House of Commons Hansard #405 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

moved that Bill C-331, An Act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international promotion and protection of human rights), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-331, which is an act to amend the Federal Courts Act (international protection and promotion of human rights).

For any members who might question the need for a bill like this to be brought forward to the House of Commons, I would like to reference a number of the cases that are directly referenced by this bill. As members know, there are Canadian corporations involved abroad. There is no doubt that we live in a global economy. When it comes to mining operations in particular, many Canadian mining companies operate in a very effective and thoughtful manner, respecting human rights.

However, there are a number of cases of bad apples: Canadian mining companies that have not operated in public interest or in respecting basic human rights. That is why this bill is vitally needed. As well, we have had over 50 national organizations, representing over one million Canadians, that have stepped forward and asked members of Parliament to vote for and support this bill. Those are national organizations, including notable human rights organizations and major labour organizations across the country. They feel that it is in the public interest for Parliament to adopt this legislation. They see the need for it.

Debate starts today and continues over the course of the next few weeks. Now it is up to members of Parliament to make the vital decision on whether Canada is going to stand up for human rights and become a best practice model globally. Sadly, it has not been the case. I only have to cite a few of the many examples, some of which have come before Canadian courts, that were not able to work their way through the justice system because Bill C-331 was not in place. Of the many dozens of cases that have been brought forward, I would like to reference a few important ones that show the extent of the problem.

Average Canadians believe fundamentally in human rights. As a people, Canadians believe and understand the importance of having human rights at home and globally. When we look at these tragic cases, there is no doubt that Canadians would say it is vitally important that members of Parliament adopt Bill C-331.

There is the case of Nevsun Resources. Nevsun is a mining company that is currently being sued for its alleged complicity in forced labour, slavery and torture of workers at the Bisha gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea. In this case in Eritrea, these workers were enslaved. They were beaten if they did not comply. They were tortured. These are all activities taking place at a mine that has connections to Canada. Canadians would understand the importance of adopting this legislation so that these victims have a clear path of compensation.

There is the case of Hudbay Minerals. On the grounds of those mining operations in Guatemala, security personnel employed by the local subsidiary of the company shot and killed school teacher and anti-mining activist, Adolfo Ich Chaman. They shot and paralyzed a local youth activist, German Chub Choc, who was speaking out against the mining operations. They also perpetrated the most egregious sexual violence against 11 women in the community. If asked whether that is acceptable behaviour, no Canadian would agree. All Canadians would say that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice and the victims compensated for these most egregious human rights violations.

In 2017, Everlyn Guape and Joycelyn Mandi came to Canada to speak about the appalling levels of sexual violence, and violence generally, that has been perpetrated on the grounds of the Barrick Gold co-owned mining operations in Papua New Guinea.

They cited the village of Porgera. In Porgera, the security guards from the mining operations came to that village. The villagers had spoken out about the mining operations, and particularly the appalling level of environmental destruction that was taking place. Eighteen homes were burnt to the ground and there were appalling levels of sexual violence and beating of the villagers. In fact, those two witnesses who came to Canada spoke of 80% of the women in the communities surrounding the mine having been the victims of appalling levels of sexual violence. No Canadian would say that is acceptable. All Canadians would say that parliamentarians should take action.

In El Salvador, just a few years ago, an environmental activist who had spoken out against Canadian mining operations was found killed at the bottom of a well; his fingernails had been pulled out. In dozens of cases, we have heard of activists who have spoken up against mining operations disappearing or being killed through extrajudicial means. No Canadian would say that is acceptable behaviour. That is why it is vitally important to adopt Bill C-331. Bill C-331 would provide grounds and the means by which those victims could go to the Federal Court of Canada and seek compensation for these appalling human rights violations.

In the bill, there are 17 sections of grounds for actions that could be undertaken in the Federal Court of Canada. They include systemic sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture, slavery and wanton environmental destruction. All of those are part of what we consider in Canada to be grounds for a solid judicial framework. We believe that Canadians who violate human rights and who exhibit wanton environmental destruction should be brought to justice. We need to have that same clarity of vision when it comes to what we do internationally.

Most Canadian companies work within the framework of what are acceptable standards in Canada, but some companies do not. It is for that reason that we need to bring forward this legislation, so we can assure that all people around the world, when they are touched by the operations of Canadian companies, are subject to a process that allows them to seek compensation. It would be a best standard. It would, as well, allow Canadian companies around the world to say that Canadians hold their companies and their corporations to a higher standard than other countries. It would, in a very real, meaningful way, enhance Canadians' reputations abroad as well as serve as a deterrent for anyone who attempts to besmirch Canada's reputation by engaging in the most reprehensible human rights violations.

I would like to give credit to the co-authors of this important landmark legislation: Nick Milanovic, who is an adjunct professor at Carleton University in law; and Mark Rowlandson, who is a noted labour lawyer, the assistant to the national director of the steelworkers union in Canada. Mr. Rowlandson is watching us today from the galleries, and I believe he deserves the thanks of Canadians for the work that he has done.

This is an important bill. Bill C-331 will put an end to the current era in which Canadian companies can act with no regard for the impact on human rights.

It truly responds to all of the issues surrounding systemic sexual violence, killings, slavery and torture.

All these issues were raised when we looked at the operations of Canadian companies outside Canada. This bill truly responds to all of those issues. The bill enables victims of human rights violations outside Canada to take these Canadian companies before the Federal Court of Canada and get the compensation they deserve. That gives judges the opportunity to judge. Why are some of these victims not able to take legal action in their own country? The answer is very clear: it is because the justice systems of some countries are not well developed or are corrupt. In some countries, the police are getting money directly from the companies. Consequently, they are not impartial, and they are not able to uphold the human rights we enjoy in Canada.

If this bill is passed, these victims will finally be able to seek justice here in Canada. That is why it is so important that the House pass it. Over 50 major national organizations that advocate for human rights and workers' rights want members of the House, here, to vote on and pass this bill.

This bill will really create a framework for the best example of human rights policy in the world. Canada can be a leader. Canada can be the first country in the world to implement something that other nations will probably look to. I should mention that Canada is not the only country considering this kind of legislation. Other countries are doing it too. Europe is doing it as well. The origins of this bill actually lie in a bill introduced in the United States. Canada could be the first, and it could lead the way on the international stage.

Today, there are more than 50 national organizations, representing more than a million Canadians, that are calling upon the Parliament of Canada to adopt this important legislation. The number of organizations is growing: It is 56 as of today, and we expect that within a few days' time it will pass 60 or 70. The question would be how we could possibly vote against this legislation. People who are opponents of this kind of legislation say that it is not in the constitutional framework of the federal government. We went out and got constitutional opinions that actually show that it is constitutional and very clearly within the framework of the federal government.

Some might say that the announcement a few weeks ago of a special adviser on these issues that the Liberal government announced means that this issue has been dealt with. I could not but disagree with that. The ombudsperson, the special adviser who has been appointed, has been criticized by a number of important organizations, such as the steelworkers and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability. All of them have said that there are not the powers that need to be put in place for this ombudsperson's office. The reality is that in any event, even if we have a robust ombudsperson, and we in the NDP certainly believe that this should take place, all that would do is complement the important provisions in Bill C-331.

This is landmark legislation. Other countries are looking for the judgment of this Parliament to move forward on progressive human rights legislation that would put Canada on the forefront of human rights, and I hope members of Parliament will vote yes for this important legislation.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on speaking without notes. In the mother Parliament, the tradition was that members were not allowed to have notes or read speeches, so I would like to compliment him on staying with that precedent.

The member mentioned that other countries were planning, or have, legislation like this. I wonder if he could elaborate on that. That is part one of the question. The member said there was a law similar to his proposed law in the United States. Part two is, could the member mention a couple of the results of that law or cases, and how that law has been used?

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the origin of this particular legislation is based on the Alien Tort Claims Act that existed in the United States. It was a piece of legislation dating back decades and decades.

