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House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

I agree, Mr. Speaker.

Last week, I tabled a number of requests, particularly on this issue. I also moved a motion about combatting poverty and our efforts on behalf of the most disadvantaged in our community.

I agree. Fighting poverty must be one of our priorities.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Vaughan Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino ConservativeMinister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, as the most recent arrival in this honourable place, I have been listening to the opposition very intently and I am beginning to believe it is the opposition's position that the Conservative Party probably also sunk the Titanic.

I will be splitting my time with the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

It is good to have the opportunity to speak today about the budget. The global economy is emerging from the deepest and most synchronized financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. In particular, I would like to talk about the significant improvements this budget would make in the lives of Canadian seniors.

Canada's seniors have made many sacrifices and contributions to our country, for which we are forever grateful. That is why we are committed to doing everything we can to improve their quality of life.

Our budget lays out a low tax plan for jobs and growth. As part of the plan, we will keep taxes low. We will undertake additional targeted investments to support jobs and growth. We will control government spending and stay on track to eliminate the deficit. We will not do what the previous Liberal government did when it cut $25 billion from transfer payments to crucial services like health care and education. Nor will we impose massive tax increases or tax our way to recovery because we know that increasing the tax burden is not the way to build a robust economy.

We remain focused on securing our economic recovery. We are focused on improving the financial security of Canadian workers and families and especially helping seniors. Canada's seniors represent a generation of Canadians who helped us build a country and a quality of life of which we can all be proud.

Our government recognizes the need of seniors in communities across our great country. We are committed to ensuring that seniors have the opportunity to enjoy their retirements in comfort. This is part of a strong record of supporting seniors, their safety, security and quality of life.

Indeed, since taking office in 2006, our government has provided unprecedented support to Canadian seniors and pensioners. We have provided over $2 billion in annual tax relief for seniors and pensioners. We completely removed 85,000 from the tax rolls. We raised the guaranteed income supplement exemptions from $500 to $3,500 and introduced pension income splitting. We introduced an automatic renewal of the guaranteed income supplement, meaning seniors no longer have to reapply each year. Our government has made significant investments in affordable housing for low-income seniors. We raised the age credit amount twice and doubled the pension income credit.

Since being elected a few months ago, I have met with hundreds, if not thousands, of seniors across the land. They have told me as recently as today that they are certainly in support of what we are endeavouring to do. Those seniors need to be heard. They told me about the hardships they faced. Many of them were never married or their spouses have passed away and they live alone on very low incomes. I heard loud and clear that we need to do more to help these vulnerable seniors.

I passed this message on to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and it is the message that is embodied in the budget submissions that have gone forward. It has been taken to heart. We listened to seniors and we responded.

This budget proposes enhancing the guaranteed income supplement by providing an additional $600 per year to single seniors and $840 to couples who are below the income threshold. Some people have trivialized this amount. According to the seniors I have spoken to, this is very meaningful and they are grateful.

These new measures are expected to help improve the quality of life for more than 680,000 of the most vulnerable seniors across Canada and this represents a significant commitment. In fact, the changes to the guaranteed income supplement proposed in this budget represent an investment of more than $300 million per year. However, we believe that it is the right thing to do at this time.

We are dedicated to improving the lives of Canadian seniors. After living lives dedicated to their communities and families, low income seniors deserve the same quality of life as everyone else. Passing this budget would go a long way toward ensuring they receive the support they need and justly deserve. While important, this is only one of several measures in this budget that would benefit Canadian seniors.

This budget proposes providing $10 million, over two years, to the new horizons for seniors program. This extremely successful program provides funding to support local community-based projects across Canada. These projects enable seniors to participate in social activities and contribute to their community. New horizons also funds programs to raise awareness of elder abuse and to give front line workers the training they need to recognize the signs of abuse, and know what to do when they suspect it. It is an important program that allows our seniors to live more active lives and helps protect them from exploitation and abuse.

This budget also proposes two very important measures for seniors and near-seniors who want to keep working.

First, it proposes extending the targeted initiative for older workers for the next three years. The economic downturn was especially hard on older workers. While it is never easy to lose one's job, it is particularly hard for an older worker who has worked at the same job for many years. Thanks to our government's economic action plan, Canada has recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession. Since the beginning of our economic recovery, we have created 480,000 net new jobs.

However, there are still older workers who need our help, with training and support, to help them find new jobs.

The targeted initiative for older workers ensures older workers have access to training and employment programs that help them find new careers. It also opens training and employment programs to displaced older workers. This ensures that these workers have the support they need to find new jobs. It is a good program that is helping people in real need. I hope that everyone in this House will join us in voting to extend it.

The next phase of Canada's economic action plan also proposes to make an important legislative change. It is a change that would benefit those Canadians who decide that they want to keep on working longer. Canadians are living longer, more active lives than ever before. Seniors who want to remain active in the workforce should have the freedom to make that choice. It should not be forced upon them. That is why we are proposing to introduce amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit federally-regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age. This would apply unless there is an occupational requirement for a mandatory retirement age.

Banning mandatory retirement would allow Canadians the freedom to choose how long they remain active in the workforce. This budget builds on the progress that we made through the economic action plan.

It is a responsible low tax plan that does not threaten the economic recovery by raising taxes. Instead, it lays out a path to a balanced budget by 2015-16, while making certain key investments. It does so while providing real, tangible support for Canadian seniors.

I urge members to listen to all of the people across our country who are looking to us to support our most vulnerable seniors. It is time to put politics aside and think of those vulnerable seniors who are looking to us for the help they need, for the help they so badly need.

If members want to support them, I ask simply that members do the right thing and support this budget, so that we can collectively continue to improve the quality of life of the very people who sent us here.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague when he says that seniors, or golden-agers as we call them back home, must be helped. When you meet with them, you realize that these folks are isolated because they do not have enough money for a decent quality of life.

I would like to ask my colleague the following question. Does he think that $1.20 a day is sufficient to pull these folks out of their isolation when it is not even enough to buy a coffee at Tim Hortons or a bus ticket to go somewhere? Does he really think that $1.20 will be enough to help these folks?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look at this from the point of view of what the seniors tell me, not what we perceive in this place. It truly is a significant amount. With utilities rising, another impact that seniors are facing today, it is a very significant amount. I pity anybody who trivializes that amount as not being very helpful and generous at a time of difficult circumstances in this country.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

March 24th, 2011 / 4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the Minister of State for Seniors speak favourably about seniors, as one would expect.

