House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was content.


Broadcasting ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Michael Kram Conservative Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, the fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is whether democracy is a good thing or a bad thing. Is it good to debate these bills so we get the best laws for Canadians or is it not?

If this particular law has not been amended for many years, then four days do not strike me as a particularly long time to debate the bill. If we are going to be living with this bill for many decades to come, then four days do not strike me as a particularly long time to debate it.

Broadcasting ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Madam Speaker, I have been very impressed with the minister's openness to listen, his demeanour and his tone. A more partisan person than I might say that he could share that message with the member for Kingston and the Islands, but I would never say that.

I am honoured to speak on a subject I am very passionate about: the update to the Broadcasting Act. Before I get into my content, I will tell the minister directly that he seems very open, and I congratulate him on his tone. He has been great to work with. I want to put another plug in for the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, if he could please help us out there.

My big ask, in terms of an amendment, would be protecting those smaller operators. We need tighter rules. We cannot leave this up to the CRTC. There are fabulous professionals working there doing the best they can, but we need to make sure there are solid protections.

There are some great arguments, and this act desperately needs to be updated because it has not been in 28 years. In that very long time, we have seen the evolution of the Internet, and the introduction of big players such as Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify. In light of this innovation, it is important that we upgrade the bill. However, as I said, I have serious concerns that the bill may inflict harm more than do good.

One of the fundamental changes in the communications sector in the last 28 years has been the democratization of access. Canadians are no longer limited to a couple of voices coming through their televisions. They can now listen and express themselves through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many other platforms. In many ways, these platforms are closer to going out to the public square in the 1800s and expressing oneself, and anyone who wants to listen, can.

Many of the individuals who participate through YouTube or other platforms contribute a lot to our national discourse on matters like politics, philosophy, culinary arts and health. Having this cacophony of voices that brings with it life experience and perspective not only enriches our lives, but makes our society better. Combatants enter the arena of ideas and have the opportunity to put their theories and ideas out there, and our society decides whether they are enlightened or maybe missing the point.

I am thankful for those who share their great ideas, because they make our country better. Those who lose in the battlefield of ideas can look at the Republic, and what Socrates says. He said those who lose an argument are the better for it because they walk away with knowledge, which often happens to the member for Kingston and the Islands. He should be particularly thankful.

Just like everything, there are bad actors in the world, and there are bad actors in the broadcasting sector. There are individuals who spread hate, lies and conspiracy theories. This behaviour is reprehensible, abhorrent and disgusting. The legislation has the laudable objective of curating online content to protect Canadians against hate and promote quality Canadian programming.

Broadcasting ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I have to inform the hon. member he will have six minutes to conclude his speech when the bill next comes up for debate.

The House resumed from November 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Windsor—Tecumseh Ontario


Irek Kusmierczyk LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-218 and the importance of single sports betting to my community and to Canada.

The bill would decriminalize new forms of sports gambling in Canada. While Canadians across the country are currently permitted to place bets on a series of sports events, a form of parlay betting, they are prohibited from placing a bet on an event in, or on an outcome of, a single game or match. These new forms of betting are referred to by many as single-event sports betting or single sports betting.

Let me begin by telling the House what single sports betting means to my community in Windsor—Tecumseh. It means jobs. This past winter, I invited the Prime Minister to join a discussion with local workers and labour leaders from Windsor—Tecumseh and Essex County. The Prime Minister wanted to hear directly from workers from Windsor-Essex. We discussed priorities, investments in the automotive sector, national child care to help parents get working again, investments in health care, including mental health, and protecting our environment.

Dana Dunphy, who is the Unifor Local 444 unit chair at Caesars Windsor Casino, took the floor and talked about the importance of single sports betting to Caesars Windsor and its 2,500 workers. She spoke very passionately and eloquently about the tremendous pain that Caesars Windsor workers and their families have gone through during COVID-19. Even before the latest lockdown, less than 10% are back at work.

Our government put forward a bill that would legalize single sports betting. That bill is for Dana and for the 2,500 workers at Caesars Windsor. The legalization of single sports betting would help keep Caesars Windsor competitive, especially against American casinos in Michigan that are literally a stone's throw away and have already legalized single sports betting. It would help protect these vital jobs in our community while at the same time introducing responsible gaming.

