House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ndp.


Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I looked at the record of the debate in the Senate, and it appears that there were four votes against the bill by the Liberal Party and 14 abstentions. I am a little perplexed that the Liberals would be interested in hearing the communist views of the Vietnamese government, given that they seem to have already made up their minds that they will not be supporting this bill. Maybe I should not be surprised. I think it would surprise even members of the NDP that the Liberals would be interested in hearing that.

I would be shocked if the NDP were against such a bill that would celebrate our great Canadian values of freedom and democracy and yet, on the other hand, remember that those in their time of need were helped by Canadians. Their generosity and the great Canadian spirit of celebrating Canadian values brought so many refugees here to Canada who have made wonderful lives for themselves. We as a country have benefited by their presence.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-219, a very important bill, which was tabled in the Senate and which seeks to create a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada.

We sometimes forget what it really means to be here in a democratic society where citizens can elect their members of Parliament, and both citizens and elected officials can safely exercise their right to freedom of expression. Most of the world’s population cannot exercise that fundamental right.

If I am able to rise today as a member of Parliament and speak in the House of Commons, it is because my parents had to flee Vietnam and were able to find refuge here in Canada, start a family, live in peace, work and support themselves.

I myself, Anne Minh-Thu Quach, was born in Canada and grew up in Canada, and it is because of my parents’ courage and Canada’s acceptance that today I can take part in Canada’s democratic life.

I would like to take a few moments to recount how my parents fled Vietnam and arrived in Canada. In 1979, after the Vietnam War, my parents decided to flee their country because of the horrible living conditions imposed by the new political regime an in the hopes of finding a better quality of life elsewhere. They could no longer endure the restrictions, the violence and the injustices that happened after the war.

They jumped at the first opportunity to flee in the middle of the night, in secret, with my two brothers, who were one and three at the time. They made their way to a port and paid the smugglers with the last of their belongings, that is, whatever they could carry. They got on a boat, with the direction indicated by a compass, in other words, anywhere, wherever the captain would take them, not knowing whether or not he would bring them to a safe harbour.

They lived in a refugee camp in Indonesia for 18 months, before the Red Cross came to get them. They then arrived in Canada. They had no identification; they had no goods or belongings. They had only their own lives and my brothers’ lives. Canada gave them papers and welcomed them as refugees with great generosity.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Hear, hear!

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

February 5th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Yes indeed.

When they arrived in Canada, my parents had to learn everything: how to survive winter, speak French, drive a car, look for work, cook Canadian food. In short, they had to learn how to live in their new country.

It is thanks to people like Captain Pierre Pellerin, Ginette Malenfant, Nicole Leduc and Estelle, who has now passed away, who welcomed my parents, but also other people, including Fred and Bonnie Cappuccino and many Canadians who opened their doors to my family and welcomed thousands of Vietnamese as if they were part of their own family. From that point on, many Vietnamese were able to begin integrating into Canadian life and making a contribution to Canada. Many thanks on behalf of all Vietnamese.

However, like more than 1.5 million people, my parents were boat people. Canada accepted 137,000 Vietnamese refugees at the time. The federal government also established a private sponsorship program that allowed agencies and Canadian citizens to welcome a family of refugees and provide them with support for one year. For each privately sponsored person, the government would sponsor another refugee. An entire movement of solidarity was created.

Here in Ottawa, at the corner of Preston and Somerset, there is a monument paying tribute to the boat people. Marion Dewar, the mayor of Ottawa at the time and the mother of our colleague from Ottawa Centre, worked hard to welcome thousands of Vietnamese refugees, so many in fact that Chinatown here in Ottawa is a primarily Vietnamese neighbourhood, where they serve the famous pho soup that is so warm and comforting, especially on a cold day like today.

The Vietnam War was the result of 50 years of cold war that divided the world in two. For ideological reasons, countries were at war, families were divided, men and women were murdered. Today, we no longer live in that bipolar world where everyone tried to impose their own truth. It is high time we began a real dialogue.

Earlier, I spoke about openness and dialogue, because this is something we really need. The Vietnamese diaspora, here in Canada and throughout the world, is divided by economic, political and religious differences.

A round table must be set up where everyone has the right to express their own views. This is how we will move ahead and ensure that the world will change.

I think that Bill S-219 provides a perfect opportunity to establish this dialogue, in light of the fact that it adds a positive aspect to the usual commemorations by emphasizing Canada’s acceptance of the refugees.

