House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cpp.


The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

October 25th, 2016 / 5:50 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak again in the House on an issue of great importance to many of my constituents and to many Canadians. I will be supporting the bill.

The bill before us is Bill S-201, genetic non-discrimination act. The summary of the bill says that:

This enactment prohibits any person from requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of providing goods or services to, entering into or continuing a contract or agreement with, or offering specific conditions in a contract or agreement with, the individual.

Essentially, the bill is to prevent discrimination based on genetic testing information to ensure that Canadians are not required to give that information to a third party and that this information cannot be shared without their consent.

I want to commend the member for Don Valley West on the speech he gave to introduce the bill in the chamber. I would recommend it to people who want to get a full appreciation of all the intricacies of the law and the amazing genetic testing and research that is out there.

We are in a new age, and the number of tests are expanding, as are the number of diseases that can be detected early on, and the number of genetic markers. The science is expanding every day. We want to ensure that Canadians are protected as more and more of our information, more and more of who we are, is exposed as a result of this testing.

The reason I wanted to talk about this is because of some families in my riding that have already experienced difficulties as a result of diseases they have been tested for, which have affected their ability to obtain life insurance. This is already happening. This is not some futuristic problem that may happen somewhere down the line. This is happening right now.

I would like to share a couple of stories from some people in my area. Quite frankly, I am not going to share their names or even the disease they are suffering from, because they are already concerned about what the repercussions would be for them if some of this information was revealed.

This is from a mom who says, “We chose not to get my son diagnosed, because he is basically healthy. I am looking to renew my life insurance and my agent was told by the underwriter that all patients with this disease have been denied insurance.” It should say whether they are symptomatic or not. She goes on to say, “It seems so unfair because this disease is typically not life-threatening. Disabling, yes, but I was seeking life insurance. If we tell sports organizations or community centres about my daughter's complicated medical history, they will not let us enrol. I need to not disclose health and safety issue so that she can live a normal life.”

Already there are some problems with obtaining life insurance.

Another family wrote to me and said, and this is about a hereditary disease in this family:

“For us, we had my son and I diagnosed before we knew anything, and before we knew we would never qualify for disability insurance. We have a very difficult time getting life insurance. I pay at least three times the amount for life insurance, even though my disease does not actually affect my lifespan. We are now in a predicament that our daughter is showing signs of this disease as well. We have to make a decision to get her tested. With testing, we can then qualify for things like the disability tax credit and possibly at-home funding and definitely special needs funding in school, but we are holding off because of the insurance implications. I worry how this testing and a diagnosis will affect her in the future. So we are paying out of pocket right now for her weekly physiotherapy sessions, $70 a week, and other therapies. We probably spend about $400 to $500 a month out of our own pockets so that we can protect her in the future, so that she is not discriminated against.”

Another person wrote to me about this and said that teachers and parents push for and are compelled to get kids outside the typical diagnosis, and funded, but this is going to follow them. It is going to help in some ways but it will hinder in others.

This is a choice that no parent should have to make. They should not have to be faced with the choice of getting funding for their kid, because then their kid will not be able to get life insurance when they are an adult. This is not the kind of country that we should live in, and it is something that we as parliamentarians should strive to protect people from. This is why the bill is so necessary.

There are other cases I think we need to look at. We have seen that mental health care has been an expanding field. This is something that we absolutely have to do more to address as governments at all levels.

I have talked to people who work in the House of Commons who have made it clear as well that not only are they not willing to come forward with their own mental health struggles because of the stigma surrounding it, but they are worried about their insurance and their health care plan. They are worried about the implications for them should they reveal a mental health issue. We encourage people to come forward, but we send a mixed message if we allow those people to be discriminated against for coming forward with that information and for seeking treatment.

This is why I was upset earlier. There is treatment available. There is a course of therapy available. There is funding available for kids, but parents have to make a choice right now, because they know from previous experience that if they reveal this to the wrong medical professional, the wrong insurance company, or even reveal it outside of the school system perhaps, that the child will pay a price for it, even though it will not affect their lifespan. This is not right.

