House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arrest.


Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find Bill C-293 both puzzling and troubling. Contrary to what the previous member suggested, the bill does not right a wrong. If enacted, it will pave the way potentially for far greater wrongs. I need only quote from the renowned Justice Louise Arbour, who said, in dealing with previous concerns regarding the treatment of prisoners:

One must resist the temptation to trivialize the infringement of prisoners' rights as either an insignificant infringement of rights, or as an infringement of the rights of people who do not deserve any better. When a right has been granted by law, it is no less important that such right be respected because the person entitled to it is a prisoner.

One would presume that these amendments came forward in response to the recommendations of the federal Correctional Investigator. The federal Correctional Investigator came forward with strong recommendations as a result of the very tragic case of Ashley Smith.

What were the facts in the case of Ashley Smith? Fourteen-year-old Ashley Smith was put in prison because she threw crab apples at a postman and she was shunted from institution to institution. Because it appeared she was under stress and had some mental health problems, she was violating certain rules in the prison. As a result, she went from solitary confinement, then to prison and to another prison. In the end, the sad case of Ashley Smith was that the prison officer sat and watched her die from self-strangulation. As a result of the tragic death of this young women and the failure of the prison guards to protect her interests, there were a number of investigations.

One of the investigations was by the federal Correctional Investigator. One thing he found was that her final grievance remained in the prison grievance box two and a half months after her death. Today we hear that there are inappropriate administrative duties on prison officers. There actually are corrections officer rules that require that box be emptied every day.

What was the nature of Ashley's complaints filed as grievances? The Correctional Investigator quoted a number of them, which I do not have time to go into. However, in his report the investigator found that there was improper designation of her grievances. They were found to be insignificant when he found that they were in fact serious. There was a failure to provide written responses as required by the prison directives. There was a failure to discuss her complaints with her and the responses were prepared well after she was transferred to other institutions. All of her complaints were responded to in an inappropriate way and not compliant with corrections policy.

Despite the heightened duty of vigilance due to her condition of confinement, there was a failure to observe her basic human rights. This was a tragic and avoidable death and the investigator made a number of recommendations. He recommended, contrary to what the hon. member has tabled, the following:

I recommend that all grievances related to the conditions of confinement or treatment in segregation be referred as a priority to the institutional head and be immediately addressed.

I recommend, once again, that the Correctional Service immediately commission an external review of its operations and policies in the area of inmate grievances to ensure fair and expeditious resolution of offenders' complaints and grievances at all levels of the process.

What do we find in the bill here? How does this bill respond to what the Correctional Investigator found? He found that corrections institutions were failing immeasurably in honouring the basic right of considering the grievances. This bill has the opposite effect.

This bill, contrary to due process, gives complete discretion to the regional deputy commissioner or the commissioner or any delegate. In other words, it could be totally within the discretion of any corrections officer to designate somebody as a vexatious prisoner. There are no criteria, there is no process, and in fact the commissioner, or the person making the designation, does not even have to inform the prisoner in writing until after the designation is made.

There is some reference to having a conversation with the prisoner about the process. This is a complete violation of due process. We live in a country of due process. That is how we are made. That is why we are honoured to be a member of the United Nations: we operate by the rule of law and due process. That means we follow basic principles.

This bill violates all of those principles.

Then the prisoner is going to be denied, potentially for a whole year, even the opportunity to raise any kind of grievance. Again, let us remember that we are including the rising numbers of prisoners who are suffering from mental health issues, as documented by the corrections investigator and a number of officials. As a result, there is a high probability that in this process, anybody in the prison could designate somebody with a significant mental health issue, and they will be silenced.

What is the solution? What is the redress for this prisoner? Well, the prisoner can go to court--this from the very government that criticizes us all the time over the possibility that we might table bills that might be litigious. This is the very government that castigated me for daring to table an environmental bill of rights that would simply have allowed Canadians the right to go to court if the government failed to be transparent, open and participatory.

As for the right to go to court, these are prisoners who have been denied the ability to even file a grievance, and we are supposed to believe that they are going to be given access to the courts. As my colleague on this side of the House suggested after the bill was first presented, why is there not a more reasonable mechanism? Why is there not an independent mediator within the prison system, who could come in the same way that many independent people do to make sure prisoners are being treated appropriately? Why not consider some other kind of mechanism?