Out of respect for our refugees and in recognition of the Canadians who opened their arms to Vietnamese refugees starting in 1975, I think it would be worthwhile to at least allow a parliamentary committee to properly study the bill. It is up to us—the children of refugees, those in exile and immigrants—as well as all other Canadians who are open and interested in this dialogue, to help initiate discussion and debate about the Vietnamese commemorations.

I had the good fortune to go to Vietnam to see my family and get to know the land of my ancestors. It is a wonderful country where people are welcoming and very special. I still have many family members living there, and I want them and all Vietnamese still living in Vietnam to have the same opportunities as I did, so that they can live in peace and security and enjoy democracy and universal fundamental rights as I do.

Unfortunately, that is not yet the reality for everyone in Vietnam. Vietnam has signed or acceded to seven international conventions on human rights. It is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human rights are entrenched in the country’s constitution. However, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens continue to be arrested, tried and imprisoned merely for expressing their opinions.

Today, we must not be afraid to tell the truth. Every human being is entitled to life, liberty and equal opportunity. I therefore reach out to all Vietnamese, and all Canadians, who wish to undertake this dialogue with me and with parliamentarians.

Bill S-219 provides us with that opportunity for exchange, because the wounds have not all been dressed as yet. We must take the opportunity to sit down around the table, as I said, Vietnamese from all walks of life, so that the process of dialogue and healing can begin and we can at last look to the future.

As the member opposite said, the ambassador of Vietnam was not able to be heard. I have received many emails from other Vietnamese living in Canada who want to participate in this debate and were not able to participate in the debate held in the Senate.

This bill has to take its course in the Parliament of Canada, and I want it to be considered in committee and for all points of view to be taken into consideration when it is examined. Unfortunately, as has been said, the committee did not hear all the witnesses, but I believe that the House to which we have been elected, the House of Commons, can do better and can hear from everyone at the second stage. It not only can, I believe it must.

To demonstrate our values of open-mindedness, democracy, empathy and generosity as has already been done, we should allow the debate to continue. Let there be no doubt on this point: I am asking questions because I believe the process can be improved. I am in fact in agreement, and it is very important that this debate be allowed to continue.

On a somewhat more positive note, as the Asian new year, the lunar new year, will fall on February 18, I wish everyone a happy Têt. That is the Vietnamese word for the new year. To all Vietnamese everywhere in Canada and elsewhere,

[Member spoke in Vietnamese as follows:]

Chuc mung nam moi!

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the comments that the previous speaker has just put on the record.

She did a phenomenal job in expressing what I believe can be found throughout our country, families that have come to Canada through refugee status and do well. I am sure her parents and her community would be exceptionally proud of the speech she just delivered.

With respect to the member of Parliament who introduced this bill, Bill S-219, I must say I am somewhat disappointed by the manner he chose to answer the question.

It would be nice to see Bill S-219 go to committee. I am supporting Bill S-219 going to committee. I did not appreciate the insinuation that the Liberal Party does not support Bill S-219 going to committee. There is a great deal of value to it.

Much like the former speaker, I raised the issue of the importance of the committee hearing because it was something that was raised. I do think it is appropriate and I was somewhat disappointed with the member's implication that I might not be supporting the bill itself.

I do support the bill for a number of reasons, and I would like to point them out. However, before I do that, I would like to comment that just this last summer I travelled to Vietnam. I have had the opportunity to visit countries in Asia, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

I travelled with my daughter. One of the things that she really appreciated was the number of scooters, because she loves motorcycles. If members have the opportunity to travel in high-density areas, they will get a good sense of the mobility of so many people in some very small areas.

I personally enjoyed the marketplaces, the interaction. I had the opportunity to visit both small and medium-sized businesses. I can reflect on a candle store that assisted people with disabilities in being able to produce truly unique, 100% beeswax candles. As well, there were larger manufacturing plants, one in particular for wrappings. It is a beautiful country.

Maybe I can make reference to some key messages that I think we would like to emphasize.

At the end of the day, what the bill is proposing is that this day would recognize the journey, struggle, sacrifice, and survival of the Vietnamese boat people and remember the historical significance of their travel here to Canada.

Such a day would serve as an opportunity to raise awareness and enhance understanding of the plight of refugees around the world and of what it is to endure the status of refugee.

It is important to recognize that not only were the majority of refugees unable to communicate either in English or French, but it was also at a time when there were challenging economic issues. This complicated things for a number of refugees who landed here in Canada.

This day would commend Canadian families, charities, religious groups, and non-governmental organizations that sponsored an estimated 34,000 Vietnamese refugees to come to Canada and assisted them in their resettlement and adjustment between 1979 and 1980.

