House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was impaired.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague.

It is true that there are a lot of investments in the national capital. They are not just in public transit, but those investments are very important, especially for Ottawa's LRT. There are also funds for SMEs. That is very important for our local economy and our public services. It is very important for our community.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, since I was elected to the House six months ago, I have met with hundreds of people from the riding of Laurentides—Labelle, either one-on-one or in small groups. That is the riding where I was born, where I grew up, and where I now live with my family.

It is an exceptional riding. It is four times bigger than Prince Edward Island and 40 times bigger than the Island of Montreal. It has almost as many mayors and municipal councillors as there are members in the House of Commons. I have met with almost all of them in an effort to understand the major challenges facing the riding and the solutions needed. I have also met with representatives of dozens of chambers of commerce, charities, and community organizations for the same reason. Budgets cannot address every issue, such as the management of lakes, but this budget is a major step forward in improving the situation in our region.

The southern part of my riding, namely the Pays-d'en-Haut RCM, which includes the communities of Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs, Saint-Sauveur, Piedmont, Estérel, Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, and Sainte-Adèle, is a more populous region that reflects the region's diversity. It is the northernmost suburb of Montreal, a tourist area, and cottage country, where many retirees live. It is also a growing hub of leading-edge technology.

It is an area that is both rich and poor. This RCM is the only one in Quebec that does not have a sports and recreation centre for youth. It is also one of the regions of Quebec with the highest average age. At the time of the last census, the average age of people in Saint-Sauveur was 54.7.

The budget provides for a significant increase in the guaranteed income supplement, which will improve the financial security of 900,000 seniors. It also provides for investments in recreational infrastructure and is therefore an excellent budget for the region.

A little further north, the Laurentides RCM is made up of 20 municipalities: Val-Morin; Val-David; Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts; Ivry-sur-le-Lac; Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides, where I grew up; Lanthier; Val-des-Lacs; Lac-Supérieur; Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré; Arundle; Barkmere; Montcalm; Saint-Rémi d'Amherst; Bréboeuf; Huberdeau; Mont-Tremblant, an area that most MPs are familiar with; Lac-Tremblant-Nord; La Conception; Labelle; and La Minerve.

This regions's economic interests are also diversified and show a certain imbalance. The economy is based primarily on tourism. The region has plenty of activities for people to enjoy: swimming, recreational boating, resort activities in the summer, cross-country or downhill skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, sugar shack activities in the spring, admiring the beautiful colours in the fall, and so on.

Many of the jobs are seasonal. Job prospects for young people can be limited. The changes to the EI system made by the previous Conservative government have hindered economic development. EI eligibility rates for seasonal workers have dropped from about 80% to about 20%.

Due to a lack of good quality high-speed Internet access and a cellular network that does not extend everywhere outside the urban centres, or that often does not even cover the central areas of our villages, it is hard to keep young people in the region and improve our migration numbers.

The budget begins to seriously tackle these issues. The changes we are making to employment insurance will help seasonal workers in my region make ends meet. Since the Laurentian region relies heavily on tourism, the people who live there are especially vulnerable to economic fluctuations.

During times of relative prosperity, the region flourishes. Conversely, the slightest economic downturn has serious effects. The effects of the country's economic situation are amplified in the region, and we need some tools to get through these difficult periods.

In the north, there are 17 municipalities in the RCM of Antoine-Labelle: Rivière-Rouge; Nominingue; La Macaza; L'Ascension; Lac-Saguay; Lac-des-Écorces; Chute-Saint-Philippe; Lac-Saint-Paul; Mont-Saint-Michel; Sainte-Anne-du-Lac; Ferme-Neuve; Mont-Laurier, the largest city in the riding; Saint-Aimé-du-Lac-des-Îles; Notre-Dame-de-Pontmain; Notre-Dame-du-Laus; Lac-du-Cerf; and Kiamika. The region is also home to thousands of square kilometres of unorganized territory.

This RCM has an area of 10,000 square kilometres and is both the largest and one of the poorest RCMs in Quebec. It is largely made up of wilderness, ZECs, or controlled harvesting zones, nature reserves, and parks. According to various estimates, 80% of the economy relies on the forestry industry.

The forestry crisis dealt a huge blow to this region, which was hit hard. The region is in need of investment, but it has a lot of challenges to overcome.

In 1987, Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, with its glaring lack of vision on transportation, amended the National Transportation Act to make it easier to abandon rail lines. In the following two years, thousands of kilometres of rail lines were dismantled and abandoned.

I was told that at the time, the 200 kilometres of railways that crossed the riding of Laurentides—Labelle, which helped build and develop our region, were sold to a company that cut them and transformed our regional infrastructure into millions of disposable razor blades.

We were lucky, because the rail right-of-way was preserved and this allowed us to build a bicycle path known as P'titTrain du Nord, which is extremely popular. An estimated 1.4 million people use it every year, whether on bicycles, cross-country skiis, or snowmobiles. I am not talking about the number of uses, but rather the number of people. It is one of the main tourist attractions for much of the area.

Still, the demise of the railway was extremely harmful to our heavy industry. The region is directly linked to the south and the west. From Mont-Laurier you can travel to western Canada through Abitibi. You can also travel south, to Ottawa or Montreal.

The region has a complex problem to overcome, and many people from my riding have spoken to me about it. The main highway that goes through the Antoine-Labelle RCM is Highway 117. It is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, which was built by the federal government but is administered by the provinces.

If you want to travel or ship goods from Montreal to western Canada, without going through southern Ontario, you must go through Antoine-Labelle. That section of Highway 117 is quite busy. It is estimated that half a million heavy trucks use it every year. It is an essential piece of infrastructure. Many accidents happen on that highway, and there is often congestion. It is a very important highway. Without a railway, it is the only option. On some sections, if just one lane is blocked, it can cause considerable delays.

Although it is called the Trans-Canada Highway, it falls under provincial jurisdiction. I am delighted that our budget will help the provinces and municipalities invest in their essential infrastructure. I also look forward to seeing the results of these investments, which are long overdue.

In the long term, I hope to one day see the return of the railway to rural regions, so that we can help their economies grow without harming the environment.

There is another problem that aggravates the social, economic, and infrastructure problems in my region: our outdated digital infrastructure. It is not just a few years behind; it is a whole generation behind, and it is exacerbating our problems and preventing us from implementing solutions. Entire towns lack cell phone service. Entire towns have practically no high-speed Internet service. Go anywhere other than downtown, and there is nothing. This is preventing us from keeping young people in the region and preventing businesses from coming to the region. Telework is not an option. This problem hinders economic development and widens the gap between urban and rural regions. This is totally unacceptable.

