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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cost.

Topics

Statements by minister of international Co-operation regarding KairosPrivilegeOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a ruling made on February 10 on a question of privilege raised in December concerning misleading statements made by the Minister of International Cooperation about the decision not to grant funding to KAIROS, you said:

—despite...the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House. With regard to statements made by the minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.

In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind and in the absence of a committee report on this matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that she believed them to be misleading or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the minister deliberately misled the House and, therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.

Since you made this ruling on February 10, new facts have come to light. First, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has provided to you certain statements that were made in committee, as well as the KAIROS funding document obtained through the Access to Information Act. You have been officially apprised of this information by the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Furthermore, the Minister of International Cooperation also read a statement in this House on February 14 regarding funding for KAIROS. Thus, in light of the new facts in this matter, of which you have been officially informed, I believe that there are grounds for you to reconsider your decision. Here is the timeline of the statements in this matter.

On April 23, 2010, the minister told the House:

The criteria for the funding for KAIROS is the same as the criteria for funding for anyone else applying for such funding. KAIROS did not meet the criteria. It did not get the funding. There was no surprise there.

Still on April 23, in reply to written Question No. 106, the minister replied:

The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.

On October 28, 2010, she said:

We have an international aid effectiveness strategy and we are acting on it. We are getting results for people in the developing countries and all projects by CIDA are assessed against our effectiveness standards. After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards.

At the December 9, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, she stated, “...the decision on my part was not to fund KAIROS...”

During this same committee meeting, when asked who had added the word “not” to the documents, she stated, “I do not know”. In the same breath she added, “I cannot say who wrote the 'not'. However, I will tell you the ultimate decision reflects the decision of the minister and the government.”

On December 9, 2010, in committee, the president of CIDA, Margaret Biggs, confirmed that CIDA had recommended that the minister approve funding for KAIROS:

...the agency did recommend the project to the minister. She has indicated that. But it was her decision, after due consideration, to not accept the department's advice.

She also added that when she signed the document, the word “not” was not on it. Finally, on February 14, in the House, the Minister made this statement:

There was no decision taken by the department to provide funding. It was only a recommendation. It was my decision to disagree with the recommendation based on discussions with advisers. I was fully aware that my decision was not aligned with the recommendation of the department.

Later on, she added:

At no time have I stated that the decision for funding was that of the department. I have repeatedly and clearly stated in response to questions in the House and at committee that the funding decision was mine. The “not” was inserted at my direction.

In your decision on February 10, 2010, you referred to the following passage from Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand:

In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.

On April 23, 2010, in response to a question on the order paper, the Minister of International Cooperation said that the decision not to fund KAIROS was a decision made by CIDA. On December 9, 2010, at committee, she said the opposite, that it was her decision. On December 9, 2010, at committee, she said she did not know who added the word “not” to the document on funding for KAIROS. On February 14, 2011, however, she said in the House that the word “not” was added at her direction.

As a result, the first criterion has been met. The Minister of International Cooperation made misleading statements. Did she know they were misleading when she made those statements? Of course she did. If she made the decision not to fund KAIROS, she knew that it was not the decision of her officials. If she asked someone to add the word “not” in the document, she was fully aware of that when she gave her testimony at committee on December 9, 2010, because she signed the document on November 27, 2009. As a result, the second criterion has been met. When the minister made those statements, she knew they were incorrect.

Why did the minister make these contradictory statements? It is because the decision to cut funding to KAIROS was purely ideological and she did not want to pay the political price. That takes care of the third criterion. Yes, the minister fully intended to mislead the House.

I am well aware, Mr. Speaker, that you might be tempted to rule that this is a matter of debate. However, I believe that it is a much more fundamental question. The role of Parliament is to hold the government accountable and, unfortunately, this government is not co-operating. Over the past few months, we have seen it deny the power of the House to request documents and deny the power of committees to subpoena witnesses, and now it is denying the members' right to obtain accurate information. This is a case of contempt of Parliament. Deliberately misleading the House constitutes contempt of Parliament. In fact, in the 23rd edition of Erskine May, on page 132, it states:

The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. In 1963 the House resolved that in making a personal statement which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, a former Member had been guilty of a grave contempt.

On February 1, 2002, in your ruling on a question of privilege in which it was alleged that the Minister of National Defence had misled the House, you stated the following:

The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.

On March 22, 2002, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report concerning this same question of privilege. It said:

Incorrect statements in the House of Commons cannot be condoned. It is essential that Members have accurate and timely information, and that the integrity of the information provided by the Government to the House is ensured.