This day would also serve as an opportunity to recognize the ongoing contributions of Vietnamese-Canadian people in all aspects of Canadian life and society, including medicine, engineering, business, science, law, academia, arts, media, civil and community service, and, as demonstrated, politics.

These services to our community and so much more have been great contributions by the Vietnamese community, which Canadian society as a whole has grown to love and care for, and which has become a part of our multicultural fabric.

When I was first elected, I had the opportunity to serve as the multicultural critic in the province of Manitoba. What an enriching experience that was. One of my privileges was to visit what we call “Saigon centre”, located in Winnipeg Centre. It is a housing complex and a Vietnamese individual there, Ba Tran, whom I have become very close to over the years, did a phenomenal job in educating not only individuals like me, but also others about what took place in Vietnam. We are also very proud in Winnipeg knowing that in virtually all major centres now and every region of our country, we see an enriched heritage because of the Vietnamese contributions over the last number of decades.

I can remember going from Saigon centre, which is a beautiful housing complex, down the block to a monument. A member referred to a monument here in Ottawa. There is a monument across the street from the University of Winnipeg that highlights a very important part of Canada's history.

A statement that my leader often refers to is that Canada's greatest strength is our diversity. It ultimately allows us the greatest potential for our future. We need to take a great deal of pride in who we are as a relatively young nation. I have had the opportunity to talk about Folklorama, in which Winnipeggers and people from around the world participate. Through 35 years we have seen the Vietnamese community get directly involved in different types of pavilions and the sharing of culture and heritage.

I have grown to appreciate this since I was first elected in 1988. For the first 20 years of my elected life, every day I would drive by the Saigon Manor, a beautiful eight-storey apartment complex. It has enriched my life.

There are other things I should quickly make reference to. It is important for us to recognize that journey to freedom day marks a significant day for the collective history of Vietnamese communities around the world. It recognizes the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the takeover of South Vietnam by the north, and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam government and the beginning of the mass exodus of millions of Vietnamese people from their homeland.

The vast majority of the Vietnamese migrants came to Canada as refugees on January 1, 1975, where 1,500 persons of Vietnamese ancestry were already living, predominantly in Quebec. After the boat people crisis between 1979 and 1982, some 69,000 individuals entered Canada. This group of wonderful people ultimately settled in all regions and has enriched the quality of life of all Canadians. I look forward to the bill ultimately going to committee.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak today in favour of Bill S-219. In particular, I want to thank Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, the first Canadian senator of Vietnamese descent appointed as a suggestion of our government to the Senate. He does a very good job in representing the Vietnamese community across Canada.

I would also like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for York Centre, for sponsoring the bill in the House of Commons, and for the very eloquent speech he made a few minutes ago. He is a person who, through his family history, knows of pain, adversity and the struggle to come to Canada. He mentioned his father, who was a survivor of the Holocaust, a victim of Dr. Mengele. Just a little over a week ago, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp, he spoke about his father's struggles there and his journey to Canada.

For me, the bill tells the story of the Vietnamese Canadian community and their struggle to come to Canada, but it is a story we have heard over and over again, repeated throughout Canadian history. It is a Canadian story. It is a story that represents all of us. So many Canadians have come to Canada from places torn by war, from great adversity and oppression, and have struggled very hard through very difficult conditions to come to this country. They have found a place of refuge and freedom in Canada.

This is a country that we all love so much. It is incumbent upon all Canadians, regardless of their background, to learn these stories and to understand how these stories have contributed to our great country.

I appreciate the opportunity to voice my support for this important legislation. As I mentioned, it recognizes the lives lost and the suffering experienced by the exodus of Vietnamese people following the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975, the day that Saigon fell to Communist forces. It was a war, as we all know, that raged for well over 10 years. It was bloody and violent, and people's lives were torn apart. So many innocent lives were lost.

That is not a happy anniversary, but it is one that we must remember. We have to remember these events in history and how they affect people around the world, especially those in Canada.

Canada has played a significant role in aiding tens of thousands of refugees after the fall of Saigon when, according to the United Nations commission for refugees, more than 1.5 million Vietnamese were forced to flee their homeland under the threat of deteriorating living conditions and, it should be noted, widespread human rights abuses.

During this humanitarian disaster that followed, Canadians rallied to offer whatever assistance they could. A crucial moment came in July, 1979, when a previous Conservative government, under the leadership of prime minister Joe Clark and his cabinet, at the recommendation of the then immigration minister, the Hon. Ron Atkey, recognized the plight of these Vietnamese people and agreed to accept 50,000 Vietnamese refugees over the following year. That was a very significant number for Canada to have absorbed in one year. The Hon. Ron Atkey is a personal friend of mine who I have known for over 30 years. He is a very fine lawyer in the Toronto area today. He exemplified the finest in Canadian government at the time.

