House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.


Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will defer to my colleagues what should additionally be put in the bill at committee. I will certainly confer with them about how it could be changed.

Frankly, given the fact that there were direct negotiations and discussions with the first nations peoples, because of my experience in that area, I would be reluctant to in any suggest that something be opened up to which they had not agreed. That is why I would encourage the government to have open conversation when the bill goes to committee. In fact, it should probably be travelling to the Sahtu as well and directly talking to the community about whether this satisfies its needs.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, of the three options for the park's area, it is unfortunate that the government chose the smallest area.

Could the member speak about the consultation process? Were people satisfied that the smallest option was chosen for the park? Was this proposal in keeping with what these people wanted, or did it come from the government?

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in answering the question, I would like to suggest an alternative. Given that the majority of Canadians called for the larger size, perhaps it would be a reasonable compromise that the government commit to increasing the Parks Canada budget and specifically allot dollars to expedite the creation of this park and to market the development of its tourism to make up for the fact that it shortchanged the size of the park.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

I am pleased to speak for a few minutes to this important bill, Bill S-5, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act creating the Nááts’ihch’oh national park.

This is a process, and we recognize that the terms and conditions of the constitutionally-protected Sahtu land claim agreement have been met, including the creation of an impact benefit plan and a management committee. However, we have some concerns around the government's commitment to the park, and I will talk a bit about that.

The establishment of these parks on land and marine areas is all about meeting conservation targets, preserving biodiversity and, in this case, helping communities realize the economic and tourism potential that our national parks can provide.

Some of my colleagues have raised concerns about the government's commitment and whether it is carving up parks in Canada in such a way as to facilitate achieving two objectives: one, meet these constitutionally-required negotiations with first nations; and two, continue to allow resource development to go forward unabated.

It was suggested by someone involved in this process that the boundaries of this park were carved out in such a way as to ensure that a mine, almost in the middle of this territory, was kept out of the park and therefore would be allowed to continue to produce. These things are a concern.

As was mentioned by my colleagues, the Sahtu Dene Nation was involved in these negotiations. Three options were put on the table and one of those options was agreed to. While we have not heard a lot of complaint out of that area, questions have been asked as to why the smallest piece, in this case option 3, was chosen?

A few minutes ago my colleague for Edmonton—Strathcona asked why the government had not come forward and attached an additional commitment to this project. After a particular period of time, of five years or so, will it participate in discussions around expanding these boundaries? That would certainly give some of us some comfort as it relates to where the government is going with this.

The Parks Canada budget has been cut to a significant degree over the past few years. Budget cuts have led to a 33% staffing cut in science for Parks Canada, as one example. There have been 60 out of 179 positions eliminated. Talk about hampering Parks Canada's ability to carry out its responsibilities.

Infrastructure is in a desperate state. It is being reported constantly that infrastructure in Parks Canada is in serious need of investment, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The government has not shown a willingness to invest in these important parts of Canadiana and Canadian infrastructure. In fact, it has been cutting back. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has been reported as saying that there is a wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to and what it is achieving. When we go into a situation like this, it is important to note what the government is bringing in behind it.

This is a critical piece of territory. It is a large portion of the South Nahanni River watershed. My understanding is that option one, the bigger piece, would have ensured greater protection of that watershed to make sure that the health and well-being of the Nahanni River and the caribou would be adequately maintained. There is some concern that option three did not cut the mustard in terms of guaranteeing that the watershed was going to be protected, and it left out an important breeding ground for the caribou in this area.

My colleague from Northwest Territories knows this area well. He talked in his intervention about tourism. One of the commitments the government makes in negotiating agreements with the first nations community is economic benefits, economic development, and other ways to compensate for the change in the land use in an area like this. Part of that is tourism. As he so clearly stated, given his vast experience working in this area, Canada has done a terrible job promoting areas like this across the country.

The amount of advertising in the United States about tourism opportunities in Canada has basically dried up. The concern, of course, is what the government will do to ensure that those opportunities that are part of this agreement materialize for the first nations. It was indicated that a park had been formed close to seven years ago, and the government still has not followed up with the investments and infrastructure that is required.

That having been said, as I indicated earlier, we have not heard a great deal of concern expressed by people involved in this particular undertaking. However, we are looking forward to a more extensive discussion and to hearing experts at committee so that there may be a fuller discussion to examine what else can be done.

My colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona said it well when she said that in terms of making suggestions about what we can do to make this bill better, it is better left to the representatives on the committee and the witnesses that will be called before the committee to make sure that sound recommendations come forward. Members can bet that members on that committee from the official opposition will certainly be in a position to offer helpful advice based on consultations they will have with the first nations communities involved in this particular endeavour.

As my colleagues have also indicated, I will be supporting moving Bill S-5 forward from second reading to committee.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we started off the day talking about a national park in suburban Toronto. Now we are winding up the day talking about another national park in rural northern territories. It just goes to show that it does not matter where people live in our vast land. They assign a great deal of value to our national parks. There is a growing expectation that the government will look at ways to continue to see our national parks grow. There needs to be a plan for the environment, the economics, and so forth.