To conclude, I believe that you must find that this is a prima facie question of privilege. This is much more than a matter of debate. Parliamentarians have a fundamental right, a constitutional right, to hold the government accountable and, Mr. Speaker, you are the guarantor of that right.

Statements by minister of international Co-operation regarding KairosPrivilegeOral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, in light of the comments by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader where he said the government side would attempt to get back on this as soon as it could, I hope you will agree that this is a matter of privilege. Members are required to raise it in a timely basis and the government should also be required to get back on a timely basis. The matter is a priority for the House in terms of its agenda. I know you, Mr. Speaker, will look at it that way and hopefully the government will get back just as quickly.

Statements by minister of international Co-operation regarding KairosPrivilegeOral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank hon. members for their interventions on this point. I will take the matter under advisement and of course await the response from the government as indicated by the parliamentary secretary.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Resuming debate. When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville had the floor. There are 15 minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Centre, so perhaps I have less than 15 minutes remaining.

The subject of today's opposition day motion also contains specific references to documents requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010 and March 7, 2011. These are extremely important requests. The first deals with the government's decision to implement corporate tax cuts at the worst possible time, during an economic recession. The finance committee asked for the projections of corporate tax profits before tax, up to 2015. The second deals with the costs related to the government's over-the-top crime agenda that will send many more thousands of our young people down the drain of a broken prison system.

In both cases, the government refused to provide the information and cited the excuse of cabinet confidence.

Notwithstanding the fact that Parliament has the authority to order the production of any and all documents, including those that are termed “cabinet confidence”, it is curious that the government would choose this excuse. After all, what exactly is cabinet confidence? It is difficult to find an explanation that can capture the complexities of the concept, but the Department of Justice, in its discussion paper, “Strengthening the Access to Information Act”, states that cabinet confidences in the broadest sense are the political secrets of ministers individually and collectively, the disclosure of which would make it very difficult for the government to speak in unison before Parliament and the public.

With this in mind, are the projections of corporate profits before taxes a political secret? Would revealing them make it difficult for the government to speak in unison before Parliament and the public?

Consider that in 2005, the Liberal government released exactly what was being requested in its 2005 economic and fiscal update. Did our democracy crumble to its knees after these projections were published on page 83? Of course not, and why? Because these figures are not cabinet confidences, likewise the costs related to the government's 11 crime bills. Would revealing these figures breach a political secret? Would revealing them make it difficult for the government to speak in unison before Parliament and the public?

Last year the Parliamentary Budget Officer tabled a report regarding one single justice bill, Bill C-25, the Truth in Sentencing Act. He stated that this one bill would increase the cost to government of correctional services by up to $8.6 billion per year by 2015-16. This is the exact kind of information we are looking to get from the government. It should not be a secret. It should not be privy to only the executive branch of government. After all, it is the legislative branch which is being asked to provide approval for these measures. How can we do so if we do not know what it will cost? Some might say it is like being asked to sign a cheque while the amount is concealed. We would never do so. Why would members of the House be expected to do so? Yet, this is exactly what our Parliament has been reduced to.

I believe in the House. I believe in democracy. I believe in the fundamental right of Parliament, as written by our founders, shaped by our predecessors and now challenged by the Conservative government. I will not stand down in the face of the Conservatives' challenges to the institutions and the power of Parliament that I hold near and dear. I will not stop defending our privileges and our rights.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my hon. colleague talk about corporate taxes and projections. As I listened to her, I recalled being at finance committee a few days ago when the Parliamentary Budget Officer was there as were a number of economists. They clearly stated that in 2007 when we legislated the corporate tax reductions, and of course the Liberals are now looking at increasing taxes, the projections were built into the forecast.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's forecast included the corporate tax rates as legislated by Parliament. Economists from across the country were at committee.

What we really need to focus on is why the Liberal Party is changing its mind at this critical juncture, when the member for Kings—Hants and the member for Wascana throughout this time have talked about the importance of corporate tax cuts. It is clearly calculated into the economic forecasts by all those in Canada. Why would the Liberals be looking at a job-killing increase at a very important time of recovery in our history?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is yet another smokescreen. It was the Liberals who were prudent fiscal managers. It was the Liberals who reduced the corporate tax rate. What the member is talking about is clearly a smokescreen in the same way that those documents the government just tabled were a smokescreen. It is a continuation of this culture of deceit.