Therefore, I am hopeful that as we study the bill, as we move forward to send it to committee and get more information out there, that we can talk about not only this area but other areas where perhaps our laws are not doing enough to protect those Canadians who are vulnerable, who could be helped but are afraid to seek help because of the repercussions.

I also want to mention, perhaps on a lighter note, that there are companies now that are advertising that we could just take a swab from our mouths and find out all about our ancestry; go to and learn more about the makeup of our DNA. I think that, without the protections in the bill, we should be very concerned about that. This information is being retained. If we are not protecting people, what is to say that an insurance company might not ask if one has ever provided a DNA sample to determine one's heritage? If we do not protect those people, what is to say that it would not be a reason to deny insurance if they did not provide that information?

Again, it is more of a concern with this growing availability of DNA testing, of genetic testing. We need to be careful that we protect Canadians. We certainly need to stand up for those Canadians who are currently being negatively affected by the discrimination in the system.

I commend the member for bringing the bill forward, and Senator Cowan as well for starting this. The bill will have my enthusiastic support.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be able to speak to this subject.

Clearly, this is not always a very easy subject to understand, but I think it is important in the context of the current system we are dealing with.

Many people are now faced with difficult choices; take insurance, for example. People are being asked to be more provident in general, to consider taking out life insurance or disability insurance so that they can protect their family in the event of adversity.

However, the problem this raises is that people have access to far more information on health and genetic diseases. For example, we know that a given gene could indicate a greater predisposition to a given disease. Often, nothing is certain. We know there is a greater predisposition in a given gene carrier, but we also know that nonetheless the person may never develop the disease in question.

Because of family history, more and more people are being asked to take a genetic test if they want access to life insurance or disability insurance.

People who refuse to take the test run the risk of being denied insurance. If you pass, it means you do not carry the gene, and you can therefore be insured and everything will be fine. However, if you discover that you do carry the gene, you run the risk of being denied insurance, not only from that insurance company, but also many others that you would approach later. All this because you carry a gene that predisposes you to a given illness that could be very serious, although there is no guarantee that you will actually get the disease.

This could put additional stress on people, because they will be afraid of developing a disease that they may never actually develop. This is very important. This has become increasingly important over time, with the evolution of medical technology.

When it comes to genetic discrimination, it is also important to make sure that people can continue to take part in genetic research without begin forced to disclose the results or findings of that research. It is therefore important to ensure the confidentiality of data.

My colleagues might not know this, but Quebec is quite interesting when it comes to genetic research. People who do family research realize that the population base in Quebec did not move very much for many years, unlike in Europe where there were regular unions between people from different regions or countries to consolidate alliances. In Quebec, the people did not move very much at all. This is extremely interesting for genetic research because it allows the researcher to establish family lineage and see how genetic diseases were transmitted within a same family. A significant amount of data is readily available, in other words, it is easy to find out who married whom. Family trees can be established for the vast majority of Quebeckers. A number of companies that do genetic research decided to use Quebec's population for their studies.

If the research participants are not sure that their data will be protected or whether they will eventually be forced to disclose to an insurance company the blood sample they might have provided 10 years ago, then this could seriously hamper the research.

This research helps detect the genes that cause certain diseases and contributes to medical advances. Accordingly, protecting people from discrimination also allows advances in research to continue.

Research participants are often compensated financially. I think that practice should continue provided this is really done for research.

However, when insurance is involved, we should consider the need to prevent people from obtaining financial compensation for agreeing to take a genetic test because that is a source of pressure. If an individual is offered a lower insurance premium on condition that they agree to take a test, that becomes a financial incentive. That is perverse and does not help resolve the issue of genetic discrimination. These are very important considerations.

Researchers need access to this data, as do health professionals when this information is found to be pertinent to the condition of their patients, so they can provide appropriate treatment. However, if health professionals have access to these test results, we must ensure that confidentiality is protected. If we do not protect patients' privacy, we run the risk that some people will refuse these tests, will not know that they are at risk of developing a disease, and will definitely not change certain lifestyle habits that are putting them at risk.