I am wondering if my colleague in the New Democratic Party would provide his thoughts on how important it is that the national government have not only legislation for a national park. We have to make sure that we follow through to ensure that these parks mean more than just a piece of legislation, which Canadians expect when the Government of Canada declares that something is a national treasure.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member for Winnipeg North is correct that Canadians are increasingly interested in issues of conservation and the need for biodiversity across our country. They are looking to the government to take steps to ensure that the ecosystem is protected. The government has failed in many respects. An example is the issue of marine protected areas. The government signed onto a UN agreement a couple of years ago committing itself to achieving the UN goal of having 10% of its coastal area protected as marine protected areas by 2020. That is six years away. At this stage, it is under 1%. Unfortunately, the government has not proven itself up to the task of making sure that it follows up on the commitments, whether it be this park, Rouge River park, or whatever it is. More has to be done.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is quite appropriate that we have this conversation. Over and over again what we have been seeing from the members on the other side is that they only pick and choose what they want to hear so as to put the least amount on the table.

As members can see, based on the speeches in this House today, when it comes to the environment and the parks piece, we have many people on this side of the House who have a lot of experience, whether it is the members for Halifax, Edmonton—Strathcona, or the Northwest Territories. Our leader, the Leader of the Opposition, has the experience and proven leadership on environmental issues, because he served as a Quebec minister of the environment for a long period of time. We know that he resigned from cabinet because of the transfer of park lands.

I would ask my colleague to explain how important it is when committees meet that they consider the vital caribou breeding grounds as well as the protection of the Nahanni River.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague talked about the experience and commitment to the environment, conservation, and biodiversity in the ecosystem that exists in our caucus. She is absolutely right. I know that my colleagues will bring that experience and knowledge to their work on committee to make sure that those issues with respect to the caribou, the Nahanni River, and the protection of the watershed will be very much part of their deliberations and questions and research as committee members.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to speak to Bill S-5, which would amend the Canada National Parks Act to create a reserve called Nááts’ihch’oh.

Parks are obviously very important to Canadians, and you can find them all over the country. Just today, the House has debated two bills on parks: the one we are discussing now, and the one we discussed earlier this morning to create an urban park in the Toronto area. This shows that Canadians are very interested in creating and preserving our parks and reserves in Canada.

When he was Quebec's environment minister, the leader of the New Democratic Party resigned and gave up his limo in order to protect Mont-Orford park. The Liberal government at the time wanted to sell the park—or at least part of it—to private interests. It was a shock and it was unacceptable. The leader of the NDP did the right thing. He protected the park, at the expense of his political career at the provincial level. Fortunately, this meant that we could snag him to come here, so that he could become the next prime minister of Canada. We think that was the right choice. Defending our parks is a fundamental value.

This bill would create a park in the Northwest Territories. The hon. member for the Northwest Territories did a great job of presenting and defending his stance. It is our duty to defend this bill and move forward. However, let us be clear: the bill has some serious flaws. It does not create a park. Rather, it creates two parts of a park. A road through the middle of the park will allow mining interests to continue mining tungsten. It is a rather unique situation, and we find it unfortunate.

This bill complies with the agreements signed in the north, which took more than seven years to negotiate. Thankfully, those negotiations resulted in the bill before us today. However, it is unfortunate that it did not go further. What is the reasoning behind creating a reserve or park if not to protect the fauna and flora? In this case, the government is trying to find a way to develop natural resources instead of creating a park that will protect the caribou and the other species in the area.

The loss of biodiversity in the world is very disturbing. We need to take measures today to ensure that Canada does not lose any more biodiversity, especially since Canada is recognized around the world as a country that believes in protecting the environment. Unfortunately, this bill suggests that the Conservative government seems to have forgotten that Parks Canada's mandate is to preserve the environment, not exploit it.

Naturally, people in the region are interested in the fact that this will create natural wealth and the idea that there may be a multiplier effect on the economy. We see this across Canada: parks have a considerable impact on wealth and tourism. In other areas where Parks Canada has unfortunately had to cut its budget—because of the Conservative government's massive budget cuts—the agency can no longer carry out its mandate or really help spur economic growth.

Here is an example from back home in the Gaspé. Forillon National Park is now closed all winter, period. No services are available. Unfortunately, the current government is not a partner in economic growth. I also want to point out that to get to Forillon National Park, you have to take a plane, the train or a bus.

Unfortunately, the government is not stepping up in that regard either. There is no bus to get there, the railway is in terrible condition, and the train no longer goes there. The government needs to come up with a budget for Parks Canada that makes sense so that the bill before us can have a real and lasting impact.

I would now like to go over some Parks Canada figures. Really, these numbers are pretty scary. As everyone knows, Parks Canada cut 638 jobs in the 2012 fiscal year. Its budget was cut by 7.1%, which is a lot of money.

The Toronto Star reported that Parks Canada has been putting off close to $3 billion in repairs. There is a total of $2.8 billion in deferred work. That means buildings are falling down.

Getting back to Forillon National Park, I hope that the people of the Northwest Territories will look closely at what is happening in other national parks so that they can be prepared for the Conservatives' lack of support for this park. The federal government has more or less abandoned Forillon National Park. The buildings are in poor shape, and all of the expropriated houses in the park are falling down too.