It has been a long road to get here. Many people have advocated hard in Windsor-Essex for this day, and it really was a true team effort. I want to acknowledge the work of my predecessor Joe Comartin, who first raised this issue over 10 years ago, and my colleagues from across the floor, the member for Windsor West and the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood, who brought this issue forward as a private member's bill during this Parliament.

Back home I want to acknowledge and thank Dave Cassidy, the president of Unifor Local 444, who has advocated for single sports betting since my first week on the job. That is when we got together over a plate of bacon and eggs at Uptown Restaurant and talked about the priorities of Unifor members, priorities like single sports betting and protecting jobs at FCA.

A few weeks later, Dave and I sat across a table with Mayor Dilkens of Windsor, Mayor McNamara of Tecumseh and the the member of Parliament for Windsor West. We were joined by the CEO of Caesars Windsor, the CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island and the CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. We were all united in our support for single sports betting and we made the commitment to work together to get it done, so here we are in sight of the finish line.

I thought I would start my remarks by discussing recent developments in the United States with respect to single-event sports betting.

Since a 2018 ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, single-event sports betting has been proliferating steadily throughout our southern neighbour on a state-by-state basis. Today, 20 U.S. states have now legalized single sports betting. Along with this change in the law in the United States, we have seen a significant shift in the positions of major sports league. Rather than seeing single sports betting as a potential threat to the integrity of organized sports, major league sports now see it as a viable commercial opportunity.

The American Gaming Association estimates that 7.2 million people will place online wagers for the Super Bowl alone and generate $4.3 billion in bets from this one single game. In Canada, the provincial governments have long been supportive of legalizing single sports betting. Ontario, for example, called for the legalization of single sports betting by the federal government in its 2019 budget.

As a result of the current prohibition, it is estimated that $14 billion a year is directed away from provincial lottery systems to underground providers of sports betting. Taxing this potential betting activity would not only help pay for important social services; it could also be used to assist people who suffer from gambling problems.

This legislation would not introduce something that is not already here. Canadians who want to participate in single sports betting are doing so in unlicensed markets. That money is funding the coffers of organized crime rather than those of governments that provide important services to Canadians.

Provinces and territories are losing revenue not just to organized crime, but to America and European countries that have already chosen to regulate single-sport betting. Now is the time for the government to act and begin competing on a fair playing field with the United States and other countries.

While putting forward strong arguments for the legalization of single-sport betting, it is important to consider at the same time the negative impacts of sports betting and, in particular, the potentially devastating impacts of gambling and addiction on vulnerable groups within our society. Mental health and addictions experts have come before Parliament in the past to provide advice on how single-event sports betting might affect our society. It can lead to loss of material possessions, physical health issues, job loss, intimate partner violence and other forms of criminal activity. We must listen to experts and be willing to learn. I very much look forward to a full debate on the impacts that these amendments could have here in Canada.

I know that the government takes concerns regarding vulnerable sectors of society very seriously, especially in light of the difficulties many Canadians have had that have been caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, continuing to criminalize this behaviour is not, in my opinion, the appropriate path forward.

While the federal government primarily operates in this area using criminal law, our provincial and territorial partners are empowered to manage and conduct, or in other words regulate, what have been called lottery schemes. They use revenue from regulating and taxing these lottery schemes or systems to provide important social services, which are more important than ever due to the impact of COVID-19. Our provincial and territorial partners take great steps to educate the public with respect to gaming and betting products.

The only area in which the federal government continues to regulate gaming and betting is the unique pari-mutuel system of betting on live horse racing. All other gambling activities are now either directly regulated or licensed by provincial governments.

The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency, or CPMA, is a special agency operating within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the CPMA not only regulates and supervises pari-mutuel betting on horse races, but also administers the national equine drug control program to ensure the stability of the horse racing industry through fair play.