I would like to ask him what he thinks about his party’s budget, which allocates $30 billion for the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets, when one considers the fact that the money spent on just one of these aircraft would be enough to subsidize 6,400 social housing units. I live in Laval, where over 1,000 people are waiting for social housing. The government chose to purchase military aircraft rather than invest in housing. Furthermore, it has invested $40 million in new holding cells quite close to the neighbourhood in which I live.

I would like to know what this government’s priorities are regarding seniors, given that billions of dollars are being spent on arms and on the excessive punishment of criminals.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to what I think has been a great misconception. I try to analyze things in a realistic and practical way. All the things that we are doing are not mutually exclusive. They are necessary and critical. Were it not so, these things would not come forward. Serious considerations are given.

Giving our military men and women the tools they need to do the job we are asking them to do is a responsible approach to what needs to be done.

Regarding prisons, I have been in law enforcement for some 48 years and I have put a lot of people in prison. I hate to think that we are now suggesting that we do not need to ensure that we have proper facilities to prevent people from continuing their life of crime and to protect victims. If we are looking for a crime prevention strategy that really does work, keep the recidivist criminals in jail and look after victims. Believe me, it does work.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very eloquent defence of our budget. It is a budget that is absolutely critical. When I look across the aisle here at the opposition parties, the coalition trying to bring down our government when this budget is so critical, I would ask my colleague about the kinds of impacts which failure to pass this budget will have on our economic prosperity and on our reputation as leading the world in emerging from the economic recession?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Conservative Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suppose the best way to look at that is to draw on our progress so far. This is a work in progress. We will continue to have a lot of work for years to come, no doubt.

Our government is committed to supporting low income seniors. We are proud of the fact that our actions have played a part in cutting the low income rate among Canada's seniors from 21% in 1980 to 5.8% in 2008. This most recent submission in the budget will reduce by 680,000 the number of seniors who would otherwise be adversely affected if we allow it to continue as we have.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to address the budget, our Conservative government's sixth budget since forming office.

I am well aware of the burning desire of the Liberal- NDP-Bloc coalition to plunge this country into an unnecessary election, no matter the cost.

However, the instantaneous rejection of this budget by the three opposition party leaders is nothing short of irresponsible. In a time of continuing global economic uncertainty, especially following the disaster in Japan and the upheaval across much of the Arab world, the economic recovery is still fragile.

The opposition leaders are showing reckless disregard for the Canadian economy by their knee-jerk reactions. I was appalled, in particular, by the Liberal Party's response to our budget. The Liberal Party's focus on the spending for new jets for our Royal Canadian Air Force and on prisons was both shallow and ill-considered.

Of course, there is no spending for new jets in this budget and there will not be until 2016 when we start to receive the new jets. And the cost of purchasing those jets is spread over the lifespan of the jets, which is 20 to 30 years.

I should also note that it was the previous Liberal government that set us on the path to purchasing these jets in the first place by spending $100 million on developing them. The current Liberal leader seems to think we should just throw away the $100 million. I do not think that is a good idea.

With respect to prisons, our government has provided detailed cost estimates to Parliament for housing the expanded prison population that may result from our tougher sentencing legislation.

While Liberals have focused on the modest increased cost for prisons, they have completely and totally ignored the cost to Canadian society of allowing repeat and violent offenders to quickly resume their lives of crime through early release.

They have forgotten the costs to the victims of crime, the property owners, women, children, seniors, and others who will be prey to rapists, murderers, fraudsters, and drug dealers.

The cost to Canadian society of a revolving-door liberal criminal justice system is at least an order of magnitude higher than the cost we will incur by ensuring criminals serve sentences proportionate to their crimes.

It is clear to me that in their blind pursuit of power, the opposition parties have forgotten about listening to Canadians.

We began preparing for this budget many months ago. We listened to thousands of groups and individuals from across Canada. I consulted widely in my community. The finance committee, of which I am a member, held hearings in my riding to hear from local groups and individuals.

Earlier this year I hosted a Canadian first, the first ever live telephone town hall meeting with the finance minister. Thousands of my constituents were able to participate, and provide their feedback and input into our budget.

Our Conservative government has listened to the people of Canada. This budget reflects the needs and concerns of Canadians during this time of economic recovery. We heard some clear messages from Canadians. We heard that despite our solid job creation numbers, over 480,000 new jobs since July 2009, we need to continue with our job creation efforts.

We heard that since our infrastructure spending is winding down, it is now time to get spending down and our budget back in balance. We also heard that some groups in Canadian society, such as low income seniors or families caring for an infirm loved one, need more support.

This budget reflects the comments, suggestions, concerns, and needs we have heard from Canadians over the last several months.

I would like to focus many of my remarks on the positive initiatives we have taken in this budget. As I mentioned earlier, our focus is on jobs and growth. One key to jobs and growth is lower taxes. We are continuing to reduce taxes for families and small businesses in this budget. I am particularly pleased with the incentives we have created for small businesses in my community to hire new workers.

The budget provides for a one time credit of up to $1,000 to small businesses which hire new employees. This new credit will be available to approximately 525,000 employers, reducing their 2011 payroll costs by about $165 million.

My riding has one of the largest populations of seniors in Canada. Canadians from across the country like to retire in the temperate climate of our beautiful west coast community. However, some seniors face financial challenges, and our Conservative government has taken steps in the budget to support them.

Our top-up to the guaranteed income supplement will provide up to an extra $600 a year for low income single seniors, and up to $840 more for low income couples. This measure will support 680,000 lower income seniors across Canada.

I am also pleased with the tax credits for families. The children's arts tax credit will allow parents to claim costs of up to $500 per year related to activities such as piano lessons and art classes. This new tax credit builds on the success of our children's sport tax credit, and I believe it will be popular and be used by millions of families.

Also the new family caregiver tax credit will be available to people who care for infirm, dependent relatives like a spouse and minor children. We have also introduced new measures to help students. In particular, the in-study income exemption will be doubled from $50 per week to $100 per week, allowing approximately 100,000 students to earn this income tax free while pursuing their education.

We are offering help to home owners, with a $400 million extension of the eco-energy program to encourage home renovations that reduce electricity and heating costs, and we are making permanent the $2 billion federal contribution to the gas tax fund, which funds our municipal infrastructure. These are funds that our city governments can count on for repairing our streets and sidewalks.

We have also increased funding for health care. This matters to my constituents in British Columbia. We are providing almost $3.8 billion for health care in B.C., an increase of $216 million over last year.

Finally, because our budget sets us on a path toward the elimination of the deficit and toward a surplus, Canadians can look forward to additional tax relief, hopefully soon. Indeed, my private member's Motion No. M-638 suggests that we make income splitting for families with children a priority as the budget comes back into balance.