Genetic testing can play a preventive role in some respects. If we know that we are at risk because of an abnormal gene, we can work on the risk factors, because those can be mitigated.

When it comes to breast cancer, for example, some genes have been identified, but there are other risk factors, such as birth control pills. By reducing their exposure to such substances, people can reduce their risk, even if they know they may be genetically predisposed to that type of cancer.

I know that genetics may not be the most riveting topic. I would like my colleagues to be more upbeat and enthusiastic, but I must admit that we are discussing a highly specialized scientific field and that it is easy to get lost, particularly for those at home who have even less knowledge of health. That is why we, as legislators, need to protect them properly.

We have the opportunity to speak to experts who can explain to us the challenges associated with this sort of bill. We have the responsibility to protect Canadians, particularly when it comes to such a technical topic. It is not always easy for the people at home to follow what we are doing, but we have here a wonderful opportunity to better protect Canadians. We can ensure that no one ends up in a precarious personal or financial situation and that no one is prevented from protecting their family because they have been refused insurance.

It can even have an impact on their children. Imagine finding out from a genetic test that one has a genetic predisposition. Then imagine being denied insurance because one chose to have the test done. Then imagine one's children and other family members also being denied insurance. That would be a shame. People are increasingly being expected to take charge of things themselves and make arrangements for their own security, so refusing to protect them would conflict with what they are being asked to do.

I am therefore asking my colleagues to support this bill so it can be referred to committee and improved as needed. We must protect Canadians from genetic discrimination.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec


Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this chamber today to speak in support of Bill S-201, the genetic non-discrimination act, which passed the committee and third reading stages in the other place on April 14.

First put forward by the Honourable James Cowan, senator for Nova Scotia, and moved in the House of Commons by my colleague for Don Valley West, Bill S-201 would allow one of Canada's most important and core values to become entrenched in our laws.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our charter and human rights because they provide every single Canadian with equal protections from various forms of discrimination and disadvantage. Unfortunately, to date, we have lagged behind on the key issue of genetic discrimination, leaving thousands of Canadians vulnerable because of their very essence, their DNA.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada produced a report in March of 2012 on the potential effects of such a bill. It made the case that one's genetic makeup represents, in the most personal of ways, “one's very identity”. If we, as a nation of equals, value the protection of individuals based on their gender, sex, or religion, the question is this. How can we not seek to protect the very basis of their being? The short answer is that we cannot. I believe strongly that we, as the House and the entire body of Parliament, recognize that reality to be a fact.

On at least three separate occasions has such a bill made its way through the committee structure, including receiving extensive praise from the Senate Standing Community on Human Rights, and three times has the gap that exists in our rights and protections failed to be bridged. Finally, we have an opportunity to change that.

I am proud to be part of a government that values and respects science, scientists, and the scientific community. That is why our government abolished rules that placed restrictions on scientists' work and prohibited them from talking about their work, as important as it is.

If we want to ensure a more prosperous future for Canadians, we have to pay attention to science and make sure that laws designed to protect us evolve in step with technology.

Canada is a society that values freedom and privacy. Giving employers, insurance companies, or any other group the power to use people's most private information against them is not in keeping with Canadian values.

I talked about the speed of scientific progress. From 2003 to 2016, the number of genetic tests available increased from 100 to 33,000. These tests are key to, for example, determining early on whether a woman is predisposed to developing breast cancer and thereby improving treatment success rates.

I myself have had cancer twice, and as a survivor, I am well aware of the positive impact this type of technology has had and can have moving forward, not just for me, not just for the citizens of my riding of Vaudreuil—Soulanges, but for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. However, without proper legislation, this reality is a double-edged sword. Billions of dollars in genome research has no doubt saved tens of thousands of Canadians affected by a variety of illnesses, because we can now detect them in ways we could not before and, therefore, treat them better than we could before. Indeed, for diseases such as cancer, time is everything. Time is life. It also means that there are about 33,000 new ways for people to try to seep into the personal lives of individuals, ultimately giving them the power to possibly fire, overcharge, or discriminate against them.

