Mr. Speaker, it is such a pleasure to rise and speak to what I believe is a significant piece of legislation.
It has been many years since we have had substantial changes to the Divorce Act. In fact, one would have to go back a couple of decades to when we saw some reforms.
One of my colleagues across the way gave us a little history and mentioned his year of birth being 1984. He also mentioned the patchwork of divorce law across Canada at the time and questioned how one could even get a divorce. The 1980s was not that long ago. When my colleague was born, I was in the forces, posted in Edmonton. A lot has changed.
In the last three years we have seen a minister take a look at what is a very important issue to Canadians in all regions of the country. As opposed to trying to dictate in any fashion, she took it upon herself and the ministry to reach out to many different stakeholders. It is important for us to recognize that Ottawa plays an important leading role on a number of issues. Divorce happens to be one of them. A part of playing that leadership role included the minister reaching out to different stakeholders. The stakeholders ranged from women's groups and advisory groups that can offer a lot of opinions, thoughts and valid information to the many different provinces and territories, in looking at ways in which we can reform the system so that it works better.
This legislation is so important. I had the opportunity to ask the minister about the legislation. The first thing she said is that it is about the child. It is the children's interests that we are debating today and have debated before. The chamber has captured the essence of why it is so important. I have listened to the debate, and even though members might agree to disagree on some of the finer points, most have acknowledged that it is important that the legislation pass so that it can go to committee. We are very grateful for that. It means that all members of the House are in support of the legislation, at least in principle, and are prepared to see it go to committee.
At committee, I am sure we will have an opportunity to hear more feedback. The department is very much interested and is following the debate. Members have had the opportunity to provide some thoughts. I do not want to prejudge what is going to take place at committee, but based on the debate and the discussions that have been taking place, I suspect it will be a very fruitful discussion.
I want to emphasize that when we think of divorce and we put the child first, we must also think about the whole issue of jurisdiction. Committee members and those who are participating in the ongoing discussions in regard to this bill, must remember that the legislation is meant to establish the framework. It is long overdue. We have needed the types of changes in this legislation for a number of years.
As we go through the clauses, I would encourage members to reflect on the fact that those clauses were derived from many different forms of consultation with advocates, provinces, and interested individuals. At times on the surface it might seem that we could simply modify the clauses. However, I would ask members to consider that there was in fact a lot of discussion that incorporated many thoughts and ideas when creating the clauses. I say that because I sense there is a great deal of interest in making some modifications.
We are now almost three years into our mandate and we are debating this legislation today in good part because of a lot of the background work that has been done.
When we talk about putting the child first, it is not only through legislation. Virtually from day one, this government and in particular the Prime Minister have focused a lot of attention on the middle class. Every day we hear about the importance of Canada's middle class and what we need to do to enhance and strengthen the middle class. We have a responsibility to look at some weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
On numerous occasions today, the parliamentary secretary mentioned the $1 billion that is being denied to children. Through budgetary measures and the Canada child benefit we came up with significant amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, to put into the pockets of the parents and guardians of children. This legislation, in good part, is going to enable those very same children to get the money they are due.
This legislation proposes to do many things, but as the minister herself has made very clear, it is the child who comes first. One of the best ways to make sure that the child comes first is to ensure that the child has the necessary financial resources to do the things that are necessary in order to have opportunities in the future.
Relationships can be complicated. Any relationship can be touch and go. No relationship is destined to everlasting peace and harmony. Every relationship will have challenges. When children are factored in, things can become very difficult.
I am sure all of us can share some stories that we have heard. Maybe some of us have even provided some counselling. I have provided counselling services. It is difficult at the best of times.
Some children, depending on their age, might recognize that it is a good thing that mom and dad are separating, because they want both parents to be happy. Then there is the opposite situation, where a child is absolutely emotionally torn and does not know what to do.
Parents might be in a difficult position. They are at odds with each other. Things can range from having a peaceful sit-down discussion with a third party to the more violent type of interaction that we know takes place. Because of the child and because of the parents at times, there is a role for government and society to play to ensure that the child's best interests, in fact, the family's best interests, are ultimately served.
This is the type of legislation that moves forward the idea of an alternative to going to court in all instances. A good example of that is the issue of income and having to have it readjusted. I have a number of friends who have experienced divorce and they talk about the cost of it, having to go through the court process and the waiting periods. Sometimes they were dealing with issues such as income or income readjustment.
Shortly after the minister first introduced the legislation, I happened to be on an Air Canada flight when someone I knew from the past, who I understood was a judge, came up to me. She provided the comment that this bill is good, sound legislation. I do not know to what degree she read it through, but I can tell members that she thought it was sound legislation that would have a profound, positive impact in terms of issues such as time and peace within families. That gave me a vote of confidence that the legislation we are talking about is really sinking in, in terms of the community, since shortly after the minister brought it for first reading, someone of that calibre raised the issue. I had known her many years ago, knew her attitude towards families, and was quite pleased to hear that sort of comment.
In the discussions I have had to date on this proposed legislation, the feedback has been very encouraging. I am glad to see the general support we are receiving not only from outside this chamber from stakeholders and other interested individuals who are following the debate but from across the way, which is encouraging to see, given how important it is that this dated law be updated.
The best interests of the child, reducing child poverty, addressing family violence and more access to the justice system through things that will ultimately resolve more issues related to divorce outside the courts are all positive, strong points that I think we need to repeat again and again to reinforce that this proposed legislation will put us on the right track.
Bill C-78 is a change in terms of the title itself, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. It is very comprehensive.
I will highlight some of the things this proposed legislation would actually do. For example, it would promote the best interests of the child, which is something I have highlighted. One of those points would include replacing the words “custody” and “access” with more parenting terminology. Words matter, so we would have more consistency of that wording throughout Canada. There has been a great deal of work on using the same terminology, and that matters.
Establishing criteria and legislating a list of best interests of the child is incredibly positive. Requiring the courts to take the child's view into account is an appropriate thing to do. Allowing for the implementation of the 1996 Hague child protection convention, clarifies rules around recognition and enforcement judgements and makes it easier for authorities in different countries to communicate and co-operate with each other about many cross-border issues involving children.
We talk about Canadian divorce laws, but often in these divorces, the interests of the child go far beyond our borders. In fact, many countries around the world look to Canada and the types of things we put in place to resolve some of our societal issues. The Philippines is an example. It does not have a divorce law. It is a beautiful country. I have had many opportunities to visit, and I will continue to visit in the future. We can learn a lot from a country like the Philippines.
However, some countries do not have divorce legislation. Therefore, world organizations try to provide international leadership. By Canada incorporating ideas and thoughts that come through those international bodies speaks well with respect to us continuing to play a leadership role not only in Canada but potentially in other areas of the world.
We talked about reducing poverty. The parliamentary secretary referenced $1 billion. Close to two million children in Canada live with one parent or a guardian. Hundreds of thousands of them live in poverty or borderline poverty. In good part that is because the spouse or individual who is supposed to pay support for the child has not fulfilled that obligation.
Therefore, the legislation would allow for the release of CRA information to help establish, vary and enforce family support. Income information would come from T1 form, for example. That is a significant step forward. It is why I suggested earlier the importance of working with other stakeholders, such as provinces and others.
On family violence, a definition of family violence will be included in the Divorce Act for the very first time. It will include any conduct that is violent, threatening, a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour that causes a family member to fear for his or her safety, or directly or indirectly exposing a child to such conduct. Violence means more than just physical violence. It includes mental and monetary. There are many ways one can have an unhappy family. The definition includes a child that has been compromised to the degree it causes pain, whether physical or mental.
Thousands of children are in custody in my home province of Manitoba. Many of those cases are rooted in family violence in their homes. I am glad we have finally recognized that family violence does exist and have incorporated that in the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it looks like you are about to tell me to stop speaking. I have quite a bit more that I would like to share with members. Possibly through questions, I might be able to do so.
Suffice it to say that increasing access to justice and improving its efficiency is another very important point. I will not be able to give examples of that. However, it is always a privilege to be able to share a few thoughts.