Granted, the government tabled a number of documents that we had requested, but only because we shamed it into it. We asked for documents in three areas. Granted, the government provided a little on corporate tax cuts, but nothing on F-35s and nothing in the area of the corporate crime bills.

We asked for information on 18 crime bills and received nothing. There is insufficient information to make logical, rational decisions on which we base our fiduciary responsibilities.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, two days ago we had a committee hearing regarding Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act. The member for Brampton West asked Mary Campbell, the director general of Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate, Public Safety Canada a question about information regarding the crime bill in terms of what it was going to cost. She said, “I have most of that information. It's part of my responsibility in terms of developing legislation to consider costs. Yes, I have most of that information or access to it“.

The problem is the government refuses to allow her to give the information. She went on to say in response to a second question from the member, “I said that I have the information or access to it. I really can't talk about what I've provided the government in any detail because I think that is cabinet confidence...”.

The final question by the member was, “So if the government asked you, in theory, to provide it, you would be able to answer that question for them”?

Mary Campbell said, “I think I'm able to answer almost all questions that I'm asked about legislative proposals”.

There we have it. The government is caught deliberately hiding when we know it has the information because the director general of Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate said so three times at a committee two nights ago.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague who always asks the most insightful questions and provides the most insightful commentary.

Let us not forget what this debate is about. It is about Parliament's right to know. It is about Parliament's right to information. It is a fundamental right and it is necessary for the proper functioning of Parliament. It is the core to our democracy.

Legitimate requests for documents of the government have been rebuffed. This is indefensible. The government is always attempting to defend the indefensible to have us believe the unbelievable, and we will not stand for that. We need the documents we requested. We need them today.

I will give another example where there is insufficient information for us to perform our duties.

Regarding Bill C-16 to end house arrests, from the information provided to the House, how much would it cost? None, zero, but we all know that Bill C-16 would put more people in jail. Yet the government is telling us Bill C-16 will not cost another red penny.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise once again in the House, which has to take time from doing its business in order to do what is best for Canadians, to ask the government to respect Parliament and to table the uncensored documents that Parliament requested. We are doing this once again.

This is not new. The same request was previously made of the government with regard to national security and Afghan detainees. The request went to the Speaker and he ruled. I will read the Speaker's ruling because the government heard what he said at that time and it continues to keep blocking access to information. The Speaker stated:

Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built. In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and in fact an obligation.

The Conservative government is walking away from accountability and its obligation to Parliament.

The Speaker went on to say:

Embedded in our Constitution, parliamentary law and even in our Standing Orders, it is the source of our parliamentary system for which other processes and principles necessarily flow, and it is why that right is manifested in numerous procedures of the House, from the daily question period to the detailed examination by committees of estimates, to reviews of the accounts of Canada, to debate, amendments, and votes on legislation.

In other words, how can a government bring forward legislation, ask Parliament to vote on it and then refuse to give Parliament the necessary information it needs, as my colleague just said, to make a reasonable decision on whether it is good for the people of Canada, good fiscal decision making or any such thing when we do not have the information we need to make a decision? Informed decision is what Parliament is about and when we do not have information, we cannot do anything. This is part of the control.

We know the Prime Minister controls his ministers entirely. They are not allowed to do or say anything that he does not allow them to do or say. They even go against the advice of their own departmental officials who have been there for so long and understand the issues advise ministers, the Prime Minister controls the ministers and they say yes or no regardless of departmental advice.

The departments, as we heard, cannot even give information to committees because they are told not to. There are bureaucrats and officials running around in fear of the Prime Minister's wrath. There are NGOs running around in fear of the Prime Minister's wrath.

It is not enough for the Prime Minister to control his ministers, officials, NGOs and civil society. He must now control Parliament. In other words, the Prime Minister seeks to control every single one of the institutions of democracy in this country. There is a word for when a prime minister or leader tries to control the institutions of democracy. Once again, we have the problem of having to come to the House to ask for the government to give us documents so we can make good decisions for Canadians.

It is not only for Parliament to make decisions. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, who helps advise Parliament on what the costs are going to be and whether there are risks involved and benefits to those particular proposals by government, stated: “There is genuine concern that Parliament is losing control of its fiduciary responsibilities of approving financial authorities of public monies as afforded in the Constitution.”

In other words, MPs in Parliament, elected by the people, cannot begin to show fiduciary responsibility because we do not have control over any of the information required to allow us to do so.