This effort ultimately brought more than 60,000 boat people, as they were then called, to settle and build new lives across our great country. It is estimated that 34,000 were sponsored by Canadian families, Canadian charities, religious groups and non-governmental organizations, and another 26,000 were assisted directly by the Canadian government.

Throughout Canada, church groups and other community organizations sponsored families to come to Canada. I know that happened in significant numbers in my city of Mississauga and the city in which I grew up, Hamilton. I went to high school and university earlier in my life with some of the young people who came with their families. I saw first hand in their faces the pain they had experienced in leaving their homeland and coming to Canada.

The hon. member on the other side mentioned what a shock it must have been for people to come from a tropical place like Vietnam to a very cold place. Let us face it, here we are in early February in Ottawa, and any of us who have been outside today know it is very cold here. What a shock it must have been for these people who had been through so much in their lives already.

It was an unprecedented example of the compassion of Canadians toward a multitude of people in need. More than a quarter of a million Vietnamese refugees lost their lives at sea during the exodus from Vietnam. Just in travelling, 250,000 souls were lost. Things had to be very desperate in their homeland for them to take the enormous risk to journey to freedom. Some were beset with illness, while others drowned or were victimized by violence from piracy, kidnapping, and other forms of violence.

The arrival of the Vietnamese refugees in Canada and their settling into new lives in what was a foreign land to them stands as a shining example of how Canadians responded to a world catastrophe. Canada's compassionate response included many sectors, communities, and governments. Many Canadian families took the refugees into their homes and helped them find employment and schooling. It is considered an exemplary moment in Canada's history of humanitarian protection and, in fact, was a contributing factor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees awarding its Nansen Refugee Award to the people of Canada in 1986. It was the first and only time that this prestigious medal was awarded to an entire nation.

Due to the overwhelming success of the private sponsorship of refugees program during this time, it became enshrined as a fundamental part of Canada's refugee resettlement program.

Contributing to the success story of the Vietnamese refugees who settled in Canada are the Vietnamese people themselves. Vietnamese Canadians are participating actively in public life in Canada, distinguishing themselves in business, politics, the arts, sports, and humanitarian endeavours.

Here are just a few examples. Kim Phuc, an internationally recognized survivor of the Vietnam war, has established a foundation to assist child victims of war here in Canada. Paul Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese Canadian whose parents fled to Canada, is a 2010 recipient of the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism. Kim Thuy, an internationally renowned author, received a Governor General's award for her book telling her story of her arrival as a refugee. These are just a few of the many stories of great Canadians of Vietnamese heritage who have told their stories and contributed to the development of our country.

Communities of displaced Vietnamese people around the world already refer to April 30th as black April day. Designating that day in Canada to honour our Vietnamese Canadian population would show our support to a community that has flourished in this country, economically, culturally, and socially. Bill S-219 proposes to designate April 30th as the journey to freedom day in Canada, as a day that would acknowledge the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people during a very dark time in world history.

Last Sunday, February 1, I attended the annual Tet festival celebration in Mississauga at the International Centre near the Toronto airport. The Prime Minister, Senator Ngo, and many dignitaries spoke there. It was a room of 15,000 people. This is about the eighth time annually that I have had an opportunity to join with the Vietnamese people in celebrating Tet.

There were many speeches made there about Bill S-219. It was just astounding to me to see the overwhelming support of the Vietnamese community in Toronto for the bill. They know it tells their story.

I also want to mention the Tribute to Liberty organization, which is constructing the monument to the victims of communism. It is very close to the parliamentary precinct, near the Supreme Court. The government has donated $1.5 million to that project. I would encourage all Canadians to go to the website,, and make a contribution. The Vietnamese Canadian people will be a very significant part of those honoured on that monument. They are an example of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who were victims of communism, who have struggled to come to Canada.

For all of these reasons, to honour the more than 300,000 Vietnamese Canadian people in Canada who contribute to Canada's prosperity and growth as hard-working members of our society, I want to encourage all of my colleagues here to support the passing of Bill S-219.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to the bill that is now before us.

First, while I do not want to reiterate what has been said in this debate so far, I nonetheless would like to say how proud I am that we can talk today about the contribution made by Canadians of Vietnamese origin. This bill once again gives us an opportunity to thank them for their contribution to our communities across Canada.