Hon. members will recall that 40 years ago, when the park was created by the federal Liberal government, it found a rather unique way to create the park: it partnered with the province. The province owns the park, and the federal government manages it. Unfortunately, the federal government has abandoned its role as manager. Now, the owner, namely the provincial government, has no regulatory or statutory power to spend money to improve it. The Conservative government has a duty to improve the park, but it is not doing so.

Today, the government wants to create a park in the Northwest Territories. I hope that the people there will take note that the government often is nowhere to be found when it comes time to provide support.

I would like to point out some shortcomings and share the concerns of some experts. This is what Alison Woodley, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, had to say about the park's creation:

—the park boundary proposed in Bill S-5 will not achieve this conservation goal because it leaves out much of the important habitat for woodland caribou, including critical calving and breeding grounds, as well as for grizzly bears and Dall's sheep. It leaves out a significant part of the Little Nahanni River, which is a major tributary of the South Nahanni River and includes some of the most important habitat in the area.

This is the part that I thought particularly interesting: “Bill S-5 falls short of being a significant conservation achievement”. Again, that is from CPAWS, an organization known for its proper management of parks. It has helped the government establish parks and sustain parks in the past, and in this particular case, it has made it clear that the project we have in front of us simply does not measure up.

We need more and more stringent commitments on the part of the government to make sure that this park would fulfill the needs and the obligations that the government negotiated through the various treaties and through the court obligations that were imposed upon it.

Unfortunately, I do not think the government quite understands that when it has an obligation, it is expected to fulfill it with all due support, with all due money and with all due resources that should come to bear on the project. This is not one of those cases. It is the beginning. It is simply a beginning. We are going to have to go an awful lot further to make sure that this project would have long-term success.

Fortunately, the best outcome for this project, for the bill, is that we do adopt it. At least it would go to committee and we would try to improve on it. However, if we adopt it as is, certainly the most beneficial thing would be that when the NDP does form a government, we would be able to improve it so that it is a real park that we can really be proud of.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my esteemed colleague on his speech. It is obvious that he loves his riding.

He spoke about several problems in his riding that are being ignored by the current government. That is also happening in my riding, where there are many parks and reserves. They have financial problems every year. Even Charlevoix, which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, has seen its revenues decline dramatically.

Today, this region could lose its UNESCO status because it no longer fulfils one of the main criteria, namely co-operation with the community. The federal and provincial governments are important partners in that respect.

This bill is all well and good and quite appealing, but what good is it to create parks if we do not protect and take care of them? These parks do not have the means to promote and protect their land.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, because he raised some very important points.

Parks Canada will have to face a number of challenges in order to fulfill its mandate. I will share the figures that were recently published in the Toronto Star.

Operational cuts in the budget for 2012-13 will be in the order of $6 million; in 2013-14, close to $20 million; in 2014-15, almost $30 million. These are permanent cuts to Parks Canada. They are cuts to the direct services that Parks Canada offers to the public. These services are forever eliminated by the Conservative budgets.

We need to make sure that Parks Canada is able to fulfill its mandate effectively. With the cuts that are being imposed on it, we are simply not going to be able to do that. This park needs more support than this bill is going to offer.

It is a good first step, but we need to go an awful lot further.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeMinister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say I am somewhat familiar with Nááts'ihch'oh, having been on site when we made the announcement some time ago.

Listening to the debate, I recognize that there is a complete misunderstanding about the level of community support and the things that are required in order to ensure that this park will be the jewel that it very much is. There was obviously a balance that had to be achieved. There were serious negotiations that involved first nations as well as the government of the territory.

These comments are made in a vacuum in this place, but is there an understanding based on actually being there? I do not recognize any of these comments as being valid.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Chief Government Whip for the comments. I certainly do not agree with them.

To bring context back to the Northwest Territories, let us quote the former premier of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Kakfwi, who said, “He has taken the heart right out of it. The middle of it is carved out so that mining can happen dead centre in the middle of the proposed national park.”

Let us put something concrete in our discussions here. I think the government whip should have a little more respect for the former premier of the Northwest Territories. He certainly has a lot of problems with the bill that we have in front of us. The Chief Government Whip should have interest in making sure that he takes heed of these comments and offers some amendments to this bill to improve it.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate, the member for Chambly—Borduas. I must inform the member that he will have just three minutes for his speech.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will use my three minutes to quickly say that we will support Bill S-5 because it is a step in the right direction. However, as all my colleagues have pointed out this afternoon, the bill has some flaws that we hope can be fixed in committee.

My colleagues have already given some examples, but I want to illustrate these flaws with some examples from my own riding of the government's mismanagement when it comes to reserves, environmental protection and budget allocations for Parks Canada.

The easiest examples would be Fort Chambly and the Fryer dam. I am currently looking into this to see whether the government has any plans. These two properties belong to Parks Canada. Even though Fort Chambly is a historic site from the War of 1812, it did not receive anything at all, because the francophone aspect was completely ignored. Charles de Salaberry went from Chambly all the way to Châteauguay for the Battle of Châteauguay. During the War of 1812, he was the only francophone commander. Despite that, absolutely nothing was received to improve the infrastructure that belongs to Parks Canada. That is a perfect example.