He went on to say: “In the recent past, Parliament was asked to approve changes to crime legislation without financial information or knowledge of monies set aside in the fiscal framework”.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot do his work to assist Parliament in making the decisions because he does not have any of the information required. He said: “...in 2006 prior to parliamentary approval of financial authorities as did the previous government in 2005 on its expenditure review exercise. This raises the question as to why the application of Cabinet confidence with respect to restraint measures appears to have changed in such a short period of time”.

I guess it was because an informed Parliament did not necessarily walk in lockstep with the government, and an informed Parliament could say that it does not think it is a good idea. In order to have control over all of us in the House, we do not get the information anymore.

This excuse, whether it is, as in the case of the Afghan detainees, of national security or now cabinet confidence, is being raised every time to withhold information regarding, and I will again quote the Parliamentary Budget Officer, “regarding the assumptions used to translate the private-sector economic forecasts into Finance Canada's fiscal projections”.

Here we have Parliament being controlled by the Prime Minister. It is wrong for any government to try to control Parliament, which is an institution of democracy and which should make its own decisions. But for a prime minister of a minority government to do it is unheard of. The Prime Minister behaves as if he is a dictator, a despot, a ruler, a monarch or whomever else, tells every single person what to do, and we had better click our heels and do it. If we do not, we have to come in here and spend a whole day asking the government to do what it is supposed to do.

The Conservatives ran on accountability and this has been the most unaccountable government we have ever seen.

What is interesting about this is that we just want to have some very clear information. The government has set its priorities. It is going to buy fighter jets. It is going to build new jails when in spite of every single piece of information we have, every single bit of analysis that has been done with regard to jails and institutionalizing criminals is that it does not work. It does not bring down crime.

Of course the government expects us to just agree with it. We ask how much it will cost and we get different stories. We cannot get the actual information that we are asking for so we can decide, for instance, whether or not that is a priority, whether or not this is what Canadians really need, whether or not this will give us the benefits that the government tries to tell us building new jails will bring.

The second issue is lowering corporate tax rates. We have been told that this is the best thing to do at this time. Timing is everything. The thing about priorities and good fiscal management is that the same thing is not done every time. We look at the situation we are in and then decide whether that is the right thing to do at the time.

Canadians understand priorities. Canadians know that they cannot buy a new car, or a new dress, or a new coat if they do not have the money to fix a leaking roof. People make priorities all the time. Ordinary Canadians are tightening their belts. They are deciding what they are going to buy or not buy. They are deciding what decisions to make within their own household expenditures.

The government does not seem to care about that. It wants to build jails and it wants to buy fighter jets. Now the government wants to lower corporate taxes.

If I have to hear another time, somebody from the government side of the House saying, “Oh, but the Liberals did it”. Yes, Liberals did it. We brought down the corporate taxes from 25% to 19%, but we did so in a time when we had 10 balanced budgets. We had $13 billion in surplus and $3 billion in a contingency fund sitting there for a rainy day. We did not do this in a vacuum. It was not the first thing we did.

We had to deal with the deficit left by another Conservative government of $43 billion. We managed to bring that deficit down in three years to remove it. We managed to bring down the debt. We managed to post 10 balanced budgets. The people who showed fiscal restraint and fiscal accountability and good fiscal management were members of the Liberal government, as we have seen in the past when we did those things and brought the deficit down, brought down the debt and had money with which we could then make decisions about priorities. One of the last decisions we made was bringing down the corporate taxes because we knew was that one of the things we needed was to create jobs.

Too many people are working at part-time jobs and cannot make enough money to keep their families going. They are waiting for their mortgages to come up. They do not know if they are going to lose their homes. They are dipping into their savings. They are living off credit cards. The government is paying very little attention to one of the best initiatives that it could take to create sustainable long-term jobs for the people of Canada.

Everyone has told us, including the finance department, that lowering corporate taxes for the large banks and the large businesses is not the way to go. Most of the jobs in this country, nearly 70% of those jobs, are created by small- and medium-size businesses. Yet the government is raising payroll taxes. Over four years it is going to sock it to Canadians and to small- and medium-size businesses to the tune of about $16 billion.

Does the government think that people are stupid? Does it think that everybody is ignorant? Does it believe that if it keeps its documents hidden nobody will know what is going on? This is the most insulting and disrespectful way not only to treat Parliament but to treat Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest and a bit of amusement, I must admit, especially when the previous speaker commented on the prudent fiscal management and the $13 billion surplus that her government amassed. However, she forgot to tell Canadians how the Liberals did that. They did it by cutting $25 billion out of health care and education. I still have municipal people to this day in my area who are still feeling the effects of those cuts that they had to absorb.

