House of Commons Hansard #242 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was consultants.


Indian ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech and for articulating some of the positives, and of course, some of the concerns about this piece of legislation. The positives are that it responds to the court decision as well as to some additional issues that were identified. However, the concern is that it is not perfect yet. I will be the first to acknowledge that.

Given the court deadline and that decisions profoundly impact communities in terms of their membership, it has been a long haul to get here. I would like the member to speak to the implications of the wait to get it perfect, especially for the people who have been waiting so patiently for so long.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, yes, we have debated this in the House now for a little more than a day. It is good to get this legislation moving. We have talked about it here in the House. We sent it to the Senate. It had to deal with it, and many of the independents did not like the first look at it. Now we are bringing it back here.

We have to move forward. Time is of the essence. We are talking about 1951 onward. Many family trees do not exist before 1951. We know that. There is documentation needed on reserves in the provinces and territories in this country. However, it is a good start that we are moving forward on Bill S-3 now.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we know that discrimination has existed for a very long time, nearly 150 years under the Indian Act. When I look back and see that these inequities go back to 1869, it is actually shocking. It was nearly 100 years before I was born. Since then, we have not been able to make the corrections that have been needed.

I am very pleased and proud that the government is moving forward at this stage with remedying some of these sex-based inequities. I am happy that the timeframe from 1951 onward will come into effect immediately. I think we all have a responsibility to ensure that those that occurred prior to that period, going back to 1869, are done as soon as possible.

Does the member agree that there needs to be proper and fair consultation with indigenous governments, over as short a period as possible, to get this right and to ensure that all these inequities can be corrected, for the benefit of all indigenous Canadians?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the shorter, the better. We have been dealing with this for a long time.

When I was talking to my friends from Saskatchewan earlier this week, they were talking about needing time to find their family trees. The Internet in northern Saskatchewan, and in fact, in northern Canada, is very poor. A lot of people want to do proper research on their family trees, if we are going to go back to 1869, which is the wish of many of them. I think that is why they wanted a little more of a timeline.

Yes, let us consult right away. Let us get the process moving. This is a good start. We are 85% there. We need to be at 100%, which means shorter consultations. Moving Bill S-3 along would certainly help.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing on Algonquin territory.

I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for Burnaby South.

After much pressure, Liberals have a new Bill S-3 fix to end legislated discrimination against indigenous women, but only after consultations. This is not supported by the women who have been fighting this inequality in court for 40 years. It shows again that Liberals are not upholding their promise to respect indigenous people and to bring full gender equality.

I do not understand why a government that calls itself a feminist government needs to consult on whether indigenous women should have human rights, because they do. We want the Prime Minister and his government right now to remove all sex discrimination from the Indian Act.

Since its inception, the Indian Act has accorded privilege to male Indians and their descendants and disregarded female Indians as second class. To sum up where we are right now, despite unprecedented government promises of indigenous reconciliation and respect, Liberals are trading off human rights based on budget lines. Indigenous women who have been fighting 40 years in court for gender equality watched in dismay June 21, National Aboriginal Day of all days, as the Liberals gutted reforms that would have made the Indian Act less vile. These were moved by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and others.

Canada's laws still say that indigenous people with a university degree, military service, or a white husband lose their Indian status. Would one not think that a government that pledged to a nation-to-nation relationship built on respect would want to remove all of those conditions?

“Indigenous women deserve the equality the charter is intended to ensure and protect”, said litigant Lynn Gehl, and they do. There is much support for the government ending all sex discrimination in the Indian Act. Canada has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which clarifies state obligations on self-determination, including the right to determine membership. UNDRIP already has application in Canadian law.

Also, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women just a year ago called out the current government for the need to act on this file. It said:

...the Committee remains concerned about continued discrimination against indigenous women, in particular regarding the transmission of Indian status, preventing them and their descendants from enjoying all the benefits related to such status...The Committee recommends that the State party remove all remaining discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act that affect indigenous women and their descendants, and ensure that aboriginal women enjoy the same rights as men to transmit status to their children and grandchildren.

It did not to set out a very long timeline or an indeterminate timeline. It did not say consult on it. It said that Canada, to uphold its international commitments on human rights, must remove all gender discriminations against indigenous women.

The government has failed, and it has given the House again a flawed bill.

After 40 years of litigation by indigenous women, many of whom are still alive, and indigenous lawyers who have been fighting alongside them, the government failed to ask them what they thought or have them inform the proposed legislation now before the House.

Here are two indigenous women lawyers, and I am paying attention to their words.

Pam Palmater, chair of Ryerson University's centre for the study of indigenous governance, said:

...this bill does not remedy gender discrimination. ...according to the numbers, it actually will only remedy about 10 percent of the known gender discrimination under the Indian Act, and that, by far, is not a bill that's acceptable.

Another indigenous lawyer, now the Liberal justice minister, was the B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations. This is what she told the House standing committee in 2010 on Harper's version of Bill S-3:

What this bill does not do is address the other Indian Act gender inequities that go beyond the specific circumstances of Sharon McIvor and Sharon McIvor's grandchildren.

This year, the Ontario Native Women's Association said:

By rejecting the “6(1)(a) All The Way” amendment to Bill S3 the federal government has betrayed its promise to Indigenous women. The amendment would have reinstated our sisters and removed all sex based discrimination from the Indian act.

Three warriors whom we are still informed by, these powerful indigenous women, litigated starting 40 years ago against both Conservative and Liberal governments repeatedly. Jeannette Corbiere Lavell litigated for 40 years and is not helped by Bill S-3. Sharon McIvor, litigant and now defence lawyer, asked why they would consult on whether they can continue to be discriminated against. Lynn Gehl, also a longtime challenger of this discrimination in courts, said that the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs is using consultation as a weapon. That is no way to move forward.

Many indigenous women's groups have called attention to the provisions of clause 10,another flaw identified in Bill S-3. With this clause, the government is justifying past discrimination and past violations of human rights. It acts as an incentive to allow the government to continue to discriminate with impunity until it chooses to address it or is forced to address it. It underscores the sense of colonial entitlement. It undermines the rule of law. The government cannot be given immunity for its conduct.

My colleague the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou moved two times, at committee and in the House, for the government to remove clause 10 on that basis and the government twice has voted it down.