As with all decisions we are called upon to make as parliamentarians, there is an appropriate balance that must be struck. I am looking forward to debating and studying all aspects of this issue and working with all members from all parties to ultimately decriminalize single-event sports betting and bring it into a safe and regulated space.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is all the more important now that ads for sports betting are becoming increasingly common during broadcasts of Canadian sports events on channels like TVA Sports. These ads are not just regulated by Loto-Québec, and we are seeing other initiatives. It is therefore all the more urgent to better regulate them.

Before I get into the meat of the issue, I want to say that my thoughts are with the front-line workers supporting people who are suffering. Their job has gotten even harder because of COVID-19 and all the emotional distress it is causing. I want to thank them for encouraging those people and express my sincere appreciation under the circumstances. The support they provide is also related to the subject we are talking about this afternoon.

To come back to Bill C-218, I want to thank my colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood, and I also want to recognize my colleague from Windsor West, who began this process a few years ago. In my opinion, the changes that would be brought about by Bill C-218 would improve transparency, better regulate sports betting and give the government additional resources to take care of vulnerable people struggling with addiction. I think that kind of support is key, regardless of the matter of revenue.

I therefore address the House today to express my support for Bill C-218, which seeks to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on sports betting and sporting events to make it lawful to bet on a single sports event, rather than having to bet on a minimum of two events or more at a time. Single-event betting is already legal in many U.S. states.

This change would enable the provinces to regulate sports betting practices and give them the legal tools they need to keep bettors safe while limiting abuse. Provincial governments and communities will also benefit from economic spinoffs.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that transparency is the best way to fight the scourges caused by organized crime. This easing of the legislative measures will allow Loto-Québec, a public corporation, to collect revenues associated with this type of transaction. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates that $27 billion could be recovered from the black market every year.

The most important aspect of this is that, through the work of a public corporation, Loto-Québec, the Quebec government is in a better position to prevent pathological gambling problems than organized crime. Our public corporation has taken it upon itself to raise awareness and help people who have an addiction. Thanks to initiatives such as the Fondation Mise sur toi, the Quebec government is aware that it is best positioned to set up support mechanisms.

Our public corporation's approach gets us out of the infernal spiral of debt, organized crime and the suffering of illegal gamblers. When gambling happens on the black market, the identity of those with problems remains unknown and it is impossible to step in to help those who gamble excessively.

Bill C-218 would limit competition in the sports betting world, which is currently preventing Loto-Québec from competing with U.S. casinos. Even the Casino de Montréal is now advertising to attract players.

Our physical proximity to the United States makes it easy for people to place bets outside our borders. The member for Windsor West really helped us understand that, because his riding is close to Detroit and he has observed the phenomenon himself.

Bill C-218 will give Quebec and the other provinces the tools to better regulate sports betting, which will be impossible if it remains in the hands of offshore websites and underground casinos. Especially now in the Internet age, Bill C-218 will help our own Crown corporation, Loto-Québec, adapt to meet the needs of its clientele while also limiting the flow of capital abroad. I think online poker sites are among the biggest culprits.

Bill C-218 will enhance reciprocity between Canada's sports betting market and the United States'. Without that, it does not work. Specifically, Bill C-218 also protects casinos in Quebec and Canada. The casino in Plattsburgh, New York, competes with the Casino de Montréal in Quebec, just as casinos around Detroit, Michigan, compete with the one in Windsor, Ontario. We are talking significant revenue that our governments are missing out on, revenue that could support health care, for example.

Part of the money taken from sports betting transactions outside our borders would be used to structure our own support mechanisms or at least contribute to the well-being of our constituents.

Bill C-218 also helps weaken the funding of organized crime. It is a way to undercut them by taking away another source of income. It is also a way to prevent misfortunes like the one a young man in Quebec went through. I will read his story as reported in La Presse:

The young man went to an online site. At the homepage, the user has to enter a name and a password to access the site and then he can bet on the outcome of several professional sports games and even on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. According to our research, the name of the site is registered to a corporation in Panama. The site has been hosted on a server in Costa Rica since March 2015, but did not become active until a year later. The corporation that owns the server hosts roughly 75 other online betting sites. We were told that the Montreal mafia's sports betting operation is run by a manager who has an assistant below him, and then some bookies.

