Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-218, an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to sports betting, sponsored by the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood.
Today, legal betting on sports events occurs throughout Canada in the form of parlay betting and pari-mutuel betting. Parlay betting allows individuals to wager on the outcome of multiple sporting events, and pari-mutuel is a unique form of betting that allows betters to wager on live horse racing. These two examples provide individuals with the opportunity to participate in a safe and regulated betting environment.
Single-event sports betting is currently not permitted in Canada. This type of betting allows an individual to wager solely on the outcome of a single event or game, such as the Grey Cup. The premise of our criminal law in this area is a blanket prohibition on all gaming and betting activity. Betting, bookmaking, placing bets for third parties and similar gambling-related activities are all illegal. However, from the basic premise that all gambling activities are illegal, a series of exceptions have been enacted over time.
Bill C-218 is drafted as a short and straightforward bill. It proposes a single amendment to the Criminal Code to repeal paragraph 207(4)(b). This paragraph currently prohibits any form of betting on individual races, fights, single-sporting events or athletic contests. If enacted, the amendment would allow provinces and territories to create what is known as a lottery scheme to offer this unique type of betting.
On the surface, Bill C-218's proposal to repeal a paragraph in the Criminal Code seems fine. However, it raises a whole lot of issues that are likely to have repercussions, from the potential for significant revenue generation to unique health care consequences. Although my parliamentary colleagues will have to carefully examine all possible repercussions of this bill, I would like to start by focusing on one issue in particular. Although the vast majority of gaming regulations are enforced by our provincial partners, the federal government has jurisdiction over the supervision and regulation of pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Canada.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has within her portfolio a special operating agency: the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency, or CPMA. This agency, using revenues from its regulation of parimutuel betting, provides essential services to an important Canadian industry. Not only does the CPMA work with the provinces to provide a safe betting environment for Canadians who choose to wager on horse racing, but it also administers the national equine drug control program. This drug control program ensures fair play and the stability of one of Canada's oldest industries.
This is an industry that supports thousands of jobs across the country, from breeders and farmers to jockeys and trainers. Events such as the North America Cup and the Queen's Plate, the latter starting in 1860 and being the oldest continuously run race in North America, are not only important Canadian cultural icons, but also important sources of tourism and other revenues.
I highlight the horse racing industry and the role of the CPMA because of the potential effect of Bill C-218 on the future of these two entities. Should single-event sports betting be legalized without careful consideration of the potential impact on one of Canada's oldest industries, the effects could be devastating.
A repeal of paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code would not only legalize single-event sports betting, but also remove the prohibition on the provinces from regulating additional forms of betting on horse racing. As the CPMA currently funds its important programs through a levy on all bets placed through the parimutuel system of betting, a repeal of the protection found in paragraph 207(4)(b) may also result in removing the majority of CPMA's funding. Without this funding, we could very well see the collapse of this special operating agency, which is of special and essential importance to the horse racing industry.
At this time in particular, all parliamentarians should be clear on the impacts of their decisions on our economy and the impacts on the industry in all regions of our country.
That is why I think it is of vital importance that we take the time to examine, debate and study the essential role that the CPMA plays and the future of an industry that has always served Canada well.
We have a responsibility to the horse racing industry across this country to ensure that we make the right decision. We have a responsibility to vulnerable people in Canadian society to listen to experts in mental health and addictions. We have a responsibility to listen to police officers who investigate organized crime to see how the legalization of what was once seen as a moral vice might affect our modern system of justice and its impacts on illicit activities of organized criminal groups both here in Canada and abroad.
We must also listen to the indigenous peoples and communities as we work to re-establish Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples on a nation-to-nation basis. We must learn what potential impacts this could have on their communities and nations.
Some first nations, and other indigenous groups across this country, have entered into agreements respecting gaming and betting with many of the provinces to share in gambling revenues with the provinces and manage community activities. These agreements are the result of significant consultation, negotiation and trust. It is also my understanding that there are likely other indigenous governments that have expressed an interest in more direct management in gaming and betting. We have a responsibility to listen to indigenous peoples and communities on these important issues and how this industry may impact and benefit indigenous peoples and communities.
We find ourselves at a moment in time when a new form of gaming is being proposed as an exception to the blanket prohibition on gaming and betting.
As always, Parliament must carefully examine the potential repercussions on Canadians and industry stakeholders. We need to determine if it makes sense for Parliament to keep using its jurisdiction over criminal law to prohibit this activity.
The United States recently joined other countries in making this form of gaming possible in a regulated context. We have also seen major industry stakeholders alter their public positions over time. One thing has not changed though: Parliament's duty to take the time to examine the repercussions of such a change on our federal system.
On that note, I would like to extend my thanks for this opportunity to speak on Bill C-218. I look forward to working with all members of the House on this unique initiative.