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House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I also would like to congratulate the member on the good work he does in the public safety committee.

The first thing I would correct is the misnomer of referring to accelerated parole as automatic. It is not automatic. There is a reverse onus. Someone will get parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence, unless it can be shown by the national parole board that the person is likely to commit a violent offence in the community.

Once again, this policy came out of a different time when it was recognized that we wanted an effective targeted use of prison time and to focus on the people who really need to be in prison, people who are violent, people who cannot function in society, people who need to be supervised. It was recognized that it was desirable to have a different stream after exposing non-violent first offenders to that very harsh environment. And make no mistake, it is harsh. Of the 25 prisons I have visited, I would not want to spend five minutes in any one of them as a prisoner. After exposing people to that harsh environment for a period of time, to deliver that message to them, it is desirable to transition them to a halfway house, as long as we can be sure they are not going to be violent. They are still under their prison sentence. They are still in prison. They are still serving their sentence. They are still subject to conditions, but it gives them access to other programs and resources that are not available in prison.

In that respect, the recidivism rate of people in halfway houses is lower. It is cheaper. It costs about $25,000 a year to keep someone in a halfway house, whereas it costs $140,000 to keep someone in prison. That is the kind of economic theory the government is advancing here today.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway if I understand this correctly. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has projected that it will cost $10 billion roughly over five years to implement the kind of so-called crime control the Conservatives would like to do, although they will not give us any numbers to confirm or deny that. Given that we have seen a lot of evidence all over the place that these kinds of draconian measures just harden beginner criminals and make them into really bad people who get put back into prison, and given that it does not work and it is expensive, what would the member and his New Democrat colleagues do for a better system on preventing crime?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North has asked an intelligent question. He works hard on behalf of his constituents across the board.

We do know what does work in terms of making our communities safer is to have more community police in our neighbourhoods walking the beat. We need to have a well-functioning judiciary and prosecution system that has enough resources so that it can prosecute crimes in an efficient and timely manner. If we invest in crime prevention, according to the statistics I have seen, every $1 invested in crime prevention saves $4 in terms of later court costs and costs to society. We need to focus on mental illness and addictions treatment. I was at the regional psychiatric centre in Saskatoon sitting inside a federal penitentiary talking to addictions counsellors. I asked them what percentage of the people in that institution who committed crimes did they think would not have committed them if they were not addicts or alcoholics. The answer was 70%. That was not said by me or any other New Democrat. That was said by the correctional officers inside a prison.

It stands to reason that we would be better advised to invest money in addictions treatment and in mental health facilities. Another benefit is it would work to prevent crime.

The best help we can give a victim in this country, in my opinion, in the opinion of New Democrats, is to prevent them from being victimized at all. Victims do not want us to crack down after they have been hurt. They want justice, but what they really want is for us to adopt policies that would make it less likely that they, their children, their families and their loved ones were ever hurt to begin with.

That is what is so wrong about the Conservative policy. It is focused on punishing after the harm has been created instead of focusing on preventing the harm in the first place, which is to be smart on crime.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, would the member comment on how the government is being tough on victims, creating more victims, making Canada more dangerous by spending so much money on jails that could be spent on more police? Would he also comment on what the government has done to reduce the absurdly high proportion of aboriginal people in the federal system?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, dealing with the latter question first, the answer is nothing. We all know that aboriginal offenders are vastly overrepresented in our prisons. Approximately 30% of the female population in federal prisons is aboriginal. It is approaching that, actually, in our male population as well when they make up about 1% of Canada's population.

That is the other thing the bill may very well harm. If people who are in prison for the first time are disproportionately aboriginal, the bill will quite logically have a disproportionately negative impact on aboriginal people.

In terms of the first question, absolutely, we need to be focusing on putting more resources into policing. That would be far wiser. A neighbourhood police officer on bike patrol embedded in the community or embedded in schools does more to prevent crime than any other factor.