As I am sure members are aware, what happened was that activists who were concerned about human rights violations and environmental despoiling started to use the Alien Tort Claims Act in American courts. As a result of that, because of the use of this legislation, a number of times they were able to obtain out-of-court settlements for people who had seen their human rights profoundly violated, in the same way as in the cases that I have just mentioned. There are so many other cases we could bring forward, but unfortunately I have only 15 minutes. In the same way, the Alien Tort Claims Act in the United States has been used to that extent.

As for other countries looking at this, there are many European countries that are looking to have in place a framework that allows for a more active dealing with human rights issues, regardless of whether they take place in the country itself or around the world. That is why so many countries and so many parliamentarians in other countries are taking an active look, with some interest, at how parliamentarians decide, in the end, on Bill C-331.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech and his work. This is certainly not the first version of this bill. I believe he has gone through the 40th Parliament, the 41st Parliament and now the 42nd Parliament.

I know there may be some members who have qualms about this bill, but what is important to underline is that through this important amendment to the Federal Courts Act, we are not making the determination whether a case has merit; we are simply allowing an additional forum for plaintiffs to access the justice system. Ultimately, it is the justice system that will determine whether a case has merit and whether the plaintiffs are to be awarded funds.

In past parliaments, we have seen the Liberals support bills like Bill C-300. We know there are good intentions on the other side of the House to support these kinds of initiatives. I would like the member to just underline the important fact of his bill, for anyone who might have qualms about this, that this is simply enabling an avenue and it will still ultimately be up to the justice system to determine the merit of a case.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

April 29th, 2019 / 11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for his great work in the House of Commons and his standing up for human rights. He does an exceptional job on behalf of his constituents.

The member is absolutely right to point out that currently there are no provisions. Currently, with the appalling levels of sexual violence in Papua New Guinea that I spoke of earlier, those victims have no recourse. There is a judicial system that is corrupt and local police that have been paid off, and there is no way for those victims to have their voices heard, to seek justice and to seek compensation.

In the Federal Court, the merits of their case would be evaluated in the same way the merits of any other case would be evaluated in Canadian courts. It provides an impartial and effective means of addressing those victims' concerns. If the case has no merit, of course it will not proceed.

That is why it is so important and essential for members of Parliament to adopt Bill C-331.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to address what I believe is a very important issue, one which members on the government benches had talked about in opposition. It is an idea that I believe this government has addressed in a very tangible way, which the member across the way, the sponsor of this piece of legislation, somewhat pushed to the side, and that is the creation of the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.

Let me make it very clear that Canadians have an expectation regarding corporate or company responsibility, not only within the boundaries of Canada, but even outside of our country. There is an expectation that our companies and corporations would behave in a manner that would reflect the kind of values we have here in Canadian society.

I know that, in a previous session, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood brought forward legislation, Bill C-300, that attempted to ensure there was more of a social conscience or accountability for mining corporations. It was my local high school, Sisler, that brought it to my attention and asked that I get behind my colleague and friend from Scarborough—Guildwood, someone who I believe has been a very strong advocate, not only in the last couple of years but for many years, for this critically important issue of the social responsibility of corporations and companies that go abroad. This government has taken that issue seriously.

As coincidence would have it, we just had the appointment of a Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer. The Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed her on April 8, 2019. The ombudsperson will review allegations of human rights abuses arising from activities of Canadian companies abroad. For companies found to be involved in wrongdoing abroad, the ombudsperson can recommend measures, which could include the withdrawal of certain government services, such as trade advocacy. The ombudsperson can also make specific recommendations to companies, including in relation to compensation, apology or corporate policy changes. I think that clearly demonstrates a government that is really in tune with the type of values Canadians have.

We can take a look at the fine work that members, and I have cited my colleague, have done over the years, reflecting what I believe his constituents and the constituents of many of my colleagues on both sides of the chamber have been able to express, which is the expectation and value system we have, that it is not good to violate basic human rights outside of our boundaries and we need to be able to support that in whatever way we can. In a relatively short span, we had a very aggressive agenda on a wide variety of things that have had a real impact on Canada's middle class. I can tell members that this critically important issue has become a top priority and we have seen specific action taken by this government. When I look at the issue, I feel very comfortable knowing that, with this ombudsperson, we will have a positive impact.

I come from the city of Winnipeg, where we have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I drive by it every other week, when I am in Winnipeg and not in Ottawa. It is a beautiful symbol that constantly reminds Winnipeggers who drive by it or see it in Google searches just how important the issue of human rights really is for the constituents I represent and indeed anyone who is associated with Winnipeg and far beyond.

However, it is fair to say that Canadians recognize the importance of that issue. It is one of the reasons why this government has seen such an aggressive approach to provide some sort of action that would see tangible results. That will happen with the appointment of the Canadian ombudsperson, who will be responsible for enterprise. That is a good thing.

The proposed bill will amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the Federal Court has jurisdiction with respect to certain claims involving violations of international law outside of Canada. Under existing law, the superior courts of the provinces and territories can hear lawsuits involving events that occur outside of Canada if there is enough of a connection to Canada. Lawsuits alleging that Canadian companies have been involved in violations of international human rights abroad, which involve claims for negligence or other violations of Canadian or foreign law, are based on existing bodies of law.

The question of whether the common law also allows a person to claim damages in a superior court, specifically for a violation of customary international law, is at issue in the case of Nevsun v. Araya, which was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in January.

Unlike the superior courts, the Federal Court generally does not handle cases against companies or individuals for actions taken outside of Canada. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is limited both by the Federal Courts Act and by the Constitution. The Federal Court mostly hears cases involving judicial review of the decisions of federal boards and tribunals, lawsuits against the federal government and cases involving patents or maritime law. Civil claims between private parties do not usually end up in Federal Court except in those areas.

The bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the court may exercise jurisdiction over certain cases involving violations of international law outside of Canada. As the member for New Westminster—Burnaby has said, the bill was modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, or ATS. It provides “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The ATS has been controversial in the United States and there has been a lot of litigation about its scope. This has included disagreements about what kinds of claims are covered and the application of the statute to foreign defendants and corporations. Bill C-331's main provision is more complicated than the ATS, but the idea is very similar.

I would like to make some observations about the kinds of cases in which the federal court would have jurisdiction.

First, Bill C-331 appears to give Federal Court jurisdiction over existing types of legal things rather than creating new ones. It provides that the Federal Court will have jurisdiction to hear cases involving claims respecting conduct that arises from violation of international law. Jurisdiction delineates the scope of the court's authority, either territorially or by subject matter. Jurisdiction is not the same as the right of legal remedy.

For example, the Federal Courts Act gives the Federal Court jurisdiction in all case in which relief is a claim against the Crown. However, that does not mean the Federal Court can address any complaint a Canadian might have about the federal government. The act gives the court jurisdiction, but the court can only give a remedy if one is provided by Canadian law, for example, by a law governing contracts if the claim is one of breach of contract.

Second, the bill would grant jurisdiction to the Federal Court rather than the provincial superior courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that the Federal Court can only hear certain kinds of cases. It needs permission from Parliament in the form of a statutory grant of jurisdiction. In addition, the case must also be governed by an existing body of federal law.

I want to emphasize why it is important for us to recognize what this government has been able to accomplish on the trade file. We recognize the importance of international trade. We have also recognized the very critical importance of ensuring that companies and corporations behave in such a way that reflects what Canadian values truly are all about.

That is why, on April 8, we put in place the first Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise. It is all a part of corporate responsibility. It is about international trade. It is about protecting Canadians, not only in Canada but also to protect people and human rights abroad.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-331, an act to amend the Federal Courts Act, introduced by the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

The legislation seeks to amend the Federal Courts Act, to provide the Federal Court of Canada with jurisdiction to hear claims brought by foreign claimants with respect to causes of actions that took place outside of the territory of Canada, where the acts or omissions alleged contravened international law or a treaty to which Canada was a party. Without more, there are a number of problems with Bill C-331.

To begin with, the legislation would radically transform the mandate and jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Canada.

When the Federal Court of Canada was established, it was established to deal with certain types of matters that fell within the legislative jurisdiction of the federal government. The legislation would fundamentally change that. The Federal Court of Canada would be transformed into essentially an international court dealing with international claims brought by international claimants with little to no connection to Canada whatsoever.