The early analysis of people outside Ottawa is positive. The finance minister of British Columbia has endorsed our budget as good for British Columbia. The hon. Kevin Falcon said that he was encouraged by Ottawa's latest plan to reduce the federal deficit by a quarter this year and to continue progress until Canada is back to balanced budgets by 2015-16. He continued that the corporate tax cuts committed to by our Conservative government would combine with provincial rates to give B.C. the lowest corporate taxes of any jurisdiction, not just in Canada but among the G7 industrialized countries by next year. Let me repeat that. In B.C., thanks to our tax cuts and the tax cuts of the provincial government, we will have the lowest corporate taxes of any jurisdiction in the G7 next year. He also said that the investment incentives we had provided in the federal budget would help Ridley Terminals expand its capacity to ship B.C. coal and minerals overseas.

Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said:

If the budget is defeated, it's a real concern for manufacturers.... This two year write-off [for investment in machinery and equipment] comes to an end at the end of this year and that extension is essential if we are going to keep investment going in the sector. It would be nice to have a little bit of certainty that companies would be able to take advantage of that over the next two years.

Craig Alexander, the TD Bank's chief economist, remarked that if we are investing in roads, bridges, et cetera, we want know that the government funding is going to be there and, therefore, that it is actually a very positive thing that the government has decided to make the gas tax transfer to municipalities a permanent transfer.

Further, he stated that:

I think in general it’s a business-friendly budget because of the extension of the accelerated capital cost allowance for machinery and equipment investment. As an economist, I like it particularly because one of the core challenges facing Canadian businesses is productivity growth.

Craig Wright, RBC's chief economist, says that our projections are conservative and that we can expect to make good on our deficit-cutting projections.

Tom Courchene, an economist at Queen's University, said:

The budget looks after what falls under the federal jurisdiction in an excellent way. It’s a continuation of the action plan and its keeps Canada being in the forefront of nations in terms of the recovery from the financial crisis.

That is what others across Canada are saying, with their messages of confidence about the steady hand we have applied to managing the nation's finances.

I would encourage my fellow MPs to consider whether this sensible and prudent budget is really an issue over which to plunge our nation into an unnecessary election.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the priorities of Canadians and the residents of Davenport are to invest in a real family care plan and strong public pensions based on the Canada pension plan, brought in by a Liberal government, and support for learning and training, health care, housing, the arts and a universal child care program. Their priorities are not to pour $30 billion into buying fighter jets and borrowing $6 billion for corporate tax cuts.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that statement, because I think it speaks to the priorities of Canadians.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it fascinating that the opposition is focusing on the fighter jets issue. As I mentioned in my comments, it was the Liberal Party that invested $100 million in this project in 2005, a project that we are now proceeding with. That party is now thinking that we should throw that $100 million away and proceed with who knows what. The opposition does not provide any solutions to that question.

It is clear that our forces need upgraded jets. The current fighter jets are beyond the life expectancy of their use and we need to proceed with something more.

Further, as my colleague notes, the opposition had supported the purchase of those jets just two years ago.

The member also talks about tax cuts, corporate tax cuts in particular. As a member of the finance committee, I found it fascinating to hear from so many experts who came to speak to us that corporate tax cuts are really transferred to individual Canadians. If taxes go up, those increased taxes are passed along to Canadians. If taxes go down, generally those taxes are reduced for Canadians.

I am not sure why he is opposed to tax cuts for Canadians.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, the remarks made by the previous member and by the Minister of National Revenue were a little ridiculous, in my opinion. He said that the government had created and will create a lot of jobs, as a result of the budget. He also spoke about seniors.

Whole areas have been opened up on the north shore primarily thanks to the forestry industry. The mining and fishing industries obviously had something to do with this, too. What does the previous member think about the folks who lost their jobs at the Rivière-Pentecôte sawmill, the Kruger sawmill in Ragueneau, the Rivière-Saint-Jean sawmill and the Baie-Trinité sawmill? They lost their jobs because the federal government set aside a paltry $60 million in the budget for 2011-12, whereas last year, in Ontario alone, the government allocated $10 billion to the auto sector.

The north shore forestry sector needs loan guarantees from the government in order to reopen these sawmills and put people back to work at the pulp and paper mills. The government needs to give the forestry sector funding to modernize, so that plants and sawmills can remain competitive.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising the issue of the forestry, because it is a big part of the British Columbia economy.

I will tell him what our Conservative government has done in support of the forestry sector, because he is apparently not aware of it after all his years in Parliament.

Our Conservative government has provided significant support to aid the forestry industry to meet today's challenges. For example, by 2012 we will have lowered business taxes to 15%. We have provided $1 billion for the pulp and paper green transformation program; $170 million to support market diversification and innovation; nearly $130 million for the forest industry long-term competitiveness initiative; $100 million to support the development, commercialization and implementation of advanced green energy technologies in the forestry sector; nearly $46 billion in financing for forestry companies through Export Development Canada and nearly $430 million through the Business Development Bank of Canada.

We are doing a lot for that sector.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am so glad that my colleague from South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale touched on the whole issue of taxes. It turns out that other countries around the world see us as the lighthouse and the standard now for lowering corporate taxes. We just heard that Great Britain wants to lower taxes to perhaps even lower levels than in Canada.

I would ask my colleague to explain why it is so important that our business sector, the small, medium and large businesses, have a competitive tax rate that attracts investment into Canada.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, taxes have the biggest impact on the bottom line of small businesses. If their taxes are lowered, they are left with more income to hire more workers and to become more productive by purchasing more equipment and machinery. We are dealing with an environment where capital flows from one country to another very quickly, and the more competitive we can be the more capital we will attract.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to participate in the debate on what is almost certainly going to be the last Conservative budget of this Parliament and, we hope, the last Conservative budget Canadians will have to endure for a long time.

Let me begin my comments this afternoon by reiterating what the NDP said on budget day. A month ago, the NDP leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, met with the Prime Minister to discuss the budget. He set out a clear message: focus on the priorities of middle-class families or be prepared to go into an election. We proposed reasonable budget measures despite the fact this is a government we have not supported.

However, New Democrats do believe that it is important to try to make Parliament work and we owe it Canadians. Therefore, we told the Prime Minister that in this recession, middle-class Canadians are working harder than ever before to make ends meet. Household debt is at an all-time high and the costs of everyday essentials are going up.

After years of the well connected and big business getting all the breaks, we believe it is time for families to get a break. We want to build a Canada where no senior lives in poverty, a Canada where no family has to go without a doctor, where every Canadian can retire with security. Clearly, the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister had an opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families, but he missed that opportunity. He just does not get it.

