Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak to Bill C-78, I would like to start with a personal story, one that will probably surprise many in the House and even many back home in my community.
I spent a number of years as a very young man as a single father. I raised by son, Quinn, who is now 22 years old. I was working two jobs while going to school full time and trying to raise him. It was a difficult time for me financially for sure, but we got through and did well. My son often tells me that some of the best memories of his life were from that time, even though I could not afford to put a lot on the table. It was Kraft Dinners, hot dogs and Hamburger Helper at best. We did without a lot of things. We lived in basement suite apartments for a few years while I went to school. However, I was able to raise him, and I think I raised him into a fine young man, one I am very proud of.
At that time, I did have some experience with family law, albeit not related specifically to the Divorce Act, which now speaks to some of the concerns this proposed legislation tries address today. It is for that reason, and from some stories I have heard from others whom I have spoken to during and since that time and during my time as a member of Parliament, that I do find the objectives and goals of the proposed legislation laudable.
Certainly, in some of the things it addresses, the bill tries to ensure that the best interests of the child are always promoted. It reinforces and emphasizes the importance of keeping a child's best interests as the absolute top priority in family law when making decisions about parenting in these cases. That is a critical principle. I also think it is important that more be done to require legal professionals to encourage clients to use alternative ways of resolving disputes, which is always something we should seek to achieve. The proposed legislation certainly has those things among its objectives. Although I do not often have occasion to do this, I do laud the government for its efforts in trying to achieve those goals.
However, I am still not certain that the proposed legislation would achieve the goals it sets out. There are some questions that I and others on this side of the House have that need to be addressed. Therefore, I want the bill to go to committee so we have an opportunity to address those concerns, issues and questions. I am hopeful they can be addressed.
I will point to a few articles about the bill. My colleague who spoke before read from one of them, but there are a few others I have noted that somewhat pan the bill. I will read very brief passages from them.
First is an article entitled “How the new Bill C-78 affects custody and access rulings”. It says that “On its face, this bill is an expression by the federal government that progress was needed in the way that separated families were treated under the law”. I would certainly agree with that. It goes on to say that “However, much of what is being proposed has been already implemented in out-of-court settlements, as well as in decisions made by judges.”
The second article is entitled “What’s in a name? Divorce Act amendment not enough to reduce parental conflict”. I will not read any passages from it, because I think the title speaks for itself.
The third is the article my colleague read from, but I want to read from some different parts of it. It is entitled “Bill C-78 amendments to the Divorce Act: ‘Rearranging the deck chairs’”.
I would like to read a little from that article. First, the author, someone who has vast experience in family law in my province of Alberta, says:
I would go further and suggest most of Bill C-78 is an expression of “good intention” without sufficient substance to accomplish real change.
That is quite a typical statement that could be made about many of the initiatives of the government. Often it tends to focus on symbolism, talking points and these kinds of things, rather than on really accomplishing anything that would achieve the kinds of objectives it often speaks about. I am not going to say that this is necessarily the case. The author of this article is certainly positing that, though.
The author goes on to say:
Also noted is that Bill C-78 is 190 pages long. The current Divorce Act is only 41 pages long. As self-represented litigants now comprise 80 per cent of the parties before many courts, one might reasonably ask how they will navigate through legislation that is over four times longer than the previous version—which was already difficult for a nonlawyer to digest.
So. My take?
Bill C-78 is a huge new ship, with some very nice looking aesthetic additions—but, with too few lifeboats.
And the iceberg is still coming.
Those are comments of the author of that article.
Obviously there may be some things we need to look at that may need to be addressed with this piece of legislation. However, as I have already stated, I believe that the objectives that are trying to be achieved here are laudable. I certainly hope that this bill will actually be found to address those or can be amended or changed in ways that would make sure that it would do just that. It is something that does need to be done. It is important.
I certainly discovered, during my time both as a member of Parliament and, as I mentioned, in my experience with family law, with my son, which ultimately worked out positively, that there were far too many parents, mainly fathers, and grandparents whose children and grandchildren were being deprived of time with them. That needs to be fixed.
That is part of the reason I am so proud to be part of the Conservative Party of Canada, which has the following policy regarding shared parenting. I will read the policy into the record:
The Conservative Party believes that in the event of a marital breakdown, the Divorce Act should grant joint custody and/or shared parenting, unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be in the best interests of the child. Both parents and all grandparents should be allowed to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children and grandchildren, unless it is demonstrated not to be in the best interest of the child.
That is a very important principle and one that I fully support and believe in. It is one we should be seeking to achieve here.
I will just tell a brief personal story. I was a child of divorce as well. My parents divorced when I was about 12 years old. I have two brothers. After my parents divorced, I spent some time living with each of my parents, and actually both of my brothers did the same, at different times.
My parents, as in most divorces, I suppose, certainly did not get along very well. To this day, I would say that they probably do not get along very well. The key point, however, is that they were able to put aside those differences when it came to their children and tried to do what was right to make sure that their children were able to maintain a strong, positive relationship with both parents. Even though, at times, my brothers and I did not live in the same house, and, in fact, lived in cities that were an hour apart, they made sure that we had the opportunity to continue to have a very strong relationship as siblings. I would say today that I have maintained that with my brothers and with both my parents. That was important, but it is not a common enough story.
That is why these changes are so important and why it is important that this bill is done in the right way and is not just about symbolism, that it is actually going to accomplish the objectives.
I certainly hope that after examination in committee, and after any amendments that might be required, it will be possible, through this piece of legislation, for more children and more families to achieve that goal of ensuring that the relationship remains with both parents and with all the children of the relationship.
If that is, in fact, the case following the completion of that examination, I would certainly be happy to support this piece of legislation.