I hope the member who tabled this bill will give serious consideration, if her bill proceeds, to sending it to committee to be measurably amended, so that at least the government, if it sides with this bill, will show that it is siding with due process of law and human rights.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

As she may wish, the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona will have two minutes remaining when the House next 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.

6:30 p.m.


Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, in April 2009 the House passed my motion to bring relief to Canadians by instituting binding regulations regarding credit cards, yet two and a half years later the government has failed to fulfill the will of the House.

Last year, in an attempt to placate consumers, the Minister of Finance introduced the voluntary code of conduct for credit cards. However, this move was mostly spin, with little substance.

In the first place, the code of conduct simply did not do enough to protect consumers. For example, the code was directed mainly toward the credit card issuers, meaning that most of the issues addressed were those of small businesses, not consumers.

While I welcome any way to help small and medium-sized businesses in Canada, and while I recognize that helping them protect their razor-thin profit margins could help lower consumer prices, there are many precise issues, specifically at the banking level, that affect consumers directly and that were not addressed by the code.

Additionally, even those provisions that were put in place do not go far enough. Study after study by academics and reserve banks shows that consumers who use cash and debit cards are effectively subsidizing the spending of credit card users, as businesses are forced to increase their prices to cover merchant fees. Credit card users then receive reward points, cash back, or air miles to compensate them for this increased cost, while consumers using cash and debit cards are forced to cover this cost with no return.

Second, this weakness is compounded by the voluntary nature of the system. The failure of voluntary systems of quasi-regulation has been brought to light recently by the banks pulling out of the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments external complaint resolution system. When banks first joined OBSI following a spate of consumer complaints and media coverage of the failure to resolve them, the industry and the minister of finance of the day made a behind-closed-doors deal to adhere to the system in order to avoid formal regulation from a government body.

Now, with the eye of economic reporting focused elsewhere, the government has allowed banks to leave the OBSI system and instead settle their complaints through a downtown Toronto law firm. The government likes to say that this brings choice to the market, but the only ones getting choice on the matter are the big banks.

What is to stop the government from allowing credit card issuers to leave the mechanisms of the voluntary code of conduct later, when it senses the opportunity?

The banking industry is one of the fastest-changing industries in the world, and even specialists sometimes struggle to keep up with the acronyms and investment vehicles that banks use. It is important that the government keep up with the industry.

As I stated earlier, the Minister of Finance likes to applaud our regulatory regime. However, if we do not keep moving forward, we risk being left behind. The government needs to act now to ensure that our financial regulation continues to protect consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole.

6:35 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, Canadians use financial services products every single day, whether using their credit cards, cashing a cheque, going to the bank or signing a mortgage. Canadians deserve to be treated fairly when using these products and to be provided with clear information before agreeing to use them.

That is why, since 2006, our Conservative government has taken key steps to address consumer concerns and make financial services products more consumer friendly, but why does the NDP keep voting against these measures?

Why do the NDP members oppose protecting consumers with new credit card rules that will require consent for credit limit increases, require a minimum 21-day grace period on new purchases, require full disclosure for consumers and limit other anti-consumer business practices?

Why did the NDP oppose bringing in a code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry to help small businesses dealing with unfair practices? The code would help ensure fairness, encourage real choice and competition, and protect businesses from rising costs, so why did the NDP oppose that, and oppose banning negative option billing for financial products as well? Why do the NDP members oppose shortening the cheque holding period? They oppose making mortgage insurance more transparent, understandable and affordable with enhanced disclosures and other measures.

The NDP members oppose creating an independent task force on financial literacy to help consumers make the right financial choices. Why do they oppose all of these things, and not only these things, but so many more?

In budget 2011 we did even more, as our Conservative government built on that record with even more consumer friendly proposals, such as banning unsolicited credit card cheques, moving to protect consumers of prepaid cards and beginning to implement the task force on financial literacy recommendations, starting with the creation of the financial literacy leaders here in the government. Again, why did the NDP oppose all of these pro-consumer measures?

Unfortunately, the alleged consumer measures that the NDP proposes are actually quite harmful for consumers because they are so poorly thought out. Indeed, we all remember the NDP's bizarre idea in the last election to have the politicians essentially run the credit card companies and dictate their daily operations. It was an idea so poorly thought out that even consumer groups gave the NDP idea a big thumbs-down.