Some of the up and coming women leaders are Shania Pruden, of Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba, and Teanna Ducharme, also known as Ayagadim Majagalee, a Nisga'a woman. They both were part of the daughters of the vote taking their seats in the House just six months ago and they both testified at the status of women committee, strong, powerful, young indigenous women speakers. The late Shannen Koostachin informs the work of the House so often. Helen Knott is a Treaty 8 activist on ending violence against women associated with mega projects such as the Site C dam, which again the government is letting indigenous women down on.

In their names our responsibility as parliamentarians is to say again we cannot afford half measures in this country anymore. Gender equality and first nations respect is the solemn promise of the government and of me and my New Democrat colleagues. We are going to keep working hard to keep those promises.

I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the House:

1. agrees with amendments 1 to 8 and 9(a) made by the Senate;

2. proposes that amendment 9(b) be amended by replacing the words “on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, but that day must be after the day fixed under subsection (1).” with the words “18 months after the day on which the order referred to in subsection (1) is made.”.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The amendment seems to be in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her invested interest in what is happening with this bill and, certainly more important, what is happening with sex-based inequities that exist within the Indian Act right now.

I have said before and I will say again in this House that if it were the preference of all of us we would be repealing the act and replacing it with something else. Unfortunately, government has a responsibility to ensure that we are doing proper duty in terms of having a legislative framework and, until we can bring that forward, we are in a situation where we have to make appropriate amendments in as quick and accurate a way as possible to try to rid the act of some of the terrible racial and discriminatory clauses that are enacted upon people. That is basically where we are today in this debate.

In this bill, government would remedy all sex-based inequities that exist in this act going back to 1869. Where the clause would become effective is that from 1951 onward it would be enacted immediately. What the Government of Canada is saying is that it is our full intent and our full commitment to ensure that there is also correction back to 1869, but there is a process that we must engage with first nations governments and with chiefs to ensure that this is done appropriately. The government has also outlined in this bill that it would provide time frames and full and open reports to Parliament.

In the 150 years it has taken us to get to where we are today, surely the member opposite can support the spirit and the intent of what the bill would do to help so many indigenous women in Canada, and be a champion to ensure that this work gets implemented sooner rather than later, so that all of these people who should be captured under the act would be captured in as short a time as possible.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, with respect to my colleague, whom I enjoy and appreciate very much, I will say in the strongest way I can that I will not be a champion for incremental equality. That is not the work of parliamentarians.

One hundred and fifty years is absolutely too long.

The member opposite sets up a bit of a red herring. We are not here today talking about repealing the Indian Act. That will be a good day when that is what we are debating. What we are debating is the implementation of repeated court rulings that both the Liberal and Conservative governments have received to remove gender discrimination. The bill we had before us in this House that the current government introduced, that we debated and voted on, on June 21, was a very short stage, just the 1951 cut-off. It did not have the commitment to go backward, and that is what we are pushing for, complete gender equality. It is not something that needs to be consulted on.

The government, having received push-back from the Senate and having had its bill refused, now is back with another half measure. However, it still is not supported by the indigenous women affected, it is not supported by the indigenous women lawyers who have been fighting this all these decades, and neither should we as parliamentarians accept a bill that is a half-hearted measure and incremental equality. We have waited too long for indigenous women to have fairness in our country.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in this place and speak to such an important issue. I do have to recognize the incredible work my colleagues have done on this, and will continue to do until we repeal the Indian Act and we have full justice and equality in our country, which is sadly lacking.

I would like to explain how I have come to understand the issue we are debating today. I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, in the Annapolis Valley. Through my entire early childhood years, I can never remember much discussion of my indigenous neighbours except to hear about Glooscap's legend and a few other quaint stories, important to local people at times. I really had no context, because in Nova Scotia, like all across our country, there had been great discrimination against first nations Mi’kmaq people from that area.

I remember when I was a kid, I went to a drive-in movie. The sun was just setting, and I was sitting there in the car. I remember looking over and there were kids looking across the drive-in movie fence. I asked my mom who those folks were. She said they lived on the local reserve. Until that time, I had never really realized there were indigenous people living in my community.

We had always had debates about the Acadians, whom the British had pushed off the land. In fact, the land on which my parents' house stood was on Acadian land. We could still see some of the old structure. However, we never had a conversation about the Mi’kmaq. It never really came into the conversations in our household or in our school. It was never taught, except for a few local legends, which were always capitalized on by the colonizers.

It starts to eat away at someone. As a young person, I was not quite sure how to deal with this stuff. However, it was present. I am happy to say that when I was driving along a Nova Scotia highway about six months ago, I started to notice they are naming the reserves on the highway signs. One can actually know, going down the highway, that there is a community there that was never named in the past. That is a very small step toward reconciliation and bringing equality. I am 50 years old. It has taken decades and decades for just that small thing to get done.

I remember the first time I ever said the word “genocide” about indigenous people in Canada. I was a young lecturer at Simon Fraser University, and I was teaching the administration of justice. With my colleague, Paddy Smith, a great mentor of mine, we decided the course had never had a full lecture about aboriginal rights in Canada, so we decided this would be a good time to start.

When one actually starts to research the history of the administration of justice in Canada, one realizes just one lecture, one course, or one degree is not enough, that there need to be entire institutions that look at this sad history.

I remember standing in front of a class of 200 people for the first time saying that Canadians had committed genocide. When I talked about how the Beothuk people were wiped off the face of the earth by our ancestors, it made me realize, with shame, how this whole history had been hidden. At least I can say those first-year students had some sense, somewhere to start, to ask how do we get to reconciliation.

That was probably 15 years ago. I worked on a program and did some research for the Department of Justice looking at on-reserve voting during that period as well.

The amount of damage starts to get overwhelming. Coming from Nova Scotia, where we had the original Europeans coming over, it is reported historically that there was some co-operation there. We went from this co-operation to oppression, to cultural genocide when we think about the residential schools right across the country.

My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, earlier today was talking about South Africa coming to look at our reserve systems and saying, “This is how you do it. Let's do it back home.”

Then I come to the House of Commons where all of these decisions were made. People just like us here in the House today put act after act forward, which then went to the Senate. Perhaps it was before Canada had a legislature as well. The British are definitely to blame for this. In the House of Commons, act after act after act reinforced and made worse the terrible treatment of people who I did not even know were my neighbours when I was growing up.

We owe it to our future generations and past generations of those who suffered to do the right thing, and I do not think we are doing the right thing. What I am hearing in this debate is that some administrative inconveniences are stopping us from doing the just thing. That does not seem to balance out, especially after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, especially after we looked at all the damage that was done to our neighbours, to the people we should love as much as we love ourselves. Then we get into a debate like this with a bill that goes back and forth between the other place and here. It sounds like people are saying that the bill is an administrative inconvenience, and that seems to be holding up justice, which does not make any sense to me.