In the constituency ofPierrefonds—Dollard, there is a fine and dynamic Vietnamese-Canadian community, one that we do not necessarily see a lot of, but that is there nonetheless. It is so well integrated into all the fibres of the community that it sometimes goes unnoticed. Still, it is very much present and very well integrated, in the social, economic, community and recreational spheres.

This is all by way of saying that I could not talk about this bill without mentioning them. I thank them for being part of our community and for the invaluable contribution they bring to it.

I will also take this opportunity to say that this day of commemoration is possible because at a certain point in Canada’s history, we opened our doors and we decided, as a country and as a society, to welcome people who were seeking refuge following a major crisis. When a war that caused much human tragedy ended, Canada opened its doors and took people in, and they are now an integral part of the social, economic and political fabric of Canada.

The reason I bring it up this way, and I cannot conceal it, is that as citizenship and immigration critic for the NDP, I have to say that things have changed in Canada since that time.

Consider one simple figure. After the war in Vietnam, about 60,000 Vietnamese were admitted to Canada. Sixty thousand people sought refuge and found it here in our country.

I cannot help but draw a parallel with the current Middle East crisis, particularly in Syria. The United Nations tells us that this crisis is unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge either inside or outside the country, and yet the minister tells us that to date, only 1,300 Syrian refugees have been admitted to Canada since the beginning of the crisis, unfortunately.

The commitment to admit 1,300 refugees that the minister put on the table and that he has had every imaginable difficulty meeting on time is rather shameful when we compare it to the openness we showed some 30 years ago, when we took in 60,000 people who were fleeing hardship in their country of origin. I think those figures speak for themselves.

Let us go a little farther and examine the measures implemented in recent years, which have meant so many changes in the way we admit people seeking refuge.

For example, we could mention the changes to the interim federal health program, a federal program that offered basic health care for refugee claimants in Canada. Because of the changes made by the Conservatives, we now deny basic health care to people living here, in Canada, such as pregnant women and children, who do not have the medications they need to live safely within our borders.

I could also mention the changes made in relation to how refugee claimants arrive in Canada. At present, for example, a group of people who arrive by boat after fleeing a crisis in their country and seek asylum in Canada would automatically be incarcerated and might very easily be sent back, simply because they arrived by boat.

It is as if, when fleeing a crisis situation, people can choose exactly how and when to do it. These individuals are usually victims or people who want to give their children a better future or perhaps even save their lives.

Lastly, I want to talk about the list of countries of origin. The simple fact that a refugee claimant in Canada comes from a country on the list of countries of origin, which are for the most part recognized as stable, democratic countries, means that they are much less likely to be accepted. Furthermore, such individuals have no appeal mechanism available to them. This is problematic when we know that in some countries on that list, people are definitely discriminated against for their sexual orientation, for example, or even their cultural and ethnic origin. Consider, for example, the Roma, a population that faces increased deportation since the Conservatives changed the procedures and added their country of origin to the list. Basically, Romas face discrimination and danger in their country of origin. Because these individuals come from certain countries, they do not have the opportunity to be heard and they do not have time to gather all the necessary documentation to file a claim, in the same way as someone from another country might.

I mentioned just two or three measures that the Conservatives changed over the past few years. As a result of these measures, we are not welcoming 60,000 people who are facing a crisis or a war in their country of origin. We are committing to accommodating a hundred or so people, or a thousand, when global needs are so much greater. Canada has proven that welcoming a larger number of people because of an international crisis does not necessarily lead to a tragedy or an internal crisis in our country. On the contrary, this is a good opportunity to remember that these 60,000 Vietnamese who arrived after the war were welcomed by Canada. They integrated very well and are full-fledged Canadians. They are proof that Canadians are capable of welcoming people and that together, we can build a better country. Without these people from South Asia, Canada would not be the country it is today. We can be proud that we welcomed all those people.

It is important to remember that at the time, the United Nations recognized Canada's impressive role in taking in refugees. Sometimes it would be nice to go back and polish our image and say that we are still the Canadians we once were, that we are still the country that we once were, and that we want to take people in and do our part in times of crisis, and that the international community can turn to Canada knowing, as it did when Canada was a leader, what its role will be.