Aside from the issues and principles such as the presumption against extraterritoriality, comity and the principles respecting the sovereignty of foreign states under customary international law, all of which are implicated by Bill C-331, from a practical standpoint, there is a question about the appropriateness of the Federal Court of Canada becoming such an international forum.

By virtue of the international actions that would be invited to be brought forward to the Federal Court of Canada, such actions would necessarily implicate the interests of foreign states. As such, the court would be required to consider questions relating to foreign affairs, international human rights law and international commerce. This is far outside the jurisdiction and mandate of the Federal Court and its area of expertise. Moreover, the legislation would completely upend Canadian and international law respecting the assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The universal test for the assertion of jurisdiction is a bona fide substantial connection between the subject matter and the source of jurisdiction. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated in the Hape decision, citing the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Lotus case:

...that jurisdiction “cannot be exercised by a State outside its territory except by virtue of a permissive rule derived from international custom or from a convention”...According to the decision in the Lotus case, extraterritorial jurisdiction is governed by international law rather than being at the absolute discretion of individual states. While extraterritorial jurisdiction — prescriptive, enforcement or adjudicative — exists under international law, it is subject to strict limits under international law that are based on sovereign equality, non-intervention and the territoriality principle.

Moreover the Supreme Court in the Terry decision stated:

This Court has repeatedly affirmed the territorial limitations imposed on Canadian law by the principles of state sovereignty and international comity.

The Supreme Court in the Hape decision did make clear, at paragraph 68, that it was within the jurisdiction of Parliament to pass laws that would have the effect of asserting jurisdiction over non-Canadians outside the sovereign territory of Canada. However, in doing so, the question would become whether it would “violate international law and offend the comity of nations.”

Parliament has passed legislation that would have an extraterritorial effect in some very narrow and limited circumstances.

For example, Parliament has passed the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Pursuant to section 6 of that legislation, every person who commits genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime outside of Canada is guilty of an indictable offence. However, under section 8 of that act, to be prosecuted, the accused person would have to have some substantial connection to Canada. More specifically, section 8 provides that an individual can be prosecuted only if at the time of the offence the person was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a state engaged in armed conflict against Canada; or the victim was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a state allied with Canada in an armed conflict; or, if after the time the offence was committed, the person was present in Canada.

Additionally, section 7 of the Criminal Code contains a number of provisions that deem certain acts that occurred outside of Canada to be deemed to have occurred inside of Canada, including attacks on internationally-protected persons and UN personnel. However, to be prosecuted under those sections of the Criminal Code, the act must be deemed to have been committed in Canada only if the accused was a Canadian citizen or normally resided in Canada.

However, the legislation clearly is inconsistent with any basis for a real and substantial connection that is the basis for the lawful assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Indeed, claimants could bring civil suits in the Federal Court of Canada with virtually no connection whatsoever to Canada.

Additionally, there is some question about the basis of whether it is consistent with international law to permit civil actions against foreign corporations. This issue was considered recently in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Jesner, which was considering the alien tort statute. In the Jesner decision, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether common law liability under the ATS extended to a foreign corporate defendant. In considering that question, Justice Kennedy, writing for the court, determined that he was not satisfied that it would be consistent with international law or at least that it was not established that it was so. Justice Kennedy stated that:

It does not follow, however, that current principles of international law extend liability—civil or criminal—for human-rights violations to corporations or other artificial entities. This is confirmed by the fact that the charters of respective international criminal tribunals often exclude corporations from their jurisdictional reach.

In so stating that, Justice Kennedy cited the Nuremberg tribunal as well as the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the statute of the international tribunal for Rwanda, as well as the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, all of which are limited to natural persons.

Justice Kennedy concluded:

In the American legal system, of course, corporations are often subject to liability for the conduct of their human employees, and so it may seem necessary and natural that corporate entities are liable for violations of international law under the ATS...But the international community has not yet taken that step.

Therefore, for these and other reasons, I cannot support Bill C-331.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this very important bill introduced by my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby. It is important to the New Democratic Party, because we have introduced it ourselves in several different forms in the past. I think this is really interesting. I am going to come at this subject from a different angle, by focusing on the Canadian aspect and the international aspect. I will also respond to the member for Winnipeg North's intervention.

First off, I want to point out that Canada already offers many advantages to mining companies. That goes a long way to explaining why over 50% of the world's mining and mineral exploration companies are headquartered in Canada. It is because we have a very permissive tax system and regulatory system, making Canada highly appealing to these corporations. On that note, I urge my colleagues to check out the work of Alain Deneault. He has written two fascinating books on this subject, Imperial Canada Inc. and Canada: A New Tax Haven. These books clearly demonstrate that the Canadian tax system was designed to minimize mining companies' tax obligations and corporate responsibility.

My colleague spoke of human rights violations in a number of countries. Over half of the world's mining companies are headquartered in Canada, which is why we need a way to hold them to account. We need to give the Federal Court the power to make these companies take responsibility for their actions and those of their executives and employees. We see that as crucial to ensuring true accountability, not just lip service.

Governments used to say that these companies were out of reach because they operate internationally. My colleague shared some examples of the many excuses that have been used, but none of them hold water. The excuses we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons do not hold water either. He said we do not necessarily need to give the Federal Court that power or have the Canadian justice system handle these issues because the government created the office of the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.

The Liberals announced the creation of this office during their election campaign in 2015. Fifteen months ago, the government announced that the position was finally being created. The ombudsperson was appointed just this month, in April, but we still have not been given a breakdown of the duties of the office of the Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise. Organizations that monitor this file very closely, such as MiningWatch and the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, are not terribly impressed with the government's efforts. It makes no sense that the creation of the office of the Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise was announced 15 months ago, and we still have no idea what her job description entails.

This is crucial, because right now, the government, especially the minister of international trade, is under heavy lobbying from mining companies that are basically against increased powers for this office. They are opposed to the office being able to compel documents when it is investigating cases of mining company abuse in the world. They are opposed to the fact that this body could compel testimony from executives in mining companies. They have been heavily lobbied, as can be demonstrated through the lobby registry.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons claims that we do not need this legislation and its ramifications because the government has created something, but that simply does not cut it.

I find it interesting that he also referred to the efforts of one of his Liberal MP colleagues, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood. He tabled Bill C-300, which was a step in the right direction. He said that it was a demonstration of the goodwill of the federal government on this file.

What he neglected to say is that at report stage for Bill C-300, back in October 2010, it failed by six votes. The bill was defeated by six votes. Fourteen Liberal MPs were missing during that vote, including the party leader, Michael Ignatieff, Scott Brison and John McCallum. Most of the front bench did not show up for the vote on that bill. If there had been seven or eight more MPs, that bill would have passed. That shows that the Liberals had no intention of letting the bill through.

A bill like this is necessary because of the countless examples of abuse we have seen in the past, especially in the mining sector. The environment has been destroyed by these companies, and entire communities have suffered as a result.

People in these countries have been abused and even murdered, particularly those who were concerned with the workers' situation and tried to advocate on their behalf. Unspeakable atrocities have been committed, and the mining industry does not want to take responsibility for its actions.

The acting president of the Mining Association of Canada said that his organization does not support the investigative powers that human rights advocates and groups like MiningWatch want the office of the ombudsman for responsible enterprise to have.

I doubt they agree with my colleague's bill.

Mining companies will say that they have improved their practices and that they are better than they were at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s, but that is no excuse. I hope they have improved their practices because many of them were indefensible. It goes without saying that we are pleased that this is happening.

Does that mean we do not have to have a stronger framework and better tools, given that these practices may well re-emerge? Is this an excuse to get Canada out of requiring a minimum level of accountability and responsibility in exchange for the extremely good benefits it gives to mining companies?

The bill introduced by my colleague is indeed necessary. I sincerely hope that the government will take note and do what it should have done when it was in this position in 2010, namely stand up and vote in favour.

The bill is currently at second reading stage. We want the bill to at least be studied in committee, which would allow us to debate it and call witnesses from around the world. We want the countries that are currently being exploited by some of these mining companies to inform us of what has happened and why Canada should introduce measures to protect ourselves. The courts, police, and the systems of law and order in many countries where mining companies do business are not as developed and robust as ours.

We have the means to ensure that this accountability is not just lip service. Words are often forgotten and fade away. Accountability must be written into the law and the judicial process so that mining companies operating abroad start conducting themselves as they would here and be subject to the same monitoring and oversight they would have in Canada.

For all these reasons I will be voting for my colleague's bill and strongly urging all members of the House, whether in government or the opposition, to vote in favour of it. This will ensure that the bill is sent to committee and that we can start working on it to advance objectives and ideas that should have materialized a long time ago.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill C-331. The international promotion and protection of human rights is something I take great interest in as a representative of a very engaged community of global citizens in Parkdale—High Park and as someone who was a former war crimes prosecutor on a Rwandan genocide tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. I thank the NDP member opposite for moving this bill and prompting this very important discussion this morning.

Under existing law, the superior courts of the provinces and territories can hear lawsuits involving events that occur outside of Canada if there is enough of a connection to Canada. This was raised by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. Lawsuits alleging that Canadian companies have been involved in violations of international human rights abroad that involve claims for negligence or other violations of Canadian or foreign law are based on existing bodies of law.

The question of whether the common law also allows a person to claim damages in a superior court specifically for a violation of customary international law is the issue in the case of Nevsun v. Araya, which was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in January. That decision is under reserve, and it is important that we hear from the court on this particular issue.

Unlike the superior courts, the Federal Court generally does not handle cases against companies or individuals for actions taken outside of Canada. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is limited both by the Federal Courts Act and by the Constitution.

The Federal Court mostly hears cases involving judicial review of decisions of federal boards and tribunals, lawsuits against the federal government, and cases involving patents or maritime law. Civil claims between private parties don't usually end up in Federal Court, except in those areas.

The bill would amend the Federal Courts Act to provide that the court may exercise jurisdiction over certain cases involving violations of international law outside of Canada. As the member for New Westminster—Burnaby has said, this bill was modelled on the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, or ATS. It provides, in full, that “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The ATS has been controversial in the United States, and there has been a great deal of litigation about its scope. This has included disagreements about what kinds of claims are covered and about the application of the statute to foreign defendants and corporations, again something that has already been mentioned in the course of this morning's debate.

Bill C-331's main provision is a little more complicated than the ATS, but the idea and the targets are similar. I want to make three observations about the kinds of cases in which the Federal Court would have jurisdiction.

First, Bill C-331 appears to give the Federal Court jurisdiction over existing types of legal claims and would not create new ones. It would provide that the Federal Court would have jurisdiction to hear cases involving claims respecting conduct that “arises from a violation of international law”.

Jurisdiction delineates the scope of the court's authority, either in terms of territory or in terms of subject matter. Jurisdiction is not the same thing as the right to a legal remedy, and that is an important distinction. For example, the Federal Courts Act gives the Federal Court “jurisdiction in all cases in which relief is claimed against the Crown.” However, that does not mean that the Federal Court can address any complaint a Canadian might have about the federal government. The act gives the court jurisdiction, but the court can only give a remedy if one is provided for by Canadian law, such as the law governing Crown contracts if the claim is one of breach of contract.

Second, the bill grants jurisdiction to the Federal Court rather than to the provincial Superior Courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that the Federal Court can only hear certain kinds of cases. It needs permission from Parliament, in the form of a statutory grant of jurisdiction. In addition, the case must also be governed by an existing body of federal law.

Accordingly, Bill C-331 will allow the Federal Court to hear cases based on federal law, rather than on provincial law or foreign law. This could include cases where there is a violation of both international law and a federal statute, such as the Carriage by Air Act.

The third point I want to make is that lawsuits under Bill C-331 would appear to involve only defendants who are subject to the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. According to the State Immunity Act, as well as international law, foreign governments and their officials generally cannot be sued in Canadian courts. Because Bill C-331 would not amend the State Immunity Act, these rules would remain in place. Similarly, Bill C-331 would not modify the principle that Canadian courts only hear cases that have a sufficient connection to Canada. That nexus was elaborated on again by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

In summary, Bill C-331 could allow the Federal Court to hear some new cases involving violations of international law abroad. However, it appears that those cases would need to fit within existing legal remedies or pre-existing causes of action. They would need to be based on federal law, and they would need to have a sufficient connection to Canada.

I would also like to speak briefly to two procedural aspects of the bill. Bill C-331 would provide that the cases to which it applies would not be subject to limitation periods provided in federal law. This would allow people to bring certain old claims even if they missed the deadlines that ordinarily apply. For example, claims against the Crown in respect of matters outside of a province are ordinarily subject to a six-year limitation period. This limitation period would no longer apply under the bill.

Bill C-331 would also specify when the Federal Court could stay proceedings to allow a case to go forward in a different court. This would roughly echo the principle of forum non conveniens, which Canadian courts use to decide when to stay a lawsuit because it would be more appropriate for it to proceed in a different court.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill for bringing this important issue before the House, and I look forward to hearing more of the second reading debate on this bill.

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the recent appointment of the first Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Ms. Sheri Meyerhoffer. The Minister of International Trade Diversification appointed her on April 8, 2019. The ombudsperson will review allegations of human rights abuses arising from the activities of Canadian companies abroad.

This is a role that I have heard extensively about, and not just from my constituents in Parkdale—High Park but from people around the country who share the concern of the member for New Westminster—Burnaby about ensuring that international human rights are protected not just in Canada but abroad, including when Canadian corporations are involved.

For companies found to be involved in wrongdoing abroad, the ombudsperson can recommend measures, which could include the withdrawal of certain government services, such as trade advocacy. The ombudsperson can also make specific recommendations to companies, including in relation to compensation, an apology or corporate policy changes.

Giving the ombudsman's role some enforceable powers and some teeth is a critical aspect of this mechanism.

The appointment of this ombudsperson underscores Canada's commitment to advancing responsible business conduct by Canadian companies abroad and respect for the fundamental rights of people around the world.

That is exactly the type of reform that we need more of in this country. It is the type of reform that I am sure the member for New Westminster—Burnaby would share with us, as all parliamentarians should, in terms of promoting the understanding and enforcement of international human rights obligations.

Federal Courts ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time 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.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, corporate executives and their lobbyists have had too much access to and influence over the Government of Canada, setting working Canadians and their families back by:

(a) encouraging attempts by the Prime Minister to undermine the independence of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the integrity of Canada’s rule of law;

(b) forcing Canadians to pay high prices for prescription drugs by blocking the establishment of a single, public and universal drug insurance plan;

(c) providing huge subsidies to large oil and gas companies, while putting corporate interests over the protection of Canada’s Pacific coastal waters in the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval process;

(d) motivating the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to give a handout of $12 million to a multi-billion-dollar corporation owned by one of Canada's wealthiest families;

(e) giving Canada's most profitable banks the chance to review and revise a report intended to shed light on anti-consumer banking practices; and

(f) leaving intact a host of tax loopholes that allow the richest Canadians to avoid paying their fair share for Canada’s public services like health care, pensions and housing;

and that therefore, as a first step toward addressing these failings, the government should immediately move to recover the $12 million given to Loblaws and reinvest it to the benefit of working Canadians and their families.

Mr. Speaker, there has been a fair bit of outrage across the country lately at examples of major corporations getting special treatment by the Liberal government.

We think, of course, of the many weeks of the SNC-Lavalin saga. Here the government stands accused of having interfered in what should be Canada's independent legal system on behalf of one particular corporation in an attempt to avoid having it face criminal charges for alleged international bribery. That is an example of a big ask by a corporation. It asked the government to pass a whole new body of legislation in order to create an exit ramp out of the criminal charges, and we saw the entire artifice of government jump to the pump to try to get it done. When some people in government stood up to that, said no and said that they thought it was wrong, they were shown the door. That was the case of a very big ask, and we saw just how willing the government was to try to make that happen for a large corporation.

On the other end of the spectrum, we had what appeared to be a relatively small ask, which was $12 million for Loblaws. The thing about Loblaws is that it is one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the country. One of Canada's billionaires with one of the most profitable companies came cap in hand to the government and asked for $12 million to help upgrade fridges, and the government was all too happy to say yes. It did not say that the $12 million could be better used to leverage new investment from companies that do not already have the capital to green their infrastructure and operations. It did not say that it wanted to make sure public dollars were spent in the most efficient way possible to help those who otherwise would not have any investment at all and who would not otherwise be reducing their emissions at all. Instead, the government was quick to say that it sounded like a great announcement happening at Loblaws and wanted to know what it would cost to get to the podium. The government wanted to know how it could get a piece of that action and be part of a good-news story.

That is not the way to fight climate change. It might be the way to fight an election, but it is not the way to fight climate change. That is an example of just how prepared the Liberals are to accede to demands by corporate Canada, no matter how small. The big asks get the yes and the small asks get the yes, and it seems that everything in between gets a yes too.

What will it take? What is the threshold? What will it take for this government to say that the interests of large corporations are not in line with the interests of everyday working Canadians?

This will not come as an epiphany to anybody listening at home, but it may came as one to some members on the government bench, given their behaviour: Sometimes the interests of large corporations are not in line with the interests of everyday working Canadians. That happens, but we would not know it from looking at the activity of this government. When big companies come with an ask for the government, the answer is yes. Companies know it is going to be a yes, more and more, which is why the asks are getting more and more outrageous, right down a $12-million ask to supplement what Loblaws was already doing in order to upgrade and green its infrastructure.

That is where the sense of outrage comes from. What our motion today is trying to do is name the elephant in Ottawa, which is corporate influence. It is trying to draw what we believe is the very direct line between the influence those big corporations have here in Ottawa with the government and governments of the past and the pocketbooks of Canadians, as well as the effects this kind of friendly relationship between the Canadian government and corporate lobbyists have on the quality of life of everyday Canadians across the country.

To put that sense of outrage in context, it is because these big corporate asks and acquiescences by government are coming at a time when almost half of Canadians are within $200 of not being able to pay their bills and having to declare insolvency.

That is a real hardship. It is of course a hardship for people who have a loss of employment, a serious health issue, or other situations that mean they may not be able to report to work every day and make that extra $200, and therefore they end up in a financial catastrophe and have to declare bankruptcy. It also a real issue for those living with the stress and anxiety of knowing that if something takes a wrong turn or does not go quite right, they could end up there as well. Even if it does not happen to them, it could happen to their neighbour, friends or family, and they have to live with the stress of knowing that it may happen to them.

Therefore, in the NDP we believe that the goal of government activity and government policy should be to try to bring together people who are facing all of these common challenges, such as the common challenge of finding reasonably affordable child care close to home, the challenge of ensuring that everybody who is retiring from work has an adequate pension income to allow them to continue to live with dignity, and the common challenge of getting good access to health care services in their community.

In my community right now, the big battle is making sure that the provincial Conservative government does not close the Concordia emergency room, as it has promised to do and seems hell-bent on doing this June. That would mean that for the entirety of northeast Winnipeg, there would be no 24-7 access to the health care system close to home in their community. For Canadians across the country, there is the issue of the high cost of prescription drugs, because we know that Canadians pay among the highest costs for prescription drugs.

The NDP approach is to bring together people who are facing those common challenges, and the job of government is to implement solutions that bring those costs down and make life easier for Canadians through facing our challenges together. It is not to hobnob with corporate lobbyists at receptions in Ottawa and then change the law for their benefit. It is not to let them off the hook for their big tax bills, which are not measured in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but in the tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars. When we talk about the tax havens they use to hide their money so that they do not have pay their fair share, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars. It is not the job of government to look out for those guys and their interests, and that is what we are here to say today. That has been going on for far too long, and it is time that Canadians got to see this place act in their interests.

It is in this context that Canadians are rightly angry when they hear these stories, whether it is a big story like the SNC-Lavalin story or the smaller story like the money given to Loblaws to repair its fridges, which is a symbol. It is not just the amount of money; it is a symbol of government just never really being willing to say no when corporate Canada comes asking.

When it comes to Canada's effort to tackle climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, corporate interests once again get in the way, so much so that the government decided to spend over $4 billion of Canadians' money not to buy a new pipeline, not to build a new pipeline, but to buy an existing pipeline, just as a gift to Kinder Morgan for having come and tried but not being able to get it done. “Thanks for trying, so we will give you billions of dollars in taxpayers' money.”

That money could have been invested in other priorities. It could provide job training for workers in the energy sector to help their skills align better with the new energy economy that is already under way and already developing. It could also be used to invest in new infrastructure projects that would create more of those kinds of jobs and more opportunity for on-the-job training in that new sector and new economy.

However, we did not see that and we did not get that.

Instead, what we have seen is a government that was silent and has not done anything for workers like those at Stelco and Sears who, when their companies went bankrupt, lost their pension income. Workers still do not have protection to prevent that from happening again. Not only did the government do nothing for them except remind them that they could apply for EI, but it has not done anything for workers of the future to head off the problems that we know are coming because of the sorry example of Sears and Stelco workers. A long time ago, when we knew these kinds of things would be happening and the NDP was proposing that we protect workers' pensions, the government did not come to their defence and did not put laws on the books to protect them,

The government also turned its back on GM workers in an award-winning plant known for its productivity when GM said that it was closing the doors and moving the plant out of Canada. Once again the Liberals were there to remind them that they too could apply for employment insurance, as if that was something they did not already know or as if that was all they expected from the government.

This is a government that did not require VIA, a publicly owned corporation, to have a Canadian content requirement when sourcing a renewal of its railcar fleet. That should have been a requirement, because when public funds are being used at that level of investment, we should be ensuring that Canadians are getting a piece of the action and that we are creating employment in Canada.

The current government has not only favoured corporate interests over those of ordinary Canadians by doing nothing, and there has been a lot of that, it has gone out of its way to help corporate interests when they conflict with the interests of everyday and working Canadians.

One of the first real acts of the government was to change the law for Air Canada to make it easier for it to outsource its aircraft maintenance work. That was a shame, particularly in light of the Liberals protesting with those same workers before the election, saying that the previous government should apply the law. I suppose the current government is applying the law, because it changed it to make it easy for Air Canada to outsource its work and is now applying the law that does not protect workers.

The Liberals have signed trade deals, which were negotiated and applauded by the Conservatives, that enshrine and give real protection of law to corporate rights, but only pay lip service to the rights of workers and the environment.

When Canada Post, another Crown corporation, was in a conflict with its workers in the fall, instead of changing management or giving it a direction to bargain in good faith, the current government passed back-to-work legislation and rewarded the intransigence of Canada Post's management instead of standing up for those workers.

Subsidies to large oil and gas companies continue, even though we know we have to transition to a green economy. That money could be used to retrain workers from the energy sector. It could be used to invest in projects like what the NDP has announced, which is to retrofit every home in Canada to improve efficiency, to not just reduce our carbon footprint but also the monthly heating costs of Canadians. That money could be used for a fund to help Canadians and their pocketbooks while also reducing our carbon footprint. Instead, it is going to the largest oil and gas producers in the country, whose production continues to go up while royalty revenue goes down and the effects of climate change manifest evermore seriously and urgently.

The promises made by the Liberals to eliminate tax loopholes and havens have been ignored. That is all revenue that can go to a just transition to a greener future, lowering the cost of prescription drugs or building more affordable housing. It is not innocent that the money goes away or that it does not have an impact on Canadians. The fact that we do not see it does not mean it is not having an impact when we compare it to what we could be doing if that money were here and people were paying their fair share, as they should. Canadians are seriously losing out.

Internet giants are another example. They are competing with Canadian businesses that are paying their taxes, but they do not have to pay any themselves. That comes at a real cost to Canadians.

All of these things are a continuation of an approach that we saw under the last Conservative government, which was to deregulate, privatize and give major corporate tax cuts, presumably to invest in the economy. The late Jim Flaherty said to corporate Canada at the time that the money was supposed to be invested back into the economy and that it ought to be doing that. That is a nice thing to say, but he did not compel it or raise the corporate tax rate back up, because they were keeping it for themselves, their investors and executives instead. He let them have the money. That money still sits either in bank accounts in Canada or across the world where those executives and investors pay less tax.

When we see the lengths to which the government is willing to go to get SNC-Lavalin off the hook, which was a big ask, and even what it is willing to do with respect to the smaller things, we can start to understand the sense of outrage.

The purpose of our motion today is to shine a light on the corporate influence that pervades Ottawa and draw attention to the very real and concrete effect this has on Canadians who work hard every day, who are worried about the cost of their prescriptions and their housing, and who want to fight climate change.

They see a government that makes promises but refuses to deliver on them when those promises are not in line with the interests of big business. It has failed to take action and will never do anything to enable us to tackle climate change, lower the price of prescription drugs and protect our cultural industries. We need to stand up to large corporations like Netflix and insist that they pay their fair share of taxes to support our cultural industries.

These are the issues. There has been a lot of frustration about the SNC-Lavalin affair. People have talked about it a lot, and although they think something wrong has happened in the case, they are not sure of the way forward. They are concerned about a lot of other issues as well.

How does this all tie together? People should care about that issue, not just because it appears that the rule of law is being undermined in Canada, which has a lot of long-standing consequences, but for the reasons I mentioned.

Canadians who are looking for income security in retirement should be concerned that the government has done nothing to legislate against the kind of pension theft we saw in in the case of Sears workers. The government has not done it. It has talked about it in the budget, but it did not put this in the budget bill in the way that deferred prosecution agreement clauses were put in the budget bill. Let us see the government put the pension theft provisions into the budget bill. Then, we will know that the government is serious. It does not do this, because with regard to workers, it pays lip service. With regard to corporations, it takes real, tangible action. We can see this in the news, in the House and in the behaviour of the government.

The finance minister, who comes from the retirement benefits industry, introduced legislation in the House, Bill C-27, that is an attack on Canadians' pensions. There has been no degree of separation such that the government is responding to corporate lobbying. In that case, the corporate lobbyists are in government, doing the job of that industry from the seat of the finance minister. That is how closely tied the government is to the corporate lobby.

We have not seen any action when it comes to pay equity. We know pay equity will come at a cost to Canadian companies, and rightly so. This is the money that Canadian women have been working to earn for decades. They deserve to be paid. However, the government has dragged its feet. It did not drag its feet with respect to DPAs or when Galen Weston asked for $12 million to replace his fridges. We have watched the government drag its feet for three years on the issue of pay equity. Canadian women deserve to get paid fairly for the work they are doing.

Where is the action on that? Where is time allocation on that? Where is that in the omnibus budget bill? It is not there. In the budget, there is also no money for implementation either. There is a pittance in the budget to begin consultative work on how to implement pay equity. It is about the same amount that Galen Weston got for his fridges this year.

Let us talk about pharmacare. With respect to the importance of reducing the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians, study after study has said that the best way to do this is to have one universal publicly administered plan that covers everyone from coast to coast to coast, no matter where people live or how much money they make. What we hear from the Liberals all the time are hints that the plan they are proposing will not protect Canadians against the high cost of prescription drugs but will protect the pharmaceutical industry's profits and the insurance industry's profits. This is from a policy that would create an expansion of service to Canadians while reducing the overall cost of prescription drugs.

We already spend the money it would cost to create a proper pharmacare plan. In fact, we spend more than that. The NDP proposes that we spend less and cover more people. We know that this is possible.

The call to action in the motion asks the government to get the $12 million back and invest it concretely in some of the ways I have suggested today. This will provide a real benefit to working families. The $12 million amount over the entire federal budget may not sound like a lot, but it is an important symbol of the government finally finding the spine to say no to corporate interests and putting the interests of regular everyday working Canadians first.

We have been waiting for the government to do this. It has not done it yet. This is the smallest possible start to this that the government could make, so let us get started and keep going.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech and his passion on these subjects.

It is interesting, in the motion and in his speech, the member leaves out the carbon equivalent of 50,000 cars being removed from the road. However, I will leave that for now.

The member condemns government providing money to corporations. I am wondering if the member could stand in this House today and condemn the NDP Government of British Columbia for the tax credit it is giving to LNG companies to develop their resources. It is the largest polluter in B.C. Is the member going to condemn that, or just what Liberal governments do? Is it that when NDP governments do it, it is okay?

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer the member's question. He said that I am opposed to the government working with corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that is not true. There is room for corporate partnership. It is just that the threshold has to be that public funds are leveraging new investment. It cannot be a company like Loblaws, which is investing $36 million of its own dollars, which is appropriate and which it was doing anyway to renovate its fridges.

The impression is not of a government that is looking for real investment opportunities and saying, “How do we further reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions? How do we leverage investment from the private sector?” Instead, there is the impression of a government that is looking around and saying, “Who is already doing some of this work? How do we get to the podium? What is the cost of buying our way into announcements that are happening anyway?”

The government is happy to spend the money because it is not government money; it is the money of Canadians. The government is roaming around, buying its place at a podium for things that are happening anyway, rather than leveraging new investment that will create reductions in carbon emissions.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, certainly we in the Conservative caucus share many of the criticisms of corporate welfare. We feel that when Canadians pay taxes, first of all, their taxes should be lower, and second, when they pay taxes to the government, they expect those taxes to be used for vital services, not for things like buying fridges for an already well-off company.

An area where we disagree, though, is on the importance of policies that facilitate competitiveness. The NDP approach, as we heard it outlined in the speech, generally emphasizes more regulation as a tool to keep jobs in Canada.

If the goal is creating jobs in Canada, does the member agree that we need to be attentive to the competitiveness of the Canadian business environment, and measures like lowering business taxes, ensuring fair processes for small business and counteracting the attack on small business that we saw from the government? Those things are very important for facilitating employment, because they make it easier for people to invest, grow and create jobs here in Canada.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP is sensitive to concerns of competitiveness, but the question is how we measure those things and how we define those things.

What we saw with the previous government, of which the member was a supporter, was that the answer was always another tax cut, more deregulation, more privatization of services. It is a theme. We are seeing it in Manitoba under a Conservative government. We see it in Ontario under a Conservative government. Where there are Conservative governments, that is what we see. We see big corporate tax cuts, deregulation and privatization. That is not a way to protect the interests of Canadians.

When government is making policy and devising regulation, competitiveness has to be one of the concerns. However, it cannot be just asking corporate Canada to go out and regulate itself and expect that there will be optimal outcomes for Canadians. That is not the way it works.

I was at a presentation for the Day of Mourning in Winnipeg on Friday, and we heard about the early days of bringing in a factories act in Manitoba. Many of the same arguments were heard then, that there could not be a six-day workweek because that would hurt competitiveness, that kids under 16 could not be banned from working because it would not be competitive with other jurisdictions.

Progress was not made by ceding ground to those companies. Progress was made by making rules that were fair, that considered competitiveness as an important consideration but not the only one, and by implementing and enforcing those regulations.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am hoping for something that probably is not possible, and that is if we could take some of the partisanship out of this motion and look at it as a deeply generic problem of every government in the country, provincial and federal, regardless of who is in the PMO. Corporate lobbies have too much influence.

There is an excellent book by the former leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, Kevin Taft. His book is called Oil's Deep State, in which he chronicles how it was that even with a change of government in Alberta, the control over government policy, particularly energy policy, was deeply held by big oil. The term that is used by academics a lot is the problem of “captive” regulators. The National Energy Board is captive to the industry it regulates and so is Health Canada quite captive to big pharma. We could go issue by issue, department by department.

I would ask my hon. colleague if he thinks we could elevate this debate by looking at the problem generically and not targeting just one party. I would put to him that it is endemic.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the point the hon. member is raising, to which I am sympathetic, is that power does not just reside in the halls of government. The power of capital, the power of people with money, is very real. The power of people who employ other people is real power as well. Therefore, any government of the day only has its hands on the levers of so much power.

What I am trying to get to by noticing a pattern of behaviour in the current government, just as there was a pattern of behaviour in the previous government, and there have been only two parties ever in power in Canada, is that when it comes to those levers, those levers of power we can get democratically through elections and democratically governments are just some of them. This is why it is so important that people who control those levers fight for the right causes and the interests of everyday Canadians instead of acquiescing to the demands of corporate Canada. There is no guarantee of success in those things, because not all the power resides here.

I take the point, but if we want to talk about how to fix that problem, surely part of that, which I imagine is why the hon. member decided to run for politics, is to replace people who are too beholding to those interests and do not see the conflict of interest between corporate Canada's interests sometimes and the interests of everyday working Canadians. This is the other point that is very important to address in this debate. Therefore, I do not apologize for spending time on it.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, part of the whole issue with Liberals giving $12 million to Galen Weston's fridges is that they thought this was a great idea that would inspire Canadians on climate change. Think of the huge crisis we are facing and the massive subsidies they give to oil and gas. They thought they could change the channel on the SNC scandal by having a press conference and announcing they were giving $12 million to not just one of the richest men in Canada, but a guy who lives in a gated community in Florida and who fought against a basic living wage for his own employees.

I would ask my hon. colleague what it suggests about the complete disconnect of the Prime Minister, who has very much become like a head butler for the uber rich instead of a defender of working-class Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do think this was a bit of an attempt to try to change the channel, to stop talking about SNC-Lavalin and start talking about Loblaws replacing its fridges. The Liberals were desperate to talk about anything else. I do not think it was successful and it spurred a similar sense of outrage, because of the theme we are talking about. That announcement comes, just as much as the SNC-Lavalin controversy, out of the same problem, which is that when big corporate companies ask Ottawa for something, particularly the current government, they get what they ask for. It is a species of the same problem. We did not get away from one of the central problems: the SNC-Lavalin affair. The Liberals continued right on that track and part of the problem is they do not see that.

The Liberals are not making the connection between the corporate lobbyists who are paid to be nice guys. They go to their fundraisers and wine and dine them at receptions on the Hill. They think it is nice to be friends with those people. They know people and so it is cool to know people who know people. However, they are not making the connection between what those corporate lobbyists are asking them to do and how that affects the pocketbooks of Canadians, how it affects the ability of Canadians to find affordable places to live, how it affects the price of their prescription drugs or how it affects the effects of climate change. We know Canada is surely not doing enough to fight climate change because we still have Stephen Harper's old targets and we are not even on track to meet them.

Today, we are trying to make the connection between that corporate culture and the real effects it has on everyday Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Sean Fraser LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak against the opposition motion on the floor of the House of Commons today.

One of the issues I have with the motion, which purports to discuss the role of corporate Canada in Canadian politics, is that it entirely misconstrues our government's agenda and tries to paint, with one brush, an entire group of parliamentarians who are concerned about the well-being of Canadian families and ensuring the Canadian economy works for everyone and not just the wealthy few.

Before I get into my remarks, I have some real concerns about a democratic deficit we have in the chamber. We like to label one another with names or pretend that other parties may disagree with us with respect to our substantive ideas. However, I think every member in the House and all parties sincerely care about people and want to serve their communities well. However, the political narrative that the NDP are trying to put forward, that somehow the Government of Canada does not carry about families as much as it cares about corporations is bizarre. I hope to cover a bit of this in my remarks.

I do want to focus about the portion of today's motion that concerns itself with one investment we have made, given my role in the environment portfolio. I also want to dig in a little more on the nature of the political conversation we are having versus the one we could be having.

When it comes to the investment at issue that the NDP would like to reverse, I would like to lay out a little for the members where this came from. The starting point for me is that most members in the House would recognize that climate change is real and that we have an opportunity and an obligation to do something about it, not just to do something but to do the most effective things we know how.

Our plan to fight climate change includes things like putting a price on pollution, ensuring it is not free to pollute anywhere in Canada. By 2030, we expect to have 90% of the electricity generated in Canada come from clean sources. We are making the largest investments in the history of public transit in our country to encourage more people to take their cars off the road and take mass transit. We are phasing out coal by 2030, more than 30 years ahead of the previously scheduled date. We are investing in green technology and green infrastructure as well as energy efficiency.

Before I discuss the specific investment that is the subject of today's motion, I want to point out that our investments in energy efficiency are not limited to large organizations. In Nova Scotia, I personally made an announcement of the province's share of part of the low-carbon economy fund that was directed toward energy efficiency initiatives, which benefited home owners who were retrofitting their homes, making it cheaper for them to buy things like smart thermostats, more energy-efficient refrigerators and other equipment or technology that would help reduce their carbon footprint and, importantly, reduce their monthly home heating bill.

We are also setting funds aside to help small businesses with the cost of becoming more efficient. Through the low-carbon economy fund, large organizations were eligible to apply to certain components of that fund. In particular, part of this $2 billion fund had $450 million set aside to identify certain projects that would lead to the greatest amount of emissions reductions at the lowest cost to Canadians. Officials from the Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada assessed the applications that came in and selected the best projects that would make the biggest difference and have our dollar provide the greatest return on investment.

Fifty-four projects were identified as being successful through the fund. These are projects like energy efficiency at McGill University. These are projects in cities like Calgary and, I believe, Regina that will help them do really interesting things with waste diversion and create more environmentally-friendly fuel by the way they deal with their waste. In addition, the $12 million investment, which is the subject of this motion, will go to leverage $36 million to help make refrigeration in one of the largest grocery retail organizations in Canada more efficient. However, it is important to dig into this a little.

One of the things I think people do not appreciate is that hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, found in refrigerants are one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change worldwide. I note in particular that our government entered into the Kigali accord to the Montreal protocol to deal with the proliferation of refrigerants across the world. The measures it found in that document are expected to prevent 0.5° in warming across the planet as a result of the measures that will be implemented.

The investment at issue is not only going to help bring down the emissions across the entire country; it is going to impact 370 communities. The equipment that is being purchased is from a supplier in Mississauga, which is going to create jobs at that company. It is going to create jobs for skilled workers who install the units at 370 different franchises across Canada. The fact is that this was motivated by the finding of the Environment and Climate Change Canada officials that this project was one of 54 that would have the greatest impact on our emissions for the lowest cost.

While we are on the subject of climate change, I have sat on panels with members of the NDP who tell me they support investments in energy efficiency, yet when we actually start making them, they find a reason to oppose them. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that on the Conservative side of the House, it has been a year since the Conservative leader promised he would introduce a plan to combat climate change. Despite many objections to our plan, the Conservatives have yet to put one forward.

The fact is that our plan includes over 50 different measures, and I have laid some of them out: putting a price on pollution, having 90% of our electricity generated from renewable resources, making the largest investment in public transit in our history, phasing out coal, investing in green infrastructure, green technology and in energy efficiency. These are meaningful pillars to an important plan that will see the most aggressive action on climate change the Government of Canada has ever put forward.

However, one of the things that really bothers me is the severe effort the NDP has gone through to ignore the facts around our plan to help Canadians and to build an economy that works for everyone, not just for the wealthiest members of society.

Our record includes investments like the Canada child benefit. It has lifted 300,000 children in our country out of poverty. It is unconscionable to me that in a country as wealthy as Canada there are still kids who do not have enough food to eat or have a roof over their head. This is putting more money in the pockets of nine out of 10 Canadian families. We have stopped sending cheques to millionaires, who, frankly, did not need the money. In the area that I represent, this is sending $48 million into the communities each year. This money is going straight to the pockets of families that could use the money. It is helping over 12,000 kids. This is serious policy that is making a tangible difference for the people who live in Central Nova.

It is not a single policy that is going to shift the economic benefits of the global economy to those who need it. There is a suite of policies that we need to put forward. For seniors, we have rolled back the age of eligibility for the old age security, from 67 to 65. We have beefed up the guaranteed income supplement so the most vulnerable low-income single seniors will have almost $1,000 extra each year. We created a new tax bracket for the wealthiest Canadians, who will pay more, so we could cut taxes for nine million middle-class Canadian families. We are investing $40 billion, along with provinces and communities. It is part of a national housing strategy that will help people who do not have a place to sleep at night or who are potentially underserved in their housing needs.

When I look at some of the investments around health, which are criticized in the motion on the floor today, I can see that in my province not only are we making the largest single transfer of funds to the Province of Nova Scotia to help with care at home, we have set aside $280 million to go to two key strategic areas, in particular mental health and in-home care for seniors. We are moving forward with the creation of the Canadian drug agency, which will help bring the cost of prescription drugs down. We have appointed Dr. Hoskins to lead a committee on the implementation of a national pharmacare in our country, a fact that is conveniently left out of the motion on the floor.

We have made investments in students and universities. We have made investments in communities through infrastructure to create jobs. Does that mean we are beholden to the interests of students or academia or to the interests of communities and job creators? This does not sound like a scandal or some nefarious political narrative; this sounds like good governance to me. This is thoughtful policy that has been developed with the feedback of stakeholders and is making a tangible difference in the lives of the people whom I represent.

The good news is that the investments we are making are working for our economy as well. Not only are people better off; there are more people working today. Since we took office in 2015, the Canadian economy has added over 900,000 jobs. These are having benefits in provinces like Nova Scotia and in fact from coast to coast to coast. Our unemployment rate is at the lowest it has ever been since we started to keep track of those statistics over 40 years ago.

There are more people being lifted out of poverty every day as a result of the measures our government has implemented.

I note that the NDP has criticized us for failing to take action on loopholes that exist for the wealthiest. The fact is that we put forward a number of measures, and the CRA is cracking down on people who are trying to evade those taxes. It is charging, prosecuting and convicting people who are evading taxes in Canada contrary to the principles of law that apply in our land.

I worry about the discourse in this chamber and in Canadian politics. We have motions being tabled that ignore facts to create a political narrative, but facts can be very stubborn. It is important that we engage in debates based on facts, science and evidence, not on what we want people to believe about one another. Every party is guilty to some extent of doing this, and we all have to commit to be better.

In question period, I find that we have an exercise of talking past one another and seeing who can yell loudest to get attention in the media. I find people scrubbing through the video clips from this place to get that perfect clip that makes them look good on Facebook, rather than developing policy that would help people who live in our communities.

It is essential that we try to engage with each other in a thoughtful way, and with respect to the colleagues who are making comments across the way, that we speak when it is our turn so we can listen and understand where others are coming from and respond with thoughtful questions or comments.

I sincerely wish that Canadians could see us when we turn the cameras off. When I have a conversation with the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley about a private member's bill he wants to put forward that came from one of his constituents, I seek to understand what it is and commit to going to officials to see whether they have identified any unintended consequences of the policy. If people at home knew that this is the kind of engagement that takes place when the cameras are not watching us, I think they would be pretty happy with us. It might be boring, but it is effective.

I wish people would show up at committee meetings when the cameras are not on or when a minister is not in the room, when we have thoughtful engagement about whether a particular policy is effective or is going in a different direction than we think is right for Canadians. It might be boring, but it is effective.

The level of civility sometimes disappears here. I know we are all probably guilty to some degree, but I want to communicate that this motion on the floor today is trying to develop a whole narrative about being beholden to the interests of some big, bad corporate executive who sits in the top floor of an office building in a big city. The fact is that our mission from day one has been to create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest Canadians, one that will have a meaningful impact on our environment by reducing our emissions so we can preserve our natural environment for future generations.

I want to communicate that it is essential that we take action on climate change. It is essential that this place include investments in energy efficiency. It is one of the main reasons I am going to oppose the motion. In addition to the component that deals with climate change, it is essential, before we start trying to label one another as being one kind of party or another kind of party, that we realize that everyone here is in it for the right reasons: to try to help people who live in our communities, to make life a little better and to use the platform we have been given to advocate for positive social change.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I note that when the Liberals get really emotional and touchy it is when we start talking about lobbyists.

The member is worried about civil discourse in the House. Why? It is because we are talking about the power of lobbyists over the government. That is what we should be talking about in the House, because we are seeing policies that are interfered with time and time again. The discussions in the House become irrelevant when they call into the Prime Minister's Office.

We do not have a pharmacare strategy and will not have a pharmacare strategy. Why? It is because big pharma is going to talk to the finance minister. We have nothing to protect pensions in this country, whether it is Stelco, Nortel or Sears. Why? The Liberals said how much they cared about it, but what do they care about more? They care about the family business of the finance minister, which got the contract to wrap up those pensions.

Now the Liberals are talking about climate change. I always love it when they talk about nice things that will happen. We are further from our Paris targets this year than we were last year, which is further than we were the year before. Why? It is because the Liberals are following Stephen Harper's numbers, and that is because they continue to be beholden to the lobbyists.

The member said he was tired of us sending cheques to millionaires who do not deserve it. Does he not think Galen Weston is an example of a millionaire who does not deserve it?

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, to begin, one of the problems I described during my remarks was reflected in the hon. member's question. He is actually a great guy and is my sister's representative.

The member suggested, for example, that the finance minister cares more about the business he used to be part of than about the people he has been elected to serve, which I do not believe to be true. I do not believe that to be true of anyone who sits in this House. We are talking about a finance minister who has introduced measures, despite his immensely privileged position in life, that are going to help those who are most vulnerable. These measures are going to send more money to nine out of 10 Canadian families, and families like his will not receive those benefits anymore. He will pay a higher personal income tax rate as a result of the policies we are introducing so that nine million middle-class families can benefit.

Now, regarding the investment the hon. member finished with during his remarks, we had a competitive process and asked the officials at Environment and Climate Change Canada to specifically identify the projects that would have the greatest impact, in terms of emissions reductions, at the lowest price. These officials indicated that there were 54 projects they thought should be funded. One of them involved the replacement of refrigeration units in 370 stores, which will bring emissions down and create good jobs, and we are okay with that.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that is very bad about Liberal environmental policy is that they never do any math. Nobody does any math or numbers, and they throw around words like “pollution” without even understanding what pollution is. Sulphur dioxide is pollution. It is a compound that our industry has largely gotten rid of in this country. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, and there can be too much of a good thing, for sure, is the first element of the photosynthetic equation, which is without a doubt the most important equation on earth.

The member's comments about the efficacy of alternate energy I found quite amusing, because the Liberals never quantify the effects of their so-called clean energy. For example, I am looking at a paper from the American Bird Conservancy, which wrote, “We estimate that hundreds of thousands of birds and bats die every year when they accidentally collide with turbine blades”. Having said that, the current government has allowed the wind energy industry complete exemption from the Species at Risk Act.

He talked about mass transit and that Canadians should use it more. Well, I have to point out to him that in my 60,000 square kilometre constituency, there is no mass transit. The Liberals are completely leaving rural Canadians behind. Why do the Liberals care so little about the people in rural Canada, who put a roof over their heads and food on the their plates?

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member, who I did not know was paying close attention to my remarks. I enjoy sometimes when we use big words, such as photosynthesis, in this House.

Despite the criticism of the policies in a number of ways, one of the dangerous narratives I see coming through Canadian society is the rejection of the idea that carbon dioxide is pollution. Of course it occurs naturally. Of course it is part of the natural life cycle. However, the poison is in the dose. Scientists have been sounding alarm bells for decades upon decades, telling us that the planet's atmosphere cannot handle the concentration of CO2 that is being perpetuated by industrial development around the world. The idea that CO2 should be treated as plant food rather than as pollution that we need to address is something we need to move past so that we can implement effective solutions.

To the member's concern about windmills and the impact on birds, I will note, in particular, that the number of birds killed by windmills is less than 1% of those killed by buildings and less than 0.1% of those killed by cats. This is not an excuse to reject climate action.

Opposition Motion—Government PoliciesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, to follow up on the scientific theories of the member opposite, the human body is made up of water; 93% is water. By his reasoning, one cannot drown, floods are not dangerous and massive rain storms are actually good for people, regardless of how much rain dumps on a particular community. In other words, science simply adds a set of statistics. Thrown out as sort of ad hoc attacks on real research and peer-reviewed science they are simply statistics being thrown into debate for the sake of trying to make a point. Would the member on our side agree?