadina has brought forward.

I want to point out that Canada is the only country in the OECD without a national transit policy.

There is one segment of society that I am particularly concerned about that I do not think the member mentioned in her speech, and that is seniors. We have a growing demographic of seniors for whom independence means being able to get around on their own, both safely and securely. For a number of safety reasons, we should not be driving in our senior years.

Would the member like to comment on that aspect of seniors and mass transit?

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was in Whitehorse, Yukon, and met with the mayor there. She started a bus service in Whitehorse, and ridership jumped by 30% or 40% within a few months. She told me that there is a growing need for this service, because as the population ages, fewer people are able to drive.

Whitehorse is a small town, and people coming from other cities cannot reach it because there is just no bus service going into town. As well, parts of Whitehorse are not served by the bus service, because there is just not enough support from the federal government. She would welcome a national public transit strategy.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, because of the wonderful Garden City mall walker group we generated an idea about allowing seniors to ride the bus for free during non-peak hours. We talked a lot about this. During non-peak hours, and I am sure the member can relate to this, we see buses driving around empty, so we thought of allowing seniors to ride for free during non-peak hours. We all know the benefits seniors get from going out in their communities, whether it is for a cup of coffee, going out with grandchildren, or going for medical attention.

Maybe the member could provide some comment as to the idea of seniors being able to ride for free during non-peak hours.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I supported a private member's bill that asked the federal government to provide incentive funds so that if any municipalities or transit authorities wanted seniors to ride for free, they could do so. Quite a few countries in the world provide free transit to their seniors. It is a wonderful and much-needed service.

This transit bill pushes for fast, reliable, accessible and affordable public transit for everyone, especially seniors.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to rise today to speak on this important piece of proposed legislation. I congratulate the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina for introducing it. Certainly she has a lot of experience in the field of municipal infrastructure and a background as an elected official at a municipal level, which perhaps explains why she is so interested in the direct management and operations of public transit.

While that knowledge and background adds to her ability to serve in this House, I think it has also caused her to put forward a proposal that would have the federal government overstretch its jurisdictional bounds and participate directly in the operations of an otherwise municipally-controlled and run service.

Paragraph 4(b)(ii) of the bill proposes that the federal government would fund the operations of municipal infrastructure. That is a fundamental change to the way our government has functioned in this country since its founding. The Government of Canada has, for years, provided capital funding for qualifying projects within municipalities. The government provides a stable stream of revenue for municipalities through the gas tax fund; then those municipalities take those gas tax dollars and apply them where they believe appropriate, within some limited federal confines. Sometimes they use it for transit, other times not.

The federal government does not, even in this fund, provide dollars for operations, nor should it. For reasons of both good management and constitutional jurisdiction, the Government of Canada cannot and must not fund operations.

Let us start with good management. As Napoleon once said, “Better one bad general than two good ones”. The same goes for the idea of having two levels of government run the same transit system at the same time. When Canadians assess the quality of a service, they should know who provides it. The municipalities are entrusted with the operation of public transit because it is the municipal government that is closest to the people who use that particular service. If the system fails the voters in that given municipality, they know whom to blame; if it succeeds, they know whom to thank. That is accountability.

If every level of government is responsible for operating the same bus route, then no government is responsible for it. Let us consider the scenario that follows.

Let us imagine a rapid transit line that is failing commuters: its service is poor, its costs are unacceptably high and its trains never run on time. With the passage of this bill, no one could be held accountable for the poor operation of that service. Operations would be shared between orders of government. No one, therefore, can really accept the blame for that scenario.

Clear division of responsibility, therefore, is essential to good management and accountability.

I will now move on to constitutional responsibility. Section 92(8) of the Constitution states that municipalities are creatures of the provinces. Our forebears did not make it so by accident. If municipalities are the government closest to the people and the provinces are the second closest, it follows that the former are creatures of the latter. To have the federal government jump over the provinces and jointly operate services with the municipal administrations would create a cobweb of funding and management that would render the entire system unruly for both taxpayers and commuters.

The bill seems to acknowledge this point, to its credit, in clause 3. Clause 3 of the proposed act exempts Quebec, in recognition of that province's legitimate historical desire to protect its jurisdiction from federal encroachment. That makes sense.

Why would the equally legitimate jurisdictions of the nine other provinces and three other territories, all of which live under the same Constitution, not then enjoy the same exemption?