The other example I mentioned is the Fryer dam. In fact, it is a dyke, as the historical society likes to remind me all the time. My predecessor, Phil Edmonston, an NDP MP, worked hard on this file in 1990. This has been dragging on for a long time under Liberal and Conservative governments. On the ground, officials at Parks Canada—which has an office for eastern Quebec in Chambly—and the municipalities are willing to work on improving this infrastructure, but the budgets have been cut.

In the minute I have remaining, I want to provide one last example. As my colleague mentioned just now, we are talking about biospheres. Mont Saint-Hilaire is the first UNESCO-designated biosphere site in Canada. It received its designation in the 1970s. Fortunately, with the participation of the Gault Nature Reserve of McGill University and thanks to the tremendous work done by members of the public, a greenbelt has been secured. That is good for the environment and for the economy because we are protecting our orchards, which are a major tourist draw in the region. If it were not for the public, the university and the volunteers who work at the nature centre, the cuts would be unbearable, as my colleague said.

This is another example of the government's mismanagement when it comes to protecting the environment, protecting tourism in our regions and, most of all, properly equipping the people at Parks Canada so that we can celebrate our heritage. The government says that all these things are its priorities, but unfortunately, the reality on the ground is quite different, especially in Quebec.

Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time for government orders today has expired. The hon. member will have time remaining when this matter next returns before the House.

Bill C-247. Second reading

The House resumed from June 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-247, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-247 on behalf of the residents of Sherbrooke. I would like to commend the hon. member for Guelph, the sponsor of the bill, on his initiative. In a nutshell, the bill seeks to provide a single point of contact for people who are acting on behalf of a Canadian citizen or resident who has passed away. Essentially, the bill would provide people who have lost a loved one with a single point of contact with the federal government. This single point of contact would fall under the responsibility of Service Canada.

Rather than contacting a number of departments when a loved one dies, Canadians would have a single point of contact, which would help them to do what they need to do more easily and efficiently. Departments have difficulty talking to each other. I think that the least we can do is provide quick and efficient service to Canadians who have lost a loved one. Canadians who are dealing with this type of situation should have the best service from every level of government. It is imperative that those who are grieving and dealing with emotional or financial stress get the best service possible from the federal government.

I believe that a government's first duty is to serve the people. Given that people pay income tax and other taxes every year, they expect to receive reliable, high-quality service, especially when they find themselves in a situation as difficult as losing a loved one and they have to inform the Canada Revenue Agency, for example. If the deceased was receiving a federal pension as a veteran, then Veterans Affairs also must be informed. These examples illustrate everything that grieving loved ones have to do when someone dies. I think it is important to commend the initiative to create a single point of contact, which would make things easier.

As I mentioned, these services are essential, and the government needs to pay more attention to them. I unfortunately need to remind the House that services have not been a priority for successive governments in recent years. I am pleased to see that the House, or at least my Liberal colleague, wants better services from the government.

Over the past three years, Sherbrooke has seen many cuts to services. The Canada Revenue Agency closed all of its offices in Sherbrooke. The office is still there, but many employees have been the victims of these cuts. The office is now closed to the public. No one can go there to ask questions or meet with a CRA agent. The only thing that happens when you go to the CRA office in Sherbrooke is that you get a door slammed in your face. They will give you the 1-800 number, but you could have called from home. People have to figure things out themselves, because there is no one there to help them.

The same is true at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which has closed its office in Sherbrooke for good.This is causing problems for newcomers who are looking for service from the federal government, specifically Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They have to go to Montreal, which is about an hour and 45 minutes away by car, depending on traffic, to write their citizenship exam or even for their swearing-in ceremony.

There has been a dramatic cut in services in Sherbrooke in recent years. That is why I am emphasizing the need for better service to Canadians.

I believe this bill is a step in that direction. We will be able to examine some of the little details of this bill in committee, and I am certain that all of the parties will work together to do that. For example, the name of the department in question has changed since this bill was introduced. This is a small amendment we could make. The committee will certainly have other suggestions as to how to improve this bill, which has a laudable objective. We want to help people who are grieving to get the best service possible from their government.

This is a problem that my constituents in Sherbrooke and I are familiar with. People have to call a number of different departments to inform them of changes to their personal information because the departments at the same level of government do not talk to each other. That is a problem for grieving Canadians who have to settle the affairs of a deceased loved one.

This single point of contact is a good solution that should be adopted by the entire federal bureaucracy. People would have to notify only one public servant of any changes, and that information would be shared with all of the departments.

However, we must ensure that this single point of contact is not just accessible online, so that it is not difficult to access. In most cases, seniors are the ones who will need this service, and not all of them are comfortable using the Internet.

If this bill is passed, it will be important that this service not be limited to a website because not everyone has easy access to the Internet and not everyone feels comfortable using new technologies. It is important to think about those people.

The federal government is already heading in that direction. It is trying to put everything online. That is a problem for people who do not have the resources or the ability to handle these things online. The government will have to remember that if this bill is ever implemented.