The government claimed it would create 2,500 police officer positions in this country. However, it would not commit to funding beyond five years and it sent the money to provinces without any ties to it. Some provinces have not spent the money and have put it into general revenue.

I have talked to police departments and police chiefs who told me they cannot create the police positions because they do not have stable funding beyond five years. They will not create a police position, which usually requires two civilian staff on top, and go to all that trouble and expense when 48 or 60 months from now they will have to get rid of that.

The government has not created 2,500 police officer positions as the New Democrats have suggested. That would be a far wiser expenditure of funds than building more prisons to lock up people for longer and end up having those people come out more likely to offend than when they went in.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to support Bill C-59, which, when passed, will abolish accelerated parole review.

Before giving my speech, I would like to say that I hope that the victims of white collar fraudsters are watching the debate being held in the House today.

The presentations we have just heard by our colleagues opposite—the NDP—were rather odd, to say the least. I do not understand from their remarks how they are helping the victims. I personally heard nothing about that.

I would first like to thank the hon. members for their collective efforts that have enabled us to properly debate this bill and to give priority to the safety of Canadians. I am pleased to speak in the House to tell Canadians that our government is determined to ensure that this bill is passed quickly.

We are here to debate a bill that will amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to abolish the procedure known as “accelerated parole review”. These changes will ensure that white collar criminals will no longer have access to accelerated parole review. With Bill C-59, these offenders will have to assume responsibility for the crimes they have committed.

I appreciate the efforts made by my hon. colleagues to explain how accelerated parole review works, how it has created a two-tier parole system that allows white collar criminals to apply for parole earlier than offenders who have committed violent crimes, and how white collar criminals need only prove to the National Parole Board that they will not commit violent crimes to be eligible for day parole.

We also heard hon. members on the other side of the House state that they agree that we should ensure that white collar criminals who defraud Canadians serve appropriate sentences for their crimes. We appreciate the important work that has been done and we ask all hon. members to continue to co-operate with us to ensure that this bill is as strong and effective as possible.

My hon. colleagues pointed out the differences between the procedure for accelerated parole review and the procedure for regular day parole review so that we can be sure that all members of the House and all Canadians are aware of the objectives of this bill.

I would like to give you a brief summary of the bill. These amendments will make it possible to repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which governs the procedures for accelerated parole review, so that offenders are no longer eligible for day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at only one-third of their sentence. When you really stop and think about it, it is fairly ridiculous that, with the existing system, offenders who commit crimes and steal from people who trusted them with their money are put in prison but serve only one-sixth of their sentences. It is completely unacceptable.

The violent recidivism test will no longer apply to accelerated parole review. All offenders will be subject to the same general recidivism criteria. The cases of all offenders will be assessed at a hearing rather than by means of a paper review.

This is the main purpose of the bill. It is actually a simple change. It does not create a new system for white collar criminals by applying a different set of rules to them than to other offenders.

We are simply eliminating a system that has allowed people who commit white collar or non-violent crime to apply for parole earlier than those who commit violent crimes. In our opinion, it is important that those who commit crimes, whether they be moral or violent, serve appropriate sentences.

As any responsible government should, we must ensure that the laws that govern our country are not only fair and reasonable but also adapted to the times in which we live. We live in a time where the ease of transmitting data— particularly financial data since that is what we are discussing today—makes it possible for crime to be committed at an incredible rate. That is why it is important that this bill be passed quickly.

This is certainly not the first time a government has amended legislation to adapt to changing times, which is the case today. Ten years ago, September 11 changed the world. Following those tragic terrorist attacks against the United States, that country, Canada and its allies made significant and often permanent changes to methods for managing safety and security at the border and on their territory.

Of course, the bill before us today is not motivated by such a radical cultural change, but it contains changes made necessary by the rapid rise in crimes like fraud over the past two decades. I believe that in Quebec in particular we have seen some completely unacceptable cases of fraud. Obviously it is never acceptable to commit fraud, but you know what I mean, in that it is important for people who commit this type of crime to be punished accordingly.