It is sort of like a pyramid scheme. The La Presse article continues:

The bookies are responsible for the players they recruit. The interest charged on a debt can increase from 3% to 5% a week, and when a player has a large debt, an individual with ties to organized crime can purchase it and then collect the debt and interest from the player. “The player's family may end up having to take on the player's debt,” a source explained. “Some people have lost their homes because of online sports betting.”

It is obvious that the situation is more than tragic.

Bill C-218 builds on a long line of failures. Ten years ago, in 2011, a bill similar in every respect to Bill C-218 was introduced, and the Liberals were the only ones who voted against it.

Ten years later, it is rather odd to see the Liberals introducing Bill C-213 to amend the Criminal Code provisions on single-event sports betting.

Then, a new version of the bill was adopted in the House of Commons but ultimately died in the Senate, which was also rather surprising.

In September 2016, the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of Bill C-221, introduced by none other than the member for Windsor West. Oddly enough, however, a majority of Liberal MPs opposed the bill once again.

I have no doubt that my New Democrat colleague from Windsor West will vote in favour of Bill C-218, introduced by our colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood. He has already spoken to this bill and, I should note, I also had the opportunity to speak then.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-218, since it will provide a new revenue stream for Loto-Québec and will impede unfair competition from American casinos. It will allow Quebec and the other provinces to better regulate sports betting, which is currently left to foreign websites and illegal casinos.

The Crown corporation is in the best position to prevent issues with compulsive gambling and organized crime, and to provide meaningful support to those who have fallen victim to the slippery slope of compulsive gambling. This issue causes psychological distress. We need to take meaningful action, and the framework proposed in the bill introduced by the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood is the least we can do.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure to join the debate today on Bill C-218. To start, I would like to congratulate the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood for bringing forward for the House's consideration this bill and its important amendment to the criminal code.

I was a member of the 42nd Parliament, and during my time then I served as our party's justice critic in 2017. As part of my role, I became quite familiar with the Criminal Code and how out of date so many of its sections are and how important it is that the Criminal Code, as a very important federal statute with huge impacts on the lives of so many people, has regular reviews and revisions. To its credit, the Liberal government in the previous Parliament did try to revise many out-of-date sections, but because of the impact it has on institutions and so many individuals, it is important that we regularly review it.

That brings me to Bill C-218, because it would make a very minor, but I think important, amendment to the Criminal Code. It would amend paragraph 207(4)(b), which defines what lottery schemes are and explicitly prohibits provinces from allowing wagering on any “race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest”.

Criminal law is an area of shared jurisdiction. The federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction in amending the Criminal Code, and of course the administration of justice is conducted by the provinces. This goes to show members that the actions of the federal Parliament can sometimes have wide-ranging consequences for provincial jurisdiction. I know in my own home province and in provinces right across the country the regulation of casinos and the different lottery corporations is very much under provincial control. Therefore, this is an area where we as a federal Parliament can have a positive impact by allowing provinces to have a bit more control over this very significant sector, one that currently, under its regulated form, employs a lot of people and provides a lot of benefits to many Canadians and communities across the country.

In recognition of what the member has done with this bill, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize my friend and colleague, the member for Windsor West, who in the previous Parliament brought forward a bill that was exactly the same as this one. That was Bill C-221. I was there on September 21, 2016, when that bill, unfortunately, was defeated in a vote of 156 to 33. It was defeated at the time because most Liberal members of Parliament voted against the bill. Here we are in the year 2021 and this is an ongoing issue. We could have resolved this back in 2016. It is a real shame that we have had to wait so many years before we are finally coming to a stage where it seems like we might have enough support to get this over the line.

I know that the member for Windsor West and his former colleague, Joe Comartin, who used to be the MP for Windsor—Tecumseh and another great New Democrat who first brought this issue to our attention back in 2010, had a lot of help in their respective ridings and from across the country. I know that the member for Windsor West is very appreciative of people like Dave Cassidy, the current president of Unifor Local 444, and the past president Ken Lewenza. Those two individuals and many others have really helped make the case for this bill, and as is often the case, it is our privilege as members of Parliament to take that strong collective community action and put it into a piece of legislation for our Parliament to consider.