In the midst of mounting scandals, the government could have put political games aside and worked with other parties. It could have achieved practical, affordable results that would help families now and show Canadians that Ottawa can work for them, but the Prime Minister chose not to do that.

We called on him to create new positions for doctors and nurses for the five million Canadians without access to family medicine. The Conservative budget does not do that.

We called on him to help Canadians with ever-rising energy bills by removing the federal sales tax from home heating. The Conservative budget does not do that.

Because a quarter of a million seniors live in poverty today, which is a national disgrace, we called on the Prime Minister to ensure that no senior lives in poverty. The Prime Minister's budget will not do that. Because every Canadian deserves to have access to financially secure retirement, we called on him to set goals to increase benefits to the Canada pension plan. The Conservative budget does not do that.

Nothing in the budget has persuaded us that the Prime Minister has changed his ways and that he is prepared to work with others in Parliament to give middle-class families a break. That is why New Democrats cannot support the budget as presented.

Let us look at the budget in more detail. As I said, it was critical to my NDP colleagues and I that this budget be about helping seniors and the middle class. While the Prime Minister likes to point to soaring bank profit, taking that as proof that the recession is over, we have been focusing on an economic recovery that leaves no one behind. Clearly, hard-working families are far from enjoying any benefits from the so-called end of the recession.

Let me remind members in the House of the latest data. Yes, the government is right on one point: Canada's big banks are, indeed, raking in the cash. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, the big six banks earned over $6.5 billion and a record-breaking $21.58 billion for the past four quarters. Shamefully, the banks used half of those profits, a staggering $11 billion, for executive bonuses. Then, just to add insult to injury, those same six banks received an annual bonus from Canadian taxpayers of almost $890 million.

Are you kidding me, Mr. Speaker? We cannot afford $700 million to lift every senior out of poverty, but we can spend $890 million on corporate tax cuts just for the banks? I do not believe for a second that this will pass the nod test for anyone who is analyzing the Conservatives' budget priorities.

By reducing the corporate income taxes that government collects, the Conservatives are depriving the treasury of billions of dollars that could and should have been invested in Canadians. At a minimum, instead of giving tax cuts with no strings attached, they should have been focused on creating jobs. Job creation continues to be one of the most important issues for Canadians.

The government's own figures reveal that it has fallen 240,000 jobs short of its own targets. In fact, in the past three months, we lost almost 24,000 full-time jobs in this country. With the annual growth of population in Canada at 1.5%, there should be 280,000 new jobs created each year just to maintain our country's level of employment, but we are heading in the opposite direction.

When we look at the data, it is clear that the government's claim of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is misleading. In February 2011, Canada had 156,000 fewer full-time jobs than before the great recession began in October 2008. It is no wonder that Canadians simply do not share the government's optimism about their economic futures.

The Conservatives' budget does nothing to improve the situation. Despite the title of the budget proclaiming it to be a plan for “jobs and growth”, there is little in this budget that would give hope to the unemployed of a sustained job creation strategy. As the Toronto Star columnist, David Olive, warned so succinctly in his article entitled, “A budget worth defeating”:

Continued meaningful stimulus programs are not necessary, [the Prime Minister] feels, since the nation’s all better now.... As with a U.S. stimulus program that ended prematurely, Canada risks a return to slow growth as [the Prime Minister] turns now from stimulus to austerity.

In truth of course, it is very selective austerity. He had no problem finding $6 billion for additional corporate tax cuts, or $9 billion for U.S. style mega jails, or a whopping $29 billion for shiny new F-35 fighter jets.

This budget spends $10 for corporate tax reductions for every $1 it has for seniors. When it comes to job creation, again there is no money to be had.

On the contrary, the $4 billion in cuts to the federal public service will mean cuts in both jobs and services. The ministry that is tasked with helping Canadians through programs like EI, training and disability pensions is seeing its own cut of half a billion dollars over the next three years.

While I am on the topic of EI, let us look at another noteworthy fact from the budget. Over the next five years, EI premiums will exceed benefits by $15 billion. Given that forecast, it is absolutely shameful that the budget did not include any progress on enhancing Canada's employment insurance system. This is workers' money and workers need it now to put food on the table for their families. We know that EI stimulates the economy because the money paid out will go directly back into the community. People who are unemployed are not socking their benefits away in tax free savings accounts. They are spending that money on everyday essentials like food, clothing and shelter, mostly in their local community. EI thus helps hardworking Canadians and the local economy.

However, clearly poverty reduction is nowhere on the government's radar. There is nothing in this budget for affordable housing either, nothing for childcare, no increase to either the child tax benefit or the universal child care benefit and no real commitment to lifting seniors out of poverty.

One of the key proposals that we put before the Prime Minister was to help Canada's most vulnerable seniors with an affordable increase to their guaranteed income supplement. With $700 million, or half of what the government spent on the posh G8 and G20 summits, we could have ensured that no senior would have had to live in poverty. What did the budget do? It gave less than half that amount of money to three times as many people. It will not even come close to eliminating poverty for Canadian seniors. It is an absolute disgrace. Seniors have worked hard all their lives and played by the rules, but now everywhere they turn, every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less.

Just look at consumer prices. Overall, they rose 2.2% in the last year. Everything is going up except people's incomes. Energy prices rose 10.6% over the last year. We live in Canada. Heating our homes is not an option. How are seniors and middle-class families supposed to cope with that kind of an increase? Simply put, they cannot. That is why we proposed to take the HST off home heating. It was a reasonable proposal, especially when the budget reveals that the federal government is raking in $9 billion from the HST. We could and should have a longer discussion about how that is even possible when the government assured Canadians that the HST would be revenue neutral. I have to say there was no prouder moment for me in this Parliament than when my NDP colleagues and I stood in opposition to both the Conservatives and the Liberals and voted against the HST.

Let us look at the cost of gas next, another commodity that is not only rising in price but is also subject to the HST. Gasoline prices rose by a whopping 15.5% in the last year. Drivers faced double digit price increases for gasoline in every province except Manitoba. Every penny per litre increase in the cost of gasoline means an additional $1 million per day in profits for the oil companies. The 20¢ increase over the past six months therefore means an astonishing $20 million per day for the already super profitable oil industry and 95% of that price increase goes directly to the bottom line of the oil companies. Yet, the Conservative government is continuing to give these companies an additional bonus with taxpayers' money by lowering the tax levies on those super profits. Canadians are shaking their heads and saying enough is enough. It is time to cut off the support for these corporate welfare bums and start acting on the priorities of seniors and middle-class Canadians.