Nowadays, real, high-speed Internet access should not be exclusive to a privileged few who live in major centres or have more education. No, Internet access is a right for all Canadians. It is an essential service for anyone who wishes to be an active member of society. Our role as parliamentarians is to do what we have to do to make this service as readily available as electricity and running water.

Internet access is no longer an option. It is what a community must rely on to become a society. Beyond all the other reasons, this is why I am pleased that the government included in its budget a $500-million investment in broadband Internet access. This investment will help some 300,000 more homes connect to the Internet.

Our budget addresses the needs of Canada's rural regions. It prompts us to take the first step in eliminating the gap that has been dividing urban and rural regions for generations. In addition to helping the middle class and those trying to join it, our budget will help entire communities to fully participate in today's economy and society.

I commend the Minister of Finance and the government for their extraordinary work in drafting this document. This is a plan that will make our country more inclusive, give hope to millions of Canadians, and restore my region's confidence in the future.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

He represents a riding that is almost as beautiful as the Eastern Townships, which I have the honour of representing. I was intrigued by something that he said in his speech. When he mentioned the crisis in the forestry industry, I wondered what solution he was going to offer. Unfortunately, he made no mention of a solution. I wondered what the government was planning to do because there seems to be nothing in the budget for the forestry industry.

How does he explain this to his constituents who trusted him to represent them in the House? At the first opportunity to find solutions for this industry, the government shows up with a document that makes absolutely no mention of solutions.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, it is clear that the forestry crisis has never been fully addressed, and the government is working very hard on this issue.

As we all know, the proposed solutions are not final. We are not going to stop working on this issue, and I am not going to give up in my riding either. This is an important issue to us and one in which I have a keen interest because it affects our economy. We are studying all plans and potential solutions. We will continue to work on this file, and I am certain that we will find a solution.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, could the hon. member comment on the middle class tax cut? Some would say it is probably the biggest fraud of this budget. However, I certainly would not use such harsh language.

There are 1.6 million families that make $48,000 to $62,000 a year. On average, those families will see a middle class tax cut of about $51. It goes up incrementally. Those making $62,000 to $78,000 will see about $117, from $124,000 to $166,000 about $521, and from $166,000 to $211,000 about $813.

Granted the top 1% of $211,000 will see an increase of $2,912. However, as we have found out from the parliamentary budget officer, there is a $1.3 billion deficit this year and an $8.9 billion deficit over six years.

How does he and the members of the Liberal caucus feel about giving themselves a bigger tax decrease than those 1.6 million families who are making $48,000 to $62,000 a year?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, if the Conservatives would like to talk about budget fraud, we can look at about 100 and something years of Conservative history. I am wondering if the Conservatives know the last time that a Conservative government went from a budget deficit to a budget surplus. It was when John A. Macdonald managed to go from a deficit to a surplus in his time in office and he was a Liberal-Conservative.

When the Conservatives talk about budget fraud, I am really not sure who they are talking about. Are they talking about their own long history of dishonesty in government?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I was inspired by the Conservative member when he wanted to talk about feelings. I wonder if my colleague can talk about his feelings with respect to the Conservative members voting against a bill that gave the middle class of Canada a tax cut. We are talking about teachers, firefighters, industrial workers, and individuals from every region of our country. That tax cut was given to support Canada's middle class.

Does he think that there might be a few sore feelings across the way because the Conservative members were forced to vote against a very progressive bill that ultimately gave a tax cut to—

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order, please. There is not much time left. The member has about 10 seconds to answer.

The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I am not really sure when the Conservatives gained an interest in the middle class. This is entirely new to all of us.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Essex.

I am honoured to share with the House my riding's concerns and hopes in response to the federal budget. The people of Port Moody, Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra are excited to be free from over a decade of Conservative rule. For too long our country has turned its back on science, seniors, youth, the environment and climate change, and working families.

On October 19, Canadians voted for change and it is my job to ensure they get it, to cut through the spin, the selfies, and to get to the truth. We need to ensure that the hope created by the Conservatives' defeat does not sour into cynicism caused by broken promises and missed opportunities.

On budget day, the hope of Canadians was on display. Canadians wanted to see the Liberals' campaign promises become reality. However, I am sorry to report that the Liberal budget spends much, but accomplishes little.

Where it counts, this budget comes up short for Canadians today who are increasingly unable to afford the cost of housing, child care, and prescription medications. It does nothing to confront the threats Canadians face tomorrow, such as funding for home care for our aging population, restoring the $36 billion cut to health care, and investing in an economy that is environmentally sound and socially responsible.

For a budget targeted at the middle class, the main beneficiaries of it are anyone but. This Liberal budget adds to the abundance of those who already have and it forgets to provide for those who have not. It allows wealthy CEOs to continue to avoid paying their fair share of taxes on stock option income, a broken Liberal promise that will cost taxpayers $1.6 billion over the next two years.

At a time when Canadians across the country need jobs, the Liberals broke their promise to reduce the tax rate for small businesses. Small and medium-sized businesses are the largest job creators in the country and the small tax cut would help the local economy recover and allow communities to thrive. This cash grab from small businesses comes from the Liberals much lauded revenue neutral middle class tax cut, a tax cut that redistributes wealth from the super rich to the almost as rich, adding $1.5 billion to our ballooning budget deficit.

Canadians cannot afford Liberal mistakes and bad math. They need real investments that will create jobs and expand the public service. Unfortunately, Canadians have already waited 10 long years for change, but they will have to keep waiting.

While we wait for real small business investments and job creation measures, Canadians need access to the employment insurance they deserve. Budget 2016 expands employment insurance benefits for some, but ignores those hardest hit by the collapse in commodity prices. Out-of-work Canadians cannot understand the government's inaction as they struggle to pay the bills.

I urge the government to rethink its decision and ensure that benefits get to those who need them most. In my home province of British Columbia, people are waiting for the Liberals to make good on their promise to defend their coastline and protect their mariners.

During the election campaign, the Liberals repeatedly promised to reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station to its former full complement and to keep marine communication traffic service centres in British Columbia open. Even Liberal MPs believed that promise. On December 8, the member for Vancouver Centre spoke in the House and said:

Our Liberal government made a commitment during the election to reopen Kitsilano Coast Guard base and the marine communications on B.C.'s coast. I was pleased to see that commitment in the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard's mandate letter from the Prime Minister. The voices of the people of Vancouver were heard.

I am not sure they were heard by the Prime Minister because since the election the centre in Tofino has been closed, the Comox station will be closed on May 10, and the Kitsilano station remains unopened.