The reason is that the bill seems to go beyond the legitimate powers given to the federal government in the Constitution.

That brings us to the practical reason that our forebears created a system in this way--that is, the unfairness in a bill that would provide special funds for a service that only some Canadians could enjoy.

One of the benefits of our system of gas tax transfer is that it goes on a per capita basis to the municipalities. Some municipalities do not use public transit because they do not have the geography or population concentration to benefit from it, so chances are that people who live in Iqaluit or Wainwright or another smaller municipal jurisdiction in this country do not have a major public transit facility that their municipality could benefit from under the funding proposed in this bill. Only large urban centres would receive the funds, even though taxpayers from all sorts of municipalities would be forced to contribute to the annual operating costs of those transit projects.

This is compensated for in the system that we have at a national level, whereby the federal government invests in transit systems at a capital level when municipalities seek it, and then invests in other projects more appropriate for small jurisdictions when those municipalities seek funding. It might be a water treatment plant in Kentville, while it might be a large urban transit project in Trinity—Spadina.

This bill fails to acknowledge the difference between those two different types of jurisdictions, and would thus create a funding inequity through which funding received by large urban centres for municipal projects would not be offset with corresponding benefits for smaller jurisdictions.

That brings us to the next issue, which is cost. Like time, dollars are finite. We must remember that every time someone demands the government extend a benefit, the government cannot provide any benefit without first taking it away. Governments do not have money. Only taxpayers do. Given that the government is currently in a deficit, the only way to pay for new funding commitments, as this bill prescribes, is through more borrowing or higher taxes, neither of which are acknowledged in this bill, nor would they be defensible to the taxpayer. We must focus relentlessly on deficit elimination by the scheduled 2014 target date and we must do it through spending restraint.

For these reasons, and while we respect the good intentions of the bill and its author, the government is obliged to present opposition to the bill and will be voting against it. That being said, we look forward to working with all members of the House in order to improve the transportation and infrastructure that Canadians enjoy so that we can continue to move forward as the greatest country in the world.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, this fits in with the work currently being done by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities where we have come face to face with the reality. Canada does not have a national public transit strategy. The population is getting older. There are environmental considerations. We must work on improving coordination between all levels of government. We have made huge investments in infrastructure. Therefore, we obviously need a national public transit strategy.

Despite what the government says, and because I am from Quebec, I respect areas of jurisdiction, everyone knows that. We must ensure that jurisdictions are respected when we look at implementing a strategy. Basically, this bill calls for and would result in coordination. This complementarity would be achieved by holding a federal-provincial-territorial conference. It does not mean that we will do the work of the others involved. The principle of Quebec as a nation is recognized in clause 3, but the purpose is to ensure that we will all be able to work together. The same taxpayer is footing the bill, but today we can see that the money should perhaps be better spent. For that reason, we in the Liberal Party will vote in favour of this private member's bill.

When in power, the Liberal Party always invested heavily in infrastructure. I remember that, when I was a minister, we looked at public transit issues. In 2011, we can see what is happening in the municipalities. We have met on several occasions with representatives of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the mayors come to see us. We need to work on this file. I went to see the people at the Fédération québécoise des municipalités a few weeks ago. It is a top priority.

The bill clearly states—and it does not mention money—that the government is not being asked to pay for things; the government, through the minister, is being asked to establish a strategy that would look into with funding mechanisms.

Everyone will try to take credit for it. We will commend Paul Martin, in particular, the first prime minister to address the situation by having the gas tax redirected to municipalities. The measure was subsequently made permanent and we support that. However, municipalities are telling us that this money is used for other things, that mass transit is necessary, and that the money must be found somewhere else.

Should we index this gas tax? Out of all the federal excise taxes, should we eventually take an additional sum from the gas tax and send it to the municipalities? That is the type of question we should be addressing when we talk about coordination and a federal-provincial-territorial conference. We really have no problem with that.

The word “national” might get some people excited—the Quebec nation or the Canadian nation? We will not get into the constitutional arguments today, but we will ensure that the jurisdictions are respected.

The Canadian and Quebec reality is that the municipalities are the key to the future. The role of government, of Parliament, is to protect people's quality of life and make sure we can improve it.

