House of Commons Hansard #185 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was project.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion ProjectBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I caught part of that question, but not all of it, so I will do my best to answer. I apologize.

With regard to Alberta and the pipelines that exist there, Alberta, of course, is known for its pipelines. We know that in the Edmonton area alone there are over 37,000 kilometres of it, so we are looking at a lot of pipelines. In terms of their environmental impact through spills, to date I do not know that we have one on record. It would appear, then, that pipelines are actually a safe way to transfer oil and gas to get this precious commodity to market and to advance our economy, not only by providing jobs, but, again, by providing a form of taxation to the government to provide for social programs like health care and education, which are much needed by this country.

Opposition Motion—Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion ProjectBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear my colleague's views on the disappointment we felt on B.C.'s coast, which is threatened by the seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic from the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

About the failed promises of the Prime Minister during the election campaign, in Esquimalt, he promised voters that ongoing pipeline reviews would have to be redone under stronger, more credible rules, including for the Kinder Morgan expansion project. The question was, “Does your NEB overhaul apply to Kinder Morgan?” The Prime Minister said, “Yes, yes... It applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well.” The question was, “Okay, so if they approve Kinder Morgan in January, you're saying..”. The Prime Minister interrupted to say,“No, they're not going to approve it in January because we're going to change the government. That process has to be redone”. We believe that a number of seats turned based on that promise. I wonder if the member can comment on what was perhaps our shared disappointment.

Opposition Motion—Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion ProjectBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is quite a bit of ground to cover here.

Let us start with this. We do know that the party in power, the government, has made promises and then gone back on them. It has said one thing and then done another. There are definitely inconsistencies in the way that the Liberals have governed, in the decisions they have made, and in the actions they have taken. I have no problem agreeing with the member on that.

When it comes to Kinder Morgan, that is exactly the reason why we are putting this motion forward today. It is because we want to ensure that the Liberals are not going back on the commitment they have made to Canadians from coast to coast who would benefit from this project going forward. We want to ensure that in fact Kinder Morgan will go forward and that construction will take place on this pipeline. That is why we have brought this motion to the House today.

With regard to the tanker traffic, the member is referencing a very niche group who came forward with some concerns that are not substantiated with evidence or research. Therefore, we have to go with what the science and research shows us, which is that we should be moving forward with the production and the export of our oil and gas resources in the country of Canada.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills, to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration); and Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion ProjectBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, one of the advantages of possibly being the last speaker on this opposition day motion is that I get to do a recap of the day's debate. I have been here for several hours and have heard what many member on all sides of the House have said.

One of the sad things is that if Motion No. 14 had been amended, as the opposition had wanted it to be, we would be speaking about the Trans Mountain pipeline late into the evening, until midnight. We could have made many more points, and we could have heard many more Liberal MPs speak to how much they like the pipeline. Also, possibly more B.C. Liberal MPs could have spoken to the advantages of the Trans Mountain pipeline and Kinder Morgan.

However, it also gives me an advantage. I do have a Yiddish proverb that I found in one of my books that I wanted to use. I think it speaks very much to the Liberal government position on this. It is, “Don't ask questions about fairy tales.” I have a lot of questions to ask today. There are a lot of fairy tales on the government side about what they are actually doing.

The main fairy tale that the Liberal government continues to flog is that the Trans Mountain NEB approval means construction of the pipeline and all the jobs that come with it. It is essentially saying that the government has approved it, and the jobs have appeared out of thin air and are here.

The construction is the actual place where a lot of blue-collar workers, a lot of working people from Alberta, British Columbia, and all over Canada will get the income, and can use that income generated through their labour to provide for their families. It is not the dollars that matter, it is what can be done with those dollars that matters. The fairy tale is that the government has actually done something, has produced something, has helped someone, when it has not.

Approval is an expression of moral support. In this case, the NEB gave its approval. The government did approve it after vast amounts of evidence was provided to the fact that it was in the national interest.

What we are asking the Liberals to do is to walk the walk, do something, do more than what they are doing now. We do not want them to just talk. I fully expect the members on the Liberal side to vote for the motion. It is such a reasonable motion before the House. It will test the will of Parliament. It will see where Parliament is at. It will ensure that every single member of this House supports a project that is in the national interest.

What we want is confirmation of continued government support. We want to know that the Prime Minister will actually travel to British Columbia and advocate for this project, like he has advocated for other public policy initiatives that he has supported. We want to see other members, especially members from British Columbia, advocating for a pipeline that is in the national interest too. Alberta members would be more than pleased to do so as well. We have done so in the past.

The promotion of the project is also the promotion of the process that led to its approval. By voting for this motion, we are basically voting to confirm both, that the construction of the pipelines by private companies is in the national interest, and that it produces a good that allows another good to flow through it. It also provides an opportunity to confirm that the approval process was the right one, especially with what we see with the B.C. Green Party and B.C. NDP. What they are proposing is an immediate halt to any opportunity that this pipeline has of being built. The tens of thousands of jobs that come with it are absolutely at risk. The agreement says, “immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province..”.

That is what the new coalition of political parties intends to do in British Columbia. We know that they are supported by a great many voters. There is a coalition of voters who actually voted for the federal Liberals in the 2015 election that support them. In great part, that support they received was on the broken promises that they would somehow no longer approve pipelines or grind everything to a halt. That was the greatest fear in Alberta, that the main industry that workers and families in Alberta rely on for the income that generates prosperity and the high incomes we enjoy would be taken away.

Alberta is landlocked. It is something that we all recognize, just as is Saskatchewan. Our only opportunity for export is through other provinces or through the United States. We would think that we could count on the federal government and our brothers and sisters in another province to allow us to export a product that generates so much wealth and opportunity.

The NEB approval and the Liberal government's news releases and carefully scripted speeches are not worth the paper they are written on, if they allow the political enemies of this pipeline to oppose it regardless of jurisdiction or the evidence.

It undermines the entire Canadian regulatory process. If we can do it on this matter, we can do it on anything else. If the provincial government, for any reason can oppose it, in whatever avenue it is done, then it undermines the entire Canadian regulatory process.

British Columbia has yet to issue dozens of permits to build and operate the pipeline. I think that is key. We focus a lot on the construction of the pipeline, but there is also the maintenance and the operation of it over time. We are talking about the doubling of the capacity of the line essentially.

What do investors into the Trans Mountain IPO think right now? We know that the company's share value is going down, but what are they supposed to think? What can they expect from the government? What type of signal does it send to the market when we are basically saying a provincial government, with allies I have mentioned who backed the present Liberal government in the previous election, is going to be actively now opposing it on the ground, whether it is through legal avenues, regulatory avenues, or permitting avenues, which are fully within the control of the British Columbia government?

Can they count on the words, from the heart out, from the Prime Minister? Is that the least they can count on? Is that all they will receive? Or will they receive actual help on the ground? I wonder. It is one of those fairy tales.

This pipelines and the tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs it creates are for the general advantage of Canada. I ask myself, are the 17 Liberal MPs from British Columbia going to fight for these tens of thousands of jobs in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, throughout all of Canada? Will they fight for them? Will they stand up to be counted?

An article in today's Financial Post spoke about the potential mess that might be left to the Prime Minister. It says, “Already, there is lots of talk in Alberta about retaliation involving obstructing passage of trains from the Port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada through Alberta, or of B.C. gas moving through Alberta to U.S. markets.”

This is what happens when we have a lack of leadership from the federal government, when we have everyday people, everyday families, starting to pressure their government in these jurisdictional fights, pressuring them to block our goods, each other's goods. As a country, we do well when we are not 10 islands but when we are one island working together. The government has pitted different regions of the country against each other. We know that the Prime Minister travels to different parts of the country, saying different things in French and in English to different audiences. He simply does not want to bear the political consequences of the promises he made in the last election.

I think that is wrong. What we say in Alberta and Calgary, and the nice words we share about pipelines and energy industry, we should do equally in this House. Many members have done it, on both sides. I have heard that all day today. However, a vote in this House should mean something as well. If Parliament expresses its will, the Prime Minister should act on it, should actually go and promote the project. Being in government is not just about making the easy decisions. It is making the hard decisions and then actually following up on them. It is not enough to just do a bit of talk; one has to do a bit of walk as well. I do not see that.

I know many members have spoken about this before, about the previous government's record on pipelines, but we know this: pipelines were approved. To recount the comments made by the member for Edmonton Centre who said that no pipelines have been approved to tidewater, every single pipeline I mentioned to him, the Alida to Cromer oil pipeline capacity expansion, TMX Anchor oil pipeline loop, the Cochin oil pipeline, the Keystone oil pipeline, the Bakken, the Line 9D, Edmonton to Hardisty oil, all led to tidewater. It is part of a system, and it needs to be approved.

I am looking to the government, to these members of the government caucus, to walk the walk and to talk the talk.

Opposition Motion—Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion ProjectBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Tuesday, May 30, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings.

Pursuant to an order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

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

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the extreme socialist policies and corruption of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor President Hugo Chavez have imposed considerable suffering on the people of Venezuela and therefore the House call upon the government to: (a) develop a plan to provide humanitarian aid directly to Venezuela’s people, particularly with respect to alleviating the severe shortages of food and medical supplies; (b) condemn the continued unjust imprisonment and treatment of political opponents who, as reported by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States on March 14, 2017, “fear repression, torture, and even death”; (c) call upon the Government of Venezuela to respect the right of the people of Venezuela to hold a free and fair referendum to restore democratic rule in their country; and (d) recognize that Canada’s foreign policy should always be rooted in protecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

He said, Mr. Speaker, I have brought private member's Motion No. 128 to the House to urge the government to more actively respond to the ever-deepening crisis in Venezuela. This is a crisis not only in terms of the brutal denial of democratic process, free speech, free assembly, and the rule of law in Venezuela but because of the humanitarian tragedy that worsens by the day.

First, a little history.

Venezuela is a magnificently beautiful, resource-rich country on the northeastern top corner of South America. Simón Bolivar, born there in 1783, educated in France, and a disciple of Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Napoleon, returned to the Spanish colony in 1807 and became the leading force, over succeeding tumultuous decades, in the liberation of the continent from Spanish rule and in the independence of Venezuela in 1830.

Jumping forward to modern times, after the Second World War a series of democratic governments presided over the then richest economy in Latin America, an economy driven by its vast oil and gas reserves. However, economic shocks, attempted coups and counter-coups, the impeachment of an embezzling president, and the collapse of public confidence in the government led to the 1998 election of a former coup-plotting soldier, Hugo Chávez.

Chávez launched what he called the Bolivarian revolution, rewrote the Venezuelan constitution, imposed extreme, often contradictory, socialist policies, and presided over the country's tragic downward spiral economically, socially, and democratically.

Chávez engaged in a close relationship with Iran and Cuba in support of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and anti-U.S. states. Under his gross mismanagement of the economy, his elimination of governmental checks and balances, and his survival of an attempted coup, Venezuela developed the worst inflation in the world.

As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela's small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust. Members of the Venezuelan state police were caught vandalizing and desecrating synagogues with crudely painted graffiti, the mildest being “No Jews wanted here”.

As minister of state for the Americas in 2009, I visited Caracas to hear testimony and to observe evidence directly linking the virulent wave of anti-Semitism to the personal direction of Hugo Chávez.

I must make clear, on behalf of Venezuela's Jewish community, that the long-suffering people of Venezuela did not then or now buy into the anti-Semitism of the regime. However, as the focus of state-directed anti-Semitic human rights abuse, many of the Jewish community have since fled to sanctuary abroad, a significant number now proud members of Canadian society in Thornhill, in the greater Toronto area, in Montreal, and elsewhere.

Under Hugo Chávez, poverty soared, as did crime and corruption. Malnutrition became common and chronic among children and adults. Chávez's death in 2013 and the election of Nicolas Maduro as his named successor, a vote widely considered to have been fraudulently manipulated, coincided with gross economic recession. In 2015, Venezuela's inflation rate passed 100%. Last year, inflation was estimated to have surpassed 700%.

To contain the rising outcry over severe shortages of food and medicines, Maduro last year imposed repressive states of emergency, renewed four times. Amnesty International has since documented a broad range of human rights abuses and crimes under international law.

Prison overcrowding and violence sparked by food and medicine shortages were blamed for a succession of deadly riots. Political opponents of the Maduro regime and pro-democracy protestors have been imprisoned without due process. Critical media companies have lost their operating licences. Unions have been hobbled and blacklisted. The supreme court, packed with regime loyalists, suspended an opposition referendum to recall Maduro and stripped Parliament of many of its powers. Public discontent has boiled over.

For the past two months, street demonstrations have been mounted in Caracas and other large cities and in smaller communities and villages across the country.

People are demanding elections, freedom for jailed politicians and pro-democracy activists, and foreign humanitarian aid for the sick and hungry masses, literally the masses. The street protests have seen steadily increasing violent actions by police, army, and vigilante groups that support the regime. Though the opposition leaders urge non-violent behaviour, protesters are increasingly responding to violence, unfortunately, with violence. At least 60 people have died on both sides of the recent protests. About 1,000 have been injured, and many hundreds of businesses have been looted and burned.

A recording obtained by one news agency is said to carry the words of an identifiable Venezuelan general ordering subordinates to prepare for the use of snipers against future demonstration leaders. Regime brutality in countering the demonstrations is already common. On one occasion last month, social media videos captured a government armoured vehicle deliberately driving into a crowd, killing and injuring civilians, and there are wide reports of civilians now being tried in military courts.

In March, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called on the 34 members, which includes Canada, to suspend Venezuela from the organization unless Nicolás Maduro's government moves quickly to hold free and fair general elections. In a 75-page letter to the organization, Secretary General Almagro set these conditions: elections within 30 days, the freeing of all political prisoners, the appointment of independent supreme court justices, and the reinstatement of laws suspended by the top court.

I would remind the House that Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, Venezuela's leading political prisoner, who has been in prison and held unjustly for three years, has travelled the world pleading for support, meeting with Secretary General Almagro, President Trump, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the presidents of Mexico and Argentina, and the Pope. Last month, in fact three days after we asked the Prime Minister in question period why he had not met with Señora Tintori, she was granted a meeting and met with other parliamentarians of all parties here in Ottawa.

When it came to a vote at the OAS, Canada, along with 19 other of the 34 member states, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, and Peru, voted to suspend. Voting against were a small number of Caribbean states, states dependent on Venezuelan cheap oil, along with Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua, as expected. There were not enough votes. It was short of the two-thirds needed to pass.

In response, in anticipation of another vote, President Maduro petulantly denounced the charter of the OAS and announced Venezuela's withdrawal from the organization, more or less emulating Groucho Marx by rhetorically wondering why Venezuela would want to remain in an organization that would have Venezuela as a member. As well, Maduro compared the OAS demands for democratic renewal in Venezuela with the OAS suspension of Cuba in 1962 and quoted Fidel Castro's equally petulant quote then, when he denounced the OAS as the ministry of the colonies. That left the OAS still pondering next steps.

There has been increasing agreement among the majority of OAS members that Maduro's attempt to change the constitution would effectively be a form of a coup within a coup and that as the situation in Venezuela has intensified, the violent polarization is an increasing concern for other countries right across the region. As Secretary General Amalgro has said from the beginning, the Inter-American Democratic Charter outlines two measures that can be applied: diplomatic mediation, or full suspension and effective isolation by members. It is not as though mediation has not already been attempted by the Union of South American Nations, known by its acronym, UNASUR; by the Common Market of the South, known as Mercosur; by the Vatican; by the U.S. State Department; and, of course, by the OAS itself.

As the democracies of the Americas, and beyond, ponder next steps to encourage or pressure the Maduro regime, there has been an unfortunate intervention by the big U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs, which last week bought devalued bonds of Venezuela's state oil company. Goldman Sachs is reported by The Wall Street Journal to have paid about $865 million, or 31¢ on the U.S. dollar, for bonds worth $2.8 million.

The bank has defended its purchase, saying that while Venezuela is in crisis, it made the investment because it believes life has to eventually get better. It is often said that money has no conscience, and opposition politicians in Venezuela not yet in prison are accusing Goldman Sachs of exactly that. Julio Borges, who leads the opposition in the national assembly, wrote a letter to Goldman Sachs saying, “It is apparent Goldman Sachs decided to make a quick buck off the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

Venezuela's opposition has previously been urging American banks to avoid any financial investments in Venezuela on grounds that they would serve to bail out the Maduro regime, as the Goldman Sachs' bond purchase seems to be doing.

Was this a less than glorious moment for capitalism? Certainly opposition leader Borges said that he would recommend to any future democratic government of Venezuela to refuse to recognize or to redeem the bonds in question. However, I digress. I will turn back to the democracies of our hemisphere and the next possible steps.

Foreign ministers and ambassadors from 33 member nations attended a meeting yesterday in Washington. Venezuela did not show. Canada, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the United States put forward a declaration calling for an immediate end to violence, the release of political prisoners, restoration of the rule of law, and a demand that Venezuela abandon plans to confect a citizens' assembly to write a new constitution.

Canada's minister said Canada was ready to do its part for a return to peace and stability. Brazil's foreign minister was somewhat more direct. Aloysio Nunes said, “We're taking about people dying.” He said that democracy is not a luxury and that we must collectively rescue Venezuela's fundamental freedoms.

However, the resolution failed again to get the necessary two-thirds' support because the usual Venezuelan crony supporters like Nicaragua and Bolivia and a number of short-sighted Caribbean nations that depend on cheap oil from the Maduro regime put forward a blocking resolution of their own.

In sharp contrast, as diplomacy stalled in the OAS assembly and the foreign ministers and ambassadors dispersed with a vague plan to return in a couple of weeks or so, yesterday Venezuelan military forces were using tear gas and water cannons to block tens of thousands of civilian protesters attempting to march on the foreign ministry in Caracas.

Therefore, with the Venezuelan crisis deepening by the day, with 60 dead and thousands injured and many more held as political prisoners, with malnutrition on the rise and public health services and hospitals unable to function because of a lack of essential pharmaceuticals, I will return to the motion I bring to the House today, Motion No. 128. Let me remind members very briefly what it says.

Motion No. 128 calls on the government to first develop a plan to deliver humanitarian aid directly to Venezuela's people, particularly with respect to alleviating the severe shortages of food and medical supplies. It also calls for the government to publicly condemn the continued unjust imprisonment and treatment of political opponents, who, as was reported by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, fear repression, torture, and even death.

Finally, Motion No. 128 calls on the Canadian government to again call upon the Government of Venezuela for a free and fair referendum to restore democratic rule to that country.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Thornhill for bringing this motion to the floor today. He will know, as all members and Canadians should know, that Canada takes tremendously seriously its voice in the world and its commitments to the upholding of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

That has been the case as it relates to the ongoing situation in Venezuela. Canada will continue its leadership through the Organization of American States to call upon the Government of Venezuela to respect its international commitments to democracy, to human rights, and to the rule of law, and to release political prisoners, such as Leopoldo López, whom the member opposite cited in his speech.

I also had the chance to meet with Lilian Tintori when she visited Ottawa a few weeks ago. She recognized the leadership role that Canada has played, and certainly the minister yesterday reiterated that Canada will continue to play a significant leadership role on the world stage with our allies around the world.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada has indeed played a leading role to this point, but diplomacy within the U.S., as within the OAS, as my colleague knows, is slow, very methodical, sometimes ponderously overburdened by the need for a two-thirds majority to pass a vote. We are suggesting, as the situation has deepened since I tabled this motion, that Canada do more. To deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela will take more than any capacity that the Organization of American States has today. It would indeed take intervention by the United Nations.

I respectfully suggest that Canada might also spend a little more time not soliciting votes for an eventual Security Council position, but speaking sternly to those Caribbean nations and Bolivarian states that have been supporting the Maduro regime in Central and Latin American to encourage them to respect and respond to this truly humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. I must say publicly that it is always a pleasure working with him, particularly on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I also want to thank him for bringing this important issue for discussion in the House. I share many of his concerns.

That said, I realize that the motion proposes the holding of a referendum, for example. We know that if a referendum were held last year, it would have resulted in a general election. Now that the president in place has served over half of his term, a referendum would have resulted in the vice-president becoming president. However, the vice-president is a drug lord. The U.S. seized billions of dollars from illegal activities.

Does my colleague really want to see the vice-president become president?

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly respond with mutual respect for the work that we shared together on the foreign affairs committee in working with government members to produce a number of unanimous committee reports and advice to the government.

To my colleague's point, the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, has called for a free and fair vote and for avoidance of the creation of a constituent assembly, which would effectively disallow the democratic process. It would block the democratic process.

I think that the “free and fair” modifier applied to referenda or to elections is the secret. I suspect, given the past behaviour of the Maduro government, that sooner or later we are going to find a complete refusal to deal with the OAS, and there will be a suspension and isolation. One would hope that the other Bolivarian non-democracies—

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. We are going to try to get time for one more short question.

The hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, to go to the point of my NDP colleague, who is also very familiar with this file, I thank my colleague from Thornhill for raising this very desperate situation the Venezuelans find themselves in.

My colleague from the NDP mentioned the fact that the Maduro regime is littered with people with connections to illegal narcotics. I wonder if the member would expand on that criminal activity in that government.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for turning my back to the Chair.

Absolutely, until Goldman Sachs came in with the $600 million-plus, which provided a certain amount of comfort for the Maduro regime, in fact the greatest single source of hard currency for that dictatorial regime has been drug running.

Venezuela has taken over from previous narco gangs and organizations that had transited from Colombia. Now the majority of drugs coming from Latin America are transported by Venezuelan fast boats up through the eastern Caribbean and eventually to North America.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Fredericton New Brunswick

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, once again I would like to thank the hon. member for introducing this timely motion. I welcome the opportunity to present the Government of Canada's position on Motion No. 128 and to elaborate on Canada's ongoing commitment to addressing the serious political and economic crisis facing the people of Venezuela.

Our government has repeatedly called on Venezuela to respect the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people. The Government of Canada supports all recommendations in the motion. The minister has consistently condemned the continued unjust imprisonment and treatment of political opponents and has called upon the Government of Venezuela to hold elections, as prescribed by its constitution.

On April 3, Canada co-sponsored an OAS resolution calling on the Venezuelan government to restore constitutional order and respect democratic rights. On May 4, the minister called on the Government of Venezuela to release all political prisoners and set an electoral calendar without delay. Yesterday, at the OAS ministerial meeting in Washington, D.C., the minister reiterated the need for solidarity among OAS members to protect the democratic and human rights of the Venezuelan people. Our government's actions and our words exemplify Canada's acute moral responsibility to protect and promote freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Against a backdrop of rising insecurity and deteriorating human rights, freedom of expression, and political governance, Venezuela is now in the throes of a severe political and economic crisis. This government is very concerned that Venezuelans are suffering from severe shortages of food and medicine, causing many people in state hospitals to die from preventable diseases or to seek treatment across the border in neighbouring countries. We understand that Venezuelans are fleeing the country in the thousands to escape this suffering. Many more have taken to the streets in large-scale protests, during which more than 50 people have already lost their lives. We offer our sincere condolences to the victims and their family members and call on all parties to show restraint.

We firmly believe that the OAS must stand united and ensure that the long-term resolution to the current crisis be rooted in respect for human rights and peaceful dialogue.

Canada is particularly troubled by the fact that political dissidents in Venezuela have been silenced. Media independence has been severely restricted and government opponents are threatened and jailed.

One case that attracted a lot of media attention was that of Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the opposition party Voluntad popular. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison for supposedly inciting violence when he encouraged people to demonstrate in 2014.

Many similar situations have also been reported. More than 2,000 Venezuelans have been jailed since demonstrations began throughout the country. Although some have been released, a growing number of demonstrators are being brought before military courts, a clear violation of Venezuela’s constitution.

The Government of Canada has long emphasized that ending arbitrary detentions and freeing political prisoners are urgent and important steps toward reconciliation in Venezuela. Our strong position was exemplified by a statement issued on July 7, 2016, on the urgent need to release political prisoners following the appeal hearing of Mr. López. Later, in August of last year, Canada condemned the transfer of political prisoner Daniel Ceballos from house arrest to prison and called for an end to restrictions on political participation. At Venezuela's Human Rights Council universal periodic review last November, Canada placed the urgent need to release political opponents and uphold freedom of expression at the top of its statement.

In May, the minister restated our position. She said:

We call on the Government of Venezuela to release all political prisoners and set an electoral calendar without delay. Free and fair elections including all of Venezuela’s eligible voters are required to solve the country’s crisis.

Last month, I, along with my colleague, the hon. member for Mississauga Centre, met with Venezuelan human rights activist and wife of Mr. López, Lilian Tintori, to discuss the deteriorating situation and commit Canada's support for dialogue and respect for democratic rights. The Prime Minister also met with Ms. Tintori and repeated Canada's call on the Venezuelan government to release all political prisoners.

In addition to public statements, government officials have been working hard to keep bilateral channels open in order to directly convey our serious concerns to the Venezuelan ministry of foreign affairs and the Venezuelan ambassador in Ottawa.

Programming at Canada's embassy in Caracas continues to support the work of Venezuelan NGOs and human rights activities working on good governance and human rights issues. This includes an embassy-sponsored annual human rights award, which is now considered one of the most prestigious human rights awards in the country.

Canada will continue to criticize the Venezuelan government's treatment and imprisonment of political opponents, but we also recognize that ensuring that democratic rule is restored in Venezuela is fundamental for there to be respect for human rights, security, and prosperity for all Venezuelan citizens.

Since the national assembly began sitting in early 2016, their supreme court has annulled almost all legislation. In March of this year, the court declared the assembly in contempt and announced that it would take over the elected members' duties. While the decision was reversed, the assembly remains powerless. The international community, including Canada, was swift in condemning this action. On March 31, the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the supreme court's takeover of the national assembly and calling for the Government of Venezuela to allow elected members to carry out their constitutionally mandated duties.

This type of behaviour is unacceptable and points to a lack of separation of powers between institutions in a democratic society. The Venezuelan people have a right to have their voices heard through their elected representatives. Meaningful progress is impossible without proper processes.

They also have a right to vote in constitutionally guaranteed elections. Unfortunately, not only has the presidential recall referendum launched late last year been indefinitely postponed, but so have regional elections that were due to take place in 2016.

The Government of Canada has not hesitated to raise its voice in support of democracy in Venezuela through the many statements and messages the government and our embassy in Caracas have issued.

At the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa last June, our Prime Minister, along with the U.S. and Mexican presidents, jointly issued a statement calling for democratic norms to be respected and for the recall referendum to be allowed to proceed. Similarly, since last July we have issued multiple joint statements with partner countries at the Organization of American States, insisting the Venezuelan government adhere to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

On October 21, 2016, Canada issued a statement explicitly conveying Canada's concern with the suspension of the presidential recall referendum and urging the electoral council to reverse its decision and allow Venezuelans to exercise their constitutional right.

On April 27, the Minister of Foreign Affairs again expressed Canada's regret about President Nicolas Maduro's decision to withdraw from the Organization of American States, appealing for a restoration of constitutional order, and on May 4, after President Maduro announced he would establish a constituent assembly to change the constitution, we issued a statement urging all parties to work together peacefully on solutions to the crisis and calling for the release of political prisoners and the setting of an electoral calendar.

Indeed, the Government of Canada is deeply concerned with the establishment of a constituent assembly without the guarantee of universal suffrage. We are also troubled by the increased tension and polarization this announcement has served to generate.

The Canadian government values its long friendship with Venezuela, and we recognize that only Venezuelans can determine their future. However, as a champion of the values of inclusive and accountable governance and the promotion of human rights, Canada has an important role to play in helping Venezuelans find a solution to the current crisis. A secure and prosperous future for Venezuelans is important not only for Venezuela and its citizens but for the entire hemisphere. Rest assured the Government of Canada will remain firmly engaged on this important issue.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, like so many others, I am deeply concerned about the current political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

I think that everyone closely following the situation has seen the images of the crackdown on demonstrators in Caracas. We have been seeing these troubling images for months. All this is occurring during a period of intense polarization within Venezuelan society, although this polarization cannot in any way justify the terrible abuses we are seeing.

The crackdown is steadily intensifying in Venezuela and is taking place in various forms. A good example is freedom of the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, Venezuela now ranks 137th in terms of press freedom. Human rights activists are being attacked, and political opponents are being jailed. I too met with Ms. Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, two weeks ago here in Ottawa, and what she said was quite interesting.

I am fascinated by how the Venezuelan national assembly is being treated. We know that during the most recent election, the opposition won two-thirds of the seats in the national assembly. However, since then, the supreme court has been consistently overturning decisions by the elected members and even tried to dissolve the national assembly. In this respect, I agree with what was said earlier, that it looks like a coup within a coup. It is good that they have backed down, but they continue to overturn decisions by legitimate legislators, which is completely unacceptable, especially since the court is politically controlled.

Meanwhile, because of falling oil prices, corruption, populism, and the political situation, the people are suffering. Demonstrators are being dragged before military courts, and water and electricity shortages, hyperinflation, and the lack of necessities are quite terrible. As well, 76% of hospitals are facing serious drug shortages. One consequence of that is skyrocketing infant mortality.

In fact, Human Rights Watch makes a good summary of some of the problems, although it does not list all that we see currently in Venezuela. They say that the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees has enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and punish its critics.

Severe shortages of medicine, medical supplies, and food have intensified since 2014, and weak government responses have undermined Venezuelans' rights to health and food. Security forces have arbitrarily detained and tortured protestors, and raids in low-income communities have led to widespread allegations of abuse.

These are comments by Human Rights Watch, a highly credible organization. Amnesty International, another organization I am delighted to work with, has also expressed deep concern about the situation. We must find a solution and restore dialogue, peace, and the rule of law in Venezuela.

The reason I have a problem with the motion is that I think the proposed measures are inappropriate and in some cases counterproductive.

I will start with the part of the motion that I agree with. It reads, “Canada’s foreign policy should always be rooted in protecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law." I completely agree with that.

The rest of the motion, however, is problematic. In part (a), it calls on the government to “develop a plan to provide humanitarian aid directly to Venezuela’s people". I am sorry, but that needs to go through international organizations such as the United Nations. The Venezuelan government says it is prepared to accept aid that comes by way of the United Nations. Aid should be supplied through multilateral organizations, not directly.

The other problem is that the motion condemns the imprisonment of political opponents. That seems feeble to me. I think we should actually call for the liberation of political opponents. This is an anemic suggestion that just does not go far enough.

However, the biggest problem I have is with the referendum. No one else is calling for a referendum. It is important to understand that, if a referendum had been held last year, before the president was halfway through his term of office, it would have led to an election. However, if a referendum is held at this point in the president's term, the vice-president would automatically become the president under the Constitution. There are some serious problems with that. The vice-president has been accused of being a drug lord, and the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking. One also has to wonder how he managed to earn billions of dollars in the first place. I do not imagine he earns that much in his capacity as vice-president.

That is a problem, and so the proposed solution is an even worse alternative. The proposed solution will only make the problem worse.

I am a bit disappointed to see that the resolution makes no mention of the crackdown on protesters, for example. I think that the crackdown on protestors has been excessive. The motion does not make any mention of that. It also does not mention the use of gangs or the need to respect the national assembly and its duly elected members. It is not rocket science. I am thinking of the resolution that was adopted by the European Union, for example. I am sorry, but I only have the English version of the document. It reads:

Calls on the Government and the Supreme Court of Venezuela to respect the constitution, in particular the powers conferred on all duly elected members of the parliament....

Calls on the Venezuelan Government to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners....

That is what we should be working on with the people of Venezuela. We also need to work on prevention. When the Conservatives were in office, they cut some of the funding for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which was doing extraordinary work to encourage dialogue and prevent this type of situation. I would like to see the Liberals reinstate that funding. I have asked them before to do that.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate in support of the member for Thornhill on Venezuela, and I do have a Yiddish proverb, but I will say which one it is later. I want to start by establishing a couple of facts and very strong beliefs I have, having spoken a lot with the Venezuelan community in Calgary.

Hugo Chávez was a dictator. Nicolás Maduro was and continues to be a dictator. Hugo Chávez's rule was marked by the collapse of the private economy, from the nationalization of industries like cement, construction, a great deal of the food distribution system, wholesale markets; and the substitution of community groups for more central government, and we saw this throughout the Chávista rule. When Chávez was there, he started the slide of Venezuela from one of the richest countries, if not the richest country in South America, with the substitution of community groups to more centralized government; and the political party that he belonged to increasingly took over arms of the government. There was confusion between the two, just as there is today in the Russian Federation.

His rule was also marked by the erosion of the rule of law and of public institutions, which today has led to the collapse of public institutions including the national assembly and the supreme court of Venezuela. People like Nicolás Maduro and people who support him look for opportunities like this to continue an autocratic socialist government. The fact is that, from Chávez to Maduro, Venezuela went from the richest country in South America to the poorest, most violent, and now the most autocratic and definitely the most dictatorial.

I want to dwell on the systematic abuses of human rights in Venezuela. Between April 1 and May 27 of just this year, we are talking about the arrest and detention of 2,950 peaceful opposition demonstrators, people who are tired of being abused, people who are tired of starving and being unable to provide for their families. Now, 1,329 of these people are still being detained today, 355 of them have received a trial and 189 detained by military tribunals. These are civilians being tried before military tribunals. Some 60 people have been killed since April 19, and I want to update the numbers to the House because I spoke today with executive director of the Canada Venezuela Democracy Forum, a Venezuelan expat who lives here in Canada, and he told me that, as of today, they are counting 78 people murdered by the Maduro regime. These are peaceful demonstrators who were simply going out into the streets to protest against a government they no longer trust, no longer believe in, and they want out of power.

The coup d'état is what we hear from the Venezuelan opposition, but from many other groups too who have confirmed that the government of Nicolás Maduro now leads essentially an autocratic, dictatorial state with no basis whatsoever in Venezuelan law or international law. By decision 156, passed on March 29, the supreme court assumed the powers of the national assembly. These are the legislative powers that the national assembly had, violating the Venezuelan constitution. Recently Nicolás Maduro called to reform the constitution with a body of 500 members, so 50% will be appointed by Maduro himself—I can see a problem already emerging—and 50% from so-called grass roots organizations from government programs, which is all Chávista members; therefore all of them will be appointed directly by the government through whatever avenue he chooses. This violates electoral law in Venezuela as well as the constitution of Venezuela.

I and other members who have spoken have also had the pleasure of meeting with Lilian Tintori, who is the wife of one of Venezuela's opposition leaders, who is illegally being detained in a military prison by the Maduro regime. I found her to be quite a fierce defender of human rights. She has become quite an activist, for her husband, for the opposition parties, and also more broadly for the democratic push in Venezuela. She spoke of the hardships that people are experiencing there, such as the food shortages. Venezuela used to be a country where people could feed themselves. I know that the food shortages have been blamed by some to be because of the collapse of the price of oil on international markets. However, Alberta experienced a collapse of the commodity market as well, and we are still able to feed ourselves. There is still food on the shelves. We can still go and purchase it. That is not the case in Venezuela.

There are drug shortages. Items like Tylenol are up 500%, a simple tablet of Tylenol, which can mean the difference between someone ending up in an emergency room and not.

In the case of those winding up in an emergency room in Venezuela, they are very likely not to get any treatment. There is simply no medication available at a reasonable price. People must go to the black market.

There have been month-long demonstrations where people have taken to the streets. It is easy to find out about these. They are on the news now. They started on Facebook and Twitter. People were posting about it and showing pictures of what is actually going on on the ground.

She also spoke about the illegal detentions, the rounding up of members of the opposition parties. They are being arrested, randomly at times, detained for hours and days and sometimes weeks, and then released, only to be re-arrested. The regime is doing such things to spread fear. It is a reminder of the times that I still remember, when Poland and other ex-Soviet controlled republics in eastern Europe experienced exactly the same thing. Opposition members there have fought for their freedom and for democracy.

That Yiddish proverb I spoke about earlier relates deeply to Venezuela's conditions today. Peace is to man what yeast is to dough. The reason I want to talk about dough is that Maduro's regime is making this ridiculous, almost comedy-like attack on the private market, the private economy, where people find ways to fulfill each other's needs. The regime has actually attacked bakers, as of two weeks ago. It declared bakers to be special contributors. One Venezuelan baker translated the regimespeak for us, saying they have to pay double in taxes while facing shortages of milk, eggs, cheese, and deli products. In March, 80% of Venezuela's bakeries were reported to have no flour.

To dwell on bakeries and dough and yeast some more, in something referred to as the bread wars online now, Maduro's regime has accused bakers of hoarding and being allied to the imperialists. In fact, in a recent speech, Maduro accused them of waging a bread war against the Venezuelan people.

Now there are police operations ongoing still today, which are seizing owners of these bakeries and accusing them of hoarding flour. Now it is getting ridiculous. We know how serious the situation must be for the government of a country to be in the business of seizing bakeries and seizing bakery owners and sending them to jail for the simple crime of making cookies. One baker told NPR that they can only serve five customers per day. Effectively, that means they are only open 40 minutes after opening, every single day.

Now I'll turn to a personal story. This reminds me of the stories my parents used to share with me. Many members know that I immigrated to Canada from Poland, and I still remember the store shelves being empty in Poland in the early 1980s. I was only a little boy of four. The only thing people were certain to be able to buy in the stores was vinegar. There was ample, copious amounts of vinegar. The stores never ran out of it. We would go to a local cafeteria called, in Polish, bar mleczny, a milk bar, which does not mean there was actual milk because there was never any. However, people could get soup, a peach soup, and my dad would tell us stories about how people could buy this peach soup and all it really was was half a peach in a bowl of water. That was peach soup.

When I hear these stories about what Venezuelans are going through, I identify with it. I know what that looks like. That is why my family fled here to Canada.

The tragedy of Venezuela continues. Eight out of 10 Venezuelans are poor. There is a critical lack of medical supplies and money for health care that contributes to infant mortality rates that have soared 30% in one year. Maternal mortality is up 66%. Hyperinflation has vaporized the savings of an entire generation of people. One economist who tracks a common food staple, chicken, has calculated the annual inflation at 700%.

One other member did mention the president of the national assembly, Julio Borges, who said, after tearing up a copy of the supreme court ruling:

Nicolas Maduro has carried out a 'coup d'etat'...this is a dictatorship

This is from the man who would know best. This is from the person who is the head of the national assembly in Venezuela.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also condemned the regime for the militarization of the management of the protests. It has detained members, like the Contreras, who are now subject to military justice in full violation of Venezuelan law. They have been held completely incommunicado from any human rights groups.

This is all being tracked by organizations like Human Rights Watch. It says that, according to its numbers, there is abuse of prosecutions going on of at least 275 civilians by military records alone, official records.

I would say that this motion is extremely timely. It is time for Canada to act. It is not enough to go to the OAS. It is not enough to put out a warm-hearted press release. It is time to act and call for everything inside this motion. I am asking the government to support it. I am asking all members of the opposition to support this motion as well.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate with the hon. member for London North Centre, I will let him know that there are about eight minutes remaining in the time we are provided now. If he wishes his whole 10 minutes, of course he will have his remaining time when the House next takes up debate on the question.

The hon. member for London North Centre.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2017 / 6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to see general solidarity in this House today for the people of Venezuela who continue to suffer under a brutal regime, and it is indeed a pleasure to speak to this very important motion.

Canada has a strong voice within institutions of the inter-American system. Since joining the OAS, the Organization of American States, in 1990, we have been constant in our principled and rigorous defence of human rights and respect for democracy. As the leading multilateral organization of our region, the OAS has an important role to play in upholding democratic norms and in helping member states when they face challenges in maintaining the high standards that we have agreed to throughout our hemisphere. The countries of the Americas have made enormous strides over the years. Throughout the region, constitutional norms have been strengthened, governments have deepened their commitment to democratic rule, and armed conflict has subsided. By bringing the countries of the Americas together, the OAS supports and strengthens these hard-fought gains. More important, member states have agreed to a coherent set of shared values, and individually they work with their neighbours to achieve these very important and shared goals.

It is thus with grave concern that Canada is closely monitoring the dramatically deteriorating political, social, and economic situation in Venezuela. Constitutional order has been suspended, political rights have been restricted, and violence is growing in the streets, while the people of Venezuela suffer under the ongoing humanitarian crisis due to the scarcity of food, medicine, and fuel. It is also with deep regret that Canada notes the stated intention of President Maduro's government to withdraw from the OAS, rather than to accept the assistance of the OAS and other member states that are willing to provide it.

The current situation in Venezuela cannot continue. It is not sustainable. While any lasting solution can only work if reached among Venezuelans, Canada firmly believes that effective multilateralism through the OAS can play a strong supporting role in helping Venezuela move forward in a peaceful manner. In line with Canada's values and interests, we have demonstrated leadership on this issue. Along with like-minded countries and other friends of Venezuela, this government has called upon its authorities to establish a credible and meaningful dialogue with the opposition to find an internal solution in line with basic democratic principles.

Canada continues to call for the release of political prisoners, the restoration of the powers of the national assembly, the establishment of a calendar for elections, and the willingness to allow the distribution of humanitarian aid to alleviate the ever more desperate situation in which the people of Venezuela find themselves. In addition, Canada's embassy in Caracas continues to support the work of Venezuelan NGOs and human rights activists working diligently on good governance and human rights issues.

Members of the OAS, both unilaterally and multilaterally, have fully agreed to uphold democratic values and principles. The standards for democratic behaviour are set out in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Indeed, first envisioned at the 2001 Summit of the Americas held here in Canada in Quebec City, the charter is an important tool that encourages states to work with neighbours and to accept help when democracy is at risk. Member states of the OAS are making use of every instrument available to them to help Venezuela find its way. Canada has been among the most active countries seeking the OAS's action to address the crisis.

We have reached out to Venezuela in multiple ways and in good faith to help find answers, including on April 3, notably, when an OAS resolution for Venezuela to respect democratic rights was co-sponsored by Canada. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is actively seized of the issue and will continue to play an active leadership role on this issue, again, in solidarity with the Venezuelan people. Indeed, the minister has spoken with counterparts at an emergency meeting of foreign ministers of the Americas held on May 31 in Washington.

On that note, I have always had the opportunity on the foreign affairs committee, in collaboration with the hon. member for Thornhill, who put forward the motion, and with other colleagues here in this House who sit on that committee, to hear of very important human rights abuses taking place around the world. Venezuela is one of those issues. I sat in on a session as a member of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights where Ms. Tintori, the wife of the activist and very important democratic leader, Leopoldo López, told us of the suffering of the Venezuelan people. We were all moved by it.

Again, this country, this government, continues to recognize the abuses that are being perpetrated by the Maduro regime, and we are, as I say, actively seized with this important challenge.

Canada will continue to repeatedly speak out and to act, with our partners and neighbours, to ensure that the Americas remain a region that takes very seriously our commitment to democratic governance. We hope, through inclusive and effective dialogue, that Venezuela will accept our offers to help it respect international commitments to democracy and human rights in order to move beyond the current crisis peacefully.

VenezuelaPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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.

[For continuation of proceedings see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

The House resumed from May 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-45, on the legalization of marijuana, addresses findings by various stakeholders over many years. For example, these include the 2002 Nolin report, which calls for the end of criminalization for simple possession, as well as dozens of reports by community groups and provincial and national organizations explaining that the war on cannabis is not working.

I personally support the principles of the bill, such as limiting cannabis possession for an adult or to combat illegal trade. While we may agree with the public safety and security aspects of the bill, I wonder about the public health aspects. This is just one of the major holes in the bill.

In my speech, I will focus on three of them, namely, the government’s decision to leave young people with criminal records; the burden placed on the provinces with respect to managing distribution and the handling of impaired driving charges by the courts, and on youth organizations that currently bear the prevention burden; and the lack of a vision with respect to youth prevention and education.

The Liberals have been making the legalization of cannabis a central theme since March 15, 2015. The leader of the Liberal Party announced at a Vancouver radio station that he wanted to legalize marijuana as soon as possible. He said that we needed to look at the situation south of the border and that having a criminal record has serious consequences for young people. He was right. Indeed, the current legislation has many negative impacts. Over 54,000 people were arrested for simple possession. A great many of them have criminal records. The people most affected by this are of course young people, especially young people from different cultural backgrounds and first nations. This kind of discrimination was no more tolerable in 2015 than it is today.

Now, the leader of the Liberal Party, who has since become the Prime Minister, has changed his tune and is pursuing his policy of leaving thousands of young Canadians with criminal records. I remind the House that once someone is stuck with a criminal record, it is very hard, if not impossible, to get a passport and travel abroad, or even to the U.S., to find a job, to find decent housing, or to volunteer anywhere. When someone has a criminal record, they are stuck with that black mark for the rest of their lives.

The NDP is not proposing to put the brakes on legalization, but rather to learn from the mistakes of the United States, for example, and to adopt what has worked elsewhere, unless the member for Eglinton—Lawrence believes that 17 U.S. states, Australia, Belgium, and Portugal are wrong about decriminalization.

Some organizations, such as Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, are asking for the immediate decriminalization of cannabis. This would free up our courts and allow us to better address the consequences of the Jordan decision. Above all, it would give certainty to police officers who must enforce the law.

To prevent discrimination and life-long consequences for youth and to help our judicial system, I am asking the government to decriminalize marijuana immediately and to give an amnesty to those with a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis. That is also one of the recommendations of the minister's task force on cannabis legalization.

There is a serious lack of information about public health in the bill and in the document provided by the Department of Justice. According to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, or INSPQ, the legalization of cannabis and its sale cannot be done for purely commercial purposes. I completely agree. Even if we approve the provisions of Bill C-45 that prohibit false advertising, sponsorship promotion, and the like, there are still too many details missing on other issues. Under clause 139, the matter of plain packaging and displaying information such as the level of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, will be covered by the regulations, which will be developed after the bill is passed.

However, the government has not given any indication as to what it intends to do. Take, for example, dried products. The Netherlands have imposed a 15% limit on the concentration of THC. Why are the Liberals not setting any limits on the concentration of THC for every product covered by the bill? No limits have been set at all.

Public health organizations such as the INSPQ tell us that concentration levels in several cannabis-related products have increased dramatically in recent years. Why, then, did the government not improve the bill? The task force also told it that the bill lacked teeth in this respect.

A major part of public health is prevention. However, this aspect is missing from the bill. The word prevention literally appears nowhere in Bill C-45, and yet, prevention is mentioned in all the papers I have read and all the conversations with organizations I have consulted. My staff and I spoke with many organizations in Salaberry—Suroît as well as provincial and national organizations. They all talked about the need to know more about the bill, since the information is not getting out, as well as the need for prevention and education funding.

PACT de Rue, an organization involved in street work, is asking for funding to be made available to community groups as well as schools to educate young people who may be between 11 and 17 when they start smoking cannabis for the first time.

The Association québécoise des centres d'intervention en dépendance, which includes Liberté de choisir, an organization in my riding, is calling on the government to reinvest that revenue in prevention and education.

National organizations, such as the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, are sending the same message. Even the working group that the government created made the following recommendation:

Implement as soon as possible a...public education campaign...with an emphasis on youth, parents and vulnerable populations.

It also made this recommendation:

In the period leading up to legalization, and thereafter on an ongoing basis, governments invest effort and resources in developing, implementing and evaluating broad, holistic prevention strategies....

Quebec's minister, Lucie Charlebois, was disappointed in the federal government's announcement:

We need more money to do prevention, to make sure parents have the information they need. How are we supposed to educate people? How are we supposed to prepare parents for this and do awareness programs in schools?

I just want to point out that the government goes on and on about how it wants to set up prevention programs for young people, about how it wants to protect them and stop organized crime in its tracks. That is all well and good, but it is not actually ponying anything up for effective, long-term measures to protect young people.

The Minister of Health announced a whopping $9.6 million over five years, less than $2 million per year, or less than 6¢ per Canadian per year for prevention. How is prevention work possible with so little funding? Do we need to dip into federal transfers, even though they do not even meet needs now? That is not a good idea.

Let us look south of the border, as the Liberal Party leader invited us to do in 2015. Colorado is spending over $45 million per year on prevention and education. That is 30 times more than what is being proposed.

Officials interviewed by the task force advised it to launch prevention campaigns before the official legalization date, supposedly one year from now, if the Liberals are to be believed.

For now, the federal government’s message to the provinces is “I am legalizing it, but you figure out how to deal with the public health issues”.

I find it is irresponsible of the federal government to recklessly say it is making decisions based on science. Everyone we consulted and the experts in the field are saying that investments in prevention are sorely needed to educate young people about the risks of cannabis use.

However, there is no political will, no vision, or no leadership to carry out a proper prevention campaign.

Even worse, there is not one word about research either. Several reports find that there needs to be more scientific research into the effects of cannabis. The government itself wants to change the regulations but is not contributing the resources to come up with scientific data. However, Canadian society has already accepted the bill and the social change that legalizing cannabis represents.

The University of New Brunswick created a research chair. Will the federal government help them? We do not know.

Deciding to legalize without a prevention, education, or research plan is a major flaw as well as the height of arrogance.

The government says, “It is not a problem, we will keep our promise, and the provinces will foot the bill, tough luck”.

In closing, Bill C-45 introduced by the government deals with the public safety aspect, but not the public health aspect. It legalizes cannabis, the most common drug used by young Quebeckers and young Canadians, but it ignores those who will be arrested over the next year for having a single joint.

We need prevention, not a government that plays sorcerer's apprentice with marijuana legislation. We need research on THC concentrations. We also need revenues to be invested in prevention in the provinces to ensure the future of these programs.

Since I am a former teacher, on a report card, I would give the government a mark of “C minus 45” and I would write “could do better, not reaching its potential”.

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech.

I was also a teacher, in professional and technical training for adults. For about 20 years, I worked with this demographic, that is, young people who used cannabis. I gained a certain amount of experience working with these youth, and I can say that this bill does have the goal of preventing young people from accessing cannabis.

When we talk about youth, we have to remember the importance of distinguishing between a minor and a young person who would legally consume marijuana under the new legislation.

How can the member opposite say on the one hand that the bill is well structured, promotes public health, and stands up for kids who have committed a crime, and on the other hand, want to go ahead with decriminalization before the bill even passes?

Cannabis ActGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will ask my colleague the same question: how can the Liberals say they want to protect the health of young people when they cannot invest in prevention?

According to youth centres, organizations working in the area of addiction and, this week, teachers, it just makes no sense. At present, young people believe that cannabis may even be not such a bad thing to consume because the government is going to legalize it. There is no information. There is no money for teachers and people on the front lines and on the ground to conduct public awareness campaigns about the effects of cannabis on health and behaviour, and all the legal aspects. At present, youth who are arrested may wind up with a criminal record, but they might not realize that. The information is unclear.

There have been several studies on the decriminalization of marijuana. Even the minister's task force recommended immediate decriminalization. I am not the only one calling for it. For years, many reports have said that it is important that these youth not have a criminal record because it will follow them for the rest of their lives, affect their work and ability to find housing, to travel, and even to do volunteer work. They cannot do volunteer work if they have a criminal record.