Let me read directly what the Consumers' Association of Canada had to say: “I don't think it's doable. [Significantly lower rates] would mean cuts to fraud protection guarantees and...would only help about one-third of Canada's some 25 million credit card holders, because 65% of us pay our cards off every month. It's being much too overblown as a great gift to Canadian consumers, because most of us don't fall into that category anyway”.

The NDP members continue to harp about protecting consumers, but they have absolutely no clue about how to protect them. Shame on them for making these false allegations and making it seem as though they would protect them, when in fact they jeopardize the safety of consumers in Canada.

6:35 p.m.


Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find that very rich, because the Conservatives have done nothing to actually protect consumers.

They talk about the grandiose code of conduct. It is a voluntary code of conduct that does nothing to help consumers. It helps small businesses.

Small businesses are saying that right now their costs are going up because of the merchant fees. When we were talking about protecting consumers, we were including small businesses.

The Conservatives talk about the things we oppose. We oppose them because they are always supporting the big banks and the credit card companies. On this side of the House we ensure that working families, small businesses and the 99% of people who use credit cards get a fair deal. The Conservatives do not.

6:35 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has one thing right: we are looking to protect people. It is Canadians we are protecting.

The one thing the NDP continues to do is put our Canadian families at risk. Consumers are not worrying about this government putting them in jeopardy; they are worrying about the NDP proposals that make absolutely no sense and actually put their interests at risk.

Consumers need protection from the NDP. Every single time NDP members vote in this place to raise taxes, it would hurt Canadian families and Canadian consumers.

Unfortunately, Canadians do not want to see these politicians voting to take more money out of their pockets, which would do them harm, do this economy harm and put them in jeopardy.

We are on the right track as a Conservative government. Canadians believe in us, and we will continue on that track to protect their interests.

6:40 p.m.


Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the cultural capitals program, which is administered by Canadian Heritage and was announced in 2002, annually designates three communities of distinction in three various levels, the first level being a population of 125,000 and over, the middle being a population of between 50,000 and 125,000, and the third level being 50,000 people. This has been done since its inception and each of these levels come with funding. The first level comes with up to $2 million, the second with $750,000 and the third with $500,000.

I rise to speak to a situation that has arisen this year where a number of smaller towns, those designated under 50,000 citizens, and those between 50,000 and 125,000 citizens, have made applications, through great expense of their own, to have themselves designated as cultural capitals for the year.

This year it seems that the government has chosen to cancel or eliminate two levels and has seen fit to award only to cultural capitals in the category of 125,000 and over, those being Calgary and the Niagara region.

I have heard from two towns, Rouyn-Noranda and Saint-Eustache, asking why they were not informed or why there was no recognition of the fact that there are potential cultural capitals in this country, and I am focusing on Quebec specifically and these two capitals, that may merit the title of cultural capital for a population of 50,000 and under. However, none was designated this year and they are coming to me and asking why that is.

There seems to be a lack of clarity as to the process of the cultural capitals program. If there are three levels that are available and open for competition, why are these three levels not acknowledged? In particular, Rouyn-Noranda, which put together a very strong package, was left having spent over $20,000 to create this package and was told that the category did not exist or was led to believe that the category does not exist.

6:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, our government is delivering on its commitment to strengthen our communities and support arts and culture across Canada. Supporting culture means supporting Canada's economy.

In 2007, the arts and culture sector represented $46 billion in economic activity and employed more than 630,000 people. Just to put that into context, that $46 billion contribution is more than the hotel and restaurant industry and the hunting, forestry, fishing and agriculture industry.

Thanks to our government's investments, Canadians can have access to and participate in many cultural activities. We recognize that a vibrant cultural sector is important to Canada's economy and to our society.

We must make no mistake. Our government is doing what it takes to foster the growth of Canada's cultural sector in all parts of the country. We are making targeted investments to ensure Canadians have greater access to Canadian culture. Our government recognizes the important contribution that small communities make to the cultural and economic fabric of Canada and what culture does for communities economically and socially.

For example, research has clearly demonstrated that involvement in the arts helps children to develop the learning skills required in Canada's knowledge economy. Involvement in the arts also helps them to develop the social skills they need to succeed, and certain artistic disciplines lead to improved health outcomes as a result of physical activity.