This is happening while a parliamentary committee is completing a review on the closure decision of the Comox MCTS. However, there is still time to stop the closure in Comox. I urge the Liberals to keep their promise to B.C. and keep that station open.

Affordable housing is of particular concern to those living in metro Vancouver as housing prices continue to rise at a rate far outpacing any rise in household income. Family budgets are being pushed to the limit and young people are facing the possibility of never being able to afford to buy a home in our region. Businesses are increasingly finding it hard to hire new workers because many people simply cannot afford to live in the metro Vancouver area.

Canadians were promised $520 million over four years in tax incentives for construction of new affordable rental housing, $5 million per year for improvements to the RRSP home buyer's plan, and renewed co-op housing agreements that support rent geared to income units. I am sorry to report that none of these investments are in budget 2016.

I recently met with Edith McHattie of Salal Housing Co-op because she wants me to know how worried she is about funding to keep her co-op going. Liberal inaction will do nothing to help young families like hers, some who are moving farther and farther from their work, increasing air pollution, and decreasing their quality of life.

To deal with this problem, create jobs, and combat climate change, the government should be investing in public transit. Unfortunately, here too the Liberals are falling behind. In budget 2016, Canadians are shortchanged $802 million for public transit, $1.5 billion for green infrastructure, and $1 billion for social infrastructure over two years. That is a two-year total shortfall of more than $3 billion on infrastructure compared to Liberal campaign commitments.

This budget has a missed opportunity to invest in our future, but it is not too late to take action.

The government could act now to provide for our aging population by following through on its promise to fund home care for seniors. It could fast track infrastructure spending to ensure that Port Moody gets a new upgraded sports field and Coquitlam gets funding for the YMCA community centre.

I met with the mayors and councils of Port Moody, Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra about their infrastructure needs and priorities. They told me infrastructure dollars are desperately needed in Anmore for a new village hall and Belcarra is concerned Canada's oil spill response capacity is inadequate to protect its beautiful shoreline and keep it clean. I also met with the Kwikwetlem First Nation and I know it is hopeful for funds to build a new community centre.

The government could act now to reverse the Conservatives' $36 billion cut to health care and protect our country's most cherished public program. It could invest in clean technology to combat climate change, rather than rubber-stamping LNG projects on salmon spawning grounds.

It could live up to its promises to first nations children, with investments in first nation education, mental health supports, child welfare, health care, and Jordan's Principle.

After pledging that his government would be different from promise-breaking Liberal governments of the past, the government has delivered a budget that breaks promise after promise, especially to Canadians who can least afford it. We need a Canada where no one is left out and no one is left behind.

Canada's New Democrats will work to ensure action is taken not only to address the problems of today but provide for the opportunities of tomorrow.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kyle Peterson Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I am a little confused after hearing the hon. member's comments. He speaks about his riding's priorities. I do not disagree with him. Investing in communities, affordable housing, first nations communities, helping students go to school by making tuition more affordable are all contained in budget 2016.

I share my hon. friend's sense of priority of these important issues, so how can he be so against a budget that, in fact, contains these important priorities that I know would help the people of Port Moody—Coquitlam and across our wonderful country of Canada?

I would like him to elaborate on why he sees the budget not going far enough in that regard because, frankly, it does. I think the member knows it does. It would be great for his riding as well as mine and hopefully all of our ridings.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, this budget is a missed opportunity. Unfortunately, it does not deliver on the priorities of the people in my riding, and I think many Canadians feel the same. They feel they were not included in this budget.

I mentioned to the member that I met with the mayors and councils of both cities and both villages, and they have serious concerns over their infrastructure needs. I met with a young woman who has a very real concern about whether her co-op will get the funding it needs to continue with their mortgage. They have worked so hard. We have many co-ops in the riding, and we have many infrastructure needs. I also mentioned the first nation. There is not only the community hall; there is also an unfinished boat launch that funding is needed for.

There is a real opportunity to provide for the needs of the people in my community and for the needs of many Canadians. Unfortunately, they see this as a missed opportunity and have been telling me so.

I mentioned that there were promises made during the election about keeping the MCTS Comox station open. Two weeks ago, notices that the station will close May 10 were delivered to workers. If that closure goes through, it will be another broken Liberal promise.

There is still time. There is still hope. I hope that the Liberal government will do the right thing and keep that centre open. I hope the Liberals will do the right thing by providing for the needs of many Canadians, not just in my riding but in all communities across this great country.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found this whole budget debate very ironic when l reflect on both the budget debate and the campaign commitments that different parties made.

When we look at the Liberals, we see that their commitment was a very small deficit. They blew that out of the water. We were going to have a plan for a balanced budget. They blew that out of the water. They were going to help the middle class, but they cannot define it, and they use significantly misleading graphs to define what the middle class might be and what has happened.

However, I have to say that to me the NDP is the biggest puzzle. The NDP stood up during that campaign and said that it was going to have a balanced budget. We are now hearing that the NDP has the Leap Manifesto and would shut down the oil sands, but the NDP has a whole lot of ideas about how to spend money.

Has the hon. member committed to his party platform? How would the NDP pay for all these things that he has talked about that the community he represents would like to have?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asked about priorities and spending.

Certainly New Democrats promised a fully costed platform during the election. I was very proud of what we put forward to Canadians. There was a focus on health care, child care, and home care for seniors. There were supports for jobs for working-class families and for small business investments. There were so many priorities that were fully funded and costed in our platform that I was very proud to stand up for it.

When I went door to door, I had a very good response in all the communities and villages in my riding. That is why on October 19 they made a resounding choice to put me back here to defend those issues and those concerns. I will continue to do that every day that I can in the House.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Resuming debate, we will go to the member for Essex.

Before she starts, I will remind her that we will have to stop for private members' business in about four minutes, but she can resume once we get back into debate on this topic.

The hon. member for Essex.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceThe BudgetGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, a great man once said governing is about priorities, and there is no better indicator of a government's true priorities than its budget choices. This happened to be the hon. member for Outremont, who graciously rose in this place yesterday and outlined, in no uncertain terms, how the Liberal government's inaugural budget is a missed opportunity to deliver the positive, progressive change that Canadians voted for and deserve.

I will begin my remarks by talking about an issue close to my heart: promoting greater equality of women.

One of the first analyses of this budget that I read was a piece by Kate McInturff, entitled “Budget 2016: Not enough Real Change™ for Women”. She outlines how the government estimates will create tens of thousands of jobs in construction, a sector where 88.5% of the employees are men. Like Kate, I am all in favour of creating jobs for men, but I am also in favour of creating jobs for women. One of the issues I have with the Liberals' budget is that it makes limited investment in sectors where women are predominantly employed, such as health care.