When we talk about a national strategy, Canada is not one size fits all. We have to ensure that the rural and urban municipalities are covered. We need to ensure that if we are talking about quality of life, helping seniors, youth and workers, that we do not have a one size fits all. A national strategy does not mean that we apply the same thing everywhere. It means that the country respects all the regional specificities in a common goal. That is what a national strategy should be. That is why we should take a look at this.

We should talk about the technology. We have to ensure that we use natural gas, electricity and new ways for public transportation. The bottom line is the environment, to protect our country and planet and public transit has a major impact on greenhouse gases.

We know that the Conservatives do not have a national strategic vision, but let us not be partisan. We are already working on this in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I imagine that the government and its majority has just taken a bite out of the hon. member's ambitions for a good bill. We will carry on at report stage in the transport committee. A report from transport—that rhymes; I am such a poet today.

However, we will have to address another matter. Governance is one thing, but there has to be complementarity along with respect for each jurisdiction. The bill does not mention funding, but we should talk about it. The Liberal Party believes it is not just a public issue. This has been brought up in the transport committee. We have to turn to the private sector as well. We can have a public-private partnership, with rules to ensure security. We have to define what is meant by developers and by partnership with the private sector. In any event, the money all comes out of the same pocket.

This bill talks about strategy and therefore about partnership. Partnerships are not just about governance; they also involve economic considerations. If all the players could be gathered around the same table, we would be in a position to improve Canadians' quality of life.

We somewhat jokingly say that just because something is laughable does not mean that it is funny. We celebrated Car Free Day in Montreal. There may have been an orange wave, but there are certainly a lot of orange traffic cones in Montreal. Car Free Day lasted for a number of weeks this summer. The issue of traffic congestion must also be addressed. An investment in public transit is one way to deal with this problem but all the other methods of transportation must also be considered. The car is not our enemy. It is necessary in some circumstances. There is also the bicycle. We can give ourselves the tools and means to develop a broader strategy.

It is true that we have to think about governance, funding, partnerships and other methods of funding, but what is even more important is to inspire the public and give people hope. All the major cities in the world and all the G8 countries, currently have a strategy, except Canada. We have been addressing problems one by one, but we need to improve coordination and find a better way of doing things.

When we discuss a national public transit strategy, it will be essential that we do not take a piecemeal approach. We must consider the future of our infrastructure and think about the next 20 years. We must ensure that the existing infrastructure is adequate, but we must also consider other types of infrastructure. I am thinking here about high-speed trains, for example in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor, and light rail. When we build bridges, we must ensure that lanes are reserved for public transit.

We will enthusiastically support this bill. There are still holes, but we are here to do our job. We will have suggestions to make. We hope that everyone will take a non-partisan approach and support this bill.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-305, An Act to establish a National Public Transit Strategy.

I would like to commend my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, for all the hard work and dedication that she has invested over the years on this tremendously important topic.

The proposed bill provides a strategy for long-term, permanent investment in public transit funded by the federal government. It also fosters co-operation between the various levels of government in order to ensure sustainable, predictable and adequate resources for the transit needs of all Canadians. Additionally, it establishes accountability measures that ensure governments collaborate to increase access to public transit.

For too long, Canada has been the only G8 country lacking a consistent, long-term investment strategy to maintain and expand public transit. As a result, Canada lags behind other nations in terms of providing its citizens with public transit options that are affordable, accessible and convenient.

The government must provide Canadians with the tools they need to broaden the scope of transit projects. The public has demonstrated a strong desire for greater transportation choices and is willing to take action and fund public transit.

Public transit is a vital resource for many communities. Its value extends beyond the simple movement of people and goods. Public transit provides environmental benefits as well as long-term social, health and economic benefits. The issue of climate change and of the need for healthy liveable communities must be at the forefront of this debate.

The implementation of a national transit strategy is anticipated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tonnes a year. This means an annual electricity savings equivalent to the amount used by a city the size of Saskatoon. It allows us to reduce our dependence on oil and gas, a non-renewable resource, whose price will only continue to rise into the future. Reducing CO2 emissions will allow future generations to benefit from our vast natural resources, pristine wilderness, diverse ecosystems and thriving communities.

Public transit saves $115 million a year in health care costs related to respiratory illnesses. As populations increase, a focus on health and prevention is vital.