Neither did the member say anything about the $52 billion in the EI fund that somehow got lost in the general revenue fund. How can she call that prudent fiscal management? While she is at it, could she just tell the House where that $40 million is, because it would really help a lot with me believing her about fiscal management?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is called rewriting history.

One of the important things to remember is that the Liberal government did not cut any transfers to health care. It was the last Conservative government that began to do what the present government says that it wants to do, which is to lower the cash transfers for health to the provinces and increase the tax points. We came in and found that. We did not touch health transfers. We did not cut them. I know because I was in that government at the time. In fact, once we had money, one of the first things we did was to put $41 billion into health transfers.

The hon. member should do his homework if he is going to ask a plausible question in the House.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, each one of the government speakers is trying to change the channel and change the topic to get away from the Liberal opposition day motion content that is before us in the House and not give us the answer as to why the government will not provide these documents.

A year ago, the government was arguing that the Afghan detainee issue was an issue of national security and that was why it could not give us the documents. I do not know how it can argue now that the cost of providing corporate tax cuts is supposed to be a national security issue, or how providing the cost for a crime bill could possibly be a national security issue.

I do not know what the Conservatives are trying to do. They clearly lost the detainee issue with the Speaker and they will clearly lose this one. It seems to me that they are just trying to do is to buy some time so that the information on the crime bill comes in after an election.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer the question from the hon. member, although it was more of a comment, with which I firmly agree.

I do not want to suggest or to read the mind of the government as to what it will or will not do. It is what it is supposed to do and is not doing that we are concerned about here.

The government has shown a lack of respect for Parliament. It has shown absolute control. It has behaved despicably with regard to producing documents that have been requested. The issue is that we want to know why the government is making the choices it is making. We want to know what those issues are and what the costs are. We want to know what the benefits will be and what the risks will be. We cannot vote in the House until we have that information.

The government is supposed to be accountable and accountability means that the information must be given so that people can understand what is being done and judge that accordingly and vote accordingly.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I note the debate today is on the opposition motion with regard to the information and lack of information. It was easier getting Mubarak out of the palace in Cairo than it is to get information out of the government.

The issue of the corporate tax cuts was mentioned in the hon. member's speech. The member knows that we have been told that we are in the middle of the OECD rate for corporate tax cuts, but if it is only corporate tax cuts, Ireland is at 13%. Does the member know how that is working out for Ireland?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, we now know what is happening in Ireland. Ireland's economy rose when it received transfer payments from the European Union in order to help with its have-not status. It did very well for 10 years, and then, in order to encourage everybody to invest in Ireland, it kept lowering and lowering corporate taxes to bring in investment. Ireland is now in the doghouse. It is at the bottom of the heap and cannot sustain itself.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today regarding two important matters.

To begin with, I would like to explain to members how crime affects us all and how it is to some degree impossible to gauge the full cost of crime.

Secondly, the steps that we are taking to fight crime cannot be measured or determined solely by their cost. We have introduced wide-ranging legal reforms in an effort to respond to the concerns of victims and to mitigate the human costs associated with crime. These are major investments, and not only on a financial level.

Crime costs victims dearly; I would go so far as to say that it costs them very dearly. Of course, crime is very costly for all Canadians, but we know that it is the victims of crime who have to shoulder the bulk of this cost.

According to a recent study by the Department of Justice, the total cost of Criminal Code offences was estimated at $31.4 billion in 2008. Since there are no data available for many variables, we know this to be a conservative estimate. Still, it equates to a per capita cost of $943 for that year.

We know that victims are those most directly affected by crime. Of the $31.4 billion in costs, $14.3 billion are the direct result of crimes committed. This $14.3 billion covers medical care, hospitalization, loss of income, school absenteeism, and theft or property damage. More specifically, the drop in productivity accounts for 47% of the total cost borne by victims. Theft or property damage accounts for 42.9% and health care costs account for the remaining 10.1%. These costs are only the tip of the iceberg since they represent recoverable and identifiable expenses, such as those resulting from loss of property or medical care. There is nothing about this that is hard to understand.

The intangible costs such as fear, pain, suffering and decreased quality of life far outweigh the material costs. It is difficult, well nigh impossible, to precisely measure the cost of the emotional and psychological suffering caused by crime, and yet it is important to try to do so.

Research has shown that victims of violent crimes experience stress after being victimized. A crime can influence how victims view the world around them and how much they trust others. It can cause pain and suffering. We know that the psychological effects of crime-related trauma can last a long time. Because of a lack of data, early studies of the costs of crime did not take into account the pain and suffering experienced by victims. The situation is starting to improve because the intangible costs to victims are much too high to be ignored.