In closing, I would like to thank the member for Guelph for his initiative. It is good to think about service to the public, which should always be the government's main purpose. The government must provide quality service for people who pay their taxes every year and expect that kind of service from the federal government. The least the government can do is provide a single point of contact to grieving people who have to settle the affairs of someone who has passed away.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-247, a truly practical piece of legislation brought forward by the eminently pragmatic member of Parliament for Guelph.

Before putting my name on the ballot, I had the good fortune of having a couple of careers, one in the management of a regional law firm and the other in a family business. One of the lessons I took with me to Parliament Hill was that a good employer always hires employees who are smarter than he is. Now, in my case, that leaves a lot of options. I say that just to draw light to the very capable employees I have in my constituency office.

There is a steady stream of people who come in to the constituency office with a wide variety of problems that need to be dealt with, but there are a couple of things that are consistent. Number one is their emotional state. They are generally frustrated about having to try to navigate the bureaucracy. The other, with the exception of passports, is the importance to them of the problem they have come to our office to talk to us about. It is generally the most important thing that is happening in their lives at that time.

They are stuck in this situation. They have generally tried other avenues to solve the problem. Their first recourse was not to the member of Parliament's office. They come into an MP's office, in my case, my constituency office. I am very fortunate to have very capable staff there.

I say this because the case for Bill C-247 is strong. It would require the Minister of Employment and Social Development to implement all measures necessary to establish Employment and Social Development Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada in respect of all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident.

In my opinion, this bill is a perfect example of how federal representation works in Canada. We are here, in Ottawa, representing a diverse collection of voices, bringing forward the concerns or issues identified within our constituencies and translating those concerns and issues into federally legislated solutions.

It is not always easy to identify how to fix what seems like an individual problem with federal legislation, but I believe that the member for Guelph has done just that with Bill C-247.

The death of a loved one is never easy. If we, in this House, can do our part to lessen the burden of responsibility that falls to someone who is grieving, then we should absolutely do just that.

It was reassuring to read the previous speeches on the bill from back in June of this year and to see that most, not all but most, members had only constructive and valuable things to add to this debate in a sincere effort to strengthen the bill. With this in mind, I hope to see the entire House support sending this bill to committee.

It is evident that the research for the bill is thorough and sound. The evidence the member for Guelph is relying upon comes from various well-known, reliable sources, including the 2013 fall report of the Auditor General. In that report, the notification of death is specifically mentioned on page 12:

When a death occurs...someone must contact each department separately and follow different processes, as this information is not generally shared and departments do not offer the ability to do this online. This makes it difficult for users who may be trying to stop the payment of certain benefits to prevent overpayments...while trying to apply for others....

Perhaps the only situation worse than not receiving full benefits from a federal program is receiving too much, due to administrative errors, and then being told, “Sorry, you have to pay that money back”. This is an extremely difficult circumstance to be found in when a person is also dealing with the loss of someone they love.

Other members who have spoken to the bill have made reference to the various federal departments that would need to be contacted about the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident. There are a few that stood out to me, namely Veterans Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

As we know, cuts to Service Canada have drastically altered the level of service across the country, and my province has not been spared. When the government decided to cut the civil service by about 5%, the level of the cuts was double that in my province. We no longer have a district Veterans Affairs office; we no longer have a Citizenship and Immigration office; we no longer have in-person counter service at the Canada Revenue Agency; and we have never had a passport office.

I am not bringing this up in an attempt to slight the Conservative government—though I have in the past and I reserve the right to do so in the future at every opportunity—but as an alternative argument to the potential value of Bill C-247 and the positive impacts it might have if it were enacted.

With fewer staff available to assist Canadians through an already painful process of grieving a loved one, it makes sense to streamline the process and simplify the administrative burden, both for those grieving and for the Service Canada employees. Due to the cuts to front-line personnel and the closure of federal offices in Prince Edward Island, my office tends to receive much of the overflow from Service Canada. I can say with confidence that the effects of the administrative burden can be absolutely devastating, particularly when it involves the repayment of funds that I just mentioned.

Sending this bill to committee would allow members to hear from public servants themselves as to what the actual implementation would look like and whether or not the proposed timelines were realistic and attainable. My colleague the member for Guelph has already indicated that he is open to reasonable amendments that would strengthen the bill.

Realistically, I think we can all agree that the bill is sound. In fact, much of it was drafted with the current government's plans and priorities in mind. Allow me to quote from the 2014-15 reports on plans and priorities from Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as that of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. In the Minister of Employment and Social Development's message, he stated:

ESDC will focus on achieving service excellence for Canadians by further modernizing service delivery, focusing on its core business priorities and increasing the use of technology. Through Service Canada, [the government] will ensure that Canadians quickly receive the benefits to which they are entitled and access to a wide range of programs and services.

Further, at page 61 of that report, it says:

Service Canada will continue to work with other departments so that Canadians can better access more Government of Canada services through Service Canada.

In his message in the report on plans and priorities from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the president stated:

Canadians need and deserve a public service that is equipped to deliver modern, cost effective and responsive programs and services.... ...we will continue to streamline government operations.

