Madam Speaker, I rise tonight with great pride on behalf of my beautiful riding of Saint John—Rothesay to cap off the second hour of debate on my private member's motion, Motion No. 161.
I can say as the member of Parliament for Saint John—Rothesay, a riding that is on the front lines of the war on poverty, that we need to do everything we can to advance polices that will help us tackle poverty reduction in my riding and across the country. It is my number one priority. That is why I used my opportunity to introduce Motion No. 161, a motion that will allow me to move us as close as I can as a member of the House to my goal of eradicating poverty and creating a more just society.
As I stated at the outset of this debate, we have all made mistakes in our lives. I believe in second chances when they are deserved. I would like to believe we live in a society that can forgive past transgressions when such forgiveness is shown to be merited.
Sometimes mistakes that happen early in life can lead to a criminal record. When a mistake is properly addressed, it is best for everyone, both the offender and society, to move on. As a society, we need to be able to give deserving citizens a second chance.
I know the vast majority of my colleagues across the aisle agree with me on this. Indeed, my colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan asserted that they do when he said in the first hour of debate of this motion, “We recognize the important role that record suspension plays in allowing people to move on from that phase of their life if there is clear indication of rehabilitation”.
As we have heard over the course of this debate, it is unfortunately the case that the criminal justice system often fails to provide this second chance for many deserving Canadians, especially those in low-income situations.
Approximately 3.8 million Canadians have a criminal record, but very few eligible Canadians apply for a record suspension, and less than 11% of those convicted of crimes have been granted a pardon or record suspension.
In addition, over 17,000 fewer Canadians have been able to successfully reintegrate into society and join the workforce as a direct result of the changes made to the pardon system by the previous government, including the quadrupling of the application fee. This represents a 57% drop in applications since the previous government's changes came into effect. Is this fair? Does this show compassion? I think not. It also represents thousands of Canadians who are unable to secure employment and successfully reintegrate into society.
However, this is not only about giving those who have atoned for their past mistakes an opportunity to escape poverty; it is also about keeping our streets and communities safe. When those with criminal records are unable to secure employment because they are unable to overcome the barriers to securing a suspension of their record, they are far more likely to repeat the mistakes of their past than they would be if they were able to acquire gainful employment.
Breaking down these barriers to reintegration erected by the previous government is not just the right thing to do from a moral and public safety perspective, it is the right thing to do from an economic perspective. It costs taxpayers over $117,000 a year to incarcerate an individual, not to mention the hit our economy takes as a result of lost productivity.
In order to be tough on crime, we must be tough on poverty. In this sense, a vote in favour of this motion is a vote for addressing the root causes of poverty and crime. A vote against it represents nothing more than a partisan virtue signalling that does nothing to address poverty or crime.
It is time to put partisanship aside. We must all roll up our sleeves and work across the aisle to tackle the scourge of crime and poverty head-on.
I truly hope my colleagues across the way will vote with their conscience on this. If they truly care about getting tough on crime, they will.