Let us get to the other two priorities that Canadians told us had to be in this budget, and that we submitted to the Prime Minister on their behalf. The first was ensuring that Canadians can count on their pensions when they need them, by strengthening the Canada pension plan. Specifically, we needed to see a commitment from the government that it move to an eventual doubling of the CPP benefit. Instead, the budget offered vague rhetoric with no real goal. Frankly, that is not good enough.

Only one-third of Canadian workers have a workplace pension.

Similarly, only a third of Canadians contribute to an RRSP, and those who do, just watched billions of dollars in precious savings vaporize during the recession. The current system is leaving too many people without the retirement savings they need. There is too much at risk and not enough security.

In past crises, Canadians have come together to create solutions, to minimize risks by sharing it. That is what we did when we created public health care and yes, that is what we did when we created the public pensions that are now the only reliable part of our whole retirement security system.

Let us face it, for more than a generation wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living and most Canadians have not been able to save what they need.

The best way to help today's workers save enough money for tomorrow is through an improved Canada pension plan, which is why we propose that over the next several years we lay the foundation to double CPP benefits for the future. The CPP has been proven time and again to be a safe, secure and efficient retirement savings plan. Plus the CPP is portable from job to job, across provinces, keeps up with inflation, and is backed by the government. Because the CPP operates independently from government, there is no cost to taxpayers. In fact, there is the potential for governments to save over time.

We all need to save more for retirement. Putting that little bit extra into the CPP makes more sense than investing it into risky RRSPs. It is safer, easier, in fact, it is effortless, and it earns more.

I know that my time is just about up, but I want to say at least a few words about our fourth budget ask, as well.

Currently, there are five million Canadians without a family doctor. What is the government's answer to this crisis? It wants to incent doctors and nurses to work in northern and remote regions. That strategy is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The Conservatives are not creating a single new doctor with that strategy. Instead, they are taking doctors out of urban centres and moving them elsewhere in the country. That is hardly a solution. The shortage of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals is acute in all parts of the country.

The Canada health accord comes up for renewal in 2014. I thought that this budget would have risen to the occasion and laid out a blueprint for the challenges ahead. But, instead, there is silence. I suppose I should not have been surprised. The Conservatives never did keep their promise of a comprehensive patient wait times guarantee. All we had was a handful of pilot projects that left most patients out in the cold.

The government's big plan to train more doctors, which was announced with such fanfare last month, turns out to have a target of just 100 doctors for the five million Canadians who have no doctor now.

As the president of the Canadian Medical Association rightly pointed out on February 28, Canadian health care is “deeply troubled” and the Prime Minister is failing to take any active role to fix it.

The Council of Canadians echoes that sentiment. Here is its reaction to the health care part of the budget:

The budget was released yesterday and health care is anything but a top priority.

We need a government who will invest in comprehensive community care (home care and long-term care) and is willing to look at sustainable solutions to the current health care challenges, not a government who listens to the pharmaceutical lobbyists hoping to pad the pockets of their investors and share holders.

This budget is a great disappointment for Canadians looking for the Conservatives to stop playing political games and get something done for them.

The Prime Minister had the opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families and seniors but sadly, he chose instead to manipulate an election call while trying in vain to blame others for it. He chose to ignore the struggles of families and instead spent tax dollars lining the pockets of corporate Canada and the wealthy.

In this budget and in the appalling behaviour of the current government, particularly in recently months, the Prime Minister has shown the House of Commons and the people of Canada nothing but intransigence, arrogance, small-mindedness and contempt--contempt for our democratic institutions, contempt for Parliament and therefore, contempt for Canadian families and seniors.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor

March 24, 2011

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Rosalie Silberman Abella, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the schedule to this letter on the 24th day of March, 2011, at 4:02 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act—Chapter 12.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

moved that Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). This is a bill upon which we have been working for more than a year. Many women’s groups have been consulted, as well as victims’ groups, police forces and even the Barreau du Québec. Before giving a brief outline of the bill, I would like to sketch a quick picture of trafficking in persons and provide some information, including statistics.

According to 2009 figures from the UNODC, 79% of trafficking victims in the world are trafficked for purposes of prostitution. According to 2005 figures from the International Labour Organization, 80% of trafficking victims are women and children, particularly young girls, and 40% to 50% of all victims are children.

Women and girls make up 98% of the victims of sexual exploitation. Hence the violence inflicted in this sort of trafficking mainly affects women. According to 2007 figures from the UNODC, the annual proceeds of this criminal activity are estimated at $32 billion. This is estimated to be the third-largest criminal trade after drugs and weapons trafficking. Certain research even estimates it to be the second-largest. This trade is dominated by criminal groups, and the traffickers are difficult to apprehend since they are extremely dangerous and violent. Naturally, as one can understand, the victims are forced to remain silent.

Here is a picture of the situation in Canada: Canada is considered to be a country of recruitment, destination and transit, particularly transit to the United States. Unfortunately, Canada is also a place of sex tourism. Contrary to what one might think, this sort of thing does not happen only in Thailand. Criminal Intelligence Service Canada indicates in its 2001 report that, in Canada, the average age of entry into prostitution is 14. According to 2004 figures from the U.S. State Department, every year an estimated 1,500 to 2,200 persons are victims of trafficking from Canada to the United States. It is estimated that traffickers bring approximately 600 women and children into Canada to service the Canadian sex industry.

The main points of transit and destination for victims of interprovincial and international trafficking are Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. It is estimated that over 65,000 persons in Canada engage in the online exchange of child pornography, in photos and videos. And this is a fairly conservative figure, if one can say that.

The Sûreté du Québec estimates that 80% of the strip clubs in Quebec under its jurisdiction are owned by criminal groups, often under fronts. So this is an industry that is dominated by organized crime and, of course, street gangs. It is said that a girl can be ordered much as one orders a pizza. This is quite incredible. In the city of Montreal alone, it is estimated that 300 minor girls aged 12 to 17 are sexually exploited, whether through pornography or prostitution, although the figures vary depending on the research. Some studies talk about 800, others 488, or even 1,500 children and adolescents in the Montreal region alone.

The city that comes second to Montreal is Quebec City. The sites of prostitution are varied: bars, strip clubs, prostitution networks, escort agencies and massage parlours. A girl may be moved from Canada to the United States or from one province to another. With reference to sexual exploitation, the majority of prostitution networks can be found in the big cities such as Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, Niagara, Peel, etc.

Girls recruited in Atlantic Canada can wind up in Quebec and Ontario, or in Alberta and British Columbia, and vice versa. Although this odious trade is dominated by organized crime, street gangs have now become new players in this trafficking. The Montreal police service has declared human trafficking to be its number one priority.