Stephen Lewis delivered a phenomenal speech this past weekend at the NDP convention. In his first critique of where the NDP differs from the Liberals, he stated:

...we have a message for the prime minister: feminism is a vacant construct without a childcare program across Canada.

It is extremely disappointing that parents of young children, who are struggling with the sky-high costs of child care, are being made to wait once again. There is no funding for child care this year and only $500 million in the following year, with no long-term plan.

The Liberal budget talks about health care but fails to provide a redesigned funding formula for a new health accord. The Liberals have abandoned their promise to invest $3 billion over four years for home care, which is deeply needed in Canada's aging population.

There is also nothing in the budget for mental health, palliative care, or long-term care for seniors.

Again, to quote Stephen Lewis:

The Liberal pledge for homecare appears to have been abandoned, and universal pharmacare is nowhere to be seen. Those are programs that we must pursue as though life depended on it because, in fact, life does depend on it.

Something I campaigned on and I heard about so often on the doorsteps is concern over the Conservative government's wrongheaded move to hike the retirement age from 65 to 67. I welcome the Liberals' recommitment to returning the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 65.

However, the Liberal government needs to do more for seniors than simply correcting the terrible policies of the Conservatives. More than one-quarter of all seniors live in poverty, and many Canadians wonder whether they can count on a secure income for retirement.

During the campaign, while knocking on doors, I met a wonderful man named James Harrison. Jim came to my open house last week and asked me what the budget had for him. It was so difficult to tell him that there was very little help.

This man lives in social housing, has retired after working his entire life, and is struggling to make ends meet. This is a man who cares about our community in Essex. He is engaged in his government and knows we can do better.

I call upon the Liberal government to stop leaving seniors in our communities behind. Bold action today can lift all seniors out of poverty. Instead of waiting until July to increase the GIS for single seniors, raise it now; restore Canada Post home mail delivery now; fund home care now. It is time to get the job done, and the time is now.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

moved that Bill C-226, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences in relation to conveyances) and the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague, the public safety critic and the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, for letting me give this speech today.

I would also like to thank my colleagues who are here today, the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, whom I have been working with for 10 years, and my colleagues from all parts of the country, who have shared some moving accounts with me in recent weeks.

I would also like to thank my friend, the member for Durham, who is also a public safety critic. Furthermore, I am very pleased that someone for whom I have a great deal of respect will address the House shortly, and that is our justice critic.

I am here because of the determination of the victim's family who fought for years for tougher impaired driving legislation and because of my friend from beautiful Langley, a member who shared his story with me along with his dream of making this place a place where we can make change, and make a change for victims in our capacity to avoid further victims of drunk driving.

“No one should have to endure the terrible loss that victims' families face when a loved one is killed by an impaired driver”, is what my colleague said on February 23 when I tabled the bill. There are thousands of stories, but he spoke about the story of Kassandra.

Kassandra was 22 years old when her life was taken by a drunk driver, but her mother, Markita Kaulius, founded an organization that would move to change this loss into a tribute and into action. This is what we are giving all members of this House the opportunity to do, because over 1,200 Canadians are killed every year because someone irresponsibly chose to drive while impaired, instead of finding a safe way home.

A car in the hands of an impaired driver is a carelessly used weapon that can cause irreparable harm. It is reckless and 100% preventable.

More than 100,000 Canadians have signed “Families for Justice”, Markita Kaulius' petition, which calls for tougher laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving causing death. Canadians believe that our impaired driving laws are too lenient.

That is why I am rising today. Every day, three or four people are killed on our roads by impaired drivers. It is the leading cause of death under the Criminal Code. Impaired driving continues to wreak havoc despite all of the commendable efforts that have been made to raise awareness of this problem.

I am thinking about the remarkable work done by Operation Red Nose, which was created by Jean-Marie De Koninck and eventually led to the creation of the Table québécoise de la sécurité routière. Today, I am pleased to announce that the measures set out in the bill are based on the recommendations of the Table québécoise de la sécurité routière and seek to reduce the incidence of accidents.

I met with experts who believe that the only way to eliminate this problem is to increase drivers' perceived risk of being charged with impaired driving. I am talking about the fear of being caught. That is how we, as legislators, can make the measures that are in place more effective.

Studies have shown that roadblocks do not work in over 50% of cases because drivers manage to hide any signs of intoxication. MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has data to show that a person would have to drive impaired once a week for three years before being charged with an impaired driving offence. As legislators, we have the unique opportunity to put an end to the harm drunk driving causes.

The bill has three components: one, tougher sentences for repeat drunk drivers; two, relieving pressure on the courts by eliminating legal delays and loopholes; and three, systematic testing to increase the efficiency of roadblocks and catch repeat offenders with alcohol addiction who conceal their drunkenness. Why? Because we can save lives.

Where it has been implemented in other countries, hundreds of lives have been saved. It is a conservative estimate that we could save 200 lives at least within the first year of implementation of the bill, and that would increase.

As I just mentioned, this bill has three components: tougher sentences for repeat drunk drivers, relief of pressure on the courts, and systematic testing.

This afternoon, I would like to focus on two measures with respect to the tougher sentences. The bill proposes a minimum sentence of five years in cases of impaired driving causing death, depending on the severity and the aggravating factors. Although this is similar to the existing sentence, it sets a threshold. In our society, it is important to establish that impaired driving is a crime that needs to be punished. Someone who takes the life of more than one person could receive consecutive sentences.

The other objective of tougher sentences is to give judges more latitude to increase the amount of time an offender may serve. Hardened repeat offenders will face a one-year prison sentence for a second offence and a two-year sentence for subsequent offences, if they are found guilty. The minimum sentence will therefore be five years if someone causes the death of another person, and the sentences will be consecutive if more than one person is involved.

The bill's second measure has to do with freeing up the courts by eliminating loopholes and legal delays. Indeed, some wily people use legal proceedings to avoid facing the consequences of their actions, and above all, to clog up the courts, which is very costly and results in delays. We know how important it is to make the process easier so that our courts can be more efficient and deliver justice as quickly as possible.

The bill will eliminate two measures. The first is known as the last drink defence. In this case, the driver claims that he had a high blood alcohol level when the test was administered because he consumed a large quantity of alcohol right before getting behind the wheel, and basically, at the time of the accident, he was not impaired. Of course, this can cause legal delays.

The other defence is this: the driver claims he was so upset about the accident that he had a drink. It is known as the intervening drink defence. If that is the case, then that is the case. However, if it is a trick to avoid facing the consequences, the law must be set out in such a way that people cannot abuse the good faith of our courts.