According to the results of the study by the Department of Justice, which I mentioned earlier, the intangible costs to victims total around $68.2 billion. Thus the total cost of crime in Canada in 2008 would be $99.6 billion. If we take into account intangible costs, the costs borne by victims represent 82.8% of the total costs. It is a fact that crime is costly for the victims.

The victims are the people most affected by acts of violence, but other people suffer as well. Family members mourn the death of a loved one or must put their daily activities on hold to accompany victims to court or to doctor's appointments, for example.

Governments provide various victims' services and compensation programs to directly help victims, and they work on strategic plans on these issues.

The third-party costs take all these costs into account. In 2008, the total third-party costs were about $2.2 billion.

Why do we need to know the cost of crime and the cost borne by the victims?

We know that no amount of money can adequately compensate a victim of crime or his family, especially when it comes to homicide. No one would choose to die in exchange for $2.5 million or would agree to an assault on his child in return for $10,000.

It is important, though, to establish these estimates. We know that resources are scarce and that programs such as those to increase the number of police officers on the beat or provide funding for health and welfare, to improve the environment, or to build highways and parks are always competing with one another for a share of the public purse.

There must be several facets to our attempt to allay the enormous costs incurred by the victims of crime.

Our government is determined to enhance the safety of all Canadians and raise their confidence in the justice system. That is important. We want to start by dealing with the main concerns of crime victims, those people who have discovered how the system works as a result of an unfortunate experience and have told us that changes are needed. We listened to them.

Canadians are proud of their justice system. It is admired the world over for its fairness. There is always room for improvement, though. Our government is determined to ensure that our justice system continues to be the envy of the world and, most of all, that it is valued in Canada.

In 2006, our government set out its plans for changes to the criminal justice system, and over the last five years, those plans have been realized. It was not easy to ensure that the key changes passed. We were and still are a minority government.

It is easy, though, to see that Canadians support our program to fight crime.

Canadians agree that the personal, financial and emotional consequences for crime victims and the public are too severe and that measures to make Canadians safer, hold offenders responsible and raise confidence in our justice systems are worth the investment.

Allow me to describe a few key legislative changes that illustrate how concerned we are about crime victims and the people of Canada in general.

Our changes were intended to make the punishment fit the crime a little better, something that crime victims and many other people had been demanding for a long time. Changes were made to protect children, our most vulnerable victims. Some changes focused on issues that affect Canadians in their daily lives, such as automobile theft, identity theft, drug-related crime, fraud and street racing.

I would remind the House of Bill C-25, the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was introduced on March 27, 2009 and passed three months later on June 8, 2009. The bill received royal assent on October 22, 2009, and the changes came into force on February 22, 2010.

In general, these changes limit the credit for time served in preventive detention to a one to one ratio. A maximum ratio of one and a half to one applies only when circumstances warrant. A maximum one to one ratio applies to the credit accorded offenders who broke their bail conditions or were denied bail because of their criminal record. No higher ratio is allowed than one to one, regardless of the circumstances.

This amendment to the Criminal Code was welcomed by those who were appalled by the two- or three-for-one sentencing credits being given to offenders who were detained before their trials.

Victims of crime welcomed this amendment, which is designed to guarantee that offenders serve their sentences. Victims do not want revenge; they want sentences to fit the crime. Bill C-25 addressed this concern.

Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, which dealt with the faint hope clause was recently passed by the House and the Senate and will soon be ready to receive royal assent. It will abolish the faint hope clause for individuals serving a life sentence for murder. Those who commit murder after this bill comes into effect will no longer be able to avail themselves of the faint hope clause. Family members of murder victims have been calling for the abolition of this clause for many years. We listened to them.

Our government is committed to abolishing the faint hope clause, which allows murderers who are serving life sentences to apply for parole after serving 15 years of their sentence rather than 25 years. As you can well imagine, murder victims' families could not understand how a life sentence could turn into parole after only 15 years. It was absolutely scandalous. As I said earlier, victims are not acting out of revenge; they just want the sentences to be reasonable. We listened to them.