For the period 2014-17, the report states that the secretariat will:

...promote client-centred service;...efficiency through a whole-of-government approach to service delivery....

It is a fine day when we, as members of the opposition parties, can stand in the House and say that we share a priority of the government. In this case, it is a good priority, so we can absolutely support it with Bill C-247.

In addition to aligning with the current priorities of those respective government departments, the impact of Bill C-247 could potentially save the government millions of dollars. The savings in this case would be in the form of costs to the federal government for overpayments due to improper death notifications, as well as the cost to the federal government in retrieving benefit overpayments.

The member for Guelph, as well as a few other members of the House, referenced the success of this kind of initiative elsewhere in the world, specifically in France with its online service portal, mon service public, and the United Kingdom's Tell Us Once. In the United Kingdom, the savings are estimated to be an incredible $300 million over 10 years.

Of course, I want to reiterate that the savings are not just financial but also administrative in nature. As my colleague stated in his June speech, this is also good consumer legislation.

Some of the members who have spoken to this bill previously mentioned that they have some concerns with respect to privacy, and well they should. For this reason, I say send it to committee, let the Privacy Commissioner appear as a witness, and let us see how the privacy concerns can be addressed.

In closing, this bill is non-partisan, evidence-based, financially responsible, and immensely practical. It deserves our support and further study at committee.

In Canada, 80% of the care provided to ailing seniors is given by their loved ones. A citizen of this country should not be required to jump through administrative hoops in order to settle the accounts of someone they are still grieving.

I hope we will do our part to alleviate the stress on our constituents by voting in support of Bill C-247.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate concerning Bill C-247, presented by my hon. colleague, the member for Guelph.

First let me say how much I appreciate the time and effort that the hon. member has put into drafting this bill. I would also like to thank the member for his willingness to collaborate with us on potential changes that we can work together on to continue to strengthen the proposed piece of legislation.

Currently the bill is somewhat technical. It is a proposal that would make Service Canada the single point of contact in the Government of Canada for reporting the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident. Service Canada would then, in the words of the bill, have responsibility “ respect of all matters relating to the death” of that person.

At first glance, the proposal seems very straightforward. The intent of making things simpler for the relatives of a deceased person is a laudable goal and one we fully support. Cutting red tape for grieving families is something I believe all parties should get behind and support strongly.

As we examine the bill as it is written, there are some costs and practical consequences that are not necessarily straightforward, and they will need to be considered during the committee hearings.

Currently Bill C-247 would require any federal program that wants to be notified of a death to become the authorized user of the social insurance number, since the number would be required to ensure the complete and accurate matching of client information. Without this number, errors and incorrect stoppage of benefits or services could occur, and we all want to avoid that.

Although the bill's intent is to enable citizens and residents to communicate only with Service Canada to resolve any outstanding issues related to a death, it would also expand the mandate of Service Canada to include the responsibility of notifying a host of other departments and other programs. This would happen as soon as the estate of the deceased person informed Service Canada of the death.

Since the social insurance number is an important piece of information linked to an individual's identity, expanding the process to include other programs that do not currently have the authority to collect and receive information linked to the social insurance number is something that we need to resolve and give careful consideration to before making any changes in that area.

As well, to implement the bill as proposed, processes would need to be established to ensure that we are receiving the information from the right person: the representative of the estate. This would require verifying both the person's identity and their authority to represent the estate of the deceased. The individual would need to bring the proper identification and documentation. This would create a cumbersome process for individuals dealing with the death of a loved one. We want to avoid that at all costs.

We think it is best if we work to improve the system that is currently in place.This would ensure that the privacy of Canadians would be protected while providing a streamlined approach for death notification. That is why we intend to introduce friendly amendments to the bill in committee to address the problems I mentioned and to make this a stronger piece of legislation. The amendments we are proposing would ensure that key Government of Canada programs that require death information are authorized to use the social insurance number.

We also have some concerns that a hard deadline might drive up costs and at times would not be realistic, but to ensure that the progress is tracked, we will be proposing that annual reporting to Parliament be included as part of this bill. In addition, we are advancing an incremental approach to improve notification of death services in a client-focused procedure.

The bill has shown that Service Canada has a long way to go in communicating with Canadians on the processes that are currently in place. I will not go into detail on the current processes, as they were discussed during the first hour of debate, but I can say that in the short term we will be improving communications and developing a strategy to give Canadians easier access to the relevant information they need when a death of a loved one takes place.

Service Canada will update its website and clarify the messaging regarding the steps to follow in the event of the death of a Canadian resident or Canadian citizen. This will include listing the federal programs and departments currently informed of the passing of an individual and what steps should be taken, including informing other programs and other departments. Examples would be the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for fishing licences and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for Indian status cards.

At the same time, Service Canada will work with key stakeholders, including the Funeral Service Association of Canada, to explore ways that the estate or survivors can be better informed.

The department will develop an outreach strategy to tell survivors which federal programs and departments are automatically informed and which ones they need to inform. The department will set out what benefits survivors may be eligible for and for which ones they may need to apply.

