House of Commons Hansard #69 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.


The House resumed from November 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate Bill C-288, which would ensure that each and every Canadian has the right to fly Canada's national flag.

Every day, Canadians are tightening their belts to make ends meet. Every month, thousands of people are losing their jobs. Economic uncertainty lingers. For months now, thousands of people have been forced to wait for their employment insurance payments, not knowing when they will finally get help. Yet the first thing this government wants to debate is the right to fly the maple leaf proudly.

Honestly, I never thought I would have to stand up in the House to remind my colleagues that protecting Canadians' right to fly a flag on their property is not even close to a priority for our fellow citizens.

Does the member for Don Valley West really believe that people have expressed an urgent need for this kind of bill?

I agree with my colleague that Canadians have the right to fly our national flag proudly. Canada is a wonderful country that, until the Conservatives came to power, had an enviable reputation around the world. For many citizens, flying the maple leaf demonstrates their pride and their attachment to our country.

People have the right to express their patriotism by proudly waving Canada's national flag at home. Is it really necessary to adopt new legislation for that?

Do we really need to impose fines and even prison sentences on people whose level of patriotism is not to the government's liking?

Canadians want parliamentarians to debate and legislate issues that matter, like the economy, health care and the environment.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to talk with the people of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier about issues that matter to them. They told me how angry and disappointed they are in this government's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol and instead focus on developing the oil industry at the expense of the environment.

Families in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier who are struggling to make ends meet are worried about the cost of living, which is increasing rapidly under this government's disinterested watch.

Every day, more and more people are calling my office in distress because they have to wait for months to receive their employment insurance cheque, when they need help right now.

To date, absolutely no one has raised the pressing need to introduce legislation to protect the rights of every citizen to fly the Canadian flag without restriction.

People do not want this government to waste time debating an issue that does not even present a real problem. Until now, Canadians have managed to self-regulate when it comes to expressing their patriotism. There is nothing to suggest that this will change.

Legal provisions to protect individual freedom of expression already exist. The most important of these provisions, with which we are all familiar, is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Subsection 2(b) of the charter guarantees every individual the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

Anyone whose freedom to express pride for their country is violated or who is banned from flying the Canadian flag can invoke the charter at any time.

Why introduce new legislation that would impose prison sentences on the offenders, when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already provides citizens with enough protection?

Canadians have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms because respecting the right of every individual to freely express their ideas without repression is part of our fundamental values.

It worries me that, with Bill C-288, this government is prepared to implement repressive measures targeted directly at anyone who expresses an opinion that goes against the artificial patriotism the Conservatives are trying to force on Canadians.

I would also remind the House that there are certain situations in which individuals might need to ask someone to remove a Canadian flag for purely pragmatic reasons or as a result of security issues, for example, the local fire department.

Should these individuals be treated like criminals and punished for doing their job? That does not make any sense. This bill does not meet any real needs of Canadians. Instead, it appears to be an attempt by the member for Don Valley West to score a few political points based on a few isolated incidents.

The fact that a few overzealous landlords forced some people to remove their Canadian flags from their balconies should not become a national issue. This attempt to legislate patriotism and to lock up any offenders is nothing more than another way for the Conservatives to push their ideology one step further.

Although most Canadians are happy to pay tribute to the national flag and celebrate their patriotism, they are concerned about the negative effects of this bill. They do not want this government to treat them like criminals for doing their job or for having a misunderstanding with their neighbours.

Imposing punitive measures—whether they consist of an injunction, a fine, or even worse, imprisonment—is far from a perfect solution. It is high time for this government to give up on this useless bill. We should instead be focusing on issues that are far more important to Canadians, like job creation and the environment.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that we come back after a recess in December and here we are on day one, hour one, and the government's agenda is about the Canadian flag and members applaud.

Over the last number of weeks those members, like the members of the Liberal Party, have had the opportunity to go out and meet with Canadians and see what the average Canadian has to say. I can honestly say that throughout the last six weeks I have not heard one Canadian say to me, “I want the right to be able to fly my flag”. I would suggest that is something most Canadians believe they have the right to do today.

I love the Canadian flag. I believe in flying the Canadian flag. However, I can say that, whether it was yesterday when I was over at St. Mary The Protectress Villa, or when I was at the local McDonald's on Keewatin Street on Saturday, or when I was at the Aklan Fiesta on Saturday night, the issues Canadians were talking about did not include the Canadian flag. They were talking about what was happening with respect to the announcement by the Prime Minister regarding seniors' pensions. At a time when seniors across our land want to hear and be reassured about the issue of pensions, we have a government that is talking about giving a guarantee that every Canadian has the right to fly the flag.