An effective transit system is also a pillar of our economy. It is estimated that the economic benefit of Canada's existing public transit system is about $10 billion a year in savings through reduced vehicle operating costs and the reduction of traffic accidents. In addition, the transit industry employs over 45,000 Canadians and creates an additional 24,000 jobs indirectly. These statistics are not insignificant, especially in these difficult economic times. By investing in public transit, Canada also has an opportunity to create green jobs for its citizens.

We need to work with municipalities, provinces and territories to provide the predictable, adequate and long-term funding necessary to fill the critical gaps in our transportation networks. Responsibility for transportation should not be off-loaded to local and regional jurisdictions that are already overwhelmed by these demands, such as what is happening in the Lower Mainland. Community planning needs to be conducted comprehensively and effectively, not piecemeal.

I urge the federal government to take a leadership role in ensuring effective public transit planning across the country. This means meeting the challenges of urban communities by building and maintaining inner-city bus and rail lines. This means establishing accountability measures that ensure all levels of government work together to increase access to public transit.

Public transit investment creates jobs for Canadians and fuels the local economy. It contributes to cleaner air by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing congestion. It reduces the pressure to build more roads and helps to create more liveable communities. Bill C-305 is our opportunity to work together and solve an issue that affects so many of our constituents.

Far too many times I have heard from constituents who wait for a bus for too long or, in some cases, for a bus that never arrives. Transit service in my community in New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody is inadequate.

Projects aimed at improving public transportation, such as the proposed Evergreen Line in my riding, have experienced countless delays. The Evergreen Line is anticipated to service 70,000 passengers a day, reduce 4.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and other air contaminants emitted by cars, and provide 9,000 construction jobs.

The project was first proposed in 1993, almost 20 years ago, and yet we still struggle to fund the $574 million gap for this community-enhancing project.

Canadians cannot afford to wait for essential transit services any longer. Communities across the country face similar challenges and require similar supports. The Evergreen Line is only one of many projects that a national transit strategy would help address.

The current government has failed to keep pace with municipalities and Canadians' growing demand for public transit. For example, 35% of current necessary infrastructure investments in rapid transit lines remain unmet. Funding is also falling short in stock rehabilitation and replacement, maintenance facilities, and advanced technology investment.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association estimates that Canadian public transit systems face an $18 billion funding gap in transit infrastructure needs between 2010 and 2014. The adoption of a national transit strategy would ensure that resources allocated to transit would be used in the most efficient manner possible. A national transit strategy would also go a long way to ensure our communities are healthier and more livable.

The national public transit strategy act is about securing investment in key areas within the country. It would create jobs, improve commute times, help the environment, and allow our cities and communities to plan and implement the public transit projects that they need.

The act would bring together the Minister of Transport, provincial transportation ministers, representatives of municipalities and transit authorities, aboriginal communities, and many others to design and establish a national public transit strategy to meet the needs of our communities.

The objective here is to move away from unstable short-term funding programs in favour of providing secure infrastructure planning for the future. The aim is to foster more effective co-operation among all levels of government and transit networks directed by clearly defined national and provincial objectives.

A national transit strategy would increase collaboration to provide better data collection research and to better integrate transportation systems to capture important synergies between urban development and infrastructure, and to pay greater attention to the integration of land use.

A national transit strategy would ensure better performance measurements to ensure value from investments and to improve future planning. A national public transit strategy is well supported by many people; for example, Berry Vrbanovic, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

Mayors and municipalities across Canada, from Charlottetown to Toronto to Winnipeg to Vancouver, are all calling for a commitment from the federal government for public transit. Feedback from Canadians echo these sentiments.

Affordable, efficient and well-organized public transportation networks in cities across our country are vital to ensuring Canada's success in the 21st century.

We must work together to ensure that these needs of our citizens are adequately met and that we are prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow. By adopting a national public transit strategy, we would protect our environment, improve the health of Canadians, and create more livable communities.

I urge all members of the House to consider the great need in our country for a national public transit strategy and I call on my colleagues on both sides of the House to support Bill C-305.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to compliment the member for Trinity—Spadina for her passionate introduction to this bill. I know that the member has put a great deal of effort into this subject and in bringing forward this bill. I have read the information that the member was kind enough to send to my office and I have some concerns.

I believe it is important to first give consideration to how public transit is working for Canadians today. Although I am still new to Parliament, the advice that I seek from many of my experienced predecessors is always to exercise caution. We must be careful in attempting to resolve one challenge that we do not inadvertently create many new challenges.