I mentioned how most Liberal MPs contributed to the defeat of the previous bill back in 2016. I need to highlight that fact because we are now in a situation where we are debating this current private member's bill, but we also have a parallel bill that was introduced by the very same Liberal government in the form of Bill C-13. It was introduced on November 26 last year, but it is still stuck at first reading.

This gives rise to questions as to whether the Liberals are actually serious about this. When we come to a vote on this particular bill are they going to throw their support behind it? Are they going to slow play Bill C-13? I have heard some supportive speeches by current Liberal MPs, but we do not know where the vast majority of that caucus lies. It would be great to have some clarification on which way the Liberals are going to go this time.

With a closer examination of what Bill C-218 does, it is essentially amending the Criminal Code to give provinces the ability to allow wagers on single-event sports betting. I am certainly not an expert on this, but I think it is important to recognize that it is not only helping to modernize the Criminal Code in giving that jurisdictional responsibility to provinces, but is also a real recognition that this is a sector in the legal gaming sector that already employs so many Canadians. This sector contributes billions of dollars in tax revenues to governments of every stripe. It is one that employs thousands of Canadians.

I do not have any casinos in my own riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, but in the neighbouring riding of Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. In the town of View Royal, there is a casino there. It is having tough times right now because of COVID-19. If we were to make this important amendment to the Criminal Code, it would help that casino and its patrons, allowing them to reap the economic benefits when we get to the recovery phase.

It is important to talk about why allowing it is so important. We know that single-event sports betting exists in both Canada and the United States. The main difference is that in Canada it is illegal by virtue of this existing part of the Criminal Code. We are in a situation where speakers on this current bill and its previous iterations, including in 2016, acknowledge that single-event sports betting exists. If it is going on illegally, that means it is the black market that is taking all of the benefits.

When we are dealing with the Criminal Code and looking at how various sections of it are acting, we have to make a very thorough analysis of whether keeping an existing section of the law is even worth it if so many people are in fact breaking the law and if most of the benefits from that activity are going to black markets.

If the revenues from single-event sports betting are funding illegal activity, such as the purchase of guns, and are contributing to the local drug trade, that is a bad thing and we need to find ways to properly regulate it under provincial authorities. I do not want to go into too much detail on this, but I think that in itself is an excellent reason for us to consider amending this section of the Criminal Code to bring it under provincial regulations. There are strong steps being taken to strengthen regulations in gaming as well.

In my own province of British Columbia, we have certainly seen some major inquiries into money laundering in casinos. I am not saying that casinos have not had their problems, but because of the actions of the people laundering money through casinos, the Province of B.C. has now stepped with tighter regulations. If we, as the federal Parliament, were to make this important amendment to the Criminal Code, provinces like B.C. and others, would bring in the necessary strong regulations.

If we look at the United States, Americans spent about $150 billion on sports betting in 2016. Here in Canada, it is estimated that Canadians illegally wager between $14 billion and $15 billion annually on single-event sports. That is not a small sum of money, and it is something we have take great account of.

I will end by noting that there is a list of great supporters of this, including the national Unifor union, the City of Windsor, the Canadian Gaming Association and, closer to home for me, the attorney general of British Columbia. We would do well as a federal Parliament to listen to those voices, from the private sector, labour and provincial governments, to make sure that we pass this bill.

I will indicate my strong support for Bill C-218 and hope to see us get it to committee where it can have that important analysis.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Michael Kram Conservative Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, Mosaic Stadium in Regina, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, sat vacant through 2020, empty of fans and their beloved players during the pandemic. It is my hope that some day in the not-too-distant future, Rider Nation will once again gather safely, sit shoulder to shoulder and cheer on the green and white as they pummel the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or any other inferior team. To get to that future moment in the bleachers under a bright blue prairie sky, the teams of the Canadian Football League are going to need sources of revenue, the lack of which led to the cancellation of last year's football season. That is why I am pleased to speak in favour of Bill C-218, the safe and regulated sports betting act.