If we raise those issues with seniors and all Canadians, we will find they are more concerned with the hidden agenda coming from this Conservative reform party's approach to dealing--

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, could you confirm for me that the order of the day is private members' business? Is that not the order of the day every Monday starting at 11 o'clock and that government business does not start until noon? Is that not correct based on the orders of the day, and that it is appropriate to discuss a private member's bill at this hour?

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I am not sure that is a point of order. Individual members can make themselves familiar with what is before the House.

Resuming debate on private member's Bill C-288, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I advise the member that we have a government-sponsored private member's bill before us. If the government really wanted to be in tune with what Canadians want debated inside this chamber, it would find full co-operation from within the Liberal Party to allow debate on those issues today inside this chamber, as opposed to talking about the Canadian flag. It is not because we have disrespect for the flag. We respect the flag. In fact, it was a Liberal administration that brought in the Canadian flag we have today.

However, there is a time and place for everything. I am suggesting that today is not the right time and this is not the right place to be talking about the Canadian flag, as much as we all love it.

We should be talking about the issues that are having an impact on all Canadians. On the minds of Canadians today is the issue of pensions and what the government is threatening to do with regard to the pension issue. That is what we should be talking about in the chamber today.

We just had a six week recess. During breaks, we are expected to go out and talk with our constituents. We should therefore be reflecting what is on their minds.

That is why I speak to the pension issue. I believe it is on the minds of my constituents, in particular the constituents I met over the weekend. Just yesterday, I sat down with residents at the St. Mary The Protectress Villa, a wonderful Ukrainian seniors' complex. They brought up the issue of pensions and asked if I would raise that issue today inside the House of Commons. I feel I should stand up and recognize what I believe is an important issue for all Canadians.

It is not to say that Canadians do not have the right to fly the flag. I appreciate the member's attempt to bring in a bill of this nature, but I think there would be a better opportunity in the future to debate the pros and the cons of the member's bill. I feel we should use the time today, instead of talking about the Canadian flag, to share important issues with Canadians through the House of Commons.

Last session the Liberal Party said it was all about jobs. We want jobs, jobs, jobs. That is priority number one, two and three. We emphasized that before the recess, because we believed that we were reflecting what was on the minds of Canadians and what Canadians were concerned about.

As we wound down the session, we all knew what was happening on the aboriginal file, Attawapiskat and related issues. They were not just limited to the province of Ontario. There are many, many issues related to our reserves, like adequate housing, adequate supply of water and so forth. Those are the types of issues Canadians expect us to be debating today, not whether they have the right to fly the Canadian flag. I believe that most, if not all, Canadians already believe they have the right to fly the Canadian flag.

Canadians want to hear about the issues I already highlighted. They want to hear about health care and the need for us to develop a health care accord that ensures there is a standard of health care delivery from coast to coast. They want to hear that the government is concerned about providing leadership on the health care file.

Over the weekend and in the last 10 days, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism talked about reforms or changes to the immigration file. We have seen some of the damage that minister has done to that file, in particular the freezing of immigration visas for parents of immigrants. The government says it does not want to allow immigration for the parents of immigrants for the next two years.

Now we hear about other ways in which the government is moving forward on immigration reform: the super visa, better known lately as the super disappointment visa.

Those are the issues that affect people every day and those are the issues that we should be debating today. After the Speaker leads the prayer, the first thing on the agenda is that everyone has the right to fly the Canadian flag. I chose to stand today to tell the Prime Minister and the government that their priorities are all wrong. They need to readjust their priorities and start connecting with Canadians, reaching out and getting a better understanding of reality.

The best example of that, which I suspect we will see more of during the day, will be the debate on seniors' pensions. I do not believe we should be moving in the direction in which the government is suggesting.

I support our Canadian flag and always have. On numerous occasions, I have had the opportunity to fly it and promote it. I have done that in the past and will continue to do that well into the future. I am a proud Canadian and a proud nationalist. I believe in a strong national government that provides good quality, national programs such as pensions, health care and leadership on important issues, including immigration, housing and so forth.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome members back to Parliament after a break. It has been six weeks since we have been here.

The member for Don Valley West, who put forward this private member's bill, has been waiting a long time for it to be heard in this Parliament so we can send it to committee where it can be reviewed, maybe amended, returned to the House and passed. It is a proud day in Parliament when I can stand and speak in favour of Canada's flag.

I would first like to talk a bit about private members' business after listening to the diatribe by the member opposite about what we should be talking about and when we should be talking about it. There is never a bad time to talk about how great this nation is and the symbols that represent this nation. We live in a great nation. The member across the way may not agree but it is never a bad time to talk about what a great nation we have and the symbols, like the Canadian flag, that make us a great nation.

The member for Don Valley West has put forward a tremendous bill that may need some small revisions and some changes when it gets to committee. I will promote today why we should send this good bill to committee and why we ask all members across the way to pass it.

The member, his constituents and many Canadians have been waiting for us to pass legislation that would ensure that we protect the valuable symbols of this country, symbols like the Canadian flag, symbols that represent the unity of this nation from coast to coast to coast. Unlike my friend across the way, I stand in support of the member for Don Valley West and I stand in support of Bill C-288. This is the proper time to talk about a flag that represents this great nation.

I rise today to provide additional comments in addressing Bill C-288, an act that encourages the flying of our national flag in every part of our beautiful country.

Last month we had the opportunity to hear comments from many members of Parliament on this legislation that was introduced on September 27, 2011. This opportunity is again being offered to us today and I am pleased to be able to express my support for a bill that encourages all Canadians to fly the national flag, not only where they live but everywhere across the country. Canadians are proud of their flag and they should be able to display it not only on special days, like Canada Day or Flag Day, but each and every day of the year.

I support my colleague from Don Valley West who introduced the bill. I would like to ask all members of Parliament to vote in favour of it.

We agree with some of the proposals that would result in amendments to the bill. We want to encourage condominium corporations, homeowner associations, landlords or others who may have control over shared property to make a provision to allow for the display of the national flag of Canada on their property.

We agree with many modifications that will simply encourage Canadians to proudly display the national flag. The prohibition as it was first included in the bill could also be reviewed. The intent of the bill is still valid and we should let the committee study the bill further to make any necessary amendments.

I would remind everyone sitting in the House today that our flag belongs to all Canadians. It is am emblem we all share.

We will remember that it was in 1964 that a Senate and House of Commons committee was formed to respond to the government's wish to adopt a distinctive national Canadian flag. The colours of our national flag are based on a strong sense of Canadian history, the combination of red, white and then red first appeared on the General Service Medal issued by Queen Victoria. Red and white were subsequently proclaimed as Canada's national colours by King George V in 1921. The single red maple leaf on a white field is similar to the device worn by all Canadian Olympic athletes since 1904.

The committee eventually decided to recommend the single leaf design, which was approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on December 15, 1964. This was followed by the Senate on December 17, 1964, and proclaimed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. This was to take effect on February 15, 1965. On that day, a new Canadian flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill and at embassies and consulates across the world.

Everyone will remember the following words that were spoken on that momentous day by the Speaker of the Senate, adding further symbolic meaning to our flag:

The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.

The Canadian flag represents the principles of freedom, democracy, courage and justice upon which our great nation is based.

On the day that the maple leaf flag was first raised over Parliament Hill, the prime minister of the day addressed the audience and stated:

--this day, the 15th day of February, 1965, will always be remembered as a milestone in Canada's national progress.

For almost half a century our flag has watched over us as we have grown, matured and prospered. It welcomed the world to our 100th birthday and Expo '67. It followed Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope. It beckoned our friends the world over to join us in Expo '86 and the Calgary Olympics, and it proudly presided over our 125th birthday in 1992.

It flew with graceful optimism as we embarked on a new millennium. Day after day it still reminds us of a tolerant, peaceful and blessed people who represent this country.

We witnessed Clara Hughes, Canada's Olympic flag bearer, carrying our national flag at the opening of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, accompanied by the top athletes in our country and, in fact, many of the top athletes in the world.

Team Canada: I am sure this proud moment in our country's history is something that we will always remember, as will Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It is red and white in honour of Canada's official colours. It displays a single red maple leaf that is a national symbol, a traditional emblem of this nation. A maple leaf is a familiar symbol of our vast and beautiful country that reflects our common values and our sense of community.

In 1867, Alexander Muir composed the song, The Maple Leaf Forever, to express his profound roots to the maple leaf in Canadian history.

Considered by flag experts as one of the world's most recognizable flags based on its simple design and limited number of colours, the national flag of Canada is admired by people in every corner of the world as a symbol of freedom and a symbol of democracy. Its clean bold lines speak to our shared values, our sense of common purpose and our sense of national community.

Although simple in design, Canada's flag well reflects the common values we hold so dear, while, at the same time, in its striking simplicity, the Canadian flag speaks to the exciting challenges and huge opportunities our nation possesses for the future. It represents all that we have accomplished together and the moments that have served to define us as a nation and as a people.

Today, 46 years later, the maple leaf flag is recognized and respected worldwide.

The Canadian flag demonstrates the common values so dear to our hearts: freedom, peace, respect, justice and tolerance. It is a familiar sight in towns and cities across this vast and beautiful land. It flies from coast to coast to coast, from the beautiful north to the valleys and mountains of British Columbia and the coves of Atlantic Canada.

The maple leaf pays homage to our geography, reflects the grandeur of our history and represents our national identity. Silently, it speaks for all the citizens of Canada, regardless of their language, beliefs, race or opinions.

The Canadian flag is a symbol that unites the Canadian population and expresses, everywhere in the world and everywhere in Canada, the pride we have of being Canadian. The national flag can be seen in our embassies and missions abroad and it is unmissable in Afghanistan where Canadian soldiers have made enormous sacrifices to secure peace and safeguard the Afghan people.

Our flag is a peaceful and prominent symbol in Canada and around the world. In the international community, it symbolizes freedom to express distinct cultural perspectives and is a sign of openness and accommodation. Our flag is the symbol beyond all others that brings Canadians together. Not only does it represent our free, compassionate and caring society, it also represents each and every citizen and their pride in seeing it fly in the vast Canadian skies.

We have a lot to be proud of in this country and the flag symbolizes this to us and the world about what is best about Canada. It speaks to tolerance, mutual respect, compassion and acceptance. These are deeply ingrained values in the Canadian character.

It is a reflection of us all and is a reflection of a belief that we all need to celebrate. The flag is an important part of our national identity. We fly it on flagpoles, sew it on backpacks and put decals on our cars and bicycles and, whenever we do, we send a message of pride and unity to our friends and neighbours across Canada and across the world.

The Government of Canada is proud to celebrate each year, on February 15, National Flag Day. It is an excellent opportunity to learn about and reflect on our shared heritage and express our collective identity. On that day across the country there are literally thousands of events celebrating National Flag Day.

In my riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley there is a big event in a place called Parrsboro, an area with the highest tides in the world, an area where tidal power will engage and grow that community. The people in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, celebrate flag day every year. They are patriotic. They believe in Canada and Canada's unity. On their behalf, I stand today in support of Bill C-288 and the member for Don Valley West. I encourage members opposite to support the bill and send it to committee.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada.

I read this bill with interest over the weekend and noticed there are really three key clauses in it. The first is, of course, to prohibit or stop people from preventing other folks from displaying the national flag of Canada; the second is to allow the courts to grant injunctions against violators or potential violators of the first clause; and the third, if this injunction is ignored, allows prison sentences of up to two years for violators.

I am lucky that my wife, Jeanette Ashe, is also a political scientist. She puts up with these kinds of discussions over the weekends about these important private members' issues that come forward. We thought, as we were walking by the Peace Tower last night, looking at the Canadian flag billowing over this magnificent Parliament, that the bill was extraordinary for a number of reasons and worth discussing at length. I am glad we have the time today to do so.

First, I would like to state that I am very proud of the Canadian flag. I have worn it on my backpack while hostelling through Europe. As I stayed at various hostels, people would stop me, at least they did in the 1990s, and say how happy they were to meet a Canadian, as identified by my flag. They would say that Canada was a symbol of all that was good in the world. We have very strong national health care. We welcome immigrants. We are a peacekeeping nation. We try to promote peace internationally. I think that is why I was proud to wear the flag then. I am happy that people are proud to fly it on their own houses and to wear it on their backpacks around the world.

However, as much as I do support the flag and flag-flying, I really cannot support the bill in its current form. There are number of reasons for this. The first is the cost of this bill. I think as a responsible opposition, one of the first things we have to do is to speak about costs and think about being in a deficit position. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have brought us into a deficit position. We have to think about every penny and think about spending our pennies wisely.

To throw somebody in prison for two years would cost about $200,000. It costs about $100,000 a year to put somebody in prison. That does not even include all of the prosecution fees, all the police fees, and the various other fees that are entailed. There are about 12.5 million households in Canada. At a cost of about a dollar a flag, we could actually provide a flag to every Canadian household for the cost of about 65 prosecutions. I thought, is it worth it?

I read the member for Don Valley West's speech in Hansard. Actually, my wife and I perused Hansard as I was getting ready for this speech. He brought this bill forward based on a few bits of anecdotal evidence from his constituents; for example, a renter of an apartment flew a flag and the landlord forced him to take it down. What would be the implications of this act, this extraordinary act? At the furthest extent, that landlord would be put into jail for two years. Is that really the right way to handle this type of dispute, to allow the Attorney General of Canada, through the superior courts, to press charges against a landlord and then take that person out of the economy and put him or her into jail for two years at a cost of at least $200,000? Perhaps this is not the best way to go forward. Perhaps this is a wasteful use of taxpayer money.

There has been some talk in this House about allowing this bill to get to committee to allow more discussion of these clauses. However, the bill itself is very short and there do not seem to be any clauses to discuss, other than this one to throw people in jail for two years if they somehow interfere with the flying of a flag, or may do so in the future.

There are, in public policy, really two main instruments. They are referred to as carrots and sticks. There is the stick, where people are punished and beaten into submission to elicit a certain type of behaviour, and there are carrots, where people are rewarded for undertaking particular actions. The government seems particularly prone to using the stick. I would propose that a two-year prison sentence for interfering with, removing or intending to remove someone's flag some day is a very big stick. Putting people in jail for two years does not seem to make much sense.

On the cost side of things, if we are going to spend this enormous amount of money on this type of action, it would be much better to supply flags to every household rather than throwing a very small number of people in jail. It would cost millions of dollars. Again, I point out to the member that perhaps this is one reason he should reconsider this bill.

The second reason the bill should not go forward and why I cannot support it is the thought of who pays. There would be these prosecutions ongoing, during which time the attorney general would perhaps not be pursuing other prosecutions while going after these violent flag offenders. Because it is a sentence of less than two years, it would be served in provincial prisons. This bill seems to continue the theme of the current government of not only using a stick as a policy tool but also not absorbing the costs of using that stick.

This bill could perhaps have been added to Bill C-10, which we all know is the omnibus crime bill that rolled nine pieces of legislation into one larger piece of legislation. Perhaps the most famous clause in Bill C-10 is the one that requires six months for six plants, that is, if someone is caught with six marijuana plants in his or her window box, plants the size of a person's little finger, the mandatory minimum sentence is six months in jail. Of course, the federal government can pass these big stick laws without any fear that it is going to drive up the federal deficit because all of these costs are offloaded to the provinces. The Quebec government was the first one to come out and say that Bill C-10 would cost the province perhaps upwards of $1 billion. Now other provinces have come out and said this is offloading by the federal government.

Bills like Bill C-10 are going to cost provinces billions of dollars. It is irresponsible for the Conservative government to go ahead with bills like this without any discussion with the provinces and for it to say it is going to impose punitive laws, things that most Canadians would not agree with, and that it is not going to pay for them but make provincial taxpayers do so. Bill C-288 is in the same nature as Bill C-10.

Another forthcoming bill that would also offload costs to provinces concerns health care. The federal government, without really having any discussions with the provinces, is looking to offload health care costs to the provinces. This is a dangerous trend.

The last point I would make is there is very little empirical evidence the bill is needed. Perhaps the member senses there might be an escalation in people tearing down flags because they will be upset with government policy. For me, the only reason people would remove a flag is they are upset with the government. Perhaps the purchase of F-35s, perhaps the government becoming an international scourge in regard to climate change, and perhaps our moving from being a peacekeeping nation to an aggressor nation are reasons that people might be angry with the government. I think maybe this is a Freudian slip type of bill, where the member is perhaps anticipating with great nervousness what damage his government is going to do this country and is trying to get ahead of that problem by introducing such a bill.

I cannot support this bill going forward.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here this morning, representing my riding of Davenport in the great city of Toronto where people put up flags just about everywhere. Displaying the Canadian flag in my riding is very important to many of my constituents. In fact, it is a unique event, a unique habit of theirs. They often request the flag from their member of Parliament and on every occasion I am happy to facilitate that request.

This very weighty bill is not about the ability of Canadians to display the flag. It appears to be one step in an endless, escalating direction of the government to criminalize Canadians. I am sure the member opposite who drafted this legislation either did not think about this or this bill is more malicious than it looks on the face of it. We have volunteers who are sitting on condo boards, we have seniors and retirees sitting on tenant associations of the buildings they live in, and this bill requires these volunteers to make a decision whether to uphold the municipal fire regulations or risk being charged under this act for refusing to allow people to hang a flag on their balcony. Where is the fairness and foresight here?

If the government stopped borrowing from the Tea Party in the United States, maybe it would put forward sensible legislation Canadians actually cared about. We all know the government loves to wave the flag when it is convenient for it to do so, and it also loves to say that it cannot do this or that because it is a provincial or a municipal matter. These are the government's great excuses for refusing to acknowledge the desperate need for a national affordable public transit strategy. It claims this is somehow not its jurisdiction. Yet the government puts a piece of legislation before this House that will expect and facilitate Canadians in overreaching municipal bylaws and doing its bidding.

It is hard for me to really understand where this legislation is coming from, other than from the government's friends in the Tea Party. However, there is one other issue that might be at play here, because we know that the government in the face of declining crime rates has said to Canadians, yes, the crime rate is falling but the unreported crime rate is rising. Perhaps in an effort to fill the prisons that the government wants to build, it needs to criminalize more Canadians so it has a purpose for this.

We have serious concerns about how volunteer residents' associations are going to deal with this bill, and the member opposite has not spoken to that at all. The member opposite and his government like to flex their muscles and try to characterize their party as somehow the most patriotic body in the country. This is another example of how the government tries to pit one group against another in an endless toxic debate on who is more Canadian.

Here we all are on the first day back in a new session, costing taxpayers a whack of dough to have us all here, and are invited to talk about a piece of legislation that is not on the radar of Canadians, certainly not in the riding of Davenport or in Toronto where this member also comes from.

Instead of trying to lock up landlords for not allowing a resident association to put up a flag, why not try to put landlords' feet to the fire around the issue of bedbugs in the city of Toronto? That would be something constituents in the member's riding would appreciate.

If the member wants to overreach municipal jurisdiction and do something meaningful, why not pursue a national affordable housing strategy? That would help a lot of people in the hon. member's riding. I can say that because I get calls from people from all over the city of Toronto who are desperately in need of housing. I come from Scarborough, which is not very far from the hon. member's own riding. That is where I grew up. The houses were a little smaller than they are in Don Valley, but the issues of affordable housing are huge.

The member had a great opportunity to make his mark in the House with his first private member's bill and really connect to the issues concerning the constituents he claims to represent, and what we have is a watered down facsimile of a Tea Party manifesto on flags. This is what the government is about. It should come forward with some meaningful issues.

How can we support this obvious attempt at throwing a wedge issue in the body politic at a time when seniors are concerned about their pensions and middle class families cannot afford mortgages, let alone buy a house in the city of Toronto? That would be an issue for the member to consider.

I know there are some people who have not been able to fly the flag on their balconies. That has happened. However, we have not heard any conversations with respect to fire and safety or municipal bylaws.

There is a municipal bylaw which would be very interesting to change. It is in the building code around making sure that new buildings are accessible to seniors. That would be something on which the member opposite could really get some support, certainly from his Toronto colleague on this side of the House.

Let us see some meaningful private members' bills that really make a difference in the lives of Canadians. Enough of this phony, toxic, partisan bickering at the beginning of a new session.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I would like to wish you and all of my colleagues a warm welcome back to the House. I hope everyone enjoyed some festive cheer with their family, friends and constituents over the course of the break. I am delighted to have the opportunity to return to the House this morning.

It is also a pleasure to start this new year speaking to private member's Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada, on behalf of the people of Don Valley West, and for that matter, all of Canada.

I wish to take members back in our shared history. On February 15, 1965, our Canadian flag was raised for the very first time. The Hon. Maurice Bourget beautifully articulated the meaning of the flag and what it represents. He stated:

The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.

These words ring as true today as they did 46 years ago. The flag represents our country's incredible unity from coast to coast to coast, where within these borders people from every corner of the world have the opportunity to etch their place within Canada. Canadians, from recent immigrants to those whose generations past first settled this land, are united in the essence of what it means to have this citizenship, to take pride in our breathtaking landscapes, to participate in democracy, to practise the faith that speaks to them, and to know that each and every one of us can call ourselves Canadian regardless of what language we speak.

The Canadian flag is a deeply symbolic icon. Its beauty in simplicity has made it an internationally recognized symbol. Citizens, from our Olympians presenting excellence on the world stage to undergraduates who stay in hostels while backpacking their way through faraway lands all proudly display our flag. It symbolizes the very values for which our valiant armed forces risked their lives. These men and women in action have seen first-hand countries where citizens live in fear and dictatorship. For these veterans the flag represents the Canada and our values for which they fought. It is shameful that those who risk their lives in the call of duty are being barred from displaying the flag today.

I thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley and all members in the House who have spoken in support of this very important bill. Bill C-288 acts to ensure that all citizens across all of Canada have the same rights to fly the flag any day of the year. I am proud of our country. I am proud of our flag and all that it represents to our great nation.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members



National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


National Flag of CanadaPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 1, 2012, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Message from the SenatePrivate Members' Business

January 30th, 2012 / noon


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters.

Suspension of SittingMessage from the SenatePrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 o'clock when we will move to government orders.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:55 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Pooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders



Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

moved that Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.

As hon. members are aware, our government understands the importance of a secure and dignified retirement for people who have spent their lives building a better and more prosperous Canada for all of us. This legislation would take Canada's retirement income system one step further by helping more Canadians realize their retirement goals.

PRPPs, an acronym people will hear many times over, refers to pooled registered pension plans. I will outline how PRPPs will help millions of Canadians save for their retirement, but first I will provide some context as to why our government is introducing this new low cost and accessible retirement option. Just because Canada's retirement system is strong does not mean it cannot be improved. That is exactly what will happen when the House passes Bill C-25.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, concerns related to retirement income adequacy and pension coverage began to emerge. In response our government took action and established a joint federal-provincial research working group in May 2009. This working group conducted an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy in Canada.

The working group concluded that overall the Canadian retirement income system is performing well. It is providing Canadians with an adequate standard of living upon retirement. However, the report also found that some modest and middle income households may be at risk of having insufficient savings once they retire.

Of particular concern is the finding of declining participation in employer-sponsored registered pension plans. The portion of working Canadians with such plans has declined from 41% in 1991. As well, Canadians are not taking full advantage of other retirement savings tools such as registered retirement savings plans. For example, currently there is $600 billion in unused RRSP room in Canada. While aggregate RPP and RRSP participation rates for middle and higher income earners are quite high, the research nonetheless indicates that a portion of Canadians is not saving enough.

With these findings in hand, our government went to work on behalf of Canadians. Over the past two years our government's commitment to a stronger retirement system has taken me to every province and territory and countless communities across this country. In my travels I have consulted with Canadians. I have met with our provincial and territorial counterparts. I have held discussions with owners of small and medium size businesses as well as self-employed Canadians. Today's legislation is the culmination of these consultations.

In short, PRPPs are an innovative, new, privately administered low cost and accessible pension option to help Canadians meet their retirement goals. They are particularly significant for small and medium size businesses. They will enable owners and employees alike to have access to a large-scale, low cost private pension plan for the very first time.

Professional administrators will be subject to a fiduciary standard of care to ensure that funds are invested in the best interests of the plan members. By pooling pension savings, PRPPs will offer Canadians greater purchasing power. Basically, Canadians will be buying in bulk. Achieving lower prices than would otherwise be available means Canadians would have more money left in their pockets when they retire. The design of these plans will also be straightforward to allow for simple enrolment and simple management. Finally, they are intended to be a largely harmonized process from province to province, which will further lower the administrative costs.

Overall the design features will remove many of the traditional barriers that might have kept some employers from offering pension plans to their employees. It is my firm belief that this will lead to a greater willingness for small and medium-size businesses to offer PRPPs to their employees. That is crucial because, incredibly, just over 60% of Canadians do not have a workplace pension plan to date.

With PRPPs, participation will be encouraged by automatic enrolment of employees into a PRPP where their employers offer one. Automatic enrolment will encourage regular saving in PRPPs by making participation the default choice for employees who do not actively make a decision to opt out. Canada's Minister of Finance decided to proceed with the PRPP framework precisely because it was considered an effective and appropriate way to target those modest and middle-income individuals who might not be saving enough for their retirement, in particular, those who currently do not have access to an employer-sponsored registered pension plan.

If the NDP had its way, it would increase the payroll taxes on small and medium-size businesses when it suggested doubling the CPP contributions. At a time when Canada's economic recovery is still fragile, imposing a job-killing tax on job creators is simply irresponsible. PRPPs would be an efficiently managed privately administered pension plan that would provide greater choice to employers and individuals and would promote pension coverage and retirement savings.

Once the provinces administer their PRPP legislation, the legislative and regulatory framework for PRPPs will be operational. This will allow PRPP administrators to develop and offer plans to Canadians and their employers. Working together with the provinces, I am confident we can get these important new retirement vehicles up and running for Canadians in a timely manner.

It is important to remember that PRPPs do not stand by themselves. They are part of a bigger picture. They are part of Canada's retirement income system. We must remember that our system is based on a balanced mix of public and private responsibility. It is also a mix of compulsory and voluntary vehicles that provide the basic minimum pension for Canadians, ensure a minimum amount of earnings replacement for all Canadian workers and offer an additional opportunity for voluntary retirement savings. The system both supports and draws upon the strength of a sound financial sector and complements our overall economic objectives of creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.

The success of this model rests on its three pillars. The first pillar is made up of the old age security, or the OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, which provide a basic minimum income guarantee for seniors. These programs are funded primarily through taxes on Canadian workers. Our government is committed to ensuring the retirement security of Canadians. That is why we have to ensure that programs like the OAS and the GIS remain sustainable so they will be around for Canadians in the future.

The second pillar is the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. These are mandatory publicly-targeted benefit pension plans which provide a basic level of earnings replacement for all Canadian workers. There are currently 16.5 million workers contributing to CPP and QPP, with these programs paying $44 billion in benefits per year to 6.5 million beneficiaries. The CPP is the centrepiece of Canada's pension system. I am proud to say it is fully funded, actuarially sound and sustainable for the long term.

The third pillar of Canada's retirement system includes tax-assisted private savings opportunities to help and encourage Canadians to accumulate additional savings for retirement. This includes registered pension plans and registered retirement savings pension plans. In total the cost of tax assistance provided on retirement savings is currently estimated at approximately $25 billion per year.

All in all, these three pillars support each other in a way that is effective and also fair.

The introduction of the PRPP is only the latest example of our government's commitment to ensuring that Canada's retirement system continues to deliver for seniors.

Since 2006, our government has increased the age credit amount by $1,000, increased it by another $1,000 in 2009, doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for pension income credits to $2,000, introduced pension income splitting and introduced the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs to 71 years from 69 years.

In budget 2008 we introduced the tax-free savings account, which is particularly beneficial to seniors. It helps them meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax efficient basis after they are no longer able to contribute to an RRSP.

In budget 2011 we announced a new guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit for the most vulnerable seniors. Seniors with little or no income will receive an additional annual benefit of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples.

Overall, since coming to office, our government has provided over $2 billion in additional annual targeted tax relief to seniors and pensioners.

Our government has a proven track record when it comes to ensuring that Canada's retirement income system is the best in the world. By introducing PRPPs, we are taking that system and making it stronger. This is something of which Canadians can truly be proud.

PRPPs would build on our commitment to improve the retirement income system in our country. This new private sector pension vehicle would improve the range of retirement savings options available to Canadians. PRPPs would provide a low cost retirement savings opportunity for hard-working Canadians, who currently do not have access to a workplace pension plan.

It is my hope that the provinces will follow our government's lead and introduce PRPP legislation on a timely basis. The many businesses and employees who I meet with fully support PRPPs. They believe, and I think the provinces appreciate this, that their governments should work together to deliver results on their priorities. The PRPP is a prime example of what we can do collectively to accomplish for Canadians when we do act together.

On that note, I encourage all hon. members to support the bill and ensure that Canada's retirement income system continues to be the envy of the world.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to welcome all members back to this place. I hope they all had a great Christmas and a great break.

The Minister of State for Finance would never intentionally mislead the House, so I will offer correct a part of what he said in his speech.

When he talked about the NDP plan and the rising cost to employers and that, he left out one important component. Should this plan to double the CPP be put in place, three years before it could even be implemented, there would a seven year additional phase-in period. I want to be very clear on that.

In his speech the minister spoke about the capacity for bulk buying that people would have under the PRPP. We already have bulk buying under the Canada pension plan. It has a proven track record. It is portable across the country. That is clearly the best vehicle.

Most important, the PRPP would be subject to exactly the same market pressures and potential market failures as RRSPs.

Why is the minister moving in this direction?

Pooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome my colleague back to the House of Commons after what I hope was a very restful Christmas break for him as well. I know how hard he works on behalf of seniors and I am sure he spent a lot of time talking to them. Therefore, I would hope he had an open mind when he was communicating with them.

We are not only dealing with seniors, but we are dealing with future seniors, future pensioners. Part of the government's overall strategy is to ensure that our wonderful system, which is the envy of the world, is there for our children and grandchildren and that we do not offload that burden of an unsustainable program on to them.

The Canada pension plan, as the hon. member mentioned, is a very good system. However, we have communicated with many businesses, as well as individuals who are part of that mandatory program, and they do not think this is the time, when businesses are struggling and coming out of the recession, to increase their burden. This provides an option for those businesses that want to provide a retirement plan for their employees to be part of this, to simplify the process.

As I reflected in my speech, many businesses find it a challenge. They are struggling to keep their businesses going. They are trying to grow their businesses. At the same time, they want to offer this to their employees.

In the long term, we continue to look at Canada pension plan. We share that jurisdiction with the provinces. We cannot make any arbitrary changes to Canada pension plan without the support of the provinces. We did not have unanimous support among the provinces to expand CPP at this moment. We did, however, have unanimous support from the provinces to move forward with the PRPP framework.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about PRPPs, about the Canada pension plan, about billions of dollars and about the retirement of Canadians. It is somewhat disappointing that the Minister of Finance would not have chosen this as an opportunity to clearly give an indication to all Canadians about where the government was on the broader picture.

On the announcement of this important bill, I would like to refer to this. Does the minister of state remember the 2006 Conservative election platform, “Stand up for Canada”, referred to in the blue book. The is a specific quote on security for seniors:

Confirm its commitment to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) as well as the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) as fundamental guarantees of income security in retirement years.

This was a commitment the Prime Minister gave to all Canadians just a few years back.

Even though I would have preferred to pose this to the Minister of Finance, my question is this. Is the Conservative, or the Reform government, prepared to commit to Canadians to support the CPP, the guaranteed income supplement and other pension programs? Are the Conservatives still true to the commitment today they made to Canadians back in 2006?

Pooled Registered Pension Plans ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are true to our commitments. In fact, I might remind the third party members that they actually voted against an increase to the guaranteed income supplement to seniors in the last budget. They ran their campaign against it. We tabled our budget in March and they threw us into an unnecessary election. All the way through that we said that we wanted to raise the GIS support for seniors. They told us not to do it, that it was a terrible idea.

Seniors in my riding were shocked and amazed that members of the third party would suggest that. Then when Parliament resumed, they voted against it.

We have a great system, a three-prong one. The Canada pension plan is part of it, a mandatory contribution which is working well. We have reassured Canadians it is working well into the future.

The OAS is a good system, a guaranteed income supplement for seniors who most need it, and that will remain for Canadian seniors.