Those are the two measures set out in the bill.

We also want to encourage guilty pleas so as to avoid clogging up the courts. Sentences are reduced when the person admits wrongdoing and pleads guilty. That way, the case is settled and we avoid clogging the courts.

These two measures were proposed by our government in the last few months. I want to commend the work of our colleague and former minister of justice, Peter MacKay. This cause was very important to him. A lot of work went into these measures that I am including in the bill.

The bill also includes a very important measure for victims that has proven effective. For that I want to thank Marie-Claude Morin, spokesperson for the Quebec chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who helped draft the bill, and Angeliki Souranis, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who lost a son in an accident involving alcohol.

This is a preventive measure that would make it clear to serious repeat offenders that they can get arrested through routine screening.

I mentioned that roadside spot checks were ineffective. In fact, more than 50% of drivers whose blood-alcohol level was higher than 80 milligrams per decilitre went through the spot checks without being stopped. In other words, they crossed the line without getting caught.

It is a problem because it makes our roadblocks less effective and results in fewer arrests for impaired driving.

When drivers get behind the wheel of a car, they need to know that our roadblocks work. How can we make sure of that? By implementing systematic testing.

Systematic testing is simply detecting alcohol and then using an approved device to perform a second test. It is simply detecting the presence of alcohol because our police officers currently need reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been drinking.

People use vehicles on public roadways. Responsibility goes hand in hand with that privilege. I would never allow someone to come into my living room, my kitchen, or my patio to measure my blood alcohol. However, if I am driving a vehicle and putting people's lives in danger, obviously I have to deal with justice and the authorities, just like for a vehicle inspection. At any time while I am driving my car, authorities can stop my car to make sure it is working properly. It is perfectly reasonable for authorities to check any of the three conditions with which I must comply when I get behind the wheel of a car: being sober, abiding by the rules of the road, and having a valid driver's licence.

More than two-thirds of Canadians agree that the police should be authorized to perform random breathalyzer tests on drivers to combat drunk driving. Why? Because it saves lives. Every country that has systematic breathalyzer tests has seen a significant drop in the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers.

Millions of Canadians continue to drink and drive because they can do so with little fear of being stopped let alone charged and convicted. Recent survey results indicate that one could drive drunk once a week for more than three years before even being charged with an impaired driving offence and for over six years before ever being convicted. We have an opportunity to end that by increasing the efficiency of our roadblocks and ensuring that those who are drunk on the road are taken off the road.

I am overwhelmed by the support the bill is receiving. I already have thanked Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Families For Justice. All members of my party and most of their predecessors on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights have recommended the adoption of the third measure, random breath testing. This was done in 2009. We have been given the opportunity to move forward. Why? Because the bill would save lives.

The Canadian Police Association was supportive back in 2009, and is still supportive of the bill. I also have quotes from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Some members may have met Mr. Clive Weyhill. This organization strongly supports this measure because it is one of the most effective methods of deterring impaired driving in other democratic societies.

On a more legal aspect, Mr. Hogg is a well-respected lawyer. I am an engineer. I did not know him. My colleague from Niagara, who is a lawyer, agrees.

He is one of the most respected authorities on constitutional law. I can table the document if need be. It indicates that the Supreme Court of Canada will uphold the validity of random breath testing.

Basically, this bill is built on a solid legal and scientific foundation. I will be pleased to see, in the coming hours, how this bill can move forward to save human lives and allow us, as parliamentarians, to do our jobs.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for a very cogent presentation with respect to the scourge of drunk driving. Everyone in the House shares our collective concern that we want to take measures that will ultimately reduce the incidence of this practice.

I want to congratulate the member for introducing his private member's bill for debate in the House. It is an important issue and it has been a particularly important issue in my area, given a recent very public case with the loss of three unfortunate children and their grandfather in the greater Toronto area. That was an extremely public instance of a tragic loss of some very young lives due to drunk driving.

In reading the bill, there are many aspects that I can certainly support. However, one area I have some difficulty with, and where I would like to pose a question for the hon. member, relates to the use of mandatory minimum sentences.

I know there has been a penchant, particularly from the Conservative caucus, in various justice legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences. Is there a particular rationale or reason why the member feels the five-year sentencing threshold would be appropriate in the case of drunk driving causing death?

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, we certainly are always touched when the members from our own ridings are impacted by these tragedies involving driving and alcohol.

My answer would be something I just found a few minutes ago. Drunk drivers themselves are asking for stiffer sentences. An individual got three and a half years behind bars after killing a 21-year-old woman when he was driving drunk. That was two decades ago. Today this individual came back and said that this was not enough. He said that it was a crime for which he should have paid a bigger sentence. When we are at the point where drunk drivers are asking for stiffer sentences, I believe it is time for parliamentarians to take our responsibility and set the standard.

Five years is what we already see in many courts, but it establishes a base and sends a signal that this crime is not acceptable in our society. That is why mandatory minimum sentences are there. They are not for all crimes, but they are there to send strong signal. We know that drunk driving is the number one cause of deaths related to the Criminal Code.

Hopefully the committee will be given the opportunity to debate the bill. Certainly it is open for discussion and debate, but that is the argument I would bring to the members of the committee.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my question by thanking the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for introducing reform of our legislation dealing with driving while impaired. It is long overdue. It has been since 2008. Driving while impaired is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths a year, and it is a leading cause of criminal death in Canada. I thank him for his efforts in this important area.

In light of the Liberals' commitment to reform other laws where impairment could occur, such as marijuana or other drugs, my question is whether the issue of drug impairment would be affected positively, negatively, or at all by the legislation before us tonight.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for having reviewed the bill. Hopefully, we can review it further in committee. I believe this Parliament would win if this legislation is moved forward and adopted. All the members would win.

The issue of drugs is very important one. This private member's bill is focused on alcohol, but it has a side effect. I believe some additional legislation might be needed, especially if there is a wider use of drugs. We know this is a very important issue. I would certainly welcome a bill, or an amendment if the scope of the bill allows it in that regard.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

April 13th, 2016 / 5:55 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.

Liberal

Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis and thanking him for his work on this issue. It is an extremely important issue and we obviously support the intent of this bill.

I am pleased to join the second reading debate on private member's Bill C-226.

Bill C-226 proposes significant reforms to the Criminal Code provisions related to impaired driving.

Sadly, impaired driving remains the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. It has been a plague on society for nearly a century. The recent case in Toronto, in which Mr. Muzzo was sentenced to 10 years after killing three children and their grandfather, once again focused attention on impaired driving and the devastation it causes.