We have all read articles in the newspaper about so-called smart and helpful people who have convinced Canadian workers to entrust their entire savings to their so-called solid name. That is the sector where we have seen a rise in white collar crime. These people no longer just go after corporations. Now they are attacking Canadians who worked hard their entire lives and saved money for a bit of financial security when they retire. Those are the people we want to protect with this bill. We want to protect Canadians who work hard to save money their whole lives only to see that money go up in smoke in the hands of a fraudster. This is totally unacceptable.

In the difficult economic times we have seen in the past few years, we cannot blame Canadians for looking for ways to build up their savings. These law-abiding Canadian workers suddenly discover that their savings have disappeared. Everyone here in this House has heard about families who have lost everything and ended up isolated after such a loss. We have seen many examples of this in the past two or three years in particular, and it is important that we do something about it immediately.

It is difficult to imagine the humiliation and embarrassment these people must feel after having put their entire savings in the hands of an expert fraudster. Imagine handing over all your financial assets to someone you trust, only to have them abuse that trust and steal all your assets. It must be absolutely terrible, and it was for many families.

Some victims find the courage to testify at the trial of the person who stole from them, but many victims remain silent because they are afraid to tell anyone what happened. Goodness knows that each of us has had moments where it seemed completely natural to trust friends, who eventually turned against us. And it is not always easy to admit that.

We must understand that the victims who choose to speak and play an important role in the legal proceedings must feel relieved once the criminal is convicted. It takes a long time and a long process before that happens. They must feel a certain sense of victory when the criminal is finally put behind bars for many years.

And it is at this stage that the system breaks down and we turn our backs on victims by saying that fraud is not a very serious crime. This is when accelerated parole review comes into play. As it currently stands, accelerated parole review allows white collar criminals to apply for day parole earlier than a violent offender who receives the same length of sentence.

In Canada, financial fraud is not considered to be the same as a physically violent crime. But emotional and psychological abuse are just as serious as physical violence.

It must be a terrible shock and disappointment for the victims of these crimes to learn that the offender has received day parole so soon after being incarcerated. While the victims are still trying to pick up the pieces, the fraudster can apply for day parole and begin to rebuild his life after having served only one-sixth of his sentence.

It is rather unbelievable, when you think about it. Imagine that a fraudster caused you to lose everything you own, and after a year, a year and a half or two years, he is completely free and goes back to his life as though nothing happened. That is completely unacceptable. I am sure that hon. members will agree that that is completely unfair. Our government believes that this system is outdated and that it must be changed quickly.

I would like to stress a very important point. This amendment was not put forward by our government just for the sake of introducing a bill. Canadians told us that they wanted us to defend victims and their families. That is the purpose of Bill C-59.

Furthermore, Bill C-59 is a direct response to the recommendations in the 2007 report of the Correctional Service Canada Review Panel. The report, which made 109 recommendations, expressly stated that the accelerated parole review process should be abolished. Our government studied these recommendations and committed to following through on this recommendation so that all offenders are treated equally when it comes to eligibility for parole.

This amendment will ensure that white collar criminals, such as people who have been convicted of fraud, are no longer able to apply for day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. They will have to wait until they have served at least six months before being eligible for full parole, like any other offender. It will also ensure that white collar criminals participate in their parole hearings and plead their case in person before the NPB.

With this amendment, the rules will change so that the NPB will be able to refuse day parole if it has reasonable grounds to suspect that the offender will commit another crime, no matter what type. Under the current system, the NPB must only determine whether the offender could commit another non-violent crime. With this amendment, the same criterion applies to all offenders when they appear before the board.

I urge all hon. members to support Bill C-59 and to show our total commitment to the many Canadians who have been victims of these crimes. Changing times call for new measures. The sooner we pass Bill C-59, the sooner we can put an end to the two-tier system that makes white collar criminals eligible for early parole. We must work together to provide justice for all victims.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, our biggest objection to the bill is the fact that the government is using closure on it. The government should understand why we are complaining about that move because when it was in opposition and the Liberals were using closure on a consistent basis, it too objected to the idea that the government could ram through legislation. There is no need for this.

