House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is rising on a point of order.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I would like to seek unanimous consent to move the following motion: that notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, clauses 264 to 268, related to changes to the Customs Act, be removed from Bill C-45, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, and do compose Bill C-47; that Bill C-47 be entitled “An Act to amend the Customs Act”; that Bill C-47 be deemed read a first time and printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security; that Bill C-45 retain the status on the order paper that it had prior to the adoption of this order; that Bill C-45 be reprinted as amended; and that the law clerk and parliamentary counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary to give effect to this motion.

We are proposing the motion in order to make sure that the government's proposal to implement electronic travel authorization gets the full consideration it should have. The government has proposed that parts of the bill go to committee but not be amended or voted upon separately. Therefore, this motion aims to correct that gap to allow for full debate and full consideration by providing a separate bill on this important matter.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent?

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

There is no unanimous consent.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kings—Hants.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-45, the second budget implementation act. This is yet another massive omnibus budget bill, which is 414 pages in length with 516 separate clauses amending more than 60 different laws. It is simply too big for Parliament to consider properly in just a short period of time. The Conservatives are counting on us rushing this through at record speed and they are trying to avoid real scrutiny in this Parliament.

The Conservatives are continuing their reckless abuse of power by using these huge omnibus bills and underhanded procedural manoeuvres to force unpopular policies through. They are doing this despite public outcry from coast to coast to coast. They are using this so-called budget bill to gut the Navigable Waters Protection Act, redefine aboriginal fisheries and amend the Indian Act without consulting first nation communities, despite the government's constitutional responsibility and duty to consult. They are using this so-called budget act to shield the government from lawsuits by creating loopholes in Canada's environmental laws and retroactively changing the Customs Act. They are eliminating the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and implementing an overhaul of the Canadian Grain Commission.

These are just a few examples of elements of the bill that are significant and have nothing to do with the fiscal policy of the government, which is actually what a budget and a budget implementation act ought to be focused on. The Conservatives are rushing through these changes so that Canadians will not realize what has happened until it is too late. They have established a pattern of overwhelming our democratic system with overloaded budget bills that have nothing or little to do with the actual budgets themselves.

Buried in these massive bills are a number of mistakes. In fact, the Conservatives are already using Bill C-45 to correct mistakes they made in Bill C-38 last spring. The mistakes range from poorly written transition provisions in the new environmental assessment law to reinserting protections in the Fisheries Act that were mistakenly or inadvertently erased, to clarifying rules for approving foreign investments in our banks. These were mistakes in Bill C-38 in the spring. They slipped through the cracks because they were in a huge omnibus bill that denied Parliament the opportunity to thoroughly study and more importantly, not just to study but ultimately to vote on these changes individually.

Now the Conservatives want to fix some of these mistakes with measures in yet another omnibus budget bill that they want to rush into law. In this budget implementation bill the Conservatives are breaking promises made in budget 2012. The Conservatives want to use Bill C-45 to take public policy decisions that are contrary to what was in the budget in 2012. It is a farce when the Conservatives say that everything in Bill C-45 can be found in the budget. The reality is that some of what is in the legislation is completely opposite to what was promised in the budget of 2012.

Page 146 of the budget states that “[O]ver the next few years, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board...will continue to set the rate” for EI premiums. However, Bill C-45 explicitly gets rid of the board's authority to set EI rates.

Here is another example. Page 268 of the budget keeps the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, but Bill C-45 actually eliminates the commission altogether. We all remember how earlier this year the Conservatives broke their promise not to cut old age security.

It is also important to realize what is not in Bill C-45. Despite the size and breadth of this omnibus budget bill and the promises it breaks, Bill C-45 is remarkable as well for what it does not address. There is nothing in the bill to address some of the most serious challenges facing Canada. Canadians have identified growing income inequality as one of the biggest challenges facing the country, but there is nothing in Bill C-45 to address growing income gaps. There is nothing in Bill C-45 to address growing gaps between the provinces.

Canada's resource-driven recovery has increased, in fact, inequality among the regions in many ways. While it is positive that we have all of these natural resources, they are largely concentrated in a couple of provinces and the gap between those provinces in a resource-driven recovery and the other provinces is growing. I will give an example.

A province like Alberta is increasing education spending dramatically and I commend it for doing that. Investing in education is a good thing. At the same time, Nova Scotia's provincial government is cutting funding for public education by 30%. Therefore, it is not just a question of income inequality, it is a question of equality of opportunity. This is where we need a robust federal government that is working with the provinces, meeting with the provinces and ensuring that we do not see today's income inequality become tomorrow's inequality of opportunity.

This growing divide between the provinces is a major issue in Canada. In the last 12 months, over 40% of Canada's new full-time jobs were in just three provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. These are the provinces with the greatest wealth of natural resources. It is where we can find 40% of the new jobs, but only 15% of the population. Provinces without resources are losing workers and being forced to slash funding for social programs. These are the programs that ensure equality of opportunity for the next generation.

There was a time when the Prime Minister said he would meet regularly with the premiers to discuss these types of issues. There was a time that ministers of intergovernmental affairs were senior members of the cabinet. People like the right hon. Joe Clark served as an intergovernmental affairs minister in the Mulroney government. Lucienne Robillard was a former minister in the provincial government in Quebec. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, a very senior expert on intergovernmental and constitutional affairs, was a minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Under the Conservatives, the minister of intergovernmental affairs is, effectively, a minister without portfolio. The minister of intergovernmental affairs does not have any standing in the Conservative government. That is not purely a reflection of the current minister, it is a reflection of an attitude toward the provinces that pervades the government.

The Prime Minister's refusal to meet with the premiers, his my way or the highway approach, has created a vacuum of federal leadership on these issues. Now we have a budget bill with no serious plan to work with the provinces on programs that would deal with issues such as income inequality and the growing inequality of opportunity, programs like a national early learning strategy or a national lifelong skills development strategy or federal leadership in working with the provinces to restore the honour of skilled trades, which is something that is incredibly important in Canada at a time when we have people without jobs and jobs without people.

Despite the uncertainty of the economy and the enormity of the challenges we face as a nation, there is precious little in Bill C-45 to help create jobs for today and jobs for the future. In fact, the spring budget bill actually made income inequality worse with cuts to OAS and EI. Bill C-45 would actually cut the very programs that encourage job creation and help our economy grow. It would cut SR&ED tax credits.

We have heard from industry, the science community, the biotech community and the manufacturers that the SR&ED program is important. The government would actually cut it. It would kill the corporate mineral exploration and development tax credits, which is dangerously short-sighted at a time when it is difficult for the mining and junior mining industries to raise money.

It also would kill the Atlantic investment tax credit for oil, gas and mining at a time when the Atlantic Canadian economy is still facing significant challenges. It would do nothing to address Canada's dangerously high levels of household debt. The fact is that for every $1 of annual income, Canadian families have $1.63 of household debt.

There is nothing to address these major and important issues that are actually related to the fiscal priorities of Canadians in the budget bill. Instead, the Conservatives are addressing a lot of other issues that have nothing to do with the fiscal reality of the country or the fiscal priorities of the government.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech. I know he has been following the budget file very closely. I would like him to tell us about the long-term consequences of the bill. The government often speaks of short-term consequences. Indeed, short-sightedness is often politics' great weakness.

I would like the member to tell us about the long-term consequences of the budget, beyond 2015.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I fear the Conservative budget and policies will exacerbate inequality among Canadians in the long term. Family income is not the only issue. It is vital to acknowledge the growing inequality of opportunities among provinces and between urban and rural areas.

But the Conservatives do not believe that to be important. I agree with Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, who said inequality is a very important issue in Canada. We ought to deal with it because, in the future, it will be increasingly difficult for people to live with such inequality. We ought to act now, but the Conservative government is completely ignoring the problem.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am always caught up in a discussion between the Liberals and the NDP on the whole idea of revenue from taxpayers. Could the member perhaps give some advice to the NDP?

In a previous session Canadians got a serious case of election indigestion with the proposed $15 billion carbon tax. Now the official opposition has changed it and has proposed a $21 billion carbon tax. I am sure the member kept that out of his speech because that is not included in our low-tax plan.

What is his advice or post-mortem going to be since he could not move any further to the left physically in the House of Commons after the carbon tax proposal in the last election? What advice does he have for the opposition? I will let them talk among themselves.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member sought my advice and so I will give it to him.

My advice would be that the hon. member go to the website of the Department of the Environment and go back to 2008 where the Conservative government promised to do exactly what the New Democrat platform promised to do, which was to bring in a cap and trade system to Canada.

My advice for those Conservative members is to realize that before the NDP ever put a cap and trade system in its platform, Conservative government policy was to have a cap and trade system. However, the Conservatives did not call it “a carbon tax on everything”; they called it a “cap and trade system”.

I say it is on their website, but there is probably some 19-year-old pimply-faced fellow in the basement of Conservative Party headquarters working on taking that off right now. Some guy who just put down his Hayek books is rushing to the computer to try to eliminate the fact that the Conservatives had a big fat carbon tax on everything. That was Conservative policy. That is where the NDP picked it up.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, other nations have defined themselves by race and ethnicity. Not us. As former prime minister Laurier said, “Canada is free and freedom is its [only] nationality”. Over a century that freedom has allowed us to build the best place in the world in which to live, work and raise a family.

My purpose in this place has been to help make Canada the freest country in the world, where people are free to succeed and free to take responsibility for their own lives. Toward that goal, government should only do the things that people cannot do for themselves. It should do those things well and it should leave the rest to free people to do on their own.

This budget moves toward that principle and the best example of how is the changes it would make to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The purpose of that act was to protect navigation. That purpose includes allowing boats and bridges to coexist on shared waters. It ensures that if I build a bridge, it does not obstruct other people's ability to run their boats down the river. That is a role that citizens cannot govern on their own and therefore government has a legitimate role to play in doing it.

This act was written over 130 years ago, at a time when people actually travelled to work by canoe. Someone reminded me recently that the last Canadian to travel to work by canoe was Pierre Trudeau. However, now we live in a different time and over the course of time, this act's tentacles have extended beyond its usefulness. It now applies to hundreds of tiny building projects that could never obstruct a boat, often on waterways where boats never travel in the first place. It literally extends to all waters in Canada that can float a canoe, including some brooks and streams that are only full for a few weeks during spring run-off.

For example, the city of Moncton applied to build a culvert under the highway in Fox Creek, which is so small as to be practically unusable. This act and the approvals it requires delayed that construction for eight months and resulted in extra costs to Moncton taxpayers.

In Alberta, 80 cottagers on Lake Wabamum waited for as long as a year and a half for Transport Canada to approve small docks along the water's edge. We are talking about simple docks, the kind that every Canadian kid has run 10 steps off and jumped into the lake.

In these cases, the delays had nothing to do with environmental precautions. The act does not even mention the word “environment” once. These delays were designed to ensure that the little cottage docks in Alberta and the tiny culvert in Moncton would not block shipping vessels from travelling down a waterway.

Such delays are not only unnecessary, they take time from citizens, money from taxpayers and public servants away from doing their real jobs. Focusing the act on its real purpose will liberate entrepreneurs, property owners and taxpayers from mindless red tape, while other acts that actually deal with the environment will continue to protect nature. It will help create a system of governance in our country that is lean and smart, not fat and dumb.

It is in instances like this that I am reminded of the example set for us by some of our ancestors in this part of the country, one of them being D. Aubrey Moodie who just recently passed away at age 99. The founder of the township of Nepean and its former reeve, he set the gold standard for common-sense government that maximized the freedom of its local citizenry.

I am reminded of the story of Jack May who started an auto dealership on Highway 16 in Nepean in 1965. The reason he started it there was because he had spent six months fighting delays and red tape on the other side of the river in Gloucester. After his frustration had reached a boiling point, he crossed the river and he showed up on the reeve's doorstep Sunday morning. He got Aubrey Moodie out of bed while the reeve was still wearing his pyjamas. They sat down and over coffee and breakfast he told the reeve he wanted to start an auto dealership in the community.

The next night, a few officials from the city and one or two lawyers from Jack May's business sat down over dinner and worked out the plans. Tuesday morning, 48 hours after he had first met with the reeve, the shovel was in the ground and the dealership was under construction. Forty-seven years later, that same dealership is creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity right in the heart of my community.

I share this story because it demonstrates that the obstacles of government can block our ability to achieve our full potential and that a common-sense, lean-focused government can allow that potential to be unleashed once more.

In this place, because it is a place of politics and government, we often forget the necessity to remain humble in recognition that it is in fact the individual and the industry of Canada that creates the wealth of the land.

Anyone who doubts the power of the individual in a free society need only reflect upon the story of the airplane.

If we had asked anyone, at the beginning of the 20th century, who would invent the first heavier than air manpowered aircraft, we would have heard one name, Samuel Pierpont Langley. He was a senior secretary at the Smithsonian Institution, a brilliant scientist, a regular at the White House, best friends with Alexander Graham Bell, who had invented the telephone and the recipient of the largest research grant in the history of the U.S. War Department, at the time $50,000 or $1.3 million in today's terms.

However, best of all for him his only competition were a couple of middle-class brothers from Ohio, the Wright brothers. They had no contacts in government and therefore no government funds. They raised all their money through their bicycle repair shop. They had no post-secondary education. All their higher learning came from their father's modest home library. They had no expectation of success. This was really a case of the Wrights versus might.

What happened? Langley spent his considerable sums on staff, advisers, travelling the world, meeting with important people, giving speeches and developing theories.

The Wrights, by contrast, developed their theories by watching birds, particularly gulls, in flight. They took these lessons and tested them in their homemade wind tunnel, which they built out of a wooden box with a gas-powered fan because they did not have electricity in their shed. They tested tiny airplanes to develop their theories, which they then ran in their life-sized gliders. One brother would be in the glider and the other would run alongside.

In December 1903, Langley launched his aircraft of the Potomac River near Washington, the capital of government. It shot straight up in the air and back down into the water, where it sunk to the bottom and lodged in mud. He gave up and declared his life a failure.

A week later the Wright brothers launched their aircraft. It, too, crashed, but they did not give up. In the next 48 hours, they rebuilt and launched the first ever manpowered aircraft in the history of humankind.

This is the story of the individual over the institution, of citizen over state, of practicality over pontification, of the Wrights over might.

Since the birth of humankind, we have gazed up at the birds in a spirit of envy.

In this magical story of entrepreneurship, these brothers of modest means did what the mighty state could not: give man wings and make him fly.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech, even though I am still trying to understand some things about the bill.

The finance minister said that everything in Bill C-45 can be found in the budget.

When we received the information on this bill—and there has been a lot of publicity on this issue—we asked where in the budget the references to navigable waters could be found. We were told to refer to page 282 of the budget, which indicates that $37 million in savings have been planned at Transport Canada.

From this, we were supposed to understand what our colleague was explaining to us about all the advantages and effects of this bill. But, on the contrary, what we are seeing are the negative effects it will have on environmental protection.

Can the hon. member tell me where in the budget we can find an explanation for everything he has said about our waterways?

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an act concerning jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. When we have an act in place that prevents municipalities from carrying out basic local infrastructure construction in order to determine whether a shipping vessel can travel down a tiny ditch, then we obstruct the creation of jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. We are removing unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that prevents entrepreneurs, like the one I mentioned, from creating the prosperity of the land.

That is the difference between us and the other side. We understand that every dollar the government spends must come out of the pockets of the person who earned it. We can lower those costs. We can leave the dollars in the pockets of the entrepreneurs of our country and they will create the jobs, the growth and the prosperity that we seek.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 1:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, finally we are at third reading of Bill C-350. My private member's bill would encourage accountability and responsibility in our federal offenders. The bill would help ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe. I think we can all agree this should be done.

As we have heard in committee, Bill C-350 raises important issues about the way in which offenders are held accountable for outstanding debts.

The evidence is clear. The cost of crime is immense in our society, to the tune of $99.6 billion a year in both tangible and intangible costs. That is not $99.6 million, but $99.6 billion in tangible and intangible costs.

We have heard, loud and clear, from victims of crime, victims' families and victims advocacy groups that offenders must be held accountable. We have heard these calls and are responding to them with several legislative measures.

We have supported legislation to address vexatious complaints by offenders have overburdened the complaints and grievance system with frivolous complaints.

We have also introduced legislation to double the victim surcharge owed by offenders and to make the payment mandatory in every case and without exception. While making the victim surcharge mandatory fulfills another of our commitments, we have the proper structure in place to ensure that it is paid.

This is where Bill C-350 comes into play. It would ensure that in cases where an offender is awarded money by a final decision by a court or tribunal, it must first be distributed in priority order to fulfill outstanding debts to child and spousal support, restitution orders and victim surcharges and any other amount owed as a result of a court judgment before the remainder goes to the offender.

We have seen strong support for this legislation from committee witnesses, including the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The ombudsman clearly illustrated what this legislation would mean for victims of crime. She said:

For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down moneys owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming. This cannot and should not be the reality. Victims do not deserve to be revictimized. It is for this reason that measures that encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are a necessary and welcome step forward.

This then is really the aim of Bill C-350, to reduce the financial burden on victims of crime. Bill C-350 puts in place a structure that would ensure that a monetary award from the Crown is first directed toward the offender's financial obligations outside the penitentiary walls. In particular, it would ensure that offenders are fulfilling their family responsibilities by continuing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support, or by paying restitution orders and victim surcharges.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the great work done in committee. Its members carried out a thoughtful and thorough study of the legislation in a non-partisan way, and I am grateful for that. The amendments put forward and subsequently passed in committee have served to strengthen and clarify the original bill. The amendment made at report stage further strengthened the bill's mandate, as it adjusted the wording to ensure that common law spouses will be eligible to receive payments under the legislation.

The proposed bill addresses a very specific section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, section 78, which addresses payments to offenders. We are proposing changes to the law to ensure that money owed to the offender is distributed to meet his or her financial obligations. Here it is important to clarify that we are not talking about all moneys. This legislation deals only with those specific cases in which an offender has successfully won a monetary award as a result of a final decision by a court or tribunal.

This could include a case against the Correctional Service of Canada or another federal department. When this happens today, the CSC or other federal department would pay out the reward directly to the offender.

Of course, offenders are already obligated to pay their debts while in prison. Under the recently passed Safe Streets and Communities Act, they must participate fully in a comprehensive correctional plan, which among things includes addressing their court-ordered obligations.

However, there is no law specifically ensuring that they honour these obligations. This legislation does just that and prioritizes child and spousal support. Sometimes the offenders' families are also victims. In many cases the children or spouses of the offender face the strain of having lost the income of their partner and perhaps even lack the basic necessities.

To promote accountability among the offender population and ensure that victims and families of offenders are not further burdened, Bill C-350 will set out in law a means of ensuring that offenders honour their obligations according to the set priorities for repayment.

In this case the award must be paid out in the following order of priority: first, any amount the offender owes as a result of a spousal or child support order; second, any amount the offender owes as a result of a restitution order; third, any amount owed as a result of a victim surcharge; and fourth, any other amount owed by the offender as a result of a court judgment.

At committee concerns were raised regarding how this system of repayment might work in practice. These were realistic concerns. Amended wording now clarifies and addresses these concerns.

First, as I mentioned earlier, it is now clear that this bill only applies to awards made as a result of a final decision of a court or a tribunal. It is also specifically noted that legal costs should be respected before the award is distributed. Next, the bill now specifically ensures that any moneys owing to the offender under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is exempt from repayment under Bill C-350.

We have also addressed concerns that the debt repayment priorities under Bill C-350 would override debts owed to the offender under the Income Tax Act or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. A provision now exists in the bill that will ensure that it will not conflict with these or other similar federal statutes.

Another key concern brought forward by witnesses at committee was that the bill was not entirely clear with respect to the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration of this scheme. In other words, what is the CSC's role in collecting, maintaining and sharing information on offenders and their debt obligations?

Furthermore, the bill was silent on issues of privacy and the sharing of the offenders' information among other departments as needed. As now stated, the CSC will act as a repository of this information. In other words, the onus is on the creditor to provide the CSC with written notice of any debts owed by the offender as a result of judgments or orders, such as on child support payments.

In the event the offender successfully sues and wins a monetary award from another federal department or agency, the latter would need to consult with CSC to determine if the person were a federal offender. The CSC can then provide that department with information on any outstanding obligations of the offender.

Bill C-350 represents an important step forward in our progress to make offenders accountable and responsible to society. Is that not what going to jail is all about? It is about rehabilitating the offender. This Bill C-350 sends an important message to families, children and, most importantly, victims of crime that we have not forgotten about them.

I hope that all members of this House can see the value of and give me their support for my private member's bill, Bill C-350.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on his great work.

Listening to the member's speech, it seems to me that the bill has a dual purpose. It is not just to do what our government has been doing, and that is making victims a top priority, but perhaps also for the offender to develop a sense of caring, compassion and understanding in the rehabilitation process for redressing the harm he or she may have caused.

Can the member tell us whether that was something he was thinking about when drafting the bill?

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question, and I appreciate the input he had into the drafting and improvement of the bill. I want to thank members on the other side of the aisle for doing the same.

The member is right. Our government's priority in the justice system is victims, and we want to maintain that as a priority. However, just as important is the hope of eliminating victims. The way we can eliminate victims is by rehabilitating offenders. By having offenders accept their responsibility, that is part of the rehabilitation. Everyone in the public has to meet their obligations. Too often when people go to prison, they are obligation free. Bill C-350 would ensure that the offender, while he is incarcerated, will accept his responsibilities.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member from northeastern Ontario if he thinks it is proper for MPs to award Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medals to criminals?

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased with my Bill C-350. I get a chance to not only speak to it for 15 minutes but to reply to questions for 5 minutes. The previous question talked about victims but also about rehabilitation. I had more to say about rehabilitation, and this question allows me the chance to do that.

Every offender is subject to rehabilitation. Every offender can be rehabilitated. We have to give them every opportunity to become rehabilitated. Part of the way we do that is to get them to accept their responsibility. Having people live up to their financial obligations, if they get an award, is of course part of living up to their responsibilities. I thank my hon. colleague for the opportunity to reiterate that.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on third reading of Bill C-350, and I am pleased to reaffirm that the NDP will be supporting this bill in the final vote.

This is a bill which has the worthy objective of supporting offenders and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. However, before I give the wrong impression to the public, let me stress that this is a very narrow bill, which will affect only a very small group of offenders. It applies only to that small group who receive funds as a result of a court-ordered settlement against the Crown. During the course of the debate on this bill, no one has been able to provide an accurate number of those offenders who receive such settlements. However, the sponsor of the bill, the witnesses before committee and the parliamentary secretary have all assured us that this number is very low.

From the beginning, on this side of the House we have said the bill sets out an order of priorities for disbursing such funds. Limited as they might be, it is an order that we can support. The first priority is spousal and child support. I was very pleased to hear the hon. member acknowledge that there are, in addition to the direct victims of crime, often other indirect victims, who are the families and children of those who commit criminal acts. They often lose their main source of income and then end up losing their homes and all kinds of other things, through no fault of their own. The second is payments to victims as a result of restitution orders. Of course, on this side of the House we have always supported offenders having to fulfill their duties under restitution orders. The third is the payment of any victim surcharges that are owing. Finally, fourth is the payment of any civil judgments against offenders. New Democrats can support this order of priorities, and for that reason we can support this bill.

Obviously, getting additional resources to victims and families of offenders, who both often find themselves in dire straits as a result of criminal acts, is a good thing to do. Yet, we still have some doubts about the constitutionality of this bill with respect to federal-provincial jurisdiction. We are supporting the bill based on the assurances from the government as to the legal advice it has received on this point, but we expect to hear further from the provinces, perhaps in debate in the Senate.

We in the NDP would not be supporting this bill had the government not agreed to bring forth one very important amendment. That amendment, which we originally proposed in committee, was to exempt payments from the Crown made under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. We felt it was very important to recognize that aboriginal people who might receive payments as a result of abuse suffered in residential schools would be revictimized, if such payments were taken from one victim and transferred to another. We must recognize that the experience of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the residential schools was very often the source of the involvement of those offenders with the legal system in the first place.

We are supporting this bill, recognizing its good intentions. We are cognizant of its very limited scope in providing assistance to victims, and while we appreciate the government's support for this private member's bill, we would call on the government to turn its attention now to the full recommendations of the victims ombudsman from last February. That is, not just the increase to the victim surcharge before the House now, and not just this bill, but the full range of recommendations from the victims ombudsman.

Let me conclude today by saying that we will be voting for this bill with the full knowledge that, at best, it will make only a small contribution to repairing the damage resulting from criminal acts. We do so while continuing to look forward to seeing further initiatives from the government to provide more extensive and effective assistance to victims of crime.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the debate on Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

This is a particularly timely debate, as the justice and human rights committee, upon which I sit, continues its deliberation on the matter of Bill C-37, increasing offenders' accountability for victims act.

I will organize my remarks today around two themes. First, I will address where the bill fits within the government's overall approach to crime and justice. Second, I will address the specific critiques I have on this legislation, particularly from a law and poverty perspective.

May I state, parenthetically, that I began my law teaching career some 42 years ago in the area of law and poverty. One of the first books I co-edited was one that was precisely entitled Law and poverty.

The common thread of both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, legislation proposed by government members, is that they both seek to address the accountability of offenders through financial obligations on or after sentencing.

Bill C-37 proposes to double the victim surcharge and make it mandatory. Bill C-350 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against the Crown must be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

It bears repeating that all parties agree on the objectives of these two pieces of legislation, namely that offenders must be held accountable for their acts and that restitution must be made. It is an objective of the sentencing process outlined in the Criminal Code itself.

However, the Criminal Code provides other purposes in sentencing. I believe section 718 of the code bears repeating, for the benefit of colleagues and those hearing these debates. It states:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions....

I pause here in my reading of this section to note that the Criminal Code places sentencing efforts alongside crime prevention initiatives. Indeed, the two are given equal footing.

Regrettably, while we have a steady stream of legislation from the government with respect to increasing and enhancing sentencing, particularly in regard to imposing mandatory minimum penalties and the like, we have seen very little with respect to crime prevention. Indeed, both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350 can hardly be said to be preventative measures, an issue that I will address shortly.

I will excerpt further from the Criminal Code, which speaks of the purpose of sanctions, and I quote:

...just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: (a) to denounce unlawful conduct; (b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; (c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary; (d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders; (e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and (f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

I realize that it is not the preferred practice for members to read excerpts from statutory text. However, it may well be necessary in this case to illustrate that the objective here, in the bill's own words, “increasing accountability of offenders”, or in the language of the Criminal Code, “promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done”, is the sixth and final objective in sentencing.

This is not to say that this objective is not worthwhile or that it ought not to be pursued. Rather, it is simply to note that it ought to be pursued alongside or together with the other objectives expressly mentioned in the code.

Again, while we have seen many pieces of government legislation that address accountability, we do not see any, for example, with respect to the objective of the rehabilitation of offenders. Despite the fact that the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry characterizes the legislation as dealing with rehabilitation, in fact it ignores the whole issue of rehabilitation.

This is where I believe the government's approach to criminal policy is particularly problematic. Conservatives propose, often in a piecemeal fashion, provisions pertaining solely to one objective, thereby missing an opportunity to develop a holistic and integrated approach to criminal law policy. That is, one that addresses not only what to do after the fact, after the offences occur, but no less important, why people commit crimes, and particularly how they can be prevented from committing those crimes—the whole with a view to protecting public safety and preventing the victimization to begin with.

We are all in favour of concern for and protecting the rights of victims but our objective must be to prevent the victimization and the crime to begin with.

In debates over Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, government speakers spoke of the deterrent objectives of these pieces of legislation. As I have noted in the House before, it is difficult to imagine that an offender who would otherwise commit an offence would somehow desist from doing so upon being informed of either a victim surcharge or a priority system of extinguishing debts once incarcerated. Addressing offenders after the fact ignores crime prevention as a necessary element of any criminal law policy. Moreover, doing so by financial measures alone does not assist with rehabilitation, an essential element of any criminal justice agenda.

Turning now to the specifics of the bill before us, Bill C-350 establishes that before an inmate can make use of any financial compensation gained as a result of a court proceeding against the Crown, certain groups must receive payment first. It thereby establishes a priority of debt repayment program. The first is paid to outstanding spousal or child support, followed by outstanding debt or restitution owed to the victim, such as for therapy or medical bills. Third is the debt owed to third parties who acted in good faith, followed by any victim surcharge imposed during sentencing. Subsequently, the priority is to debts owed by the offender as a result of any other court case, whether civil or criminal, and only after these conditions are satisfied may the offender receive the monetary award for use at his or her discretion.

The government has framed this legislation in terms of supporting victims, noting the need to fund restitution orders that courts may impose to address, for example, damage to, or loss or destruction of, a person's property or bodily or physiological harm to any person. Again, it must be reaffirmed that this is something that all parties support and stand behind, and was a central theme of my own tenure as minister of justice.

The problem here is that when it comes to the impecunious offender, courts have noted this concern in relation to restitution, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Scherer wherein the court found that:

It may be that in some cases it would be inappropriate and undesirable to make a compensation order in an amount that it is unrealistic to think the accused could ever discharge.

The reason for this is in part what the Manitoba Court of Appeal found in R. v. Siemens and again I quote:

The impact of a restitution order upon the chances of rehabilitation of the accused, either pro or con, is a factor to be considered....

A compensation order which would ruin the accused financially, thus impairing his chances of rehabilitation, should not be imposed....

As such, I am particularly concerned about the impact of the legislation on those who may be of limited financial means. Directing funds from an award may impact upon the rehabilitation of an offender. In this regard, discretion should have been built into the legislation before us. Moreover, in the cases of those with no means, it is unclear how this legislation would serve the purposes of offender accountability. Simply put, if someone cannot afford any of the fines levied, the legislation would not achieve its objectives.

Here and also in respect of Bill C-37, it is important to recall the words of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Wu:

[I]t is irrational to imprison an offender who does not have the capacity to pay on the basis that imprisonment will force him or her to pay....

For the impecunious offenders...imprisonment in default of payment of a fine is not an alternative punishment—he or she does not have any real choice in the matter.

Again, as I noted in my generic critique of the government's justice agenda, not enough focus is being placed on prevention and tackling the underlying causes of crimes, chief among them being poverty.

In my limited time remaining I will briefly outline additional concerns with the legislation, many of which were raised in committee and might be raised in the other place. First is whether or not the bill is constitutional from a federalism perspective, and reference has been made to this by my NDP colleagues so I will refrain from enlarging on this point. Second, the bill does not address what happens to these payments in cases of wrongful conviction, an issue with which I was preoccupied as minister of justice and appreciate this concern. Third and finally, there is a concern that this legislation may deter inmates from taking action against the Crown when there are legitimate grounds to do so, such as in cases of prisoner abuse, because they would not be able to use the award as they see fit.

While the Liberal Party supports the intent of the bill, we feel that the bill and these concerns must be addressed further so as to achieve the objectives of the bill.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to summarize our debate on Bill C-350.

When I first introduced Bill C-350, I said it was common sense. I still maintain that the more we study it, as it has gone to committee, et cetera, the more I believe that it is just good, honest, old-fashioned common sense.

My NDP colleague mentioned something about the good intentions in the bill. It is a bill of good intentions because we on this side have the intention to look after victims.

I was once a victim of a crime. I understand the pain and anguish people and their families go through when they become victims of crime.

In some cases, the victim is also the offender for a variety of reasons. Maybe the offender ended up being an offender to start with. Many offenders have gone through their whole lives without ever having to face responsibility. If that is the case, under Bill C-350, when they are incarcerated and they do happen to come into a few dollars, they will finally have the opportunity to live up to their responsibility and be able to accept it.

I sense that we have the support of the House for Bill C-350. I am encouraged by this because I think it is a win-win for the victims, the offenders and for society.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

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?

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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