I believe that we can all agree that Parliament must do what we can in order to combat this crime, which continues to kill more than 1,000 Canadians every year and to injure many thousands more, often inflicting catastrophic injuries.

To end impaired driving, we need a concerted effort on the part of individuals, families, provinces and territories, the hospitality industry, advocacy organizations, schools, health professionals, and addiction service providers. I submit that Parliament needs to be a part of this effort. Therefore, I thank the hon. member for bringing this issue to the attention of the House through Bill C-226.

This is a very complex bill. The proposals represent a significant change to the laws on impaired driving and driving offences in general.

Under Bill C-226, the Criminal Code driving provisions, including impaired driving and over-80 driving offences, would be repealed and reintroduced in a brand new part of the Criminal Code.

This would not be the first time that Parliament has considered the problem of impaired driving. In fact, Parliament has a long history of trying to deal with the problem of drinking and driving.

In 1921, Parliament first addressed the issue by enacting the crime of driving while intoxicated. In 1925, Parliament enacted the offence of driving while impaired by a drug. In 1951, Parliament replaced the offence of driving while intoxicated with driving while impaired. Later, in 1969, Parliament enacted a new offence that reflected developments in the area of forensic breath testing. This is the offence of driving with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

This offence is commonly called “driving over 80”. It is a criminal offence separate and distinct from the crime of driving while impaired. It applies whether or not the driver exhibits bad driving or signs of impairment.

The actual measurement of blood alcohol content is carried out on an approved instrument, often referred to as a breathalyzer, typically at the police station. The breath testing is done by a police officer who is specially trained as a qualified technician to operate the approved instrument.

The Attorney General of Canada lists new approved instruments in a ministerial order after considering the advice of the Alcohol Test Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The Canadian Society of Forensic Science is a non-governmental scientific body, and its committee is composed of very dedicated forensic scientists who, voluntarily and without remuneration, evaluate breath-testing equipment against the committee's published standards. The Alcohol Test Committee then provides its advice to the Attorney General of Canada for her consideration.

In 1979, Parliament authorized the use of the approved screening device at the roadside. The roadside screening device permits police officers to screen drivers for alcohol consumption. If a driver registers a fail on the roadside screening device, the police officer would have reasonable grounds to believe an over-80 crime has been committed. This belief is required in order to make the demand for a test on the approved instrument back at the police station.

It is only the result on the approved instrument that can be used in court to prove the over-80 offence. Despite Parliament's efforts to bring clarity to this area of the law, the impaired driving regime remains the most heavily litigated area of criminal law.

One of the areas that receives significant court attention relates to the issue of proving blood alcohol content. Parliament enacted a rebuttable presumption that the blood alcohol concentration at the time of testing is presumed to be the same at the time of driving in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. The courts came to accept a defence strategy whereby the accused and one or two friends would testify to minimal consumption of alcohol. The defence would then ask an expert to calculate what the blood alcohol concentration would have been at the time of driving based on the testimony of the accused. This calculation, unsurprisingly, would be under 80, and therefore, it rebutted the presumption, leaving the prosecution no other way to prove the over-80 offence. This stratagem became known as the two-beer defence.

This defence was severely limited in 2008 by the Tackling Violent Crime Act. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of the R. v. St-Onge Lamoureux, upheld the key elements of that legislation. Now, in order to raise the defence, the accused must first show that the approved instrument was not working correctly or that it was not operated properly. Evidence of the amount a person drank is not by itself evidence that the approved instrument was malfunctioning.

This has had the effect of greatly reducing trial time by reducing the number of cases where the defence challenges the accuracy of the approved instrument's analysis of blood alcohol concentration. It is important to note that modern approved instruments are very sophisticated with internal checks that ensure they are working properly.

Despite these changes in 2008, I am given to understand that there remain significant challenges with proving blood alcohol concentration in the courts. I wish, therefore, to focus my remarks on the measures proposed by Bill C-226 with respect to proving blood alcohol concentration, which I believe respond to the St-Onge decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Bill C-226 proposes to replace the current rebuttable presumption with respect to blood alcohol concentration with a provision that states that blood alcohol concentration is conclusively proven if three conditions are met: the approved instrument was in proper working order; there were two tests 15 minutes apart; and the two tests had results within 20 milligrams of one another.

Of course, this raises the question: How is it proven that the approved instrument was in proper working order? Bill C-226 proposes that the instrument is considered to be in proper working order if the qualified technician complied with the operational procedures recommended from time to time by the Alcohol Test Committee.

I note as well that the bill seeks to eliminate the defence of bolus drinking, sometimes called the drinking and dashing defence, where the driver consumes a large amount of alcohol just before driving and claims that although his or her blood alcohol concentration was over 80 at the time of testing, the alcohol was still being absorbed at the time of driving and he or she was under 80 when driving.

The bill also proposes to limit the intervening drink defence, where the driver drinks after being stopped by the police but before the driver provides a breath sample. In that situation, the driver claims he or she was under 80 at the time of driving and it is the post-driving drinking that put the driver over the limit. Bill C-226 would limit this defence to situations where the driver has no objective reason to think that the police would make a demand for a breath sample.

There is much more in this bill than I am able to convey in my allotted time. It is a significant piece of legislation proposing substantial reforms to the area of impaired driving and transportation offences in general. I look forward to listening to the continued debate on the bill and for a discussion of many of the other elements which are proposed.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address such a complex and pressing initiative, as my friend the parliamentary secretary has also indicated.

Let me say at the outset that we firmly believe there needs to be future consideration of the bill, and I look forward to working with members of all parties to advance the debate on the need for a comprehensive, effective response to impaired driving that all of our communities so desperately need.

I stand with my colleague, the member for Jonquière. She and the Lac-Saint-Jean community have also seen preventable tragedies.

She told me the story of Johanny Simard, who was killed by a repeat drunk driver one month before her 16th birthday. She also told me the story of Mathieu Perron and Vanessa Viger. This young married couple in their twenties were expecting their second child when they were killed instantly by a repeat drunk driver who was behind the wheel of a speeding truck. Their son Patrick, who was in the back seat, was only two years old. He died in hospital shortly thereafter.

I would like to thank my colleague from Jonquière for her help on this file. I would also like to thank her for seeking justice, finding solutions for the future, and helping me to understand what her community has gone through.