I would like to end on a positive note by reminding everyone that we are talking about Vietnamese Canadians and their contribution today. Hats off to them, not only for what they have contributed, but also for the challenges they have overcome so brilliantly. Anyone seeking asylum here in Canada faces those challenges. Nobody chooses to be a refugee. I can hardly imagine the challenge that individuals face when they have to leave the people they love, the places they love and the culture, country and climate they love, sometimes in great haste, but I can understand it. Seeing how successful these people are today inspires me to thank Canadians in general for opening their arms, for contributing through social programs, for being so open and for welcoming these people. I think that all of us here in the House should salute all refugees, including the Vietnamese refugees who arrived 30 years ago, and congratulate them on having overcome their obstacles and on becoming part of the big Canadian family.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise enthusiastically in the few minutes left in debate to support Bill S-219, the journey to freedom day act.

I spent a significant amount of time in Vietnam in my previous life as a journalist in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and even into the 1990s. I had the dubious privilege of being in Saigon on that dark day, April 30, 1975, when I was lifted out of the American compound with the final Americans present, other third country nationals, and more than 7,000 South Vietnamese nationals. I watched with great concern during the dark years of re-education through the late 1970s and afterward, and followed with great concern the plight of those who were forced through circumstance to leave their country and seek a better life elsewhere.

I can reassure my colleagues who expressed concern, the members for Beauharnois—Salaberry and Winnipeg North, that this bill will be going to committee. The committee will hear witnesses across the spectrum, and I look forward to seeing the Vietnamese ambassador during this coming committee study.

I would say to him that this bill is not a condemnation of the present government. We have close and good ties with the current government. This portrays a particularly dark period and the journey to freedom of hundreds of thousands of people. Of these, 60,000 came to Canada. In fact, greater freedoms came to Vietnam not through war but through the pressures of capitalism, free enterprise, and the will of the people for better lives in Vietnam.

Just to conclude, the significance of the commemoration of journey to freedom day is really threefold. It would mark the tragic events following the fall of Saigon and the exodus of the Vietnamese refugees. It would also pay tribute to all of those Canadians who rose to the challenge, welcomed the traumatized refugees, and helped them adjust to a new and better life in a new and unfamiliar land. Finally, it would celebrate the incredible contributions that the Vietnamese refugees have made to the building of our great country.

This was demonstrated just last week at this year's Tet celebration in Toronto, where members will recall that the Prime Minister addressed a crowd of over 10,000 grateful Canadians of Vietnamese origin.

All Canadians should know the story of the Vietnamese refugees who were forced to flee their native land, of the vast humanitarian effort undertaken by Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and of the triumph over adversity that the vibrant Vietnamese community in Canada represents today.

Journey to Freedom Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Thornhill will have six minutes when this matter returns before the House.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be here this evening.

I would like to return to an important issue that I raised a few weeks ago, that is, environmental assessment. On November 24, I asked the Minister of the Environment a question about the pipeline assessment process.

Under the Conservatives, we no longer have a credible mechanism to determine whether projects are socially acceptable. The pipeline assessment process has been completely discredited. The Minister of Natural Resources declared that social acceptability is nothing more than an ideological concept and that they cannot rely on the public. He does not care about public opinion.

People from all over Canada believe the complete opposite. In fact, it is vital that a project be socially acceptable in order to create jobs and to ensure that the public takes ownership of the project and is proud of it.

This week, an article in Le Devoir explained that the National Energy Board had once again restricted the public from participating in the pipeline assessment process. The changes made to the assessment process for energy projects have made it nearly impossible for the public to express their concerns, which would help improve projects and make them accessible.

The article also mentions that nearly 100,000 people signed a petition presented last Monday to the National Energy Board. They shared their concerns and demanded more access, so that they can contribute their experience, their views and their concerns about certain pipeline projects, such as TransCanada's energy east pipeline, whose assessment process just started. People can now sign up to have their say on this pipeline project.

I encourage everyone affected by this pipeline to have their say. It is very important. Those people demanded not only that there be more access, but also that the costs associated with GHGs from the pipelines be absorbed. That position is shared by the NDP and our leader, since we believe this is the challenge of the century.

Why have the Conservatives made it so difficult for the public to gain access to environmental assessments? What were they thinking? This will have a negative impact on social acceptability and pipeline projects. Why are they trying to undermine pipeline projects?

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying, as we have stressed in this chamber many times, that national energy infrastructure projects will only be approved if in fact they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.

The independent National Energy Board undertakes a science- and fact-based review of projects. In every case, project proposals brought to the NEB are scrutinized through this transparent process, which involves high-quality science and the technical knowledge and expertise of numerous federal department and agency experts. Evidence brought to the board's attention is tested for its veracity and its comprehensiveness to ensure that final decisions are based on science and facts, not ideology. Unlike the member and his party, we support this independent science-based review of proposed pipeline projects.

Allow me to quote, though, the other side. The leader of the NDP said, “There are some things that some people would send to the NEB that we would say no to”.