Should Bill S-201 not pass through this chamber, Canada may face serious public health challenges, where Canadians, concerned about being treated unfairly due to the fact that their employers or insurers require them to disclose the results of genetic testing, would no longer seek such beneficial testing. The consequences could be that thousands of individuals may never know their chances of developing certain illnesses because they fear the consequences of discrimination more.

We can live in a country that proudly respects science and the advances the scientific community has given us while also protecting the rights and freedoms we as Canadians so proudly enjoy. That is exactly what Bill S-201 seeks to accomplish.

At its core, this bill addresses an important change that needs to be made to both the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is not, however, without its challenges.

We are a government of collaboration, committed to engaging with our provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure that certain parts of this bill do not interfere with their jurisdictions. We must, nonetheless, remain committed to supporting the genetic non-discrimination act after ensuring that the rights of the provinces and territories are safeguarded and used to effectively promote the same principles that this bill puts forward. It is my hope that the chamber can see the genetic non-discrimination act for what it is, a crucial step in the move toward protecting our rights, our freedoms, and our privacy.

In conclusion, I think we can all agree that neither the state nor any other group, be it a corporation or organization, has any business knowing the genetic makeup of Canadians, and should not have the power to use this information negatively against any Canadian. We are a country of values, where we respect an individual's rights above all else.

The genetic non-discrimination act is one key step to encouraging those rights and freedoms to continue uninhibited for all the people the House represents.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination.

The beauty of my work as a member of the House of Commons is that I have the opportunity to dig into a number of topics that affect Canadians and discover issues that I barely knew existed in my riding because no one had taken the time to inform me about them.

Bill S-201, introduced by Senator Cowan, opened my eyes to the very real dangers of genetic discrimination in Canada. I am pleased to share my thoughts on Bill S-201 with my colleagues.

During my research, I discovered that Canadians are not really legally protected from genetic discrimination. Across the country, people run the risk of being negatively impacted by genetic tests revealing potential genetic abnormalities. However, these tests are absolutely necessary. They can save lives. Thanks to modern medicine, these tests can forecast diseases a person might develop later on.

On the other hand, some people have a strong desire to know the risks, because there could be financial risks involved when it comes to the protection provided by insurance and all those other kinds of protection currently available to Canadians.

Do people have to choose between their money or their life? I think the answer is obvious: no one should ever have to make that choice. In my view, Bill S-201 responds perfectly to this concern.

Should someone who has a genetic disease have to pay higher insurance premiums? Should they be denied access to employment? The answer to those questions is no.

As I mentioned, we are all potential victims. There are nearly 6,000 genetic abnormalities that could cause diseases, and any one of us could be affected. Every month scientists discover new abnormalities that could affect our health. If there is no legislation in place, it could increase the cost of insurance or limit employment opportunities.

I will be quoting Ronald Cohn a few times in my speech, because I think he is a real expert on this matter. He treats children. I think we should listen to him.

Ronald Cohn, paediatrician-in-chief at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said that genetic discrimination is a real problem that will only grow with advances in technology.

The rate at which our doctors and researchers will find cures for our diseases will keep pace with the rate of technological advances. We hope these people work as quickly as possible to prevent others from becoming ill and in order to be able to treat people.

Unfortunately, as the rate of medical advances increases, some are eager to obtain these results in order to save money on the backs of the individuals who could develop these diseases in the future.

Another argument in favour of Bill S-201 pertains to the discrimination that other specific groups could be subjected to if certain ill intentioned people were to have access to test results.

Quebeckers in particular could be especially vulnerable because they lack genetic diversity. Researchers at the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine and the University of Montreal have shown that old stock Quebeckers for the most part are descendants of a limited demographic of only 8,500 French colonists. Today, there are several million Quebeckers. With respect to that group, if problems were discovered among the 8,500 colonists, today they are found in hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers.

Some regions of Quebec and their populations were isolated for approximately 400 years. The region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is a striking example. In several other Quebec regions, we see the effect of this concentration of old stock Quebeckers, who are dealing with rare diseases inherited from their ancestors.