Many of the merits of this bill have already been explained in detail in the House by my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Grasswood. One of the most persuasive arguments in favour of Bill C-218 is the good that could be done if the $14 billion in revenue generated every year in Canada by single-game sports betting were redirected from underground or offshore entities to lawful distribution in Canada.

Currently, as the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood has pointed out, the governments of Saskatchewan and other provinces take revenues from lottery ticket programs such as Sport Select and Pro-Line to help fund amateur sports and other community activities. These gambling services, known as parlay betting, require bettors to place wagers on multiple sporting events.

For example, if I want to bet on the Saskatchewan Roughriders to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I cannot bet on just that one game. I also have to bet on one or two other games that I may not be interested in watching, and if I do not pick those other games correctly no payout is made. I can inform the House from personal experience just how annoying and frustrating that can be. Even with these limitations, parlay betting generates approximately $500 million in revenue in Canada every year.

Let us consider the $500 million generated annually by parlay betting, and then think about the $14 billion generated annually by single-game sports betting in Canada. What could be done with that extra $14 billion? One institution that could benefit from the extra revenue is the Canadian Football League and its nine member teams. If the CFL incurs all the costs of putting on the games that people are going to be betting on, it seems reasonable that the league and its teams would want to negotiate some sort of revenue-sharing agreement with their provincial governments for some of the revenues generated from single-game sports betting.

The Canadian Football League and its predecessors have been part of Canadian culture for almost as long as confederation, with the Canadian Rugby Football Union having been founded in 1884. The Grey Cup trophy has been around for over a century, having been donated by Governor General Earl Grey in 1909. Since then, this trophy has been presented every November to the winner of the championship Grey Cup game, with the only interruptions being for World War I, the Spanish flu pandemic, and the current pandemic, which cancelled last year's football season.

On a personal note, one of my fondest childhood memories is of watching the 1989 Grey Cup game on TV in my parents' basement with my older brother and the neighbour kids as the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the newly opened Toronto SkyDome. I apologize to any members from Hamilton if that brought back some bad memories.

As we come out of the pandemic, many Canadians, including me, would like to see life get back to normal. That includes seeing the Canadian Football League play the 2021 season. I would like to remind the House that another option to enable the CFL to play this season is simply to provide it with a massive taxpayer subsidy. In fact, this is exactly what the league was asking for last spring: anywhere from $30 million to $150 million.

I cannot help but think that it would be nice if we could have our cake and eat it too. It would be nice if we could save this great Canadian institution without being a burden to taxpayers. I believe that decriminalizing single-game sports betting would allow the Canadian Football League the opportunity to do exactly that.

I would like to now discuss how Bill C-218, once passed into law, could create a voluntary source of revenue to help the Canadian Football League, its member teams and other organizations recover from the major economic disruption of the pandemic.

Quite simply, many organizations, including some professional sports teams, had already negotiated revenue-sharing agreements in the past with their provincial governments for parlay betting, such as Pro-Line and Sport Select. If single-game sports betting were to be decriminalized and regulated by provincial governments, it would present a real opportunity for the Canadian Football League and its member teams to negotiate future revenue-sharing agreements for the revenues generated from single-game sports betting.

If such a framework had been in place prior to the pandemic, then perhaps last year's CFL season could have been saved. The problem faced last year by the Canadian Football League is that its business model depends on gate-driven revenues, such as ticket sales, concessions and parking. Other sources of revenue, such as TV contracts and merchandise, are just not enough to make the league economically viable.

This is why the 2020 season was cancelled, and this is why the 2021 season is in jeopardy. However, if single-game sports better were legal in this country, and if the CFL had revenue-sharing agreements in place with their provincial governments, then this long-standing Canadian institution could be on stronger financial footing to come out of the pandemic and once again be economically viable.

The Canadian Football League is a benefit to many Canadians, over and above the players and fans. Every team at every stadium needs hundreds of workers to bring each game to life. I ask members to think of them all. Food and beverage vendors, security guards, tour bus and motorcoach operators, sports broadcasters, and camera operators all have a role to play in creating the contest on the field, the TVs and the tablets of fans all across the country.