It is estimated that since the late 1990s, members of street gangs have changed from small recruiters to high-level procurers. They are also involved in interprovincial trafficking and of course in trafficking with the United States. Their preferred clientele, not to play on words, their target, is girls between the ages of 11 and 25. They specialize in child prostitution. One girl can bring in around $280,800 per year. Twenty girls earn $6.552 million a year, and 40 girls $13.104 million. This is a business that is not very risky and that is also inexpensive and very lucrative.

The penalties are negligible. I will give you an example of a pimp in Peel region who exploited a 15-year-old girl for two years. This earned him $360,000 per year. He received a three-year sentence. Unfortunately, the girls refuse to testify, simply because they are understandably afraid, for they are frequently beaten and tortured, and so on.

So you will understand the full importance of this bill, which targets a number of different points. Given the time allotted to me, I will try to review them very quickly for my colleagues.

The first point was to clarify the definition of the words “trafficking” and “exploitation”, because they were sometimes confusing. It was explained to me by the police community that sometimes, or even very often, the legal community regards trafficking as being international. All that we have done in subsection 279.01(1) of the Criminal Code is add “in a domestic or international context”. It must be made clear that trafficking is interprovincial, inter-country and transnational, in the same way as it can be from city to city or district to district.

We have also clarified the definition of the word “exploitation”, for the current definition is a bit of a catch-all, in the sense that it can cover anything from forced labour to sexual exploitation. So we have added a clause that clarifies and adds sexual exploitation and that in a way allows prosecutors, legislators and the police to pinpoint this type of crime. Section 279.04 of the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following at the end of paragraph (a): “(a.I) cause them to provide or offer to provide sexual services by the use or threat of force...”. Everything has been included.

In a way, this definition copies or is modelled on the Palermo protocol and would permit Canada to honour its signing of that text. I leave it to my colleagues to take a closer look at this. I continue with the reading of the clause: “...or of any other form of coercion, by fraud, deception, manipulation, abuse of authority or situation of vulnerability...”. So we touch upon different ways in which a pimp or a trafficker can cause a victim to be exploited.

In modifying this definition, Canada will thus be able to comply with and honour its signing of the Palermo protocol.

In listening to the police, we realized that the common complaint was that sentences were not harsh enough. We did not consider minimum sentencing because we think judges should have as much latitude as possible in handing down a sentence. Nonetheless, we focused on consecutive sentencing. When a person is charged with trafficking, prostitution or aggravated assault—quite often these types of charges go hand in hand with this type of crime—the judge, after all the legal steps, all the plea bargaining, could add up the sentences he will impose according to the remaining charges. We are leaving it up to the judges, but at the same time we are leaving room for more substantial sentences than what we are currently seeing. This provision will apply to human trafficking—therefore sections 279.01 to 279.03—and could also apply to provision 212.01—or procuring offences.

What is more, we tried to resolve the issue of evidence. I believe we have done well. The police were telling us that it was often very difficult to get testimony from a victim. Victims do not necessarily want to testify, out of fear. The police suggested establishing reverse onus, as in subsection 212(3). If the police could have enough evidence, they would not need a victim's testimony to press charges. The wording for the provision was modelled after the wording for the provision on prostitution.

For the purposes of subsection (1), a person who is not exploited and who lives with or is habitually in the company of or harbours a person who is exploited shall, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, be deemed to be exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person.

This point has already passed the constitutional hurdle in regard to the provisions on procurement. I do not think there will be any constitutional problems in this respect, given that this was already tested regarding prostitution. I submitted it to the Barreau du Québec and have not heard anything back. We were very careful about proposing this.

The victims groups with whom I met were very happy with this provision because it removes the burden of proof from victims.

There is another very important point that will address what is reported to us from the field. This will be very beneficial financially of course, but also in terms of arrests, charges and denunciatory sentences. By introducing subsection 462.37(2.02), we are adding the offences of procuring and human trafficking to the existing section of the Criminal Code, which deals with offences committed by criminal gangs liable to sentences of five years or more, as well as all offences under section 5, 6 or 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This section already exists in the Criminal Code. We are just adding the offence of procuring and human trafficking so that people charged with human trafficking can have the proceeds of their crimes confiscated. This is not done now, unfortunately, and these people continue to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes. When someone is charged with and found guilty of trafficking, he will have to prove that the millions of dollars he has in the bank, his big houses and cars, are not proceeds of crime.

Finally, our changes to section 7 of the Criminal Code are based on what the police told us, especially the child sexual abuse unit. They said Canadians could go abroad, commit human trafficking offences there, and return to Canada with impunity. They could not be prosecuted. I was told about three Canadians who went to Somalia and opened an orphanage, where they trafficked several children. They returned to Canada with impunity, without being charged with anything at all, because unfortunately there is still no provision in the Criminal Code providing that a Canadian or permanent resident, within the meaning of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, who commits such an act abroad can be charged as if he had committed the act in Canada.

We have worked very hard on this bill, which was supported by a number of groups and various police forces we consulted. I did not consult them all, of course.

I encourage all my colleagues to support this bill. Not only will it give police and prosecutors the tools they need to do their jobs, but it will also do justice to the victims, who will no longer have to bring a case before the courts. They can be better protected. Finally, the bill will make it possible to confiscate property.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand here and talk about this issue. It is one that has concerned me for some time, and certainly for the past five years.

I congratulate my colleague on her speech, as I support this. The identification and definition of exploitation is certainly a serious issue around the world that we struggle with in many jurisdictions. It is nice to see that we have legislation, albeit a private member's bill, that brings us in line with what many jurisdictions around the world are doing, especially in Europe right now as they look at that.

Some of the details around section 279 also concern me, but I do believe that in this particular situation we need to provide the identification of this for the international and domestic victims of human trafficking. The member pointed out, quite rightly in her speech, just how severe this is and how it ranks third to weapons and drugs.

I like this because now we can have a wholesome debate about the rehabilitation and identification of these victims so they can get the help they need. Specifically, we had a debate before regarding punishment, and I congratulate my colleague in the government for doing that at the very beginning.

I do want to add to this debate by talking about the social concerns. My opinion is that we need to open up a discussion with provinces for the services provided to victims.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is quite right. Very few resources are being made available to victims of trafficking. Nearly 80% of trafficking victims are used for purposes of prostitution. There are a few services, but not a great many, given the extent of the problem. Furthermore there are no services for women who want to get out of prostitution and out of the exploitation of which they are the victims.

In the course of my career, I have met with many female prostitutes and minors who were victims of exploitation. What is very clear to me is that when they want to leave that life, they do not have the necessary resources to return to work or school, for example, or to receive psychological assistance. When a girl forced into sexual exploitation at age 12, 13 or 14 gets to be 18 or 19, it is difficult for her to leave that life behind when she has nothing.

There is a huge lack of resources, and we have to address this: the hon. member is perfectly correct.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for bringing this issue to the House of Commons again.

I listened very carefully to what my colleague had to say. We did share some time on the status of women committee on this issue. I appreciated her input at that time.

I was disappointed when my own bill came forward that the Bloc as a whole voted against it. I do feel very strongly that there was some pressure on the member not to participate, but I do not know that for sure.

This is a horrendous issue in this country right now. In reference to the man who was the first criminal convicted of human trafficking, his name was Imani Nakpamgi. I worked with his victim very closely. She was 15.5 years old when she was initially trafficked.

What would the member consider the most important thing for these victims to be able to recuperate?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. I know that human trafficking is a major concern for her as well. I would like to explain that the Bloc Québécois voted against her bill not because it is against the principle of increased sentencing, but because it does not agree with minimum sentencing.

I have spoken with certain police officers and asked them whether minimum sentences worked. They told me they did not. When it is time for plea bargaining, the lawyers do everything they can to get charges that carry minimum sentences dropped. Unfortunately, this serves no purpose and prevents the judge from making an informed decision.

What I can say to my colleague is that this bill is a good bill. I hope that she is not overwhelmed by her disappointment and that she is able to move forward with this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on private member's Bill C-612, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons). I would like to thank the member for Ahuntsic for this initiative, which seeks to deter people from committing these crimes and to ensure that those who profit from them are punished accordingly. I believe that we all agree that these objectives deserve our support. In fact, thanks to the hard work of the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul, there is now a minimum sentence in the Criminal Code for those found guilty of trafficking in persons under the age of 18, an initiative that was supported by all opposition parties except the Bloc. It is a shame for this party and a sad day for Quebec's children.

Although we support the good intentions of the bill, I believe that, in its current form, it could prevent the desired objectives from being attained. I will spend my time pointing out some of the problems with the bill, but I will do so in a constructive manner and in the hope of making it as sound and effective as possible. In my opinion, changes need to be made to fill in the gaps in current criminal law and provide sufficient legal clarification so that such changes are useful to police and prosecutors. In the end, it would allow the member to attain her objectives of deterring and punishing this crime.

Human trafficking is a problem that comes up often. It garners a lot of attention from the public, media, police and legislators across the country and around the world. I believe that this interest stems from the fundamental human concern we have for one another and from the fact that we all recognize that no one should be treated as merchandise that can be bought and sold for profit. It is a form of modern slavery. Despite the attention that this crime garners, we are only just starting to comprehend the nature and scope of this crime in Canada and abroad. We do know, however, that women and children are disproportionately victimized by this crime.

According to the United Nations, in 2009, 66% and 13% of the victims were women and girls, respectively, compared with 12% for men and 9% for boys. The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people are victims of human trafficking every year. And this crime is clearly very profitable. The United Nations estimates that this crime nets nearly $32 billion each year for the offenders.

Police investigations and prosecutions in Canada provide us with useful, albeit incomplete, information about human trafficking. These cases have demonstrated that the majority of victims were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. But there are also cases of trafficking for forced labour. Most of the victims were women and the majority of these human trafficking cases took place here in Canada.

In December 2010, RCMP statistics showed that there were at least 36 cases involving human trafficking before our courts. That is an encouraging number because it shows that the criminal justice system is becoming more comfortable with the relatively new offences involving human trafficking.

In light of this, we must ensure that we do not inadvertently make our laws less effective. I am concerned that certain proposals that have been put forth could do just that. And in that context, I would like to speak to the content of this bill.

First, it would grant the extraterritorial power to bring legal action in Canada against Canadians or permanent residents who commit offences related to adult trafficking abroad. This seems logical to me and I know that extending jurisdiction in this matter is encouraged under the relevant international law. In fact, other countries have taken measures in this regard, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

I believe—and I am asking members to think about this—that this type of amendment should have been extended to offences involving the trafficking of children, which fall under section 279.011 of the Criminal Code. This offence was enacted last year further to private member's Bill C-268, which was introduced and sponsored by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul. The addition of a human trafficking offence involving both adults and children would allow us to ensure that Canadian laws and, of course, this bill, are consistent, as well as to take legal action no matter what the age of the victim.

I also support the bill's proposal to the effect that human trafficking offences should result in the reversal of the onus of proof in cases related to proceeds of crime. The existing regime limits this possibility to serious offences involving organized crime and other serious drug offences that are directly related to organized crime. We know that members of organized crime groups also participate in human trafficking. This amendment would target financial incentives and make this type of crime less appealing to criminal organizations.

This bill also proposes a “presumption” that appears to be an attempt to make prosecution easier. In cases involving adults, this presumption would require the court to find that the accused is exploiting a victim if he lives with a person who is exploited or is habitually in the company of or harbours a person who is exploited.

Presumptions help prosecutors prove an element of the offence by establishing a fact. However, as it is written, I do not think that the presumption achieves its goal. That said, I think that the goal could be achieved if the proposal could be amended to ensure that it produces the desired results and that it is compatible with the existing presumptions in the Criminal Code. I urge hon. members to think about the need to make such amendments to the bill.

Furthermore, I am concerned about a number of amendments this bill proposes to section 212 of the Criminal Code, which is commonly known as the procuring provision. Two amendments are proposed. The first would require that individuals found guilty of this offence must serve their sentences consecutively to any other punishment they have received. The second would apply reverse onus to this offence in cases related to the proceeds of crime.

As the House surely knows, our government is currently defending the constitutional validity of certain provisions regarding prostitution. Therefore, I think it would be ill-advised to make more amendments to these provisions before a ruling is made.

I would like to tell the member that I am absolutely willing to work with her to strengthen this bill in order to hold traffickers responsible for their horrendous crimes.

However, I am outraged that the Bloc has introduced this bill, since it knows that it wants to defeat the government. This is a case of opportunism. That party is trying to pretend that it defends victims, when all it does is defend the rights of criminals.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ahuntsic for introducing this bill, for having put so much effort into creating it and for introducing it here in the House. I am very proud to have the opportunity to speak to this bill during the first hour of debate at second reading.

On behalf of my party, I would like to say right away that I intend to recommend to my caucus that we support this bill when the time comes to vote to send it to committee, with the hope that there is one some day. If this bill dies on the order paper, I hope it will be introduced again in a future Parliament, so that it may be revived and find its way before a standing committee of the House.

I will not repeat the bill's objective. I believe the hon. member for Ahuntsic described it very well, as did the parliamentary secretary, although he concluded his speech with an absurd remark. Until then, I found his speech rather interesting. I thought the points he raised in such a thoughtful, serious manner were interesting and worthy of our attention. It is unfortunate that he chose to resort to petty politics and to attack the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc has a role to play, just like the Liberal Party of Canada or the NDP, in ensuring democracy in the House of Commons, in the Parliament of Canada. Our Parliament is the pillar of democracy in Canada.

We have watched this government, this Conservative government, attack our institutions one by one, finally arriving at the last bastion, Parliament. The Conservatives arrived at its doors and attacked with contempt of Parliament. I do not wish to stray too far from my speech, but I believe this is pertinent.

It is regrettable that we have a Conservative government that has not developed a national strategy on human trafficking in Canada. It is regrettable that they have left it up to private members to try to amend the Criminal Code, address its shortcomings with respect to human trafficking in Canada and trafficking committed elsewhere by Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and ensure that perpetrators are charged, brought before the courts, prosecuted and held accountable.

It is regrettable that this Conservative government has not taken this issue seriously and that it has left it up to private members to try to address the shortcomings of our system.

I congratulate the Bloc member for Ahuntsic. I would also like to say well done to the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

The member made an attempt as well to try to close the gaps in Canada's legislation dealing with human trafficking. It is simply unacceptable that a government, like the Conservative regime, does not take this issue seriously. It does not see it as a priority to be dealt with in order to ensure that our legislative framework, our laws, deal with this issue with the gravity, the seriousness, and the severity with which it should be dealt with. The government has left it to simple MPs to attempt, through the laborious process of private members' bills, to fix the problem.

I find it shameful that the government has done nothing on this. I find it shameful that its own member had to come up with her own national strategy on human trafficking because her own government did not act and still has yet to act on the issue. It is shameful.

There are a number of issues which are of concern, such as the issue of the reversal of the presumption of innocence. I understand provisions already exist in the Criminal Code for other criminal offences on reversal. We look forward to examining this in committee should it get to committee, which is quite doubtful.

We also have a concern that by stipulating the sentences would be served consecutively to any other sentence removes judicial discretion. We prefer to see judicial discretion and, if necessary, if we find judges are not exercising their discretion in a manner that achieves the objective intended by the law, then we amend and put in criteria that the judge has to take into account in exercising his or her discretion.

Therefore, we would afford the opportunity to look at that. We are looking forward to hearing from expert witnesses, including the Quebec Bar Association.

I would like to give a bit of history on the Liberal position.

In 2009, in Volume III of the Pink Book, the Liberal women's caucus recommended that a national strategy be developed in partnership with the provinces and territories to prevent the trafficking of girls and women. As recommended by the Liberal women's caucus, this strategy would incorporate measures related to prevention, protection and justice, and increased funding to support victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women studied the issue of human trafficking in 2007. It released a report entitled, Turning Outrage into Action to Address Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation, which could also form the basis for a comprehensive national action plan.

It is simply unacceptable that, under the Conservative government, Canada is one of the few countries that does not have a national strategy to prevent human trafficking.

The Liberal Party has been calling on the Conservative government to act for the past three years. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women has been asking for that as have the other opposition parties. I know the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul has also been calling for that.

Should this Parliament continue, which I doubt, and a vote happens at second reading, I call on each and every member of the House to support sending the bill to committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleagues from the Liberals and Conservatives in congratulating the member for Ahuntsic for her work on the bill.

It is obvious from the speeches we have heard so far that all parties are aware of the serious nature of human trafficking. I was just speaking to my colleague and we were wondering when we began to identify this.

From my own practice as a lawyer in the Windsor area, we began identifying it as early as the mid-eighties, seeing the biker gangs, in particular, trafficking women, ostensibly as exotic dancers, but often times doubling as prostitutes. Those women had very little control over their lives, all of it being controlled and enforced by the bikers. That was both domestic and international, because we had them moving back and forth between Windsor and Detroit. We have known about this for quite some time.

I want to echo the comments by my colleague from the Liberal Party that it really is a shame. We have seen the quite excellent work and the passion that the Conservative member for Kildonan—St. Paul has brought to this issue, both in the House and on the Hill and in the country as a whole. However, she has not had basically any support from her own government or party.

The bill that went through under her name earlier last year was a step forward. It addressed one part of this problem. Without taking, in any way, away from the work that was done, it was a relatively small part of the overall problem. It addressed it and it was a way of dealing with it. However, we need a much more comprehensive response to this, both in changes to the Criminal Code, some of which were seen in the bill presented by the Bloc member, but much more than that. In my own opinion, we also need much more practical resources being put into this battle. By that I mean greater police forces to do the investigation and additional prosecutors specifically trained in dealing with this issue.

It is a slavery issue. There is no other word to accurately describe it in the common vernacular. This is slavery. Violence is used on a regular basis, both physical, direct to the victims, and threats to them and their families. Quite significant resources need to be put into play above and beyond the amendments we need to the Criminal Code to make it easier for our prosecutors, in particular, to prosecute these offences, especially going after the gangs.

Because I do not want to take up a lot of time today, I will address the bill itself. Generally the NDP would be supportive of this. Even though it is a private member's bill, I can say that on behalf of my party. I do have a couple of reservations about it. I think the issue around the presumption, around the exploitation issue, is open to a challenge. Because of the way it is worded, which is quite excellently, I hope we would survive that charter challenge. The challenge would be around whether it were specific enough to be clear what the offence would be. It will be interesting to see if we can get that through. I am optimistic we will, but I would expect we will have a challenge.

The other one that may be a greater problem in terms of its consequences, its usefulness, is the issue of how we would treat consecutive sentencing. The Supreme Court of Canada has been very hard, as have most of our courts across the country, on enforcing the concept of proportionality in sentencing. Even though we would say that a person committed this offence, assaulted the victim and also exploited her, because it is almost always a women that is being exploited, which would be two different charges, we would give the person a certain length of sentence for the assault but the exploitation would be consecutive.

Even if we do that, I am not convinced the outcome would be much longer sentences. The courts would refer to the proportionality principle, which would say that in total they want the person to be in custody for this length of time. Therefore, the two sentences in total, even though they are consecutive, may not be any longer than the first one would have been with the second one served concurrently. I am not sure we will see much change.

I will finish with again congratulating the member for having done this work. I just wish the government would take a holistic view to this problem and get at it both in terms of amendments to the code through this chamber and also at the street level where we need more police and more prosecutors to really get at this effectively.