I have a constituent in my riding who is in her seventies. She has been trying for 20 years to get her status. She has hired her own lawyers and has been helped by MPs in Burnaby and elsewhere. She came to my office and said she had tried over and over again to get her status but wants to try once more. We are trying to help her get her status, not for herself but for her future generations. Her husband recently passed away. She is indigenous; he was not. She has had to hide from her culture for so long and really wants to be proud of it, and this seems to be the time to do it. Look at what she has to go through. She has to hire her own lawyers and to go to members of Parliament for help. She has to revisit what her family members went through in the past. This seems totally unnecessary, especially when her male family members do not have to do the same thing.

We can talk about dotting the i's and crossing the t's and all of that kind of stuff, but really, when we get down to people, it does not matter. This should be done right away. It seems to me that this could be done very simply despite all of the administrative inconvenience. All we are doing is amending an act that should have been repealed in the first place.

If one is looking at this from the perspective of someone who has suffered, it must be inconceivable that we are doing this. I am deeply ashamed. We can do much better. It does not make any sense to me that one day we are talking about genocide and the next day we are questioning where a clause must go.

I really hope that after we get through this debate, we can get on with the real work.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions on the motion are deemed to have been put and the recorded division is deemed to have been requested and deferred until Monday, December 4, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

moved that Bill C-373, An Act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand before my colleagues to debate my Bill C-373, an act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving.

Before I go into the detail about my bill, I want to take a moment to share a personal story. Amutha was the 17-year-old sister of a friend. In 2010, Amutha went to a Halloween party. That night, after the festivities wound down, she got into a Pontiac Sunfire with four other friends to go home. They were all responsible that night. They did not drink, and they made sure they had a designated driver to take them home safely.

Across the city, a young woman got behind the wheel of a Chevy Cavalier. At 2:55 in the morning, the driver of that Cavalier drove through a red light at the intersection of St. Mary's Road and Bishop Grandin Boulevard, and collided with the Pontiac Sunfire that Amutha and her friends were travelling in.

The driver of the Cavalier was speeding, had been drinking, and at the moment of impact was texting. Amutha, and Senhit, a friend of hers, died almost immediately, and two other passengers sustained life-altering injuries.

This event forever changed the lives of the families and friends of those five people who were in that car on that fateful night. I share this story because today we are going to be debating and discussing ideas, concepts, and statistics. I do not want Amutha, Senhit and their friends to be just more statistics. They had hopes and dreams. They had aspirations about what they could do in their lives, and their presence brought joy to their families and friends.

It would be a disservice to them and to their families if we lost sight of that.

Sadly, this story is not unique. It is an experience that many families share. During my time in the emergency room, I provided care to patients who, through no fault of their own, were victims of distracted driving. Tragically, some of these patients died as a result of their injuries. When I tell the House that last year 29 people died as a result of distracted driving in my home province of Manitoba, I want members to remember that the number 29 is not just a statistic and not just a number, it represents the families who will never see their loved ones again, the lives who suddenly stopped aspiring to help make our communities a better place, and the sons and daughters who will not have a parental figure to guide them through life.

While we have made great strides in changing dangerous behaviours like impaired driving and speeding, work still needs to be done on distracted driving. This is why I introduced this bill, and this is why I stand here before the House today.

Today we have the opportunity for the federal government to take a lead and address this issue. This bill calls upon the Minister of Justice, in collaboration with the Minister of Transport to work with the provincial and territorial governments to develop a federal framework to coordinate and promote efforts to deter and prevent distracted driving involving the use of hand-held electronic devices.

The framework would include six provisions on the following: the collection of information relating to incidents involving the use of hand-held electronic devices; the administration and enforcement of laws respecting distracted driving; the creation and implementation of public education programs; the role of driver-assistance technology in reducing the number collisions and fatalities; the sharing of best practices among jurisdictions; and, recommendations regarding possible amendments to federal laws, policies, and programs.

In order to fully understand and properly address this issue, we need to have the correct information to properly measure the effectiveness of any measures that are introduced. At the moment, we do not have that.

A report prepared on request by the Library of Parliament states:

There are several data limitations related to the compilation of statistics on the number of collisions and fatalities associated with distracted driving in Canada. In particular, there is neither a uniform definition of distracted driving nor a uniform data collection survey that is used across jurisdictions that would provide comparable cross-jurisdictional data.

Additionally, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada states:

While many jurisdictions have sought to improve data that are collected in relation to this important issue in recent years, at present it is limited for a variety of reasons.

First, the role of distraction in crashes is difficult to determine at roadside since drivers are unlikely to admit to engaging in distracted behaviours behind the wheel, particularly in the event of a crash. Without direct observation by police or reports from witnesses, or rare conditions being present, such as a phone in hand, distraction may not be recorded as a factor.

Second, while some distraction data are collected, it is often not possible to analyze these data in terms of individual or specific distraction-related factors simply because of the breadth of factors that may play a role.

Finally, data comparisons across jurisdictions is also difficult as each may utilize a slightly different definition of distraction (perhaps in accordance with legislation), collect different levels of detail, categorize distractions using different groupings, or have different types of charges that police may apply based on the Highway Traffic Act.

The report concludes:

To date, measures of distraction or effectiveness of strategies are fairly limited and not comparable across jurisdictions. Often measures are process-oriented, and outcome measures such as crashes cannot be directly linked to results of specific initiatives in order to gauge effectiveness.

A federal framework can help create a means for cross-jurisdictional data collection with uniform definitions on distracted driving and can be an important tool in measuring the effectiveness of current provincial and territorial legislation and programs.

One of the criticisms I have heard regarding this legislation is that using a hand-held communication or electronic device while driving is already illegal. This statement is true, in most of Canada. In Nunavut, there is no law prohibiting the use of a hand-held electronic device while driving. There is legislation prohibiting careless driving, but none specifically addressing this issue.

Additionally, there is a range of penalties across Canada with varying degrees of severity between jurisdictions. A federal framework can help jurisdictions create a degree of consistency, but most important, a federal framework can determine the effectiveness of the administration and enforcement of these laws. The World Health Organization, in its 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety, stated:

To date, there is little information on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce mobile phone use while driving. As a result, a number of countries are following an approach that has been known to be successful in addressing other key risk factors for road traffic injuries. Legislation prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving exists in 138 countries, and a further 31 countries prohibit both hand-held and hands-free phones. However, due perhaps to difficulties enforcing this legislation, there remains little evidence of the effectiveness of such measures: in the Netherlands, mobile phone use has been banned since 2002 but there is mixed evidence about the impact of this measure.

The health and safety of Canadians is of the utmost importance to all levels of government in Canada and if the laws that are in place are not properly protecting Canadians, then we need leadership at the federal level to address this issue. I would like to reinforce that the bill does not make any activity illegal. It asks the federal government to take a leadership role in ensuring the efficacy of our country's laws.

Informing the public of the dangers associated with distracted driving is paramount to reducing incidents of collisions and fatalities. Just like with impaired driving, people need to be informed of the serious consequences of their actions if they take their eyes off the road to check a message or send a text.

I bring up impaired driving because this is a similar behaviour that we have been able to change because of education and awareness campaigns. It was not too long ago that the words, “one more for the road”, could be heard at a party or a bar before someone left for the night. Right now, it is socially unacceptable for someone to encourage another person to have another drink before they get into a car, and I am certain that there are members here today who have stopped someone from getting behind the wheel if the the person has had too much to drink.

We need to treat distracted driving as though it were the new drunk driving. We can do that by changing behaviours and educating Canadians.

According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation's report on distracted driving in Canada, there have been examples of successful campaigns involving multiple levels of governments with law enforcement and stakeholder participation that have been able to reach a wide audience. However, there were limitations. The report states, “it was also recognized that more active methods of engagement in terms of emotional appeals, social norming, and tailored messages to specific audiences were needed.”

Additionally, there are still troubling behaviours in drivers. For example, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, 69% of Canadians think it is unacceptable to text at a red light, but 33% still admit to doing it.

A federal framework can help establish parameters for what is needed to implement a successful awareness and education campaign from coast to coast to coast.

The issue of distracted driving involving the use of hand-held communication devices is a result of new technologies. There will always be new advances, but now comes the opportunity to determine if these new technologies can be adapted to reduce the number of collisions and fatalities.

Transport Canada's report, “Transportation in Canada 2011, Comprehensive Review”, states:

Transport Canada has an ongoing driver distraction research program to better understand the safety implications of new technologies and to identify distraction countermeasures.

I am glad this ministry is treating this seriously. Measures are being considered for special features; for example, a phone app that would divert calls to an inbox while driving above 10 kilometres an hour. However, it would be important to determine what recommendations can be gathered from stakeholders and the provinces for a federal framework.

Additionally, the Manitoba provincial road safety committee announced a road safety plan, with strategic recommendations that included considering the need for a coordinated approach and legislative amendments to guide the use of autonomous vehicle technologies as a measure to reduce traffic collisions as a result of distracted driving.

The same report also recommended collaborating with other provincial, municipal, and territorial partners on road safety research initiatives, including comprehensive data collection and consistency. This recommendation aims to strengthen consistency and consensus for data collection, address potential data gaps, and enable better interjurisdictional data comparison and evaluation. This is why I have also included in my bill a provision for a federal framework to include the sharing of best practices among jurisdictions.

Addressing distracted driving is not a partisan issue, it is a Canadian issue, and one that has undoubtedly impacted all of us here in this House in one way or another. As a runner and motorcyclist, I have lost count of the close calls I myself have had with distracted drivers. In fact, only one week ago, within an hour of discussing this bill with my colleagues, I was about to cross the street in front of Parliament when a white SUV ran a red light, nearly hitting me. The driver was oblivious that he ran a red light because he was deep in conversation with someone on his mobile phone.

There is a pressing need for a response and a leadership role to be taken by the federal government. This is why I am asking for support on all sides. If a framework to prevent distracted driving can save one life, then we would have done our duty for Canadians.

I look forward to the questions from my colleagues and for a fruitful and thoughtful debate on this issue.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments. I have had the pleasure of working with him on the veterans affairs committee for the last two years. He and I have had many conversations about his role as an emergency doctor. He has been on the front lines and has seen some of the devastating effects that happen, so I truly appreciate his honourable intention here.

As he is aware, I was a victim of a hit and run. The reality is that the person was distracted because he was drugged and impaired, as well as other things. We see that there are many ways people can be impaired as they drive their vehicles. I am wondering if the hon. member could comment a bit more on not only people driving while on their cellphones but also other issues that may be important that people need to be aware of, as well as the need to educate Canadians about the issues of distracted driving.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his kind words and his excellent question. I would agree there are many forms of distracted driving. This is merely one of them. It would take too long to enumerate all the different forms. There are people who are looking at their instrument consoles and changing radio stations. We have all probably seen people putting on makeup or combing their hair, or in one case, I saw someone shaving behind the wheel.

The member is right that we need to educate the public on all sorts of distracted driving. However, the bill is needed because new technology has taken off very quickly over the last few years. We have reached a point globally where more people have mobile phones on earth than do not. That factor has led to a sharp increase in the amount of distracted driving. I have identified this as a factor that we could perhaps intervene in to prevent further injuries and fatalities.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that unlike my colleague, I will still be sporting a beard tomorrow. You will be able to recognize me quite easily.

All levity aside, if there is one thing I agree with respect to the introduction of my colleague's bill is that there is no room for partisanship when it comes to a topic as important as this. I think that the discussions that we will have in the House on how to proceed with this bill will be very enlightening. I will have the pleasure of speaking to this bill in a few minutes.

Motor vehicle safety is an area of shared jurisdiction. Everything having to do with regulations falls to the provinces. I am not saying that collaboration is impossible, far from it, but the only things the federal government has control over are those aspects of motor vehicle safety under Transport Canada's responsibility, and the Criminal Code, which could be reviewed by the House.

I would like someone to briefly show me the differences between this bill and its objectives and the work currently being done by the CCMTA, which in 2016, if memory serves me correctly, created the road safety strategy 2025, a strategy that has exactly the same approach to distracted driving, if I am not mistaken.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Mr. Speaker, this would complement that work. One of the things we have noticed is that there is very little data collection. That is one of the key parts of this bill. Right now, the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario are the only provinces collecting detailed data on this issue. This would help to complement the measure the hon. member is speaking of to further address this problem and increase road safety.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

November 30th, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-373, introduced by the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley. It that aims to deal with the important national issue of distracted driving. It proposes to deal with that issue by requiring the Minister of Justice, in collaboration with the Minister of Transport, to establish a framework around distracted driving in conjunction with the provinces, territories, law enforcement, and other stakeholders.

There is no question that distracted driving is a serious issue and extremely dangerous. Indeed, a study from Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute cited by the Canadian Automobile Association reports that a motorist who is on their cellphone is four times more likely to be involved in a collision. Even more alarming, a motorist who is texting is 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision. The same study from Virginia Tech reports that a distracted driver, on average, will be unable to observe 50% of the information in their driving environment.

It is no wonder that each day in Canada there are dozens and dozens of collisions as a result of distracted driving. I saw recent statistics from ICBC showing that 27% of collisions in the province of British Columbia are attributable to distracted driving. Ontario police statistics show that there are more collisions arising from distracted than speeding and impaired driving combined. Many of those collisions are fatal. Just this year, in the province of Ontario, more than 50 people have lost their lives as a result of distracted driving.

Despite the collisions, the injuries, and the deaths on our roads, the fact is that far too many Canadians choose every day to get behind the wheel and engage in an activity that impairs their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Distracted driving is a commonplace everyday occurrence on our roads. That fact is borne out by the statistics.

I was looking at some of the statistics in my province of Alberta, I believe from 2014 or 2015, that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30,000 motorists were convicted of distracted driving offences in one year. In the province of Quebec, I read that in 2012 somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60,000 or 65,000 motorists who were convicted of distracted driving offences.

If we look at the statistics, there seems to be an increase in the number of convictions across the board in various provinces. I guess one could say that is a good thing, to the degree that it is a result of new laws that have been passed at the provincial level, and of increased enforcement efforts.

Nonetheless, I point to 30,000 and 60,000 to say that if that is the number of people who are being convicted of distracted driving offences, I would suggest that those numbers barely scratch the surface of the number of people who, each and every day, are getting behind the wheel and engaging in an activity that distracts from their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

What we have is truly a national issue and a national problem. It is a problem that exists in each and every province and territory, yet today what we have is a patchwork from province to province and territory to territory, a patchwork in terms of laws, penalties, enforcement, public awareness efforts, and data collection and statistics. What is lacking is a truly national, coordinated approach to tackling this very serious issue of distracted driving.

With regard to the serious issue of distracted driving and the very real and serious costs, both the human costs and the financial costs, I believe the time has come to have a truly national conversation on the issue of distracted driving. It would be a national conversation that would involve the federal government, the provinces and territories, law enforcement, and stakeholders, with the goal of better coordinating, on a national level, issues around laws, enforcement, penalties, public safety awareness efforts, and the coordination and collection of data, among other things.

Given that I believe that it is time to have a national conversation, I believe that Bill C-373, on its face, moves in that direction. The framework proposed in Bill C-373 would tackle those issues and other issues. I commend the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley for the timeliness of bringing this bill forward. I think it is a meritorious bill, one that is worthy of further study and review. To ensure that the study and review of what I think is a good idea happens at committee, I would urge members to pass Bill C-373 at this stage.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, if my speaking time were not so short, I would start with a moment of silence for all those who have been killed or left permanently disabled by distracted driving, even though those drivers probably felt perfectly safe right up until the accident happened.

Everyone has a cellphone these days, and studies show that we check our precious phones dozens or even hundreds of times a day. I do not mean to preach or lecture anyone, but how many times have we felt tempted or given in to temptation and checked our texts at the wheel, thinking it was perfectly safe because we were stopped at a red light or driving on an empty highway?

Highway 417, which I take every week, is an example of a place that can sometimes make a driver think that nothing can go wrong because there are no other cars on the road. However, if we can pose a danger to others, we can also pose a danger to ourselves. The problem deserves our attention.

I have a lot of questions about the subject of the bill, and I feel I have to emphasize how important this is in light of the back story shared by the sponsoring member, who has personally lost loved ones to distracted driving. I know we have to take this issue very seriously, and the member has my deepest sympathy under the circumstances. However, considering the problem caused by alcoholism that we have been fighting for decades, it seems unlikely that we are going to find a miracle solution that will eliminate this problem from one day to the next.

We need to come up with a whole bunch of ways to make everyone who owns a cell phone—not just young people, but people like me, too—aware of the problem. Awareness is absolutely key. As I said earlier, the federal government's scope for action is fairly limited. Over the years, more and more people have gotten the message from awareness campaigns that drinking and driving is criminal. That message has sunk in for all of us, and I hope it has not only sunk in but also helped us change our behaviours.

That is presently not the case for all new cellular technologies. Since the technology is evolving so quickly, I hope that the next stage in automobile technology will resolve some problems such as alcohol-impaired and distracted driving. Perhaps one day we will be passengers in a self-driving car, and we will be able to read our emails and work because the car will do the driving. However, we are not there yet. Although this technology appears to be well on its way, it is not going to be here tomorrow.

This is a private member's bill and I do not want to be partisan. However, I find it difficult to watch a member rise to introduce his bill on such an important issue when his own government, which is the government of all Canadians, is making decisions that I really wonder about. We know that between 2015 and 2017, federal-provincial transfers for road safety were cut by 21%. There should be a degree of consistency in the government's actions if it wants to be seen by the public as consistent and credible and if it wants to make sure that its message is being heard.

Studying distracted driving is very important, but I cannot help thinking about the fact that the government is legalizing cannabis, effective July 1, even though police services still do not have the means to test the consumption of this substance. We have a very reliable means of testing alcohol consumption, and yet we have not managed to completely eliminate alcohol-impaired driving.

As we reflect as open-mindedly as possible on measures to put in place, I ask the member's government to help us out by bringing in consistent measures. I am not saying that we need to reconsider legalizing cannabis, but perhaps we should wait until we have the proper tools in place. Maybe the government needs to provide the funding required to ensure that the bill's objectives can be achieved in real life.

As I said, our jurisdictions are shared. Anything that has to do with motor vehicle safety regulation falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. We just saw that this week. The Government of Quebec, which is also aware of this problem and cares about the lives of Quebeckers, is going to introduce new measures to review some of the rules, including the possibility of tripling the fines given to people who are caught texting behind the wheel. It is great that all levels of government are well aware of this problem, and I think they truly do wish to collaborate without encroaching on each other's jurisdictions.

What Ottawa can do is take action through the Criminal Code, so the question we must all ask ourselves and reflect on together is this: at what point does distracted driving become a criminal act that should be covered in the Criminal Code? My colleague shared some excellent examples. Everyone is talking about the cellphone, but we have all seen someone look in the mirror while putting on makeup or combing their hair. People engage in all kinds of distracting behaviours that can all have the same tragic outcome.

We also need to ask why the Government of Canada is cutting Transport Canada funding for vehicle safety measures. We all do our best to avoid collisions, but when they happen, we have to be sure the vehicles we are driving are as safe as possible. In recent years, there has been a noticeable decrease in crash test funding. That is squarely in our wheelhouse, and we have the means to take action on it even though the government is clearly not doing so right now.

I would also like to say a few words about the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. In 2016, the council adopted the road safety strategy 2025. I would like to provide an overview of what the council is proposing because I am concerned about this issue. How will the intent of the bill translate into real action after it is passed? The committee's main job will be to figure that out. I will say right now that I will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading, because I think it is important to send the bill to committee so that we can find meaningful ways of solving the problems that have been raised.

The road safety strategy 2025 seeks to streamline the improvement process across the country through the use of best practices on some specific issues. Here are a few examples: raising public awareness and commitment to road safety; improving communication, co-operation, and collaboration among all stakeholders; enhancing the legislation, regulations, and enforcement; improving road safety information; and supporting research and evaluation. There are others, but I am running out of time.

All of that work is already being done by the council, which brings together representatives from the public sector and from all of the provincial and territorial governments. We must therefore ensure that this bill does something more and that it does not just duplicate work that has already been done. I repeat that we are looking for efficiencies.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that I will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading so that we can examine it as thoroughly as possible. I hope that this bill will have a real impact once it is passed.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Kanata—Carleton Ontario


Karen McCrimmon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to Bill C-373, an act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving.

Canadians across the country use the road transportation network every day. They travel to work, attend social events, take their kids to school and hockey practice. At the same time, motor vehicle collisions are one of the leading causes of death, injuries, and hospital admissions in Canada. For example, in 2015, 1,858 Canadians were killed and 161,000 Canadians were injured in motor vehicle collisions. In addition to these personal tragedies for families, motor vehicle collisions cost the Canadian economy and the health care system an estimated $36 billion per year.

I am pleased to say that in Canada, road traffic collisions have substantially declined over the past three decades. To illustrate, between 1980 and 2015, the number of road collisions involving an injury or fatality decreased by 36%. This trend has occurred despite significant increases in the number of licensed drivers, in the number of registered vehicles, and the total kilometres driven by Canadians.

Canadians are also more likely to survive a motor vehicle collision. Between 1980 and 2015, the overall number of persons fatally injured decreased by more than 60%. These decreases are the result of several positive changes, such as improved highway and vehicle design. Of significant importance is the dramatic change in public opinion recognizing that collisions are preventable and that drivers must make safer choices, such as using seatbelts and avoiding risks associated with speeding, distractions, and fatigue.

At the same time as these positive trends have been happening, we are also facing new and evolving challenges. For example, driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs is a growing concern, which is being addressed by my hon. colleague, the Minister of Justice, through Bill C-46. Currently before the Senate, the bill would help address the issue of alcohol and drug-impaired driving while protecting the right of the accused to a fair and impartial hearing.

Recent increases in tragic accidents involving distracted driving have garnered the attention of all levels of government and of the Canadian public. Driving a motor vehicle is a complex task that requires the full attention of the driver at all times. Research has shown that drivers who are distracted do not fully scan the environment looking for potential issues, are slow to identify risks, and then they are slow to react appropriately.

In the last five years, a reported 20% of motor vehicle accident fatalities occurred in collisions where one of the drivers had been distracted or inattentive. Over the same period, 33% of reported motor vehicle injuries occurred in collisions where distraction or inattentiveness was found to be a contributing cause of the crash.

The issue of distracted driving is evolving with the pace of technology or faster. For example, smartphones are increasingly popular. Vehicles have also become more sophisticated, providing drivers with real time data from driver assistance programs, other vehicles, and the surrounding infrastructure. In short, life is moving at a faster pace and placing greater demands on our attention, including when we are driving.

This is why the Minister of Transport wrote to his provincial and territorial counterparts last winter to seek nationally consistent enforcement measures and penalties to combat the rapidly rising rate of accidents involving distracted drivers.

In Canada, as my hon. colleague mentioned, road safety is a shared responsibility among federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions, and any actions taken to curb distracted driving cannot be taken in isolation solely by the federal government. Jurisdictions need to work together within their scope of authority to improve road safety in Canada.

Transport Canada is responsible for safety standards for new and imported vehicles, new tires, and child restraints. Justice Canada is responsible for the Criminal Code of Canada in dealing with impaired and dangerous operation of motor vehicles. Provinces and territories are responsible for driver licensing, vehicle registration, and the highway traffic acts, which include laws regarding distracted driving as well as the administration of justice.

To deliver a coordinated approach, the federal government works closely with its provincial and territorial counterparts through the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety and its associated organizations, including the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. Collectively, we have developed and implemented a number of road safety initiatives that have contributed to significant reductions in deaths and fatalities.

For example, Canada's newest safety plan is Canada's road safety strategy 2025, “Towards Zero: the safest roads in the world”. It was launched by the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety in January 2016. It builds on previous accomplishments by raising public awareness of road safety issues; improving communication, co-operation, and collaboration among road safety agencies; enhancing enforcement measures; and improving national road safety data quality and collection. The strategy outlines various measures over a 10-year timeframe to support our vision of moving toward zero deaths and injuries. Road safety strategy 2025 contains a number of promising and proven counter-measures related to distracted driving. For example, education and awareness measures are being used to change public attitudes toward distracted driving. Such change has happened before. With alcohol-impaired driving for example, what was once a common and acceptable behaviour has now become far less common and is socially unacceptable, and our roads are safer because of it.

Governments are also working together to identify international best practices to address distracted driving. At the same time, Transport Canada is working with the provinces and territories and other key stakeholders to develop guidelines related to in-vehicle displays. This initiative responds to a Transportation Safety Board Canada recommendation. Transport Canada also co-chairs a federal-provincial-territorial working group on distracted driving with British Columbia. Among the various initiatives that have been taken on by this working group, Transport Canada officials are working every day with their provincial and territorial counterparts to assess the implementation of new vehicle technologies that could mitigate the risks and impacts of distracted driving.

In addition, Transport Canada is leading a working group with provinces and territories to improve statistics related to how frequently mobile devices are involved in distracted-driving collisions. The federal government needs to continue to work closely with the provinces and territories on distracted-driving initiatives. Our best successes have occurred when we have worked collaboratively, working together to support policy development, new programs, and efficient and effective enforcement. These initiatives will help Canada change public attitudes toward distracted driving and ensure that more Canadians will get where they are going safely.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to give my maiden speech and will be addressing Bill C-373.

To start off, I would like to thank my family for standing behind me with love and support as I underwent the six month campaign to be the next member of Parliament for Sturgeon River—Parkland. I would like to mention my mother, Rebecca Hyde, and my stepfather Doug Macheniak. I would also like to mention my maternal grandparents, Cindy Lou and Graham Hyde, who always stood behind me. I would also like to mention my aunt and uncle, Mark and Melissa Harsma, who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this week.

Campaigns are not successful unless we have a team behind us. We can have a leader, we can have a member of Parliament, or someone who wants to be one, but without the right people standing with us, we can never get to where we want to go.

I would like to thank a few key players from my campaign team, my extended family, as it were. I would like to thank Murray and Susie Houlak of Stoney Plain for their strong support of me. I would like to thank Fran and Andrew Wolthiness, Tim and Julie Milligan, Bill and Deeny Prinze. Deeny just received her Canadian citizenship two years ago. She moved here from Holland at the age of 4. She raised her family on a farm outside Edmonton. Deeny is a proud Canadian all the way.

I would like to thank my campaign manager Phil Jouanyou, who came out in the final days of my nomination and stayed on to run my campaign. He did an excellent job getting us strong 78% voter support for the Conservatives in Sturgeon River—Parkland.

I would not have run if I did not have the support of my mentors, the member for Abbotsford, the former minister of international trade, whom I had the pleasure and honour of working for for two years; and the member of Parliament for St. Albert—Edmonton, who also strongly supported me and urged me to run in the campaign. I would also like to thank the former member of Parliament for St. Albert—Edmonton, John Williams, for being a strong mentor to me and supporting me throughout this campaign.

I would also like to thank some other members: Imelda McLaren, for serving as my volunteer coordinator, and Scott Merrifield and Andrew Bankovitch, who helped put up the signs that were needed to win the campaign.

I would also like to thank a dear mentor of mine Yvonne Brochou, a legend of Spruce Grove, who was a warhorse in the days of Don Getty in Alberta and was there for me to provide the sage advice that is necessary to win a campaign.

Finally, I would like to tell the House a short story about how I ran for office. I was interested in running for the seat of Sturgeon River—Parkland, but I did not know when the previous member would resign her seat. Unfortunately, I was on a military exercise in Gagetown, New Brunswick, and did not have access to a phone for two weeks. I finally snuck it out inside a sleeping bag at 4 a.m. on July 13. I remember that day very well. I saw a tweet that the previous member for Sturgeon River—Parkland had indeed resigned.

The next morning I talked to my warrant officer, whom I would like to recognize today, Matt Christenson. I told him I wanted to run to be a member of Parliament, and to his credit, he took me completely seriously and put it up the chain of command. I had the complete support of my commanding officer, my corp staff Captain Hugh Purdon, my commanding officer here with the Governor General's Foot Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Lynham and my mentor Major Gray Shanahan. Without that moral support, I do not think I could have done it.

With that, I would like to start my remarks on the bill in question.

Far too often in the news we hear about another incident or fatality because a driver made a terrible decision to reach for a phone or other device instead of focusing on the road. Distracted driving is a serious problem in my riding and across Canada. The RCMP identifies distracted driving as “a form of impaired driving as a driver's judgment is compromised when they are not fully focused on the road.” Talking on the phone, texting, reading, watching videos, and driver fatigue can all be forms of distracted driving.

Discussion of this topic is particularly timely, as last week was National Impaired Driving Prevention Week.

Distracted driving is similar to impaired driving. Both kill thousands of Canadians and both require a coordinated social and governmental response.

This bill will create a national framework to help determine and prevent distracted driving. It also sets out consultation, review, and reporting requirements in relation to the framework.

I am supportive of this bill, and my Conservative colleagues and I recommend that we make an amendment to include the territories in the wording of the bill. I think that will make it much stronger.

Distraction is a factor in about four million vehicle collisions in North America every year, including 10% of fatal crashes, 18% of injury-related crashes, and 16% of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes. Almost half of all people killed in collisions where a teenager was distracted were the teenagers themselves. No text, no tweet, no call, and no Facebook post is worth a life, and we need to hammer that message home.

Currently, the provinces and territories are responsible for administering their own driving laws and penalties related to distracted driving. This bill will assist them by constructing a framework to prevent distracted driving. The framework will include information and statistics, creating and implementing public implementation programs, better understanding the role of driver assistance technology, and sharing best practices between provinces, municipalities, and the federal government. This will provide support to Canadians on the front line who are tackling this problem.

This is a particularly egregious problem amongst teen drivers, although they alone are not to blame. Distraction was a factor in over half of the moderate to severe crashes, and almost half of all people killed in those crashes were teens. Part of what makes this so tragic is that this is so avoidable.

According to statistics from Alberta Transportation, the number of convictions for distracted driving has risen significantly. In Edmonton alone, distracted driving infractions were up 60% in the first quarter of this year. Nearly 90% of these convictions are related to using hand-held devices while driving and about 26% of all collisions involved the use of a phone. This problem cannot be solved only by increasing penalties and increasing law enforcement resources. Ending distracted driving requires a cultural shift. We need to learn to put the device down and drive.

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to participate in an announcement by the Parkland County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of their 2017 project red ribbon campaign. The campaign provides education on impaired driving and risks. Organizations like MADD exemplify success in combatting the similar problem of impaired driving. Statistics suggest that the efforts made in the fight against impaired driving have saved over 30,000 Canadian lives. Despite this number, Transport Canada estimates that in the last 30 years, nearly 40,000 alcohol-related fatalities have occurred.

Through the work of schools, governments, police forces, and non-profit organizations, people are hearing the message about the consequences in getting behind the wheel while impaired by drugs and alcohol. It is my hope that this bill would help promote more awareness of the serious issue of distracted driving.

We must continue to ensure that the authorities have adequate tools to stop distracted driving. More than that, we need to change the culture of constant communication and connectivity. It is acceptable to put the phone down for a while. In fact, when driving it is the law.

More Canadians need to understand that this is a grave issue. Distracted driving can kill. It rips families apart and ruins lives. It is time to stop, think, and put the phone down.