Over the longer term, we intend to work with programs and departments to gradually eliminate the need for separate notification procedures and to continue working to develop a government-wide approach that will be more efficient and eliminate any duplication.

We are committed to the highest level of and efficiency in service delivery. The government is constantly looking for ways to improve service delivery and making the best use of taxpayer dollars.

I am pleased that my colleague across the way who brought the bill forward is open to constructive amendments. We are going to work together constructively and collaboratively to deliver the best legislation on behalf of all Canadians.

I hope my colleagues will find these amendments to be acceptable and join us in voting in favour of the bill at second reading.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the bill put forward by my colleague from Guelph.

I do not usually use the word brilliant, but in some sense I think this is a brilliant bill, brilliant in its simplicity. Simplicity is not a bad thing. Often the best things in life are simple and sometimes when somebody proposes a new idea that is simple, people will say that it is obvious, or they will ask why it was not done before. This legislation has those two characteristics. Why have we not had one-stop shopping of this kind for many years? Why did we not think of that before? Maybe someone has thought of it before, but it is new to me, and it would be an excellent addition to Canadian law.

The points have been made that the person whose loved one has just died is not in a happy state, to put it mildly, and the prospect of having to make a substantial number of calls to government bureaucracies to answer different questions about the death of one's wife, or husband or whomever is not a happy prospect. Given the cutbacks, the prospect of being on a 1-800 line and having to wait forever to even get any answer at all is not a happy thought. Therefore, the possibility of just going to one place and having experts there who know exactly how to do it would relieve a huge amount of stress and anxiety from those who are the least able to be in such positions of stress.

In my opinion, this is a great bill because when someone loses a family member, he or she is not prepared to telephone all the government bureaucracies to share the information with public servants.

If all of that can happen in one fell swoop, it is better for everyone.

As my colleague has suggested, there are subsidiary benefits, which are definitely secondary to the primary one of helping individual Canadians. However, it could save the government money. It could save lawyers and estates from money going down the wrong paths. It could make it less likely that there would be issues of overpayment, and so on.

I was pleased with the government's response. If we could work in such a collegial way on other things as the way we worked on this bill, this would be a better place. That would be perhaps hoping too much, but I think the parliamentary secretary's response in tone was excellent, co-operative, and collegial.

The devil is in the details and I will certainly defer to my colleague from Guelph as to whether what he is proposing is precisely right. As far as I know, everyone in the House is on the same page and in favour, and we should all work together to make this happen in the most efficient and effective manner.

Having blossomed forth on how collegial we are, let me turn to a slightly different issue, which is perhaps a little less collegial.

In an ideal world, we should have one-stop shopping for both federal and provincial government agencies because no doubt, when an individual dies, the successor has to contact provincial governments, even municipal governments, as well as the federal government. If we could have one-stop shopping for all three levels of government, what a wonderful world this would be.

I remember back in the late days of the Liberal government that I had some involvement with Service Canada, which we were promoting as a new agency. Our idea at the time was to begin at the federal level but then to work with provincial governments and try to do what I just described, which is one-stop shopping across levels of government.

Maybe if a Liberal government were still in power, we would be there today and were that the case, my colleague might have been able to introduce a bill that would go to all levels of government. I am not sure we would have reached municipalities even eight years later, but we might have at least incorporated provinces and then it would be even easier for the loved ones of someone who died.

Unfortunately, Service Canada has gone in the wrong direction. We hear all the time about people being stuck forever on 1-800 numbers wanting employment insurance and things of that nature. Therefore, the service has not blossomed forth to include at least two levels of government, but rather, seems to have become more and more difficult to administer for just this one level of government.

I suppose that is a challenge for the future, but I think in the longer term maybe the hon. member, in a few years time, perhaps after there is a government of a different stripe to put this thing in order, will be able to provide amendments to his bill that would extend it to include not just the federal government but provincial governments as well.

That is a longer term proposition. For the moment, we, of all parties, should be pleased at this very important and major first step toward one-stop shopping for the benefit of the loved ones of those who have died.

There is so much consensus on this that I need not take up my full 10 minutes. My colleague from Charlottetown has explained extremely clearly as to what the benefits are, so I do not want to belabour the point.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Guelph for tabling private member's Bill C-247. I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.

The time and the effort that the hon. member has put into drafting the bill is certainly commendable. The parliamentary secretary, my colleague, has put forward an argument that Service Canada has been working to provide online service and to update our systems to ensure that Canadians are served better and quicker. Changes take time, but this bill is just another step that would improve that service and make it more timely for Canadians.

Bill C-247, an act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident, if adopted, will make Service Canada the single point of contact to report the death of a loved one to the federal government.

If I were to take a quick look at Bill C-247, it would seem to be a straightforward proposal, and I have no doubt it has been developed with the best intention. At first glance, Bill C-247 looks like a good idea as it seems to make things easier for people who need to notify the federal government of the death of a relative. However, when we examine the bill more closely, we quickly realize that the legislation, as it is written, could be improved. We look forward to working with the member for Guelph to make some common sense changes at committee.

When we look at the bill, I would like to remind my colleagues that the information on births and deaths in Canada falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces and the territories. Currently, provincial and territorial governments maintain birth and death registries and they are administered by vital statistics agencies. All provinces, except one, Saskatchewan, which is expected to join the system within the next two years, send Service Canada daily death information through secure electronic channels, under the vital events linkages agreements. Then Service Canada relays this information to all the federal departments and agencies that are duly authorized to receive it.

This two-step information sharing process is demonstrably reliable and has proven to be secure to protect the private information of all Canadians. In fact, it is a great example of a partnership that works.

Of course, as with any system, there is always room for improvement. That is why Service Canada will continue to work with the provinces and territories, as well as with various partners and stakeholders, to improve the vital events linkages and accelerate the processes involved in disclosing information.

As a House, we have the responsibility to consider all the possible repercussions for the privacy of Canadians. We cannot treat this lightly. The privacy of Canadians is too important to be played with. This is exactly what we are doing by recommending amendments to Bill C-247. We are looking at how we can improve the bill and make it better legislation.

As the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley has stated, we intend to introduce several amendments in committee study to make the bill stronger. The member who submitted the bill recognizes the co-operation of the government and is very willing to participate.

In the meantime, the bill has shown that Service Canada needs to do better at communicating with Canadians. Currently, there is work ongoing to update the Service Canada website. It will soon provide clearer messages on the steps to follow to notify the federal government of the death of a loved one. Service Canada's website will soon highlight which federal programs and departments are automatically informed of the passing of an individual and which departments and programs might need to be informed directly.

Service Canada will also work in consultation with funeral directors and other stakeholders to develop an outreach strategy, so Canadians are even better informed on this matter.

Service Canada will continue working with departments and programs to progressively move toward a simplification of the death notification process. I am pleased to see and support an initiative that cuts red tape for grieving families. Basically, we agree with the intent of the hon. member's bill. We need to do this the right way.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did give it a great deal of thought before I put forward this bill. Members can sit in this house for quite some time and never have an opportunity to introduce a private member’s bill, debate it, and hopefully see it pass. I wanted to ensure that the bill I put forward would have an impact on the lives of Canadians and also would be something members from all parties could indeed come together on and support. For those reasons, it was my great pleasure to introduce a bill that would establish Service Canada as the single point of contact relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or resident.

The death of a loved one is not an easy time for any of us, so I am certainly glad to put forward a non-partisan bill that would create a practical, compassionate approach to helping Canadians through a very difficult time.

I am grateful to all MPs who contributed so constructively to this debate, especially the Minister of State for Social Development, whose genuine interest and collaboration were essential. Also, I thank the members for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Saint-Lambert, Cape Breton—Canso, Brant, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Don Valley East, Sherbrooke, Charlottetown, Markham—Unionville, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development, and the member for Okanagan—Shuswap.

With reference to the remarks made by the member for Markham—Unionville, indeed, this idea, with all humility, was not my own. It was in fact the idea of Bryon Wilfert, who first brought the idea before Parliament but did not have the opportunity to navigate it through the House.

What I have heard from Canadians, industry stakeholders, and members alike is clear: the existing system for notifying the federal government of the death of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can and must be improved. The program must be made more efficient for the grieving family on the one end, who should only have to tell government once of a death, and in the interests of the government on the other.

The process of notifying all the necessary government authorities when a loved one passes away can be tedious, confusing, and sometimes overwhelming, but it is also an often painful process at a very sensitive time. It is a disservice to everyone when Canadians are unaware of what processes currently exist, preventing them from receiving adequate services and assistance while bereaved.

What the bill would accomplish by establishing a single point of contact at Service Canada would be the removal of uncertainty and confusion for family members and estate administrators. Similarly, as a public policy gain, I believe that it would modernize service delivery and reduce duplication and thereby reduce costs. As was said by the member for Charlottetown, a similar system in the United Kingdom, Tell Us Once, has saved $300 million over 10 years.

What I have heard from my colleagues in their comments here in the House and elsewhere is that these are common sense changes, and this is a common sense piece of legislation that they would like to see succeed, regardless of political stripe. That does not mean there cannot be changes made. Some speakers highlighted areas of the bill that could use some modification, and I am pleased to say that I have begun work with the government on ways we can strengthen the bill to ensure that all parties can support it.

If passed at second reading, I look forward to a full discussion of the bill at committee. I remain open to amendments to ensure that the bill remains consistent with existing legislation while ensuring that the government continues to move forward in implementing a secure process by which government departments are promptly informed and that these departments promptly respond when a Canadian passes away. I have said before that I would like MPs to hear public servants on how they would implement the bill and whether they feel that one year, as stipulated in the legislation, is a reasonable amount of time to implement the required changes or if more time is needed.

In closing, we have before us an opportunity to make a real difference for Canadians. It may not be glamorous, but it is truly important and practical. It is my sincere hope that all members of Parliament will support sending the bill to committee for further review and discussion of any necessary changes. I thank everyone for their participation in the debate of this issue; stakeholders, like the Funeral Service Association of Canada, for its information and intervention; and each of my constituents and Canadians across the country who contacted me with their questions and support of the bill.

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Service Canada Mandate Expansion ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members