While the opposition would rather make decisions on projects based on ideology, we will not take positions on projects until the NEB's review is complete.

On this side of the House, we have been very clear that no pipeline will proceed in Canada unless and until it will be safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. Canadians can be confident in this rigorous review process and in the National Energy Board's ability to conduct an independent, fair, and open review of proposed pipeline projects.

I would like to remind members opposite that the NEB's scientific review of proposed pipeline projects includes taking into account comments submitted by the public, by industry, by environmental groups, and by aboriginal peoples. In determining if a person or organization has relevant information and expertise, the NEB considers a number of factors.

Once the NEB determines that a project application is in fact complete, it will issue a hearing order for a rigorous science-based review of the project to determine whether it is in the Canadian public's interest. During this process, interveners have the opportunity to test the evidence submitted and to provide comments on proposed mitigation measures to ensure that the project can be built safely for the environment and for the public. The board will assess all the evidence and formulate a recommendation. Through this rigorous process, our government ensures that no major pipelines proceed unless safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said that the National Energy Board uses a number of factors to determine who will or will not be accepted. We do not know what those factors are, and they have been reduced more and more in order to limit access to these consultations. That is why there are petitions with 100,000 signatures from individuals and groups who are asking for greater access to the hearings.

The window for applying to intervene in the process has been reduced to such an extent that people are tearing their hair out trying to understand how they can gain access to these consultations. Moreover, the greenhouse gas impact of the pipeline will not be factored in.

These two elements show the Conservatives' lack of leadership and are detrimental to major projects. Limiting access to the consultations does not help major projects.

Once again, I would like to know what the National Energy Board criteria are. They should be disclosed and forwarded to us.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very troubled to hear the member opposite talk down the independence of the National Energy Board, its competence, and how it conducts its affairs.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

That is not what I said.

Natural ResourcesAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear the member buzzing over there on the other side. I had the respect to listen to the member when he was talking. I would expect the same respect in the House, and I am sure his constituents back home would expect him to conduct himself in such a suitable manner.

All we have heard is the talking down of the energy board. It has been clear, and the Leader of the Opposition has signalled to this House on occasion, that were they, God forbid, given the opportunity to govern this country, the New Democrats would make decisions on these projects based on ideology rather than trusting the credible, independent science-based, fact-based review of the energy board.

That is not the position of this government. We trust the independence and the science-based expertise of the National Energy Board and the process, including the input of public and industry stakeholders, to produce a result and a recommendation to the government. As we have said before, the government will not approve projects unless they are safe for the public and safe for the environment.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the events in Lac-Mégantic more than 18 months ago have caused the Canadian public to wonder just how safe our railroads are. Many communities like mine in York South—Weston grew up around railroads, as railroads were a key driver of economic growth for them. Alas, that economic driver has long since left my community, but the railroad tracks remain and are perilously close to houses, schools, daycare centres, seniors' facilities, and other sensitive locations throughout the riding and the whole of the city of Toronto.

Railroads began shipping crude oil in quantity in 2009 and have increased that amount more than five hundredfold since then. This means that trains with several hundred carloads of crude oil whiz through our neighbourhoods several times each day. Until the Lac-Mégantic accident, people did not pay much attention to this. We thought of crude oil as the sticky tar we saw on television on beaches after Exxon Valdez or the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Who knew it was more like gasoline and that the effects of an accident could be so deadly?

When we learned at committee that even carloads travelling as slowly as 20 kilometres an hour ruptured and exploded at Lac-Mégantic, I demanded action from the government. The scathing report of the Transportation Safety Board found no one individual at fault but 18 different causes, including massive failure by Transport Canada, which reports to the Minister of Transport.

The Transportation Safety Board recommended that alternative speeds and routes be explored to move trains around major cities. This was one of many recommendations. This is done routinely in U.S. cities like Washington and New York.

The government's response was to lower speeds to 60 kilometres per hour in cities and to demand that the railroads do risk assessments and analyses of alternative routes to be provided to Transport Canada.

The results of those government-demanded risk assessments and route analyses were provided to Transport Canada last fall. At committee I asked Transport Canada to provide a copy of those assessments to the committee as part of our study of the transportation of dangerous goods. The City of Toronto also requested copies of those reports. Imagine my surprise when Transport Canada replied to the committee that it would not release the risk assessments, that they are somehow the property of the railroads and are somehow protected, confidential information.