To conclude, my Conservative colleagues and I support these measures to prevent and deter distracted driving.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, this is a wonderful issue to talk about. I applaud my colleague for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, who has done an outstanding job in recognizing an issue that is important to all of us.

At times, we get legislation that many people who might be watching wonder what it is about, how it relates to them, and so forth. However, with the proposed legislation before us, people can easily identify why it is an important debate that we should be having inside this chamber.

A month or so ago I was driving down Erin Street in Winnipeg between Notre Dame and Portage Avenues. On the right-hand side, I saw a car that was all crunched up. I could tell it had been in a fairly significant accident. Hopefully there were no fatalities. On the window was the message “I was texting” or something of that nature. It had a profound impact when I saw that.

Manitoba Public Insurance has done an outstanding job in promoting the hazards of texting or being preoccupied with some sort of electronic device that usually takes attention away from driving. Manitoba, I think, is a little more progressive in trying to deal with this particular problem.

When cellphones really started to become prevalent, and it was not that long ago, the mid-1990s, there were often individuals talking on their phone and driving. I must admit that I, too, had a cellphone. I would be driving, and all of a sudden, 10 or 15 minutes would have gone by, and I would wonder how I had gotten to a particular point. I do not think that would be surprising to a large number of people. A lot of people can understand and relate to that sort of situation, which I know first-hand.

I first started talking about the dangers of texting and driving probably in the late 1990s. Going into the turn of the century, we recognized more and more just how hazardous it is. There are many car depots with cars that were in accidents, which included fatalities, individuals who were paralyzed, and all sorts of horrific accidents. If we look back, we will find more and more of those accidents were because the driver was distracted.

Here we have legislation that is talking about how we can collect the data, and that we need to look at ways in which the national government might be able to provide some leadership to provincial and territorial jurisdictions. However, as my time is up, I will continue when the bill next comes up.

Federal Framework on Distracted Driving ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The member will have six minutes and 30 seconds when we take up this private member's bill again.

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

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

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, earlier this month, the Auditor General reported that the Phoenix pay system would continue to plague our public servants for years to come. Earlier this week, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement told the government operations committee that the government should mostly have fixed the Phoenix pay system by the end of 2018. Therefore, our public servants are going to have to rely on emergency pay for months, if not years, to come.

The Liberal government has also come to rely on emergency pay as a political explanation for its inaction on Phoenix. For about a year and a half, I have been asking the government why it does not empower managers in departments and agencies to write cheques to employees whom they know are not being paid. The government's answer is that those employees can apply for emergency pay.

For about eight months, I have been asking the government to establish a hotline for MP offices so we can assist constituents who are having problems with Phoenix. The government's answer is that those people who are under stress can apply for emergency pay.

Therefore, I would like to focus this evening's adjournment debate on the question of emergency pay, how it works, what the problems are, and what a solution could be.

At the outset, we need to recognize that the existing emergency pay system is not working. When we hear about federal public servants who lose their homes because of Phoenix, or federal public servants who are applying for provincial social assistance because of Phoenix, it is obvious those people were not able to access emergency pay. One of the reasons for that is glitches within the Phoenix system itself. For example, individuals who are identified within Phoenix as having received an overpayment, whether or not they actually got the money, are automatically ineligible to apply for emergency pay.

Even public servants who might qualify for emergency pay are very reluctant to seek it, because they know it is just a loan that has to be repaid, and often public servants are asked to repay the gross amount of that emergency pay, rather than the net amount that they were actually advanced. Therefore, a consequence of receiving emergency pay is often being trapped in a cycle of having to apply for more emergency pay in order to repay the initial emergency payment. Public servants should not be locked into that cycle, and it is quite understandable that they do not want to be.

It strikes me that a very simple solution is, instead of treating emergency pay as a loan that needs to be repaid, to start treating it as an advance on the pay that public servants are owed, so rather than expecting public servants to write the government a cheque to repay those emergency amounts, we should simply debit emergency pay from the future salary that our public servants are owed. I believe this would actually make emergency pay a far more effective safety net for public servants caught up in the Phoenix boondoggle.

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Gatineau Québec


Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I want to again thank my hon. colleague from Regina—Lewvan, who has once more made this a constructive debate.

However, I would like to correct one of his comments. I do not think he believes that the government has failed to act on the Phoenix pay system, which is certainly not true.

My colleague knows very well that the government has tackled it head-on and established a very clear action plan in order to actually resolve the problems with this pay system, which we inherited from the former government. This pay system was poorly designed and botched from the beginning. Unfortunately, too many of our hard-working public servants are still being affected.

One of the things that has characterized our work, as the member would well know, is our constructive relationship, our proactivity and transparency, and working with our partners in public sector unions, public employee unions, and those who have been most affected. We have worked with them very hard to establish clear priorities with respect to processing some of the backlog. This includes categories of pay transactions such as disability, acting payments, maternity, paternity or parental leaves. We have made great progress on those.

Our emphasis now is on an employee centric approach, where we clean up an entire file or an employee pay situation, which may have two, three, four, or more transactions that are outstanding or are in error and need to be corrected.

With respect to emergency pay, we have worked very hard on that, and I am very proud of this. We have worked very hard, from the Clerk of the Privy Council on down and throughout the government, to ensure that all departments, deputy ministers on down, have no misunderstanding that departments must respond, and respond quickly, to emergency pay situations, situations of hardship or duress. These situations are escalated very quickly. Emergency pay is issued. This emergency pay must be repaid, but only when the employee's pay situation is resolved and he or she is able to essentially do a one-for-one exchange.

We have shown great sensitivity in working with employees along these lines. I stress, as the deputy minister said the other day, that we send out over 300,000 biweekly paycheques in every pay period, and we do so with great precision. The problems associated with the Phoenix pay system often come when employees have other circumstances, such as overtime, shift work, and I will not go through all the categories because my time is expiring.

We take emergency pay and ensuring employees are not left in situations of hardship very seriously. We approach it with great compassion, and are happy to do so.

Public Services and ProcurementAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary tried to suggest that the existing emergency pay system was working properly. There are blatant examples that it is not working properly, of people losing their homes, of people applying for welfare. We need to get those facts on the record.

Even if the emergency pay system were working well, why do we expect public servants to repay that money to the government? Why are we not content to accept that money as an advance on pay public servants are owed? I would be very interested in hearing the parliamentary secretary's comments on this. What is his objection to simply debiting the emergency pay from the salary public servants receive, if and when they actually receive it?

It seems to me that this would make the system work much more smoothly for public servants who are in need.