For those and other reasons, our government was proud to announce the children's art credit in our last budget.

At Heritage Canada, the people pride themselves on designating national programs that are sensitive to local realities. A number of our programs are regionally delivered. Some, such as Canada arts presentation fund, Canada cultural spaces fund and museums assistance program, have rural and remote communities as a funding priority. In some cases, we provide a higher percentage of funding for rural or remote projects recognizing that cultural organizations in these areas do not have access to private sector funding available in larger urban centres.

In 2010-11, 33% of festivals and series and 28% of infrastructure projects funded through arts programs in the Department of Canadian Heritage were in rural and remote areas, and 19 of the 42 cultural capitals of Canada designations to date have been awarded to municipalities outside of major urban centres, from Nanaimo in British Columbia, to Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia.

Our government knows that supporting Canadian culture helps support the Canadian economy and we will continue to ensure that our programs serve the needs of smaller communities.

We are doing what is right. We are making investments in arts and culture that will benefit all communities across Canada. We are doing that because that is what makes sense, not only for the artistic community but that is what makes sense for the Canadian economy.

6:45 p.m.


Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am heartened that the hard work of the arts and cultural community to impress upon the government the importance of its existence has finally been taken to heart. However, it still does not answer the question as to how the cultural capitals program works. In fact, in his speech, he did not even mention the cultural capitals program.

This is a program that is supposed to help smaller communities target the arts and cultural aspects of their communities and these communities are being left out. Why are they being left out? With all the work that the hon. member says is being done, why are smaller communities being left out, with no answer as to why the two levels of the cultural capitals program were not acknowledged this year?

6:45 p.m.


Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my speech I did mention that fully almost half of the cultural capitals that we designated have actually come from smaller communities.

I note that next year the cultural capitals program will be celebrating Calgary and Niagara Falls. Calgary will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, which is something I think all Canadians should be proud of and will be excited to celebrate. Niagara Falls will be home of the celebrations for the War of 1812.

This government has done more to support arts and culture than any government in the history of this country, and we are proud of that. We understand that the artistic community, that arts and culture are incredibly important because they create thousands of jobs and are responsible for an incredible amount of economic activity in this country. We have nothing to apologize for because we have done what is needed to invest in communities. That is why we are giving record amounts of funding.

It is unfortunate, of course, that the NDP, when it has had the opportunity to support us, to support these investments and to support the artistic community, has consistently voted against that.

I know that, going forward, we will continue to place great value on the artistic community and the jobs that it creates.

6:45 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise here this evening in the House to return to an issue I raised on November 4, 2011. I had asked the Minister of Finance about the economic situation, specifically about Statistics Canada's announcement that 72,000 full-time jobs had been lost in October, which was only slightly offset by the 18,000 new part-time jobs. Obviously, I did not get a satisfactory response from the government, which is why I am here this evening.

I would like to take this opportunity to compare the Conservatives' view of the economy with that of the NDP. The kind of responses we are getting is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that we vote the way we do on issues like the budget, for example. The budgets presented by the Conservatives go in exactly the wrong direction, as far back as their very first term.

When the Conservative government came to power in 2006, it had a surplus of $13 billion. In less than two years, that surplus became a deficit, and that was before the recession hit. I am amazed that the Conservatives like to boast about being the best government for fiscal management.

One of the main differences between the Conservative government's philosophy and that of the NDP has to do with their vision for the economy. The Conservatives planned on focusing their efforts on cutting corporate taxes to help with the economic recovery, a measure we clearly disagree with. We are not saying that tax cuts are never valuable, on the contrary. As an economist, I know that a tax cut can be worthwhile if it can benefit private companies that are short on liquid assets for investing.

According to current data, Canadian companies are sitting on nearly $500 billion in liquid assets. They are currently not investing. They must have reasons for not investing. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence or lack of opportunity, or fear of the economic situation. If these companies have $500 billion that they are not investing, then additional tax cuts worth $4 billion to $6 billion a year will only add to this mountain of liquid assets that still will not be invested.