When I look at Canada's economic action plan, it has clearly been very successful, thanks in large part to our partnership with the provinces, territories and municipalities across this great country. Like the member for Trinity—Spadina, I am also a former city councillor. Local government understands its unique community challenges and the solutions that it can afford. It is important to have flexibility to meet the individual needs of provinces and municipalities.

I note that the member for Trinity—Spadina has reflected this language within parts of Bill C-305. In clause 3, for example, the member uses language only to the benefit of one province, however, and not equally to the others. I would humbly submit that the success of being able to recognize the unique nature of provincial jurisdiction for all provinces is equally very important because we must not forget that there is only one taxpayer paying the bill.

I believe that the success is in the results and the achievement of Canada's economic action plan has occurred for a reason. The reason is because Canada's economic action plan created partnerships that recognized the unique jurisdiction of every province and their respective local governments. Those agreements allowed Infrastructure Canada to invest $10.6 billion into roughly 6,400 infrastructure projects all across our great nation. These funds, when combined with the contributions of our funding partners in provincial and local governments, created a $30 billion injection into our local economies.

These unique partnerships allowed our provinces and municipalities to decide how best to improve local public transit systems within their own jurisdictions. Cities like Langley, Calgary, Guelph, Oakville, Ottawa and Montreal have received federal investments in their public transit systems that will create better commuting options. However, these options are different and unique. They might be in the form of light rail systems, hybrid electric buses, and new and improved transit facilities. In my hometown, more energy efficient buses were purchased.

We should also recognize that since 2006 our government has invested close to $5 billion in public transit infrastructure across Canada. This has resulted in over 100 public transit investments in transit infrastructure as a result of the gas tax fund. The importance of the gas tax fund for transit investment is evidenced by the fact that a large number of cities have directed either all or a very large portion of their federal gas tax allocations to public transit. However, for smaller rural communities, public transit can also mean upgrading a public walking path, as was done in the community of Okanagan Falls in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla.

Once again, it is important to work with the provinces in a manner that recognizes unique provincial jurisdictions and the individual needs of local government. This is why our government works in collaboration with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to administer the gas tax fund in British Columbia and Ontario, respectively.

Six of Canada's largest cities, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton, invest over 90% of their gas tax fund allocations in public transit. This means we are already working with our partners to support transit initiatives in a very positive and successful manner.

Our government recognizes that transit needs vary widely in Canada, just as they differ widely in my own riding. This is why we create partnerships with provincial and local governments. These unique relationships provide for flexibility. The needs of larger cities may well differ from those of mid-size cities, such as Brampton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Red Deer or Kelowna.

For a retirement community, low floor buses and upgrades to bus stops for increased accessibility may be a priority. Whereas in West Kelowna, a rapid bus program now takes students from that community to the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in times never before thought possible.

This was part of a unique $20 million investment jointly funded by our government and our partners. These are just a few examples of our investments and unique partnerships that are successfully increasing public transit and infrastructure programs all across Canada.

It is important to note that our government is also taking a lead role in other areas. For example, the federal government offers a tax credit to help cover the cost of public transit. This helps make public transit more affordable for individual Canadians.

We are also supporting public transit infrastructure through targeted initiatives such as the $10 million ecoMOBILITY program. This program provides financial support to municipalities and regional transportation authorities for transportation demand management projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, several federal departments, agencies and crown corporations work in partnership with other levels of government and stakeholders on activities which support transit. Research and development, capacity building, and the use of technology and best practices are all part of that.

For example, the West Kelowna rapid bus program, that I mentioned earlier, features buses that are equipped with technology that extends green lights at intersections, allowing them to keep moving instead of stopping.

Soon, many stations will have digital screens providing passengers with real time schedule information. I should also mention that our government, together with representatives from provincial and territorial governments, is a member of the urban transit task force.

The task force is a forum for collaboration on urban transportation issues of common interest. Clearly, a broad and unique approach to long-term infrastructure planning for public infrastructure, including public transit, is important.

In budget 2011 our government indicated that it will continue working with key infrastructure partners now and in the future.

Key stakeholders, such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Urban Transit Association, have already expressed their interest in working with our government. It is important to continue to work collaboratively with our partners to deliver the $33 billion building Canada plan.