That is also the case in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are seeing the same phenomenon as in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Remote locations and a lack of outside immigration for generations have also produced this sort of effect on the population. It is called the founder effect. It has created a number of genetic mutations that have led to hereditary diseases in communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.

The deadliest disease is arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. Speaking of subjects I never thought I would raise in the House, this is one of them. This inherited heart disease can result in sudden cardiac death. There are 64 specific families in Newfoundland and Labrador that are carriers of this disease and 80% of the men in these families with what might be called the “malevolent gene” will die before the age of 50. Many people show no symptoms of the disease.

If an insurance company sees test results that show that these people carry this “malevolent gene”, would they sell them life insurance? That is a question we need to answer because, if these companies are allowed to use genetic testing, they may decide not to sell these people life insurance. People who could potentially avoid dying before the age of 50 by taking the test may not want to take it for fear that their insurance company might get a hold of the results.

Once again, we are left with an illogical and immoral choice. It is not right that people should have to choose between doing everything they can to prevent their potential death and making sure that their family is taken care of financially after they are gone. However, that is the dilemma that these people are facing. Would an employer offer a long-term position to someone with such a disease? That is another question we need to ask.

Some first nations communities in northern British Columbia are genetically predisposed to certain serious illnesses. For example, some people in those communities are 20 times more likely than the average Canadian to have a genetic syndrome that manifests as a terrible hereditary heart disease.

Those are the dangers we are facing right now as a people and as Canadians because our laws do not provide for that kind of protection. Between 10% and 30% of patients refuse genetic testing because they fear genetic discrimination against themselves or their family members. Mr. Boudria, a former Liberal minister who now speaks on behalf of Ovarian Cancer Canada, hit the nail on the head with the following statement:

Medically, the current rules are not good enough. Some people would rather not have genetic testing done so that they will not be questioned.... The test could save their lives. We know that cancer is easier to cure if caught early.

That is why we must take action.

In closing, I would like to talk about other circumstances under which people refuse. Many families refuse to have their children tested because they fear the consequences with respect to insurance. Dr. Ronald Cohn, paediatrician-in-chief at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said the following:

Finding yourself in a situation where you offer somebody a test and then they say “I would love to do it but I'm afraid to,” it's somewhat paralyzing.

It is incredible.

Canada is lagging behind. We are the only G7 country that does not have legislation against genetic discrimination. Our neighbours to the south adopted similar legislation almost 10 years ago. France and Great Britain were among the first to adopt or amend their legislation nearly 20 years ago.

Elsewhere in the world, 50 or so countries regulate how genetic data can be used, and 35 of those countries explicitly prohibit genetic discrimination in employment. What is more, in 1997, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization advocated for all states to provide protection from discrimination based on genetic data or genetic characteristics.

In closing, we support this bill because it is essential. I would also like to acknowledge the excellent collaboration of a participant in the parliamentary internship programme, Jeanette Carney. She provided excellent research for drafting these notes. I wanted to acknowledge that before you, Mr. Speaker, and before my colleagues.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent and very informative speech. I also learned a thing or two this evening.

In the research that was done for him, did he see anything that might explain why Canada is lagging so far behind the other G7 countries? Can he explain this decade-long delay?

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton


Unfortunately, the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable will not have the opportunity to respond in this case. However, when we resume debate another member may rise to present his or her comments.

Resuming debate.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to do two things in these closing minutes, and the first is to thank colleagues from both sides of the House for their comments, their speeches, and their very strong defence of the bill. There are few opportunities we have in the House to actually share common concerns and do something for all Canadians. Some of this is happening on Bill S-201, and I want to commend hon. members.

I also want to thank the members who spoke to me personally about the bill. Men and women have come to me with stories about themselves, their children, and their parents, particularly about illnesses they have or concerns they have faced in their own lives and have not felt free to tell others about because of the fear of genetic discrimination. They know who they are, and their stories will be kept entrusted with me, and I thank them for that privilege. I hope the bill will be dedicated to each of them and every Canadian who fears the possibility of discrimination if they get a genetic test.