We could simply proceed through the normal processes here and deal with the bill in the regular fashion, but the government is getting together with the Bloc to use closure to ram the legislation through. It is not something which should be used on a consistent basis.

Also, we have asked consistently for a costing of these bills. The fact is that no government introduces legislation without having some idea of the cost of the implementation of the bill. We have asked for that information. We are not able to get it.

In 2007, the state of Texas in the United States decided against building more prisons and opted to enhance proven community corrections approaches such as drug courts. It was able to reduce the cost of prisons and get a reduction in the crime rates since 2004 by, I believe, 10% by doing things that actually worked. Republicans and Democrats in the state were working together.

When will the government reconsider its approach on crime and start working with an all-party group in this House to get good crime legislation on the books?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear my colleague talk about co-operation and solidarity in the House.

I am trying to put myself in the position of a victim who has just lost all her savings, who sees us working here in the House of Commons and wonders if we can pick up the pace, if we can do something to ensure that this cannot happen again to her or anyone else.

That is basically what we are thinking: the faster we can pass this bill, the sooner people will feel more secure and ready to trust other people again when it comes to investing their money.

I almost feeling like turning the hon. member's question right back to him. If he were a victim right now, would he not want all members of the House of Commons of Canada to do everything they could to pass some sort of legislation? We have before us an excellent bill to ensure that these things never happen again and, if they do, to punish the criminals for their crimes.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, our government continues to demonstrate our commitment to safety and security for families. I want to know how important the member thinks it is to ensure the changes in the legislation are applied retroactively.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question. Clearly the bill aims to speed up procedures so that they may begin as soon as possible. I think the Bloc Québécois members have understood how important it is to push this bill through quickly. It needs to be done as soon as possible. It is extremely important that this bill pass today, if possible, and if not, then in a few days or weeks so that it may become law as soon as possible. Thus, we will be able to punish people in a way that corresponds to their crimes.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as the member has probably heard today, there are all sorts of ways victims can be helped, which everyone would like to do, but only so much can be done with the resources available, so it depends on the costs of programs.

I wonder if he could speculate as to why not one Conservative member has been able to say, after requests from members in the House from various parties, what the cost of this initiative would be. How much would it cost and how much would be left for other ways to help victims?

The public service is a very professional, well-educated body that is used to providing the costs of things it proposes. It is very strange to the public watching on TV why, after a long debate, the Conservatives have either not come up with the numbers or, if they have the numbers, members are not allowed to provide them.

What exactly would be the effect of this bill, what are the estimates by the professionals of how many people would remain in prison longer and what would be the cost of that? Why does the member think that no Conservative member has been able to answer that question?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the cost I think that it is important to acknowledge today is the cost that victims have to pay. It is not simply a monetary cost; it is an extremely high psychological and emotional cost.

The members here today and all members must understand that the cost we may or will have to pay as a result of this particular bill, whether we take two weeks or two years to pass it, will not change inevitably, but it will change for the victims. Thus, it is extremely important to ensure that there are not further costs for victims in the future.

We must ensure that these offenders are kept in prison for the maximum amount of time they deserve for the crimes they have committed. We must ensure that we put pressure on society to prevent these crimes from happening again. For our government, that is the cost that it is most important to understand today.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, does the member think it is fair to have a process that would allow a committee to meet from 10 o'clock tonight until 3 o'clock in the morning, which is the period of time that we will have witnesses appearing on the bill? Does he think that is fair to the process to have witnesses appearing in the middle of the night?Why could we not simply go through the normal process and add an extra few days of debate and resolve the bill in the way that it is likely to be resolved anyway?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has been here much longer than I have. I feel I should to welcome him to the club. This is what it is to be a parliamentarian. There are no set hours and we work 365 days a year. This is the nature of the work we have to do. We must do our work regardless of the place or time. It is important and we have to do it now.