I am also supportive of our recently tabled government legislation to make the gas tax fund permanent at $2 billion per year. This means that municipalities can count on this stable funding for their transit and infrastructure related projects.

In summary, I believe that our government has demonstrated a commitment, including funding, that works with the unique needs of our municipalities, provinces and territories. These partnerships create accountability to taxpayers as they recognize the unique jurisdiction of the provinces and local governments to partner in a manner they can afford in support of projects they deem as priorities. Public transit is important, and we as members of Parliament must work together to ensure that the needs of Canadians are met.

I would like to applaud the member for Trinity—Spadina for raising such an important subject in Bill C-305.

While I believe it is important that we continue to build on our past accomplishments and work with our partners to identify the priorities of the future, we must do so in a manner that recognizes that Canada is a diverse country, and it will be partnerships that can individually recognize the unique needs of individual provincial jurisdictions and local governments that achieve these important objectives.

As a result, I cannot support Bill C-305. I am nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to stand in the House to highlight the importance of working with our partners, and to continue to build on our government's unprecedented success in creating partnerships that result in projects that Canadians can count on and afford.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I call on the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I must inform her that there will only be about a minute left, but we will start just the same.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-305 introduced by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina to establish a national public transit strategy. Canadians living in rural communities have different transportation needs than those living in urban centres, and I am proud to see that Bill C-305 responds to the needs of Canadians and Quebeckers living in the regions.

My riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has at least 42 municipalities, the vast majority of which are small communities. There is a serious lack of public transit outside the larger centres and people who do not have access to a vehicle are cut off from necessary services.

This bill establishes a national public transit strategy that will make planning possible across the different modes of transportation. It will improve the quality of life of my constituents by making services more accessible, by making transportation to work and school easier and more accessible, and even by creating jobs.

I will be pleased to talk about that the next time we debate Bill C-305 in the House.

National Public Transit Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member will have nine minutes for her speech when the House resumes debate on the motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

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

6:40 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to be here tonight.

On September 27, I was grateful to have had the opportunity to co-host a screening of the channel four documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, with my fellow parliamentarians, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, as well as the hon. member for Barrie. Also present was a representative from Human Rights Watch.

This documentary detailed the alleged human rights violations and crimes against humanity that were committed in Sri Lanka during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war. The screening of this documentary moved me, as it did everyone else in the room who was watching. That night, we demonstrated that partisan lines could be crossed in order to seek justice for those whose human rights have been violated.

On this side of the House, we have been calling on the government to take action and commit to fighting for justice for Sri Lankans. We called for action in 2009. New Democrats stood with hundreds of thousands of Canadians from across the country who were calling on the very same government to take action. Jack Layton stood with these Canadians and facilitated an emergency debate in the House, on the Sri Lankan conflict, demanding that the government stand up for human rights and justice.

We have been asking the government to call upon the United Nations to follow the recommendations provided by its own panel of experts and to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity that may have been committed during the final phase of the Sri Lankan conflict. Canada is home to one of the largest communities of Tamil diaspora in the world, outside of India, many of whom live in my constituency of Scarborough—Rouge River and across the greater Toronto area in general.

These are people who have lived through the atrocities committed during the Sri Lankan conflict. These are people who have witnessed their loved ones being murdered or kidnapped. These are people who have felt unsafe in their own homes. My family joined these people, fleeing our home country to come to Canada, leaving behind our friends, families and loved ones. Many of us risked our lives in order to escape the horrors taking place inside our homes and in our own backyards.

During the almost 30 years of this conflict, and particularly during the final phase of the war, Canadians and the rest of the world stood idly by. Though there were many cries for help, there was no foreign intervention in the spring of 2009. Even the United Nations left Sri Lanka during the final phase of the conflict. We cannot continue this inaction. The United Nations expert panel, as well as the channel four documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, show that there are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during the final phase of the war. It is time for the global community to come together to fight for peace and justice in Sri Lanka.

Representatives are meeting later this week in Perth, Australia for the Commonwealth leaders summit. With these allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, we know that Sri Lanka will be a topic of discussion as Sri Lanka is scheduled to host the next summit in 2013.

When is the government going to fight for justice for Sri Lankans? What concrete steps will Canada take to ensure that Sri Lanka complies with and demonstrates human rights values consistent with those held by Canadians, members of the Commonwealth and the United Nations?