However, they are not alone. Far too many Canadians have friends or family members who have been injured or even killed by impaired drivers. Just last month, in a case to which the parliamentary secretary also made reference, there was a case involving a gentleman north of Toronto. Justice Michelle Fuerst wrote in her decision something I wish to quote:

The sad reality is that the sentence I impose today will not make whole the families who lost three children and their grandfather, nor will it return a grandmother and great-grandmother to good health. While the criminal justice system can deter and denounce, it is ill-suited to make reparation for harm of the magnitude involved in this case.

Neither judges nor lawmakers can make these families whole again. However, as parliamentarians we can and must work against the next tragedy. Somewhere in our communities is the next victim of impaired driving.

We owe it to them and to their families to rededicate ourselves to the task of finding the most effective measures to finally put an end to impaired driving on our roads. They are counting on us not to give in to the temptation to simply talk tough in the wake of these tragedies. They are counting on us to stop the next crash, the next injury, the next death. That means having the debate our country needs, founded on the evidence, guided by the lessons of other jurisdictions, and focused on effective deterrence. It is time we measured our progress not in years served but in lives saved.

Let us consider some facts.

Successive federal governments have increased the penalties for impaired driving offenses: in 1985, 1999, 2000 and 2008.

For 16 years, the law has set life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for impaired driving causing death, and 10 years imprisonment for causing bodily harm. The average prison term for such crimes has lengthened, and the percentage of offenders receiving custodial sentences has risen.

What effect has this had on the rate of impaired driving? If we look at the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, we see that Canada made incredible strides between 1985 and 2000, cutting the rate of impaired driving incidents in half. However, after 2000 progress stalled.

Six years ago, the Standing Committee on Justice completed its study on impaired driving. It showed that in 2006, the latest year for which data is available, saw more Canadians killed by impaired driving than in any year since 1998 and the third consecutive annual increase in fatalities.

That report stated:

...impaired driving remains the number one criminal cause of death in Canada...despite our collective best efforts and intentions, it is apparent that the problem of impaired driving is worsening in Canada and we are losing ground in our efforts to eliminate the problem.

Those words remain true today.

More recent data available to us now shows that the problem continued to worsen after 2009. Why is this so?

Let me turn to a review of the evidence by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for answers. They say the media, politicians, and others often argue for increased sentences as a means of deterring both the offender and others who might otherwise engage in the conduct. However, research during the last 35 years establishes that increasing penalties for impaired driving does not, in itself, have a significant specific or general deterrence impact. Rather, the evidence indicates that the risk of apprehension and, to a lesser extent, the swiftness with which the sanction is imposed are the key factors in deterrence.

This seems counterintuitive to many, but consider this: people drive impaired, even though they know it could kill them. If they can ignore that ultimate penalty, what chance does the distant threat of a jail term stand?

The evidence marshalled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, based on numerous studies from Canada and abroad over a span of decades, led to this stark conclusion:

...lengthy prison terms cannot be justified in the name of specific or general deterrence and may even be counterproductive in terms of recidivism.

This evidence raises specific concerns about efficacy of the sentencing reforms proposed by my colleague in the bill, not to mention the vulnerability of new mandatory minimums to charter challenge.

However, the bill has two other goals, and it is for these and the urgency of its basic objective that I support further debate and study of the bill.

First, the bill would restrict some of the more dubious legal defences that contribute to Canada's distressingly low charge and conviction rate for impaired driving. My colleagues have spoken about those.

The second is that the bill would introduce random breath testing for drivers. This is a measure that has been proposed before in this House and adopted by many OECD countries, reportedly with considerable success in reducing the incidence of impaired driving. I know from my own discussions with legal and law enforcement communities that it has its supporters but also its critics. However, in the face of continuing tragedies like what we have heard about in Lac Saint-Jean, I cannot justify denying further study in this House of that potential successful measure.

These and other provisions deserve study because we know that simply raising the penalties for the fifth time in three decades is not enough, and it will not do it. We need more than new laws that happen to be appearing in our Criminal Code. We need well-trained, well-supported police officers on our roads. We need collaboration with the provinces and territories. We need smarter investigative tools, so that families are not denied justice by a technicality. We need to study the penalties that are already in place to see what works and what does not. We need to assess the technology to detect drug-impaired driving as well.

In closing, I know that every member shares our commitment to the objective of the bill, which is to save lives by deterring and ending impaired driving. This has been the goal of many studies, bills, and laws that have been passed in this place before.

I look forward to working with all members to study the bill and measure it against the standards of comprehensiveness, practicality, efficacy, and constitutionality. We owe it to the families I spoke of when I began, and countless others across Canada, who have suffered a tragic and preventable loss, to hold ourselves to high standards, to move past half measures, and to find the most effective solutions to regain the ground we have lost over the last decade in the fight to end impaired driving.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-226, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. I want to thank him and congratulate him. He has a great passion for fighting impaired driving in our country. That was very evident in his comments today before the House. I am very honoured to get up and say a few words on his behalf and on behalf of the legislation.

I also want to thank him for mentioning our colleague, the Hon. Peter MacKay, who was moving forward on a number of these things. The justice agenda is always very busy and very challenging, but certainly that was one of the issues that he was dealing with as well.

I am glad my colleague now has the bill before the House. The bill would amend the Criminal Code on offences in relation to conveyances and would be known as the impaired driving act.

As we are aware, drinking and driving remains a serious social problem in this country. As has already been indicated, approximately 1,200 to 1,500 motorists, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians are killed annually as a result of impaired driving.

In addition to that, there is a tremendous human and social cost of impaired driving. It is estimated that an additional 70,000 lives per year are affected by drinking and driving. Factors such as property damage, physical injuries, and psychological injuries such as PTSD cost an estimated $20 billion a year.

It is not just the statistics that we are talking about or worried about; it is the individual tragedies that take place when people are victims of impaired driving. Many of us can recall loved ones or friends who have lost their lives at the hands of a drunk driver. I know many will remember the heart-rending story of 20-year-old Francis Pesa, who had his young life cut tragically short on New Year's Day in 2014 when an impaired driver crossed the centre line and sideswiped his vehicle.

Francis was an aspiring accountant who had just returned to Calgary two hours earlier from travelling to his native Philippines. He had gone there to help the victims of the devastating typhoon that had ravaged that country. This young man was deprived of realizing his goal of having a rewarding, successful career through which he could contribute to his community and to his nation. He will never know the joy of having a spouse, children, or grandchildren. His family and friends have been robbed of a loved one and will be forever affected by this tragedy. Canada lost a productive citizen whose hopes and dreams will never be fulfilled.

According to Professor Robert Solomon, a law professor at Western University, the national director of legal policy at MADD, and an individual I met on a number of occasions, drunk driving is the number one criminal cause of death in the country. We are all affected by it.