This bill is extremely important for victims and for all Canadians who may be victims of fraud or who could potentially become victims of fraud. We want to put an end to this current lack of action. It is appalling. An incredible number of people in Quebec have fallen victim to fraud over the past few years. Again, yesterday, we heard on the radio and on television that some people had been defrauded by their best friend.

Can the members of the House understand the need to act quickly? That is what we are in the process of doing. Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois has understood this message.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member suggests that we need to pass the bill quickly to protect Canadians from fraud. The bill is not just about fraud. This is about a range of non-violent offences, and many of them are very nominal. There is no evidence whatsoever that this will reduce the recidivism rate.

Is the member aware of any evidence whatsoever that longer incarceration will reduce the recidivism rate?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2011 / 12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the only thing that matters is minimizing the impact on victims.

The simple-mindedness of my fellow members' questions is absolutely unbelievable. We are in this House before you, Mr. Speaker, to try to make all Canadians understand that we are working for them and for their security, and they tell us that it does not matter. I believe that it is important for citizens and all members to understand that we must act quickly.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today to add my comments on Bill C-59.

I cannot help but at times draw comparisons with the Manitoba legislature and here. When I look at what the government is trying to do through a form of closure to limit debate, I reflect on the Manitoba legislature.

I have heard comments from my New Democratic colleagues that the Liberals did something of a similar nature. I can assure my New Democratic friends that my last experience with closure was actually within the New Democratic government in Manitoba. The NDP use closure in many different ways in the province of Manitoba.

What is important to recognize is what is taking place here and why this is a little more unique than most motions of different forms of closure that might take place.

It is interesting that time and time again we hear the government say how important this is for the victims. Even the previous speaker made reference to the victims. It is all about the victims. I, too, sympathize with the victims. I think every member of the House knows individuals who have been victimized through white-collar crime and other forms of crime. We all sympathize with the victims and we want to do what we can to minimize the impact that crime has on victims.

The big difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals is that we believe that we can do more to prevent victims from having to go through the hardships and emotional circumstances in which they find themselves if we can have a good, sound policy dealing with crime and safety.

At the end of the day, when we look at the differences between the Conservatives and the Liberals, we see that the Liberal Party has addressed this particular issue. My Liberal colleague has raised the issue of legislation or the idea of large-scale fraud and how we attempted to deal with that just over a year and a half ago.

After listening to the comments, in particular from the Bloc and from the Conservatives, I wonder why they did not embrace this enthusiasm that they have today back then. Had they done that, I suspect we would have had fewer victims. It is surprising to hear the government and member after member stand and talk about large-scale fraud when the issue of large-scale fraud was before the House on previous occasions. One has to question why it is they did not support dealing with the issue when the issue was first brought to their attention.

The way in which the government is now trying to say that the sky is falling and the bill must pass in the next 24 or 48 hours is somewhat unique. The Conservatives had the opportunity to do the right thing almost two years ago but they chose not to. They decided, in whatever collective wisdom they have among their benches, not to act on a good initiative that was before the House. We can just imagine the number of individuals who would not have been victims had the government done the right thing back then.

I would suggest that there are two issues here. We have the issue of large-scale fraud, which is very serious and which affects thousands of Canadians across this land, but it is also an issue that was before the House well before the government brought in Bill C-59. It is a real issue and it is causing a great deal of hardship in our society.

I understand there is virtually unanimous support from all members of Parliament. I suspect that had the government taken that issue, put it in this legislation and left it at that, the sense of co-operation would have been binding. We would have had wonderful co-operation. That bill would have passed quite quickly.