I sincerely hope we will get out of this current pandemic as soon as possible, without a third or fourth wave. I would also like for there to be no more pandemics in the future. Then we can all get on with our lives, and there would be no need for the CFL to ask the federal government for a taxpayer-funded bailout to save the season or the league. If parliamentarians agree to pass Bill C-218 into law, then provincial legitimization of that $14 billion in annual gaming revenues could help improve the lives not just of the players and fans of the Canadian Football League but also those who are involved in other sports, cultural and community organizations across the country, as these revenues would be distributed legally under various provincially regulated frameworks.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Grasswood for sponsoring this bill. Finally, if Bill C-218 is passed into law, I will bet $50 that the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup this year.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario


Anita Vandenbeld LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

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.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, it is also an honour for me to speak to this bill. I think it is important to pass it at second reading and send it to committee. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the member from Saskatoon—Grasswood for introducing this bill and the member for Windsor West, who introduced it in a previous Parliament.

The objective of this bill is rather simple. Let us not overly complicate things. I did not hear many people speak who seem to oppose the bill. It would make a fairly simple change that would legalize single-event sports betting. It is currently possible to place a bet, but it has to be on more than one event. Anyone who wants to bet on a sports event can go to the Loto-Québec website, but they have to bet on a second event.

Does the law or the current situation prevent sports betting? The answer is no. Rather, it prevents betting on a single event. Obviously, when the government leaves an area of activity open, someone else will step in to fill the gap. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so, organized crime gets involved. I will talk a little about that later.

I would also like to point out that this is the fourth time this bill has come before the House. The time has come to pass it and move on to another issue. That it has been introduced four times speaks to its relevance.

It is also important to note that the context has changed since the last time. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling overrode the federal government's power to prohibit states from allowing lotteries. This means the American federal government can no longer prohibit states from organizing single wager lotteries. This has implications for us. We can pretend that we are pure and do not do that, but it has repercussions because the United States is our close neighbour.

In fact, the bill introduced by our colleague from Windsor West was likely motivated by geography, for the industry in his part of the country. This is true everywhere. It is also true for Quebec. Plattsburgh is less than 90 minutes from Montreal. Gambling exists, and it is a competitive industry. If it is not done in American casinos, it will be done illegally somewhere else.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill for four main reasons. It will provide a new revenue stream for Loto-Québec. It is as simple as that. There is revenue now, but it is going into the wrong pockets. This bill would allow Loto-Québec to collect that money. It will also prevent unfair competition from American casinos, which I mentioned earlier. In addition, the bill will provide new opportunities for gamblers in Quebec and Canada and will allow for better regulation.

It is right there in the name of the bill: the safe and regulated sports betting act. That is the objective. We are not trying to encourage people to gamble more. The idea is to provide a framework, come up with regulations and protect people. This bill is consistent with the movement towards legalizing gambling in North America. There are now 17 states, including New York. that have legalized it. We now have the choice to either hop on board or let this opportunity pass us by.

I should point out that the federal ruling in the U.S. was a game changer. Some people had objections that may have once been legitimate, but this ruling refuted most of those arguments.

Every time I rise to speak here, I cannot help but draw parallels to the political situation in Quebec. It is interesting to see that in the United States, it is the opposite situation from Canada. Here in Canada, section 91 says that federal laws take precedence over provincial and territorial ones, while in the United States, that ruling says the complete opposite. It is interesting. We might want to emulate that.

I mentioned that the purpose of the legislation is essentially to protect people. Earlier, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue mentioned the specific case of an 18-year-old young man who committed suicide after getting into debt. That is one example.

How many families have been torn apart by one member's pathological gambling? How many material possessions have been lost to dishonest people? The fact that there are debt collectors who buy up debt is not good news. Government regulation could address that.

There is another reason to pass this bill. In Quebec, we have already tried to do something. It is not like we have been sitting idle. In 2016, the Government of Quebec tried to ban access to U.S. gambling sites. The Quebec Superior Court ruled that Quebec did not have the authority to do that. We cannot do it, and since the federal government is not doing it either, then the next logical step is to confront organized crime. When we talk about organized crