House of Commons Hansard #210 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regulation.


Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her very well-reasoned presentation on the bill.

The bill may be a little too detailed for the average person, but I take her point that the devil is in the details. It could affect people's lives in a very concrete way.

In the absence of gazetting or notification to the public that there has been a change in regulation, i.e. a change in the rules that people have to live by and could be charged under, and people are unaware of those changes, I am wondering what the possible ramifications are for the average person who might be watching the debate today. Could someone find themselves on the wrong side of the law because a regulation has changed but the public does not know about it?

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the most important question in this debate. The member is absolutely right; that is precisely what could happen.

We say, and I certainly said in my speech, that ignorance is no excuse under the law. An individual may not be aware that a regulation has changed, but if one is in violation, in some instances they could be held even criminally responsible for having violated that regulation. I do not think that is defensible. We know that is a possibility here today. We know that as we are reviewing Bill S-12, that could happen to an innocent Canadian, who through no fault of their own is in violation of a regulation. If we know that, as legislators we have an obligation to make sure that Canadians could not be trapped in that situation.

Let us work together. Let us make sure that we tighten that loophole. Let us make sure that we provide real accessibility to regulations. I think Canadians expect that of us and they have a right to expect that of us. We need to deliver on their behalf.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for such an amazing introduction. I will be able to build on that, I hope, and actually dispense of parts of my own speech.

The Conservatives would have us believe that this is a merely technical or housekeeping bill. They accomplish this in part by messaging that it simplify codifies an existing drafting practice for regulations, the use of incorporation by reference. We even have journalists now treating this as a routine bill. I do not know if there are any journalists watching this debate for that very reason.

In fact, Bill S-12 is anything but innocuous. Speaking in my capacity not only as the member for Toronto—Danforth but also as official opposition critic for democratic reform, it seems to me that the bill is actually an anti-democratic reform. It is a big step backward for open government and indeed for accountable government.

Let me be clear that my focus and remarks are on the endorsement in the bill of a so-called drafting technique known as incorporation by reference, in particular open incorporation by reference, whereby the words “as it is amended” from time to time would be inserted to signal that a document that is incorporated by reference or other materials, when it is changed by external bodies, would automatically enter back into the regulation and continue as binding law without any further intervention by Parliament. This would be in contrast to static or closed incorporation by reference, whereby Parliament and the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations would actually know what document is being incorporated by reference, would be able to review whether it is appropriate that the document comes in and would know when it passes on the regulations of what it is dealing with.

For some years, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations has expressed concern about the use of open incorporation by reference for reasons that I will discuss a bit later. In 2000, the joint committee called for a legislative amendment to the Statutory Instruments Act to require, as part of its provisions that authorize regulations, that any use of open or ambulatory incorporation by reference be explicitly authorized by each statute as that statute is adopted by Parliament. Without such explicit authority being in each statute, the report says that regulations would not be allowed to use this technique of open incorporation by reference, and would only be allowed to use the technique of closed incorporation by reference at a known date.

Bill S-12 would give carte blanche to the executive branch to use incorporation by reference of an open sort with no constraints of any consequence. This means regulations could change over time when external bodies decide to revise their documents, which have been incorporated by reference, and Parliament would have no further oversight role. These external changes would become law automatically with no further action required from the Canadian state or from Parliament, other than, in Bill S-12, a very vague, unelaborated, undefined duty to ensure the document with its amendments would be “accessible”.

Therefore, any number of changes by non-governmental organizations, industry bodies, international bodies or even foreign governments, to their own documents that have been incorporated by reference, could slip into our system with no scrutiny. For example, there is something known as Parliament's power of disallowance of regulations. A regulatory provision can be disallowed on a motion of the House, but that process is not triggered until the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations actually makes a recommendation to the House and to the Senate to disallow the regulation. They would not even have a chance to make such a recommendation with respect to amendments to documents, which have occurred on the initiative of an external body and which are entered into our law automatically. This would never come back to the joint committee.

The very description of what would be at stake with Bill S-12 should reveal to the average listener the threats that would be presented by ambulatory or open incorporation by reference to democratic accountability, as well as to the rule of law. This is due to the fact that after the bill passes, if it passes, the executive branch may not only incorporate known documents produced by external bodies, such as this code, that resolution, those guidelines, these rules, but may also effectively yield to that external body the power to change its document in a way that automatically would become legally binding in Canada.

We live in a regulatory era where there are 3,000 regulations making up over 30,000 pages versus about 350 statutes making up 13,000 pages. Without careful scrutiny by Parliament of executive power, our democracy hollows out. We have been witnessing what some scholars call new political governance whereby concentrated executive power comes to dominate the parliamentary branch. In Canada, the Prime Minister, the PMO and a small clutch of ministers have effectively engineered a takeover of our Westminster system in recent years.

To add to that phenomenon, greater and greater power in the executive to incorporate by reference materials produced by bodies with no accountability to Parliament, let alone the Canadian public, in the name of economic efficiency or easing the burdens of regulators or flexibility, is something we must be seriously worried about. It makes the problem of executive domination of Parliament even worse.

Before I talk a bit more about why democracy and the rule of law are affected by Bill S-12, let me comment on one other problematic feature of the current process whereby Bill S-12 has come to us. I am not referring to the fact that it started in the Senate; let us leave that to one side. Rather, I am talking about how the government wanders into the House and has the chutzpah, frankly, to claim that Bill S-12 comes from the Senate unamended, as if it were truly a routine bill about regulatory drafting techniques that the Senate unanimously adopted.

In fact, the legislation caused great debate in the Senate. Senators returned to the debates in the mid-2000s, which ended up producing that 2007 joint committee report that I referred to. They objected to how Bill S-12 does not take seriously problems of transparency and accountability, and more broadly, the fundamental principle of the executive branch's subordination to Parliament.

Reasonable amendments were moved, but what happened? The current character of the Senate revealed itself in all of its glory, when Conservative senators voted to defeat every single amendment. This body was created in 1867 for two reasons: to be a reasoned voice in the federal Parliament and a chamber of sober second thought. It has simply become an extension of whipped party politics. The rational arguments of some senators on Bill S-12 were simply bulldozed by Conservative senators acting according to PMO instruction.

The government did respond to that 2007 report that I mentioned. It focused on one very technical argument that the joint committee had made, which was that allowing the executive to send on to another body the power to change something that had been incorporated by reference and have that become automatically a part of our law is something called illicit or illegitimate sub-delegation.

The government focused on this and it made a whole bunch of comparisons to something known as inter-delegation, parliament delegating powers to the provinces to legislate. It created this equivalence between that situation and the situation we face, talking about how it was not a problem, that the provinces could be allowed to continue to amend their legislation or their rules and have a federal statute incorporate that by reference even as those rules change. However, the government failed to notice two fundamentally different features about that situation. First, the provinces are governed democratically, and second, they are within Canada. The fact of deferring to external rules by international actors who have no democratic process as part of how they produce their rules is totally glossed over by the way the government responded to the committee's report.

The government also ignored a serious rule of law concern. What happens when a document is amended by an external body in a way that maybe we cannot expect, in a way that is maybe radical, in a way that actually is problematic? Our Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations has no opportunity to check whether or not those new changes fall within the ambit of the act. That is a rule of law problem right there.

How about a mega rule of law problem? The charter of rights is totally ousted by the ambulatory incorporation by reference process. Section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act requires that Parliament double-check, after the executive has double-checked, that a regulation does not offend the charter. That does not get done with new amendments to incorporated by reference regulations.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate on Bill S-12. I thank the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth and I say, in a non-partisan way because he does not belong to my party, that we are clearly fortunate in the House to have someone of his calibre, with experience teaching in law schools, who can bring to the House an assessment of something that may appear dry but which really cuts to the heart of dangerous changes to Westminster parliamentary democracy. In this place there is increasing power in the hands of the Prime Minister's Office and decreasing respect for Parliament as an institution and for our regulation-making authorities. The bill represents a threat because it becomes increasingly difficult to know if regulations are being made.

I also have this one concern. We accepted changes to pharmaceutical drug regulations in Bill C-38, which stated that pharmaceutical drugs were no longer added by regulation but could just be added by Health Canada through a list process, not through the Canada Gazette and not through routine regulations. We have to protect some of the more boring aspects of making laws in this place to protect the rights of Canadians.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not aware that when we voted on Bill C-38 that there was yet another problematic feature.

There is something in Bill S-12 that adds to that problem. There is a prohibition on incorporating by reference regulation materials from the minister who is making the regulations, or any department or agency that he oversees. There is absolutely no prohibition on one minister turning to materials or documents from elsewhere in the government, another department or agency he or she has nothing to do with, and incorporating that by reference, even if those materials have not gone through the regulation process. That is quite a back door and it appears in this statute.

To add to what the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has said, we really have to begin to understand how we are becoming hollowed out as a democracy when the executive is given that kind of authority.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would not mind picking up on that.

The leader of the Green Party made reference to Bill C-38, and we could talk about the two budget bills that were introduced last year. Because of their size the thought back then was that the government was taking serious legislation, incorporating it into budget bills and then passing them, thereby avoiding due diligence in terms of what we should be doing.

I cannot help but think of that in terms of the bill that we have here today. Most people might see it as somewhat of a boring bill. However, it is a very important bill. It ensures that there is accountability. One of the primary roles that we have within the House of Commons is to pass the laws of the land, and a regulation is a law.

Could the member provide some comment in terms of what would appear to be a lack of respect from the government benches toward opposition or all parliamentarians of all political parties, not only today but going into the future, through the actions that are being taken?

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are very good points. The analogy to what happened with the budget bill, especially Bill C-38, with 70-odd pieces of legislation incorporated into a much broader bill, what we called an omnibus bill at the time, is part of the same fabric, the same problem, which is a lack of concern for parliamentary scrutiny. It may happen because Parliament cannot hope to actually look at everything that went on in Bill C-38 in any way resembling a responsible fashion because it was all being piled in within a short timeframe and the wrong committees are looking at it in a highly dubious process. It also may be because we are incorporating by reference materials and the joint committee has a hard time figuring out how they fit exactly into the picture and whether they are appropriate. However, we are looking at something resembling the same issue.

I will end by saying that incorporation by reference, generally, really needs better rules and regulations about it than simply dealing with the problem of open incorporation by reference, for the same reasons given by my colleague.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill we are considering today is very important and quite complex. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain mentioned that the debate may seem very dry, but it is still at the heart of issues that affect all Canadians in terms of respect for the regulations in place. This despite the apparent simplicity of its purpose: to make reference to material and incorporate it in a regulation without reproducing the text. The material will have the same authority and the same force as the rest of the regulation, without actually being there in full.

This debate is already a few years old, and the answer is not always clear even though this technique has been used in federal regulations for a long time already, according to the Chief Legislative Counsel at Justice Canada, Mr. John Mark Keyes. In an earlier speech, my colleague mentioned that this government has used this technique 170 times since 2006.

The bill does indeed appear to be complex, dealing as it does with issues of administrative law and regulations, but it is nevertheless very important and its passage may have a direct impact on the lives of Canadians. We will look into this aspect a little bit later on.

As I said, this bill is very important because it will set a precedent for deciding once and for all whether using this technique for drafting and formulating regulations is legitimate and legal.

The issue is that the bill would make it possible to use open or closed incorporation depending on the type of reference, but the difference between the two is crucial. The regulation-making authority in question will be able to make reference to material—such as a legislative text, a treaty, a standard or technical material—and its subsequent and earlier amendments will be incorporated in the regulations automatically. This is called open incorporation.

Needless to say, in certain cases, incorporation by reference appears to be a logical solution. In the case of interest rates, for instance, or other similar indices, such as the consumer price index or the unemployment rate, I think it is obvious that it should be possible to incorporate numbers, rates or indices in the regulation without having to take the legislative route every time. However, if we dig a little deeper, two issues come up. First, I will quote subsection 18.1(3) of the bill:

The power to make a regulation also includes the power to incorporate by reference an index, rate or number—as it exists on a particular date or as it is varied from time to time—[that is, as it may change in the future] established by Statistics Canada, the Bank of Canada or a person or body other than the regulation-making authority.

In other words, the government will be free to incorporate in regulations the definitions, rates and indices established by just about anyone, including civil society groups, foreign governments, NGOs, and so on. The bill does not define those two terms nor does it refer to any definitions in any other legislation. This is a serious problem that was discovered by the Senate committee.

Senator Fraser, asking for clarification about the definitions of these two terms and the ridiculously broad scope of this power, “Trust us' is what you are saying to me”.

The second problem has to do with the accessibility of the regulations, for both Canadians and for Parliament. Indeed, regulations are rather dry, often very complicated texts, and the addition of indices and figures without any direct reference could make the regulations and their objectives even more difficult to understand. It is important to ensure absolute clarity regarding the context in which these figures and indices are incorporated, and I am not convinced that this bill does that.

Furthermore, another kind of accessibility is at issue here: the power of parliamentary oversight. In that sense, this bill in no way responds to the joint committee's concerns regarding the use of incorporation by reference. In fact, the bill does the exact opposite. The joint committee worked very hard to respect the principle of the legislative power of Parliament.

These two problems are mentioned in the most recent edition of L'action gouvernementale -- Précis de droit des institutions administratives by Lemieux and Issalys. I quote:

The frequency of such references is making some people fear an erosion of state sovereignty in favour of power structures over which they have no influence. It is also raising more concrete concerns about citizens' access to texts detailing the standards that govern them.

That is at the heart of what we are debating here. The authors are essentially talking about altering the regulatory power, since the reference could prevent people from understanding the regulations, particularly in the case of a so-called ambulatory incorporation by reference, since a reference is being made not only to an external text, but also to the specific context in which the text was created or amended, to which the person subject to the regulations does not necessarily have access.

The use of references to regulations outside of the Canadian legal context poses an even bigger problem, and yet this use is becoming increasingly common.

I would like to read another clause from the bill, paragraph 18.3(1):

The regulation-making authority shall ensure that a document, index, rate or number that is incorporated by reference is accessible.

If the idea behind the reference is to avoid having to publish the documents incorporated a second time, since the documents are usually published and accessible in another form, what does the word “accessible” mean? I have listened to the majority of the speeches here this afternoon. But the absence of this definition, or the vague definition, is yet another obstacle to having an exhaustive and effective bill to protect Canadians from being ignorant of the regulations or of the provisions in regulations that could affect them.

According to the legislative counsel of the Minister of Justice, a document can be considered accessible if the person subject to the regulations is able to obtain a copy of the document in question and then understand what needs to be understood. It is not mandatory to send a copy of the document to this person. The document simply has to be accessible if the person makes a reasonable effort.

And that is where section 18.7 takes on its full significance. If accessibility is not demonstrated, this clause paves the way for sanctions or convictions based on the incorporated document. So subsection 18.3(1) can be interpreted as requiring the regulation-making authority to be responsible for accessibility, not the people subject to the regulations.

But who will determine what constitutes reasonable effort? We can all agree that referring to a Canadian or Quebec law does not necessarily require much effort from one of our constituents. It will require Internet access, but that is another debate for another time.

However, if we are talking about a foreign government's specific phytosanitary standards, for example, the person must be able to find that information. In the event that Canada has not yet harmonized its standards with the country in question, the person must navigate a foreign government's website, hoping that the information will be posted in one of Canada's official languages.

I want to say that there are limits to that idea that no one can be ignorant of the law. As parliamentary legislators, we live in a legislative universe and we sometimes have trouble making sense of it. I cannot even imagine the average Canadian who is trying to understand an enabling statute and its many regulations, especially if the regulations are split between an existing text and references.

Mr. Keyes, who testified at the Senate committee, said this during his testimony:

...the bill is making a substantial improvement in that it is for the first time generally stating this obligation, and it is largely stating the obligation in the way that it exists right now in terms of the common law and in terms of the way the courts have dealt with these issues in the very limited number of cases that incorporated documents have ever come up in the courts.

But he forgot, perhaps, to mention that this improvement is the result of the bill and that debate is still raging over the best approach to take concerning regulation by reference.

This technique is controversial. Recommendations from the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations clearly state the following:

...incorporation by reference also gives rise to concerns relating to accessibility to the law, in that although incorporated material becomes part of the regulations, the actual text of that material must be found elsewhere.

The report continues:

Such concerns are heightened where material is incorporated “as amended from time to time”, in that members of the public may have difficulty ascertaining precisely what the current version is at a particular point in time.

The Liberal senators tried to amend the bill in order to establish guidelines to create standards related to the use of regulations by reference depending on whether it is static or ambulatory. This proposal was rejected, despite the fact that such provisions currently exist in many other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as in certain provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario and Manitoba.

Furthermore, it is not always easy to distinguish between the two types of reference, which can lead to confusion during interpretation of the regulations. My hon. colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands mentioned that Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, both massive bills, contained incorporation by reference provisions. In Bill C-38, it was clause 89. I will not read the clause, because it is six paragraphs long. In Bill C-45, it was clause 30.

This massive bill before us already has some very important elements leading to both a static and ambulatory incorporation by reference. But this measure is not yet entrenched in our regulations, and as we heard in many speeches, its legitimacy raises some questions, not only for us as parliamentarians, because we have to discuss and debate these pieces of legislation and perhaps pass them, but also for any Canadians who find themselves having to navigate this quagmire.

Again, Bills C-38 and C-45 added, amended or eliminated over 130 different acts. If, some day, we can include incorporation by reference, particularly ambulatory incorporation by reference, we may get totally confused, and even more so if that practice is generalized with the presence of terms whose definition is imprecise or non-existent.

The Senate refused to define terms like “accessibility” and “reasonable effort to get the document”. We, on this side of the House, hope to do this essential work at committee stage and to ensure that the legislation will be suited to all Canadians.

In the end, these elements of Bills C-38 and C-45 suggest that the minister is giving himself a fair amount of power. Do we really want to go in that direction with Canadian legislation? This process could well be used to make the legislation even less transparent and accessible to Canadians.

I do not think that this method should be completely avoided, since it also offers benefits in terms of the effectiveness of the legislation and the streamlining of statutory instruments which are often complex and cumbersome.

The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain gave a number of examples and she mentioned some numbers. I believe it was 30,000 pages of regulations and 13,000 pages of acts in Canada. Amending 30,000 pages of regulations is a very delicate exercise. If we want to ensure that these regulations are constantly up to date, it is going to require painstaking efforts.

In that sense, incorporation by reference may be an interesting option, but we must be able to define it and use it properly. That is why we will not oppose this bill at second reading, since it will be up to the committee to make this interpretation.

That is particularly important, because we have to be careful about possible abuse and we must limit such abuse by establishing clear benchmarks. Based on what we hear from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and the Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, that aspect has not yet been taken seriously. The government must listen to the experts and to the opposition when it tries to improve this bill.

We still have some work to do to make this bill acceptable for this side of the House and for all Canadians. I hope that the government will co-operate with us in order to do so. It is in situations such as this that we need to set aside partisanship and work on behalf of the Canadians who elected us to represent them in this chamber.

I would like to come back to some specific examples that I have already mentioned several times, which could affect Canadians. Let us talk about employment insurance legislation, for example, the provisions relating to pilot-projects referred to the unemployment rate. Sometimes it is the national rate but usually, it is the regional rate. A database is needed in order to be able to quantify the rate. A lot of tables are used in the employment insurance regulations but, under this legislation, as things now stand, the minister could apply the regulations and their open incorporation by reference. The minister could also simply refer to tables or statistics from Statistics Canada.

Until just recently, until several months ago, people had to pay to get access to information from Statistics Canada. Unless they worked at a university or in a research facility that provided them with access, people had to pay out of their own pockets to get access to these statistics and data.

If the minister makes regulations in which there is open incorporation by reference to regional unemployment rates that are not accessible to Canadians free of charge, does that constitute reasonable access? Will people have to pay to show that they made a reasonable effort to obtain the information related to the section of the regulations that directly affects them?

Here is another question. How much will people have to pay to show that they made a reasonable effort? Will they have to pay $2.95, $10, $20, $100, $150? Right now, there is no way of knowing because accessibility and reasonable effort are not defined.

We have talked about different laws that can sometimes be linked to extraterritorial legislation or laws that apply outside the country. For example, this could be the case for laws affecting the Scott case, which pertained to a parent who took a child for whom he had joint custody out of the country.

A regulation that would affect legislation on this subject could refer to the laws in the country where that child is located. If the regulation makes an open reference, the person directly affected could have access, could consult the country's legislation to see whether the provisions are compatible with Canada's, and this could help the individual better understand the situation. In this case, the individual would have to access another country's website or legislation, which could be in another language.

This raises some questions. Does this prove accessibility? What kind of reasonable effort does the person have to show that they made to access these documents and this information? Will the person have to contact a foreign-language translator?

It is too vague for us as a party to decide whether we can support the bill. However, we think it is possible that closed—and even open—incorporation by reference helps improve accessibility.

Accessibility is at the heart of all of this. Notions such as reasonable effort must be better defined. We encourage the government to work with the official opposition and to work with all members of Parliament to ensure that we protect Canadians on this issue that affects them all. At the end of the day, we do not want them to end up in trouble or in a dangerous situation, in which they could end up being found guilty because they ignored the law or violated a specific regulation that they could not have reasonably had access to.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but it is difficult not to ignore a law if we do not know what the law is about.

I urge the government to define these very important notions. It is important to better define the elements in this bill. That is the message I want to send to the committee that will be examining this Senate bill.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, it is the NDP that is protecting the middle class and consumers.

The Liberals are unreliable; no matter how you slice it, they snuck $50 billion from the EI fund through the back door. It once again falls on the NDP to take a stand in defence of Canadians.

That said, I would like to thank my colleague for an excellent speech. There is a distinct lack of transparency here. We are quite concerned about the data access provisions and the minister's proposed discretionary powers. Could my colleague elaborate on that?

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very worrisome given everything we have seen with this government, especially after the 2011 election when it obtained a majority.

Transparency is absolutely essential. In my opinion, we must consider this bill as an attempt to make the work of Parliament easier through a myriad of regulations to which Canadians are subjected.

However, my colleague raises a good point about transparency. We have to link transparency to the importance of properly defining the concepts that are the basis of this bill.

I mentioned the concepts of accessibility and reasonable effort a number of times. This should encourage the committee to conduct an exhaustive study in order to end up with an acceptable bill that will make it possible for Parliament to navigate more easily through all these regulations and all these pages.

Finally, we have to be able to modernize all of this. However, it has to be done while respecting Canadians' right to access this information, so that everyone can comply in the end.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members who have spoken today, because I am beginning to get a bit of a clearer picture of what is happening in this bill.

I would like the member to talk a bit more about the issue of accessibility especially, in both languages, because I think that is a great concern that has been raised today. While we all want to see an effective bill, there seem to be some serious problems in there.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a very important question. It has been asked a number of times and it should be asked again.

At present, based on the content and the interpretation of the bill, the bill permits open incorporation by reference of texts from official sources, for example the Bank of Canada and Statistics Canada, and also unofficial sources, such as social groups, non-governmental organizations and even organizations outside the country.

Under the law, Canadians have the right to receive all documents in both official languages, whether they are laws, regulations or any document published by the House, the Senate or Parliament.

If we allow the cabinet and the government to make regulations with open incorporation of reference involving documents where there is little control over the ability to provide the information in both official languages, that is a major problem. That is an other element to be taken into consideration in the very thorough study that I hope will be conducted by the committee shortly.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Keyes said that the best approach is the one that protects the constitutional power of parliamentary oversight and the right of Canadians to have access to the laws that govern them.

For members of the House, that constitutional power is sacred.

I would like to hear the member speak to the potential threat this bill represents.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, this is a very relevant question.

Regulations are established by ministers, cabinet and the government. It is not Parliament, the House, that establishes them.

However, we are all subject to them. Consequently, it is very important that we have the transparency my colleague talked about earlier, as well as clear, precise concepts that will make our work easier.

As the official opposition, it is our job to act as the watchdog to ensure that this oversight, which must be exercised when it comes to regulations proposed by the government, is respected.

It is up to us to ensure that all legislation governing the dissemination of published and written documents is the same for electronic documents, even if closed or, in particular, open incorporations by reference are used.

Incorporation by Reference in Regulations ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

If the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques so wishes, he will have four and a half minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.

The House resumed from February 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, be read the third time and passed.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It now being 5:30 p.m., the House will proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-383.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #616

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 6:12 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 17, 2012, consideration of the motion that Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for York South—Weston had two and a half minutes remaining for his remarks.

The hon. member for York South—Weston.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise again in support of the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot's motion to create a national housing strategy.

As we know, the Government of Canada used to be a big player in the housing market of Canada. However, the Liberal government, in the 1990s, got out of the housing market completely and left it up to the provinces and to the cities themselves. We have never really recovered from that decision by the Liberal government.

Whenever we ask a question about housing, the Conservative government likes to say that it is spending a lot of money on housing, but it is taking credit for something the NDP did. The NDP actually was the party that, in a negotiation with the Liberals in 2005, negotiated that there should be money spent on housing in Canada as part of the budget. That money is still there. However, the Conservative government is attempting to cut that money. It has also threatened to cut off money for the co-ops in Canada, which is another bad sign of things to come.

Bill C-400 would force the government to create a regime that would deal with the provinces, deal with the municipalities and deal with the territories to put together a strategy that would create affordable, reliable housing for all Canadians, not just those who have the money to do it.

In my riding, we have 16,000 seniors. Over 15% of the riding is currently over age 65. Some of those seniors are desperately afraid that they are not going to be able to find a place to live in the near future, because there is no strategy, either provincially or federally, to create housing that seniors can afford. We have a growing number of these seniors.

There are places where seniors' housing can be affordably built. In the province of Ontario, they are tearing down hospitals. They should be using those hospitals, as in my riding, as seniors' housing. They are tearing down schools. They should be using those schools, as in my riding, as seniors' housing, because those seniors deserve a better place to live. We deserve, as Canadians, to have a housing strategy put forward at the federal level, and the bill does exactly that.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise with mixed emotion to debate this bill since it is not the first time that I have spoken on this issue and yet the dire need for secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing is no less significant now than it was when this matter was before a previous Parliament. The bill received its support then and there is every reason for it to receive the same support now.

When each of us here wakes up in our ridings, we wake in accommodations that we can afford. In fact, I would wager that many of us have cottages or, in the case of some here, a second residence for when they are in Ottawa. We are more than fortunate enough to afford that luxury, but not every Canadian is. According to the most recent figures that date back to before the recession in 2008, which brought about serious economic instability, 13% of Canadians exist in what is called “core housing need”.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines this situation as when “housing falls below at least one of the adequacy, suitability or affordability standards and [one] would have to spend 30% or more of its total before-tax income to pay the median rent of alternative local market housing that it is acceptable”.

Housing is adequate when it is reported by its residents as not requiring major repairs. Housing is suitable when there are enough bedrooms for the size and makeup of resident households, according to National Occupancy Standard requirements. Housing is affordable when dwellings cost less than 30% of total before-tax income.

These are basic common sense criteria that should be inalienable, yet still we can easily recall the images that came from Attawapiskat last Christmas where none of these standards were met, houses that were little more than garden sheds made of plywood, more mould than wall.

In the face of the most recent economic crisis, the government has been more than willing to promote its position within the G8 as an innovator and model for the rest of the world and yet we exist as the only member of that group, one of a few of all industrialized countries, without a national housing strategy. In fact, trends would show that we similarly lag in the development of a national food policy, another mechanism to combat poverty.

It will be disconcerting to a majority of Canadians if the Conservative government does not feel it is the federal government's role to more meaningfully deal with the national crisis of poverty, housing and homelessness. Indeed, on May 9, 2012, this very Parliament passed Motion No. 331, brought forward by the hon. member for Shefford, confirming that:

—the government should: (a) keep with Canada’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (b) support efforts by Canadian municipalities to combat homelessness; and (c) adopt measures to expand the stock of affordable rental housing, with a view to providing economic benefits to local housing construction businesses.

Today's Bill C-400 is the natural progression from that motion if in fact we are genuine about dealing with this issue and our previous support of Motion No. 331 has been more than a meaningless facade to leave people thinking that we actually care.

Michael Shapcott, director general of the Wellesley Institute, a funding provider for multiple expert studies on housing and health, is clear on this issue. Canadians with homes are healthy Canadians and healthy Canadians mean reduced health care costs, yet another reason that we need to pass this legislation. Just yesterday, Mr. Shapcott wrote that while this bill was before the House, Toronto added its 700th name to the roll of men and women who had died as a result of homelessness in Canada's largest city.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is also clear on this issue. FCM policy advisor Joshua Bates said in committee during the last Parliament:

Chronic homelessness and lack of affordable housing are not just social issues; they're core economic issues. They strain the limited resources of municipal governments and undermine the economic well-being of our cities, which are the engines of national economic growth, competitiveness, and productivity.

According to the government's very own economic action plan from September 2010, every $1 invested in housing reaps a net benefit of $1.40 to the Canadian economy, spurring growth, jobs and productivity. Meanwhile, homelessness costs our fragile economy $4.5 billion each year without any net benefit at all. Clearly, investing in this problem is the only marketable solution, the only one that will negate the detrimental impact this scourge has on our economy, while fostering growth and productivity.

More still, the Senate report, “In from the Margins”, shows that this is a cross-partisan issue. The subcommittee, comprised of Liberals and Conservatives, concluded that regulatory constraints, time constraints and declining operational support from the federal government were interfering with an integrated consideration of housing and homelessness. Specifically they identified that:

—unaffordable and inadequate housing, even for those who are currently able to meet their needs and aspirations, can contribute to poverty, and to a spiral that can include losing jobs, dropping out of school, and being unable to sustain families.

To that end, the report very clearly recommended that an integrated approach to housing and homelessness requires that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial governments, representatives of municipal governments, first nation organizations and other housing providers, develop a national housing and homelessness strategy. We need a national housing strategy, and we need that strategy to work for lower income and marginalized Canadians.

My own community of Guelph is no exception to this. In my life before politics, my time with the Wellington and Guelph Housing Authority, working with valuable community groups such as Onward Willow, Women in Crisis and now the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, affirmed my strong conviction that taking action to create affordable housing is, without question, one of the most effective ways to lift entire families out of poverty and into prosperity.

Still, as of this fall, Guelph's vacancy rate is 1.4%, well below the 3% that is considered a healthy balance between supply and demand for accommodation. Meanwhile, the population of Guelph and the surrounding Wellington County has grown 11.2% in the past decade. As of this month, unemployment in Guelph is at 6.2%. While Guelph's economy is above average for Ontario, affordability remains a challenge for families and seniors. The Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination has observed a 120% increase in families using the shelters system.

When we combine a worryingly low vacancy rate with job market instability and general concern about the economy, very little choice is left for those at the lower end of the housing market, leaving individuals and families to accept accommodations that are painfully below standard. Not a week goes by without a constituent calling, concerned that they are on a four- to five-year wait list for affordable housing in Guelph. It leaves me feeling helpless that I can offer no solution.

Across the country, an astounding number of citizens either remain homeless or live in inadequate housing. More than 300,000 to 400,000 Canadians move in and out of homelessness, and there are 1.5 million households that lack secure housing. Approximately 3.3 million live in substandard housing, and more than three-quarters of one million families live in overcrowded housing.

Instituting a national housing strategy is more than simply a compassionate consideration. It is also the most effective way for Canadians to be sure their tax dollars, which fund our social programs, are being spent in the most efficient, effective and accountable way. With a nationwide comprehensive strategy, we are all better positioned to make a difference.

I call on all members, on compassionate grounds and in the interest of smart, sound economic policy, to pass this legislation. Let us begin the dialogue that will enable Canada to join its G8 partners and do the right thing for all Canadians.

Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.

A disturbing trend has been developing in Toronto and every city in Canada. Young people, parents and especially those living on the margins are all too familiar with it: affordable housing is becoming less and less accessible for many Canadians.

As a Torontonian, I am in a good position to know that a national housing strategy is vital to the future of our city. We have known for a long time that it will require more than goodwill to address the issues of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. These are fundamental economic problems that are harming our country's economy.

Housing problems put an enormous amount of pressure on our cities, where the drivers of innovation, productivity and growth for the 21st century must be developed.

I was born in Toronto, and with my husband we raised our three sons in that city. I have seen first-hand the impact of rising costs of housing on families in Parkdale—High Park, the riding I represent, and in neighbourhoods across our city. Torontonians know well that our city's waiting list for affordable housing continues to grow. A year ago, that list reached an all-time high, with over 80,000 households on the waiting list. While a small number of those were able to find housing, many are left waiting, and not just for months; some are waiting for years, and some even decades. We simply cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer.

I recently received a letter from a constituent named Theresa, who urged me to support the bill. In her letter, she wrote that the right to housing is a core Canadian value that is centred on dignity, security and equality. She is absolutely right, and I thank Theresa for her concern and for taking the time to write.

Clearly, Canadians in Parkdale—High Park and neighbourhoods across Canada are watching us and they want us to act.

Given that Canada's household debt recently reached a critical level, we must now recognize that guaranteeing Canadians access to safe and affordable housing is not only one of the best ways to combat inequalities, but it is also vital to the health of our national economy.

Many international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, have warned our government about a steadily growing level of household debt, but our government does not seem to want to listen. The Bank of Canada and the IMF have said that the level of household debt in Canada is too high. It has reached 158%, which is unprecedented.

Household debt is the result of many economic factors, but it is important to recognize that housing constitutes a large part of every Canadian household's budget. Canada has a household debt level of 158%, but we know that mortgages make up 68% of that debt.

Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is a call to action. This bill calls on the government to do what it too often forgets to do: take initiative.

We are not asking for a new department, a new commissioner or even a new report. We are simply asking the government to be aware of what families across Canada are experiencing and to take initiative instead of shirking its responsibilities.

Bill C-400 asks the government to partner with provinces, cities, aboriginal communities, and with the private and non-profit housing sectors, to create a national housing strategy.

Why is Canada the only G8 country in the world that has failed to do so? Why is Canada falling so far behind?

We know that inequality is on the rise in Canada and when we look at the tremendous impact that access to secure, affordable housing has on social mobility and opportunity and the general economic vitality of cities like Toronto, it is clear that housing is not only an enormous challenge but also a very promising opportunity for economic leadership. When we see these factors come together, including all-time high levels of household debt, rising housing costs and growing inequality, it is easy to see that this combination will threaten the long-term economic prosperity of our country.

For each dollar spent on housing there is $1.40 increase in GDP. If we are committed to ensuring long-term prosperity for generations to come, then we must get serious about a national housing strategy.

Looking back to the 1990s there is an alarming pattern of neglect of affordable housing. In 1993 the Liberal government cut permanent funding for new affordable housing. By 1996 it had downloaded the responsibility to provinces, leaving Canada virtually alone among the high performing economies of the world without a national social housing program. Then some provinces, like my own province of Ontario, were quite happy to download social housing to the cities with no resources to be able to support it.

It is unfortunate that the Conservative government, like the Liberals, has continued to neglect this key area of social policy. For instance, under the Conservative government, funding for the affordable housing initiative will be reduced from $582 million in 2012 to zero by 2015. By 2016 consolidated federal housing investments will have been cut to $1.8 billion, a cut of 52% in just six years.

These cuts and the absence of a housing strategy affect diverse groups in our community, from young people trying to get a head start to our seniors who hope to retire in peace and security. Each group is impacted by what the government has failed to do, which is to take leadership on affordable housing.

The last census found that 42% of young Canadians continue to live with their parents. For many this is due to the high cost of housing or the challenges of finding a job in today's economy. A survey conducted last year found that in my home province of Ontario, the number of seniors on housing waiting lists has risen steadily since 2004, reaching nearly 40,000 households, or one-quarter of all waiting households at the end of 2011.

Recent changes to EI will also have an impact on many Canadians' ability to afford housing, particularly at a time when funding for many housing programs is being phased out. With a loss of EI benefits, more households will be at risk of falling into core housing need.

As finance critic, I recognize that investing in our cities and taking leadership on affordable housing is a smart choice for our national economy. As a Torontonian and the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know from personal experience that this is an area of urgent concern to our community. I urge all members of the House to lend their support to Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. This initiative is long overdue.