The Liberal Party has been advocating for that type of legislation for well over a year. Imagine the number of crimes that could have been prevented. Imagine if the government really was passionate about getting at large-scale fraudsters, the ones who victimized so many Canadians. Imagine for a moment that the government really was sincere in its comments and brought in legislation that dealt specifically with that issue. This would have been a wonderful thing to see. The government would not have needed to bring in closure. It would have had the support of Liberals and I suspect New Democrats. The Bloc would have supported the government for sure. The point is the legislation would have passed. It would have dealt with those large-scale fraudsters who caused so much hardship and concern for Canadians, and for good reason.

I have witnessed first-hand over the years individuals who have had their life savings taken away from them, or stolen from them, and the impact that has had on them, especially on someone on a fixed income. An individual on a fixed income does not have much of a choice. It is not like someone 75 years old can re-enter the workforce. Someone who cons a 75 year old out of thousands of dollars so he or she can vacation on some luxury yacht goes against what we believe is right. That is why we have laws of this nature. That is why we need laws to protect our seniors and others, because not only seniors are exploited. I sympathize as to why the need is there and I understand it.

At the airport just the other day I heard a newscast about someone selling vacation packages. It was a fraud. Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a vacation with the family and arriving at the airport find out that no such thing is taking place. People arranged to take time off from work. Commitments had to be changed. Money was allocated for the trip. All of this for naught because of possible loopholes in the law. Individuals took advantage of good, hard-working citizens.

These types of things happen far too often. We could do things in the House of Commons that would make a difference. I appeal to members to look at those things and act upon them.

I said previously that there were really two issues. The other issue is maybe not as pretty, and that is the political agenda of the government. The government's agenda is quite different from what is in the best interests of the average Canadian. The government gives the impression that it is tough on crime. This is one of those bills that it wants to use to demonstrate that.

This is why we have legislation before us that deals with more than just large-scale fraud. This is the reason the Conservatives expanded the legislation. They know it will be more difficult to get it through the House of Commons. They hoodwinked the Bloc, and I will give them that much. However, I do not quite understand why the Bloc would be onside with the legislation. I always thought there was more of a social conscience or more of a responsibility to look at the bigger picture within the Bloc.

I do not think the Liberal Party would do service, as the official opposition and as a party that has done so much in terms of justice, crime and safety in our country, if we closed our eyes and let the government get away with this. We have to recognize what the government is trying to do.

There are two different philosophies. The government genuinely believes the best way to protect society is to build as many prisons as possible and throw everyone and anyone into that prison if they violate a law.

The other day I had said that I was health care critic for the Manitoba Liberal Party. Also, for a short period of time, I was justice critic. In dealing with crime and safety, there is a lot more to that file than building a jail, keeping someone in jail for as long as we can and then letting them out the door.

Given the opportunity to hear the different sides, I believe people will buy-in to what the Liberal Party has to say on this bill. At the end of the day, I want to see less crime in the streets and communities of Winnipeg North. The best way to do that is to come in with an all-encompassing approach that deals with crime and safety. The government is failing in doing that. It is not delivering where it should be delivering because it is more interested in its political agenda of trying to give the impression it is tough on crime.

I will concede one point. The Conservatives are tougher than me in wanting to keep everyone and anyone in jail for a longer period of time, whether it is better or worse for society. I question virtually any policy they have related to justice.

I believe there has to be a consequence to every crime that is committed. I have seen crimes take place where there has been absolutely zero consequence under that administration. Maybe there will be another opportunity at another time in which I will be able to expand on that point.

I care just as much about the victims of crime as the government does. I believe all members care about the victims of crime. The difference is I want to do what I can to prevent some of those crimes from taking place. The way in which to do that is to develop programs that are sound, that make a difference and that get individuals off the wrong road and back on track. By doing that, we reduce the amount of crime in our communities in which we live.

As members know, we recently had a byelection in Winnipeg North. Crime and safety was the number one issue. I take it very seriously. There are areas in Winnipeg North where seniors will not go out of their homes because they do not feel safe in their communities when the sun goes down. Is putting everyone in jail until they hit 45 or 50 years of age the answer to that? Would that allow individuals to be safe? I would argue that is not the case.

Whether it is white-collar crime or other forms of crime, if we want to prevent some of these crimes from happening, we need education and programming. There also needs to be a punishment element, and I do not question that. I do not want the Conservatives to say that I am soft on crime or that I do not believe in punishment.

I do believe in punishment. I do not consider myself soft on crime. I consider myself an advocate in trying to minimize the amount of crime taking place in our communities, and I will talk about those types of government policies.

We could do so much more. We could take it down to the community level. For example, in dealing with white-collar crime, what can we do to better assist, better inform and educate 14 year old to 24 year old single parents? There are many 14 year old single parents. We could teach them to balance a cheque book. We could let them know how wrong it is to allow a cheque to bounce. We could teach them their responsibilities to the community as a whole, one of which is not allowing cheques to bounce.

That is one issue where if it is not dealt with at one level, it has a higher risk of continuing into the future. It potentially could become worse.

Are there things we could do to have an impact on that? I would argue, profoundly, yes. There are many things we could do to make a difference and to prevent people from becoming future victims or becoming victims in the first place.

That is the real challenge the government has to face. I have had an opportunity on one occasion to challenge the government on that. A number of days ago we raised the issue of some funding for gang prevention activities. The government made the decision not to reaffirm any sort of commitment to that. Preventing individuals from getting involved in gangs has an impact on preventing crimes. Why would the government not have the motivation to move in that direction?

When we look at the types of issues in white-collar crime, there are things the government could do. I question why the government has made the decision to expand what would have been legislation that could have very easily passed had it been focused on that large-scale fraud. It had the support of the opposition a year and a half ago. Had the government done that, it would not have had to bring in closure and this legislation could have possibly been passed by now.

With it being as all encompassing as it is, there needs to be more consultation. We need to hear what people have to say. There has to be more work done on the bill. That is the responsible thing to do, and the Liberal Party of Canada is doing the responsible thing.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I have been paying attention to the debate today and heard the tone of my colleague's speech, which I heard earlier from the NDP.

The opposition is accusing members of the government of oversimplifying the issue of crime by themselves oversimplifying things. We can all have agreements or disagreements on a certain amount of legislation, but the opposition is saying that our government and, therefore, I have no understanding of the responsibility to have a balanced government approach to dealing with crime. Yes for punishment, yes for incarceration, yes for support for law enforcement, but yes for support for programs as well.

To suggest, as the opposition and my colleague have time and again, that the Conservatives are in favour of locking people up and throwing away the key is nonsensical. Every year, I attend a graduation ceremony for a program called a chance to choose. It is run by SUCCESS which, as many colleagues know, is an organization that helps new Canadians who come to this country with the often difficult challenges of becoming a new citizen.

These are kids who are absolutely desperate to have some kind of structure in their lives and some hope. Most of them have been put into a program. Our government has increased funding for these programs. They exist across the country. These are kids who are absolutely at their most desperate point in life, often struggling with substance abuse and broken families who are not there to help them when they need it the most.

Our government is supporting these kinds of programs and organizations all across the country with great success. To oversimplify the debate and say that we do not support these kinds of programs is nonsensical. We support these programs when they work. We do it in my community all the time. To oversimplify the debate and say the Conservatives do not support programs that help kids is ridiculous. I hope he recognizes that and maybe re-calibrates his remarks appropriately.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments, but I must advise the minister that he is thinking outside the glass bubble that the Prime Minister has put him in.

The Prime Minister's line is very simple, that the government is tough on crime. Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They cannot tell the public and advertise in their brochures that the Prime Minister and the public safety minister are tough on crime and then in the backrooms say they are a little sympathetic to what is being said and they do support some of the programs. That is not what is being conveyed to the public on the front lines. Either Conservatives believe in them, are prepared to talk about them and use them as examples, or they are not.

In the future, if I get the opportunity, I should ask the member the question with regard to the gang fund and talk about the benefits of it. If we spend billions of dollars every year, some of that money is bound to be spent on good things. However, in the government's press releases, statements and advertising it does not necessarily focus on the issues that the member put forward.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate a number of the comments my colleague raised. He is a representative of an area in my home province that many of my constituents end up going to, constituents who face some of the harshest realities, such as abject poverty and fleeing reserves in northern Manitoba, areas that lack some of the most basic services.

One service the government has claimed to hold great commitment on is recreation and prevention. I can safely say that on reserve, certainly in the communities I represent, there is no money for recreation or prevention. If anything, people have to go to the urban centres where provincial programs exist in order to support some of the young people who live on the margins and are at greatest risk of finding themselves in a life of crime.

I would like to hear the member's views on the importance of such programs in his community and the great shame in losing the funding for gang prevention programs in Winnipeg, a city that offers fantastic services to a lot of youth coming out of northern Manitoba and the young people I represent.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would concur in most part with the member's remarks.

In fact, recreation or alternative activities are of critical importance to me personally. One of the commitments I made to my constituents was that I would not collect my MLA pension. The proceeds from my MLA pension are going to go toward programs and activities for children who do not necessarily have the opportunity to participate. I am thinking of basketball, soccer and activities such as that.

If we take a look at the riding of Winnipeg North and others, trying to better engage our young people or provide opportunities for them to take part in activities such as basketball, soccer and different forms of social and recreational activities is a positive thing. Governments at all levels need to recognize it and adequately resource it.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning at the Standing Committee on Finance, the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed to us that the traditional practice of governments in Canada has been that once a bill is tabled and under consideration, the assumptions on the costing of such legislation no longer constitute a cabinet confidence.

The finance committee has not been able to get that information, but we as parliamentarians are here now debating a bill, the cost of which is not insignificant. In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said, with regard to one bill, that he does have some information the annual cost would be about $1 billion.

Even more than that, there is an impact on the provincial side. The member is a former provincial member. He would know that when we make laws at the federal level, there are consequences at the provincial level which involve not only the incarceration, but also the rehabilitation side. These are important aspects the House will not have the benefit of debating because of the closure provisions.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an excellent question. Undoubtedly there is an impact. When we pass a law of this nature there will be costs for each and every provincial government across Canada. It is hard to estimate the actual cost.

Prior to the introduction of the bill, the government should have done its homework. There should have been some dialogue, not only among the federal bureaucrats, but also consultations with the different levels of government, particularly the provincial government, to try to get a sense of the impact on their budgets.

I can assure the member that in future justice minister meetings no doubt it will be a hot topic for discussion, because it will have a profound increase even on the provincial budgets, as they have to compensate for some of the legislation we are actually passing.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the conversation between the two Liberal members of Parliament. It is interesting that they are concerned about the costing of our justice legislation, but not the cost of anything else.

The leader of the Liberal Party refers to himself as a tax and spend Liberal, not concerned with all these huge programs and their cost, but are all of a sudden very concerned about the cost of the justice program. Liberals have to look at the cost of not passing legislation like this as well.

The member said that we need to hear from the people on this issue, hear what the people had to say. I am shocked if the members opposite have not been hearing what the people have to say on justice issues all along. I have been hearing that every week in and around my constituency. I am very concerned that the member has not heard the people on this. Why is he not listening to the victims of Earl Jones and people like that, people who have committed white-collar crime, which has deprived people of the retirement they worked for long and hard?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, one could ask the question, why was the member not listening to the Liberal critic a year and a half ago when we wanted to deal with this very specific issue dealing with large scale fraud? Why was the member not listening then?

In terms of the cost factor, we cannot blame the opposition when member after member asks members of the Conservative Party, what is the cost of implementing the bill, and the only response is that we should think of the cost to the victims.

Yes, we will think of the cost to the victims, but what is the cost of the bill? It is a pretty straightforward question. We still do not have an answer. One would think there should be an answer to a very simple basic question of the cost of the legislation the government is trying to get through.