These reports and assessments were demanded of the railroads by the government as a necessary part of the determination of the level of risk the railroads were exposing populations to. The government can and should treat these reports as publicly available information and should have clearly indicated this to the railroads when these were demanded. To suggest now that residents of my riding or any riding through which a railroad runs cannot know the potential risk of the railroad to them, based on speed, routing, and the use of rail cars with a long history of rupture, is an affront and unacceptable situation.

To suggest, as the parliamentary secretary has done, that Transport Canada will only share notices and orders issued to the railroads with municipalities does not deal at all with the need for individuals and municipalities to know specifically what risk there is, what mitigation measures are available, such as rerouting and speed reduction, and any other information that may be disclosed by a risk assessment.

Residents of York South--Weston and beyond have learned that Transport Canada has not been a very good steward of the safety of Canadians. The Transportation Safety Board and the Auditor General of Canada were highly critical of the actions of Transport Canada. We deserve to see the evidence, and until it has proven itself worthy of our trust, we need to see these risk assessments.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I beg the great indulgence of my colleague. We had an adjournment proceeding a couple of nights ago in which I gave prepared remarks because I thought the risk assessment question was to be asked at that particular proceeding. I gave a detailed response, so I point the member back to that response. However, he asked a separate question, the one I thought he was asking today, so I would like do two things.

First of all, I want to respond to one aspect of what he said today, and that is about what the TSB said in its report. In fact, it reported that the cause of the accident in Lac-Mégantic was that an employee did not follow the established rules—which have the force of regulations, once approved by the minister—with respect to the application of hand brakes, and more importantly, with respect to testing their effectiveness. Those rules were not followed, and that is why the Sûreté du Québec proceeded with an investigation and laid charges as a result. A criminal court proceeding is now under way. That should be clear for the record.

I do owe the member some pertinent information or response with respect to the question he asked Tuesday. He did have some discussion with respect to the Transport Canada budget.

With respect to the budgets that the government has passed in this House without the support of the opposition, I would remind the member that over $100 million was for investments in the rail safety framework. That all came as a consequence of the rail safety review that had been initiated by this government and the report that had been received by the government pointing out the need to put in place additional measures in the rail safety framework.

With respect to the estimates, which list the requests for and the timing of spending year over year, obviously there are fluctuations. What the member referred to as “cuts” fall into two categories.

One category is savings. There are grant-based or application-based programs for rail grade crossing improvements, for example. There are other measures such as the airport capital assistance program in the air sector. If people are not applying for the money, the money does not get spent, even though it may have been allocated or prepared to have been spent. That is not a cut in aviation or rail safety; it is simply money that was not spent in a particular year, which is an important distinction.

The other thing that was referred to mistakenly as cuts are shifts.

First of all, there are certain responsibilities that were moved to other departments, and the funding followed those responsibilities. For example, in the case of environmental assessments, some of those responsibilities in the department were moved to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, along with the funding. That is not a cut. It may not have been spent by Transport Canada, but it may have spent elsewhere in the government.

Second, there were shifts of funds from back-office operations to the front line. There were legitimate cuts. Funding for professional services is significantly down. Waste is down. Senior bureaucrat travel is significantly down. It was in measures like those that we were able to find savings.

By contrast, just as one example, officials at the Transport Dangerous Goods directorate testified that their budget moved from $13 million to $20 million, which is what would be expected for dealing with any potential risk in the safety system.

We are getting the job done, and I hope the member will support us in that regard.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, first let me say that I do not vote against budgets that increase rail safety; I vote against budgets that decrease environmental protection. I vote against budgets that deliberately do not protect Canadians from environmental disasters. That is what we are voting against, and not specifically the cut to rail safety. When it is all put together, one has to vote against it.

On the issue of the cause of Lac-Mégantic, the new director of the Transportation Safety Board said again today that the result was not because of an individual. She said in a speech at the Economic Club of Canada that there were 18 separate causes and that even if the individual had followed the rules, which he admittedly did not, it would not have stopped the train, because the regulations were not sufficient and Transport Canada's oversight of that particular railroad was not sufficient. Transport Canada was in fact partly to blame.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to assessing the budgets of the government, I have often heard New Democrats say in this House that rail safety is a priority. Then they turn around and say, “Well, other things were more important, and that is why we are against your budgets.”

It is a question of priorities for this government. We have put significant resources into improving rail safety in this country. We are on a hiring blitz for more inspectors and more auditors to address the concerns that the Auditor General has raised.

If he says it is a priority, I wish the member opposite would synchronize his stated priority with the fact that the budgets of the government authorize the funds to increase rail safety. At the next go-round when the budget is tabled, if there are funds for that, I encourage him to support it.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:37 p.m.)