I want to also thank Senator Cowan, from the other place, as has been said, and Barb Kagedan, his wonderful assistant, who has shepherded the bill, not just these months but for many years, and has brought passion and intelligence to this House from the other place and has made my work much easier.

Senator Cowan and Bev Heim-Myers, the president of the Huntington Society of Canada, recently received a very prestigious award from the American Society of Human Genetics. Bev is also the chair of the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness. They have worked together as health groups, patient organizations, and charities to ensure that parliamentarians can learn, as one of my hon. colleagues said, things we did not know before we came here.

This tribute today is really in their name. It is something they have done and brought to the attention of this House through the Senate, and I think we owe them all a strong vote of thanks. That is the first thing I want to do.

The second thing I want to do is remind the House of the integrity of the bill. There are three parts to it: the genetic non-discrimination act, changes to labour legislation, and changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Each part of it is essential to ensure that the bill will be enacted in a way that Canadians can trust that they can get a genetic test to ensure that their health care is absolutely optimum.

Medicine is changing. Twenty-first century medicine is about genetic medicine. It is called targeted medicine, sometimes personalized medicine. It is the nature of medical practice as we know it today. It is revolutionary.

We were asked why Canada lags behind in this, and I think the reason is that we have messed around with a concern about provincial and federal jurisdiction. This House has the opportunity to act and to act strongly and clearly. We should give the provinces the opportunity to comment on the bill and act with them and on behalf of all Canadians to ensure that this act has the kind of teeth it needs to protect them in the most vulnerable place: their health, their existence.

There are parts of this job that we love and parts that we do not love as much. The part I love the most is that we have the opportunity to actually affect Canadians' lives. We have a moment in this House, with this act, to make a change that can actually change the lives of millions of Canadians, who can, with trust and confidence, go to their physicians and get the tests they need so that their clinicians, the practitioners who help them, can have the very best tools.

One of the great privileges I have had is to meet with Dr. Ronald Cohn, Stephen Scherer, and other researchers across this country from coast to coast to coast. They are aching for a piece of legislation so that they can help their patients in ways they are concerned they are not able to do today.

I thank the House for considering the bill. I look forward to tomorrow. I hope members stand and support it and make Canadians a healthier population.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is the House ready for the question?

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Genetic Non-Discrimination ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 26, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, this evening I am looking for something simple from the parliamentary secretary. I would like a clear yes or no on whether the government will support my bill, Bill C-279, to limit the length of federal elections.

I would like to lay out the reasons for the government to support the bill.

The parliamentary secretary has stated his desire to work with me on undoing many of the changes that happened in the unfair elections act and, specifically, look at the length of elections. Members can look at his question period response to see that.

For each day that a campaign lasts longer than 37 days, a political party can spend more money. This means that a party's national campaign can spend $675,000 a day for every day an election goes beyond 37 days. Political parties can cynically lengthen campaign periods to outspend their opponents. I would argue that this is exactly what happened in the 2015 election.

This spending hurts smaller parties, as they do not have the funds to spend that kind of money. In making an election fairer, we cannot help just the richest political parties gain an advantage.

It is not just political parties' spending of the money that is the issue, but the fact that the general taxpayer has to foot an inflated bill. The 2015 campaign cost the public $443 million, $150 million more than the previous 2011 campaign.

No Canadian wants to be bombarded with radio and television ads all day long during a marathon campaign, especially over the 78-day marathon we just had last year. In fact, when I was going door to door on the campaign trail, I certainly heard time and time again that people were sick and tired of such a long election and could not comprehend why there was no limit to it.

It is not just me making these arguments. This idea is also supported by our Chief Electoral Officer, someone whom I think everyone in the House holds in very high regard.

In his recent report to Parliament entitled, “An electoral framework for the 21st Century”, he laid out recommendations to make our electoral system fairer. He stated that by not having a cap on the length of an election, the level playing field between parties can be compromised. He has recommended that there be a maximum of between 45 to 50 days. My bill would fit perfectly within that range, with a 46-day cap.

With those reasons in mind, I come back to the first part of my question. I simply ask the parliamentary secretary for a clear answer on this. Will the government support my bill to limit the length of federal elections, yes or no?