I would also like to remind the House about Bill C-48, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act, introduced on October 5, 2010. This bill deals with multiple murders and responds to the legitimate concerns of victims of crime, who feel that every homicide victim has to count and every sentence handed down to a murderer has to fit the seriousness of the crime. Life imprisonment means spending life in prison. It is impossible to give multiple murderers multiple life sentences since we have only one life. Nonetheless, Bill C-48 will allow a judge to impose consecutive periods of 25 years with no chance of parole for each murder conviction. For example, a person found guilty of two murders—the easiest case to understand—might have to spend 50 years in prison before being eligible for parole. Bill C-48 was passed by the House and is currently at second reading stage in the other place. This bill is another example of our goal to make the punishment fit the crime and to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their actions against victims.

I also want to talk about other reforms centred around victims. I am sure that my colleagues in this House will recall Bill C-21, the Standing up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act, which was introduced in the House of Commons on May 3, 2010 and passed by the House on December 15, 2010 and is currently before the other place. Bill C-21 provides a mandatory minimum sentence of two years for fraud over $1 million. As pointed out in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of which I am a member, many cases of fraud involving large sums of money already end in prison sentences greater than two years.

I would also like to point out that Bill C-21 has been long awaited by victims of white collar crime. These reforms will do more than just add a minimum sentence. They will allow the court to issue an order prohibiting people who have been found guilty of fraud from having any authority over anyone else's money or property in order to ensure that they do not defraud others. Restitution for victims of fraud will be given greater importance, and the courts will be allowed to take into account community impact statements concerning the repercussions of the fraud. Community impact statements will be a vital tool that will serve to remind the court, the offender and the public that these crimes have negative repercussions on communities and on the victims who suffer direct financial losses.

We listened to victims.

Who among us has never had their car stolen or does not know someone who has had their car stolen? Car theft is common. It is a real scourge. It has a huge impact on our daily lives. Victims of car theft feel huge frustration that is compounded by the fact that the thief is not held to account. Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), also called the Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act, was broadly supported and received royal assent on November 18, 2010. That bill will come into force soon.

These changes create new offences related to motor vehicle theft; altering, removing or obliterating a vehicle identification number; trafficking in property or proceeds obtained by crime; and possession of such property or proceeds for the purposes of trafficking. In addition, it provides for an in rem prohibition on the importation and exportation of such property or proceeds.

Bill S-9 also sets out mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders.

I will spare you the details of the bills aimed at amending legislation that have been passed by the government. The list is too long. However, I want to point out some, in particular the ones meant to protect our children.

For example, Bill C-22, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service requires Internet service providers to report any child pornography on their network. A breach of that requirement could lead to a series of increasingly higher fines and the person could be put in prison for a maximum of six months for a third infraction and for each subsequent offence. Bill C-22 was widely supported in the House.

It goes without saying that Bill C-22 addresses the concerns of victims of crime. We listened to them. The bill aims to reduce the number of new victims of Internet child pornography. The federal ombudsman for victims of crime was very clear on the need for such a law; we created that ombudsman's office.

Before I conclude, I would be remiss if I did not mention Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), also known as the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, which was passed on November 4, 2010.

These amendments will help us better protect children from sexual exploitation because of two new infractions, namely providing sexually explicit materials to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against the child and agreeing or arranging to commit a sexual offence against a child.

These amendments will also require the court to consider attaching conditions to sentences for offenders found guilty of committing a sexual offence involving a child and offenders suspected of having committed this type of offence to ensure that they are not in contact with children under the age of 16 and that they do not use the Internet without supervision by a designated person.

This will allow for a more consistent enforcement of sentences for sexual offences involving children.

Bill C-54 is currently being studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of which I am a member, and I suggest that, when it is returned to the House, all members show their support for protecting children by ensuring that this bill is passed quickly.

The government is proud of what it has accomplished for victims of crime and for the people of Canada. We are listening to victims of crime and to other stakeholders in the justice system, and we are making reforms that address the needs and concerns of Canadians.

Our government has listened to victims.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of his speech, the member talked about a serious issue for me, as I am sure it is for him. He said that whenever a policy goes into place, no matter what it may concern, social costs, crime, justice, employment insurance, whatever, it always has a price tag. He mentioned that the price tag should not be the overriding factor when it comes to imprisoning people who have committed major offences.

Recently, in St. John's and in Gander, my riding, we held hearings on search and rescue. We talked about response times and heard from victims, which the member also talked about, the people who had lost family members some time ago.

I know very well that the people who work for search and rescue always do their best. They are an incredible group of people and I take great pride in what they do.

On the other hand, it is a question of resources. I suspect that from this study, we are going to increase the amount of resources available for search and rescue, but there is going to be a price to it. Every time we have discussed this, the price tag has also been brought up and how much money it will take to save lives.

Obviously, with this in mind, I think the member would agree or maybe disagree that this should be the case for search and rescue. Perhaps he would also like to talk about how this could be applied to the big price tag when it comes to the F-35 fighter jets.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is very relevant. I will say that we are forced to introduce these bills today because, during 13 years, the Liberals did nothing. That is the problem.

Now, despite the fact that we have a minority government, we are forced to compress legislation. As a minority government we have found it very difficult. I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and I can say that many times opposition members—from the NDP, the Liberals or the Bloc—have gotten together to stall our bills. Nevertheless, we have managed to pass the bills that I mentioned.

There are two types of costs. As I explained earlier, there are tangible costs—hospitalization, lost wages, lost jobs, etc.—and intangible costs. They never thought about those. They were in power so long that they never added up the numbers although they should have. They were in power for 100 years and they never did anything for victims. That is serious.

Our government listened to victims. We are there and we plan on continuing to help victims, regardless of the cost. Some costs we can add up, but it is not possible to do so for the intangible costs.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the parliamentary secretary's speech, which was full of very good information, but not one word of it had to do with the Liberal opposition day motion we are talking about today.

The fact of the matter is that the government has been hiding information from the House on a consistent basis for a long time. Last year, it argued about the release of Afghan detainee documents on the basis of national security. The government had to be dragged kicking and screaming and we had to have a Speaker's ruling on the issue before the government would comply. Now it would like us to believe that somehow the cost of tax credits and of a public safety bill is a national security issue as well.

The question is why is the government trying to hide this information? The government clearly has it, because Mary Campbell, the director general of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate, Public Safety Canada, at the committee hearings just two nights ago on Bill C-59, indicated that she had the information but that the government would not let her give it out.

The question is, why is the government afraid of letting this information out? Does it think it is going to be embarrassing? Does it think it is going to change people's minds against the crime bill?

Is its strategy to make certain that the information does not get out until after an election? Is that what its strategy really is all about?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the question asked by the hon. member is very pertinent. First of all, I would point out to him that it is not a question of determining the exact cost, but rather a question of whether or not we are fulfilling our duty to our constituents. There are many victims among our constituents. For some time now, the opposition parties—one of which was in power for nearly 100 years—have done nothing. They have never done anything about it. We, on the other hand, are listening to victims. Because we are listening, we have to condense many things into our legislation, which is what they should have done.

The NDP has been here in the House for nearly 40 years and has never proposed any legislation to help victims. All we ever hear from the NDP is that we should give the poor criminals fewer sentences, and now they want to know the costs associated with these poor criminals. Why? Because in reality, the NDP members do not want anyone to be sent to prison. They want criminals to be on our streets.

That is not what we want. We want people who are convicted in a court of law to be sent to prison for however long the judge orders. That is what is important. Nearly 80% of the cost, as I said, is suffered by the victims, while criminals do not pay anything for nearly the entire time they are in prison. The only thing they endure is three meals a day, while they are being housed and clothed and so on. That is not the case for victims, since they are the ones who lose everything.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that my colleague has an incredible background in the legal profession. He has an amazing amount of empathy which was so obvious throughout his speech. He was talking about the victims of crime and the emotional costs, the non-material costs that come along with crime.

I have had the privilege of meeting with a number of families of victims of crime in my riding. It is incredible to try to understand the pain and the emotional suffering they go through, not just themselves but their extended families.

My colleague indicated that the families are not looking for vengeance. They are simply looking for an increased amount of safety for themselves and their families.

Are there costs? Yes, but the people whom I spoke to in my riding are more than willing to pay the costs for increased safety in our community when they consider the emotional costs to the families and to the victims of crime.

Has my hon. colleague found that same kind of response in his community from people who have been victims of crime? He does not have to give any specifics, just general comments.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member's question, I would say that, in my community, the same people, the same victims, came to tell us about their experiences. In my region of Quebec City, in my riding, we use the term “sentences bonbon”, meaning lenient sentences. Why? Because before our time, when a person was sentenced to six years in prison and had served six months on remand, which counted for double or one year, do you know what happened? That person got out of prison the next morning.

This was a serious problem of the Liberals' invention. It is a revolving-door system. We oppose this system and victims want nothing more to do with it. We want justice, and it is important to ensure that, when the courts render a decision, there is no way to get around the legislation and thereby enable offenders to get out of prison after only approximately six months, which counts for double, and return directly to society. When this happens, it is the victims who are penalized.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Public Service of Canada; the hon. member for Labrador, Status of Women; the hon. member for Davenport, Haiti.