Since the Conservative government came to power in 2006, our tax room has decreased by $25 billion. That money could have been reinvested in infrastructure programs, for instance. We know there is a major infrastructure problem in the country. Our tax room has decreased by $25 billion because of the gradual reduction in the corporate tax rate. Corporations are being given money they do not need because they are not investing.

The government boasts about creating jobs. We often hear them talk about the 600,000 additional jobs since the worst part of the recession. The government cannot take credit for creating those jobs. If it is going to take credit for creating 600,000 jobs, then it also has to take credit for losing 4,000 jobs at the beginning of the recession and for the rise in the unemployment rate from 6% in 2007 to 7% today.

For that reason, I am not satisfied with the answer and I would like to get some explanations on this from the government before I rise on my right of reply.

6:50 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, Canadian companies have made investments in our communities and in our country. It is really unfortunate to hear the NDP insulting these companies like this. These companies deserve the credit for creating 600,000 jobs in this country since the recession. However, the Conservative government created the environment in which they could invest and expand so that Canada's current economic growth is the envy of the world.

When Canadians in my riding, or that of the member opposite, elect a member to this House, they expect the member to work hard to help build Canada's economy and help create jobs. These are moms and dads in our communities who are trying to make a living. They are raising their kids. They are even trying to save a little for their retirement. They want to watch every dollar that they spend. They expect us to do the same.

They want our politicians to think very hard about the decisions that they make that effect them. They want us to bring forward positive ideas for the economy and jobs, positive ideas that will help them ensure their families are taken care of.

Unfortunately, the NDP clearly does not understand that and fails to meet that test. Instead of proposing positive ideas, the NDP constantly talks down Canada's economy. Even worse, the NDP members travel to places like the United States and other countries and talk to others, discouraging them from investing and creating jobs here in Canada. Worse yet, the NDP's only idea for the economy is to take money out of the pockets of Canadian families and Canadian businesses by imposing higher and higher taxes upon them.

While our Conservative government is focusing on creating jobs and growing the economy with its low-tax plan, the NDP is publicly calling for tax hikes, which would take a larger share of Canadians' hard-earned money. We know that the NDP wants to impose job-killing tax hikes on Canadian employers to the tune of $10 billion.

NDP members publicly attacked our Conservative government because it reduced the GST from 7% to 5%. They bemoaned the fact that Canadian families were keeping more of their own hard-earned money. In fact, the hon. member who just spoke said that cutting the GST was probably the worst measure that this government could have adopted.

The NDP plan is clear: higher taxes and irresponsible spending. Canadians and our economy cannot afford the NDP's job-killing economic plan. The NDP's high-tax plan is yet another disturbing indication that the NDP is not fit to govern.

I await the NDP member's reply.

6:55 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to that.

First, the member's answer makes it very clear that she does not understand the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics. She talked about businesses that are investing. We realize that some businesses invest in Canada and we encourage that. However, in terms of real investments, there is no increase in Canada overall. But we can see that cash flow in Canada is increasing. Businesses have more and more cash to invest, but they are not investing. I am not talking about every business that invests in our ridings, but in Canada as a whole. That is a major difference compared to the response she gave.

Second, I am happy that the parliamentary secretary mentioned the GST. I am not the only one; most credible Canadian economists have criticized this tax measure as being the worst thing the government could have done. That is one of the main ways the government took the country from a $13 billion surplus to a deficit in less than two years.

This response and these comments clearly show that the Conservatives have no real interest in helping the whole country economically and that they have much more interest in promoting their own policy, which is based more on ideology than on clearly demonstrated economic credibility.

6:55 p.m.


Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is surprising to hear the member refer to economists because they have clearly said time and time again that this Conservative government is on the right track with the low tax agenda that we have put in place. Economists agree that the plan and the track this Conservative government is on is the right plan for Canada.

In fact, we are the envy of the world. Forbes magazine has said we are the place to do business over the next five years. Compared to all other countries in the world, we are in fact the place to do business.

I want to reiterate that this government is focused on a low tax plan, a pro-trade plan, which we know the anti-trade NDP members are completely against. We know how they travelled to the United States to try to effect an anti-trade agenda.

I am so disappointed to hear this member talk as if anything that the NDP has suggested would help Canadian families. In essence, the plans that have been proposed will, in fact, damage our economy, damage Canadian families, and damage our country for years to come.

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

(The House adjourned at 6:59 p.m.)