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Ajax Ontario


Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague opposite from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for the bill he has put forward and for the excellent arguments he has made in proposing the bill. The bill seeks to limit the length of a writ to 46 days and to ensure that polling does not occur in a holiday period.

I certainly echo his concern with the implications in the last election of an extended writ period where the then-government had the opportunity to elongate that campaign, give itself a spending advantage, and take the other parties by surprise, thus making the field less even.

This issue was raised in the mandate letter that was given to the minister. When it was raised it was also coupled with the idea of spending in the pre-writ period, because one of the concerns I know the member opposite would share with me is that if we have a confined writ period then there is a potential for that spending to still be on the other side of that writ period and for inequities to still exist. We think those two issues should be looked at in tandem, but we very much support the work of the member and look forward to him talking further on that.

He is quite right to say that the Chief Electoral Officer, whom I have enormous regard for, also identified this issue and the importance of it being looked at. That is exactly why the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is looking at that report right now. That is an all-party committee that is posing questions and getting information. We are also eagerly awaiting the committee's response to the Chief Electoral Officer's report.

It is a question of how we get this right. The spirit is dead on. It is a question of what those mechanisms are to make sure that it is right and fair. I commend the member for introducing the bill, because I think it is in the spirit of what we need to achieve as a House.

Lastly, on the holiday season, I understand the intent. I think the member is coming from the right place. We would just have to ensure that if there was some kind of emergency circumstance, a circumstance that I cannot conceive of at this moment, which would necessitate an election because of a crisis in the House or something, then we would be able to perhaps make an exception for an extraordinary circumstance. Certainly it is fair to say that no member of the House would want to see an election take place over a holiday period, and least of all Canadians themselves.

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the parliamentary secretary's willingness to come forward on this. I had the honour of sitting as a member of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform for four days when it was doing its Atlantic Canada tour. Some of the witnesses did identify the length of election periods as an issue.

I still have not heard a yes or no answer. I am glad to see that there is some positive commitment in that regard. However, when we were drafting the bill, we certainly did go through everything we could with legislative services to examine every kind of possible situation that could come up, which is why we gave that 36- to 46-day range. We thought that giving the government that 10-day range would certainly aid in whatever situation came up. I understand that not everything is foreseeable.

I certainly hope that we can get some good news out of the government in the coming months, if he is not prepared to give a yes or no answer now. I certainly look forward to the government's response in the coming months.

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me make it very clear to the member opposite. His bill is absolutely the right path and the spirit of it is exactly what we have to achieve.

To clarify, what we are looking at is how to deal with that pre-writ period and some of those questions around spending limits, but those are things I think we can work on together. I am very encouraged by that, and I think the bill is absolutely in the right place.

I am glad he mentioned the other processes. I look at the whole report of the Chief Electoral Officer and the need to modernize our institutions, the recommendations he gave, not just on this issue but others. The member and his party have been good partners in exploring how we can make the House a better place and how we can make reforms that honour the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer.

I look forward to continuing to work with the member, both on this and other issues.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to revisit a question I asked the Minister of National Revenue on June 7.

The question was about the scheme devised by KPMG to help rich Canadian taxpayers avoid paying their fair share of taxes in Canada. That day we also learned that the accounting firm was recommending its tax avoidance scheme not only to avoid taxes, but also to avoid paying divorce settlements and alimony. This scheme allowed them to hide their assets and investment income. Thus, in the event of divorce, the client could use the scheme to be exempted from Canada's Divorce Act and from certain requirements that are settled as part of a divorce.

The June 7 question was about this major scheme that was reported by the CBC, but that was also studied by the Standing Committee on Finance. It was at this committee that we learned of these specific details, thanks to our requests for documents about the scheme.

My question for the parliamentary secretary, who will answer shortly, is specifically about these unscrupulous tax experts. In its testimony, KPMG declared that it would no longer use this scheme because its image is too important and it felt that this scheme, which was implemented in the 1990s and early 2000s, was no longer appropriate today, in 2016. KPMG told us that.