I remember very clearly years ago when very early one morning there was a knock at our front door. It turned out the woman at the door was my wife's cousin. She was in tears, and conveyed to us the terrible news that my wife's aunt, Armida McIntosh, had been killed by a drunk driver. She was on the Niagara Parkway returning home one night when her car was slammed head-on by a car that was filled with a number of young men who had been drinking and were now driving. There are very few people in the country who could say they are not touched one way or another by impaired driving.

The House has a duty to send a message and a warning to those who choose to drink and drive, and that is simply, “Do not do it. Do not take the chance, because there is legislation in place that increases the penalties and the consequences.” The measure we have today, Bill C-226, would carry with it a mandatory five-year sentence for impaired driving causing death, with a maximum sentence of 25 years. In cases where more than one life was lost, justices would be able to apply consecutive sentences.

I am very much appreciative of that provision, which would ensure that no victim is left unanswered or unaccounted for.

I am pleased as well to see the maximum sentence for impaired driving would increase from 10 years to 14 years. These are deterrents. They send out a clear message that I believe would result in fewer Canadians losing their lives at the hands of drunk drivers.

I noticed that the parliamentary secretary mentioned in his comments one of the aspects of the Tackling Violent Crime Act of 2008. I was very honoured to be justice minister at the time that measure was introduced.

One of the issues that was directly tackled was, again, the two-beer defence. This was a defence that was becoming more and more common and more and more challenging. In the two-beer defence, individuals would bring a couple of their friends into court to testify that their colleague only had two beers, so the test must be wrong. I was very pleased that this was something that we curbed at that time.

It was a step in the right direction, and I believe that what we are talking about here is a step in the right direction because, as I pointed out, 1,200 to 1,500 people lose their lives in this country, and the number of people who are affected by drunk driving and hurt by it is exponential to that number.

We have a solemn responsibility as lawmakers to protect the citizens of this great nation of ours and to make sure there are serious consequences for those who risk the lives of others by drinking and driving, so I ask my colleagues in the House to band together in sober thought and take action again to deter drinking and driving in Canada by further strengthening the present legislation and supporting Bill C-226.

Impaired Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about an important issue that society has had to face for many years.

I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's history with respect to the degree even this distinguished House has had to deal with criminal law to deter individuals from drinking and driving.

I would like to take a different approach and go back to the days when I served in the Manitoba legislature. A number of issues came to the table back in those days and drinking and driving came up on an annual basis. Many organizations and stakeholders had serious concerns. I can recall times when we were told that we needed to lobby Ottawa to make changes to the Criminal Code. I can recall many other discussions that went beyond that, and this relates to what a speaker said earlier today, that it is not just the Criminal Code that we need to look at. If we want to wrestle this issue to the ground, then we need to take a more holistic approach.

I would like to bring a couple of things to the attention of members in the House. We need legislation that would reform our criminal law so that we could provide a deterrent. That is absolutely critical. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be having many more debates on that.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight one other aspect of this issue and that is education. When I talk about a holistic approach, what I am really talking about is the importance of getting different levels of government to work together. Let me give the House a specific example.

I was but a teenager during the seventies. It was quite acceptable, in fact it was the norm at that time, to drink and drive. I worked in a garage where some of the mechanics would drink rye with no questions asked and then they would get into a car and off they would go. Back in the seventies no one would have told them that they could not drink and drive. I graduated from an urban high school in the late seventies and I cannot recall my peers being told that we should not drink and drive.

Let me fast forward to the eighties when statistics showed a decrease in drinking and driving and fatalities. It was during the late eighties and early nineties when a much more proactive approach was taken in the school system. It was the young people in Canada that really started to take note. In the last 15 years very progressive attitudes have come out of high schools in particular. If we did a bit of research we would see.

Maples Collegiate is a high school in my riding of Winnipeg North. The students came up with what is called the safe grad pass. It is a special pass that is given to a guest to participate in the grad celebrations, because in times of celebration, there is often a considerable amount of drinking involved. Mandatory classes are also held in various schools where students are educated about safe driving and safe grads. These are the types of programs that I believe have really made a difference.

It is important that we debate the legislation that is before us today. I can appreciate why the member is suggesting that we put in further deterrents. No doubt that will be well debated. However, we need to look beyond the legislation component for a good reason.

Every member who has spoken today has highlighted stories. If we look at the numbers, many stories will never get told. We are talking about 20,000-plus lives some of which are terminated because of drunk driving. Whatever the age might be, it is sad to see someone lose his or her life because of drinking and driving.

I am especially touched when someone of a relatively young age is killed or when multiple individuals are killed by one drunk driver. It happens far too often. Over 1,000 Canadians a year lose their lives of because of a drunk driver. That is not to speak of the thousands of others who are injured every year because of drunk driving.

I heard reference to the organization of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. If we talk to anyone who has served on that organization, we will hear stories about the reality and the consequences of drinking and driving. Those stories will blow the minds of most Canadians. All one needs to do is to visit its website to get a good sense of the consequences.

What I respect about MADD is that it has a more holistic approach. I believe it understands the importance of education. I really want to emphasize this. There are many social conditions in society that can be best addressed through education. This does not mean that legislation or the Criminal Code has nothing to do with it. We need to ensure we have legislation or laws that will be a deterrent, that there is a consequence.

People who drink and drive need to understand and appreciate that there will be a consequence to their act. However, quite often, individuals who drink and drive do not get behind the wheel believing they are going to get into some sort of horrific accident. They believe they are going to ultimately get away with it. For those who do get behind the wheel, there needs to be a consequence. We need to educate people so they understand that when they get behind a wheel and they are intoxicated, or they are past that .08, the likelihood of an accident is enhanced greatly.

I know generations of Canadians did not understand that or did not appreciate it. Because of the hard work of many organizations and because of debates of this nature, we have a greater understanding of the consequence. However, I am not convinced to what degree we have educated and provided incentive for people not to get behind the wheel and drive.

I am sure that in many communities, come Christmas and New Years, we will see special programs. The idea of spontaneous Breathalyzer tests deserves a lot of merit and there should be a lot of discussion on it. We should not focus our attention on one time of the year.

There is an onus of responsibility as parliamentarians to not only look at the criminal law aspect, but to also look at ways in which we can work with others, other stakeholders in particular, other levels of government, right down to the school board level, to see what we can do to better educate people so they understand the consequences of drinking and driving. We have dropped the ball on this over the years. We can do so much more.

I am pleased to see the bill here today and I look forward to an additional hour of debate on it. I would just emphasize the importance of education. We need to do something for the sake of all the victims of drinking and driving.