There are unscrupulous tax experts and accounting firms that have no problem proposing these kinds of schemes to their clients, for $100,000. That is what happened in the Isle of Man situation that I am talking about today. The firm placed its clients' money, sometimes millions of dollars, in an account on the Isle of Man. Without wanting to give anyone any ideas, their scheme involved giving a gift to a foreign company that miraculously or coincidentally was located on the Isle of Man. When it is a gift, there is no income tax attached to it. There is nothing attached. In the end, we learned that the money had been placed under the responsibility of a foreigner on the Isle of Man, who was in fact associated with the KPMG accounting firm. All the income generated by those investments was given back to those rich taxpayers in the form of gifts.

In other words, a gift given to a foreign entity comes back to the person who gave it. It is the concept of a gift that must be called into question. When you expect to get something back in return for a gift, that is no longer a gift. The foreign firm gave the taxpayer a gift, but the taxpayer did not have to pay taxes on it because gifts are tax-free. That was KPMG's strategy.

My question is straightforward, and I hope to get a straightforward answer. What does the government plan to do to combat unscrupulous tax experts and accounting firms like KPMG where tax experts do everything in their power to help rich taxpayers avoid paying their fair share of taxes? What will happen to KPMG? What will happen to the tax experts who developed this scheme and who took part in it?

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Bourassa Québec


Emmanuel Dubourg LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the opposition member for Sherbrooke. I know that international tax avoidance is a subject that interests him as much as it does me.

I am pleased to answer his specific question by telling him first off that, with our unprecedented $444-million investment, he can expect to see the Canada Revenue Agency taking some significant measures.

I appreciate the opportunity to get into some specifics about the hard work the government is doing to combat international tax evasion and tax avoidance.

He referred repeatedly to a number of taxpayers, so I am sure he knows that section 241 of the Income Tax Act prevents us from disclosing personal information. That is confidential information. Asking questions about specific individuals can be prejudicial, which is why I am going to talk about what the Canada Revenue Agency is doing to combat international tax evasion.

It is also very important to remember that the KPMG case is before the courts and the agency's work on this issue is not yet complete. I am therefore unable to comment further on this matter as this could undermine or influence the judicial process under way.

Most Canadians pay their fair share of taxes. However, some individuals try to cheat the tax system. Our government is taking the measures necessary to ensure that wealthy Canadians cannot avoid paying their share of taxes. We allocated an additional $444 million to the CRA so that it could do more to combat international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

This unprecedented investment will give the Canada Revenue Agency the resources it needs to combat this phenomenon. The agency has already started using this funding in order to implement programs that target those who create and promote tax schemes for the wealthy.

In fact, 25 new auditors will help investigate the activities of 200 proponents a year, six times more than the agency is currently able to investigate. This new funding will help develop a rigorous process for collecting and analyzing information that will enable the agency to detect the growing volume of tax evasion and avoidance activities.

We have measures in place. The Minister of National Revenue has also made announcements to expand international co-operation, create an independent advisory board on offshore compliance, and begin work to estimate the tax gap. We are doing so many things that I hope that the member for Sherbrooke will come back and ask us for more information on what we are doing to combat tax evasion and international tax avoidance.

Canada Revenue AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, for his response.

However, I would also like to continue asking him questions on the specific topic of penalties and sanctions that could be imposed on the accounting firms and tax experts that developed these strategies, because most taxpayers would not have the capacity to do so.

It is beyond clear that these files, without talking about any specific cases, which I did not necessarily do earlier by naming any taxpayers, are being developed by some very skilled tax experts who have just one objective in mind, and it is certainly not the common good of society. Their only goal is to help the people who consult them pay less in taxes.

Does the government plan to make any legislative changes to bring in real, harsher penalties and sanctions, not only for the accounting firm, but also for those who work on a daily basis to keep as much money as possible out of the public purse? That is in fact their role, and clients of those firms pay them to do just that.

Does the government plan to introduce any legislative changes to make penalties harsher, in order to deter these people from engaging in the same kind of practices in the future, because the consequences of doing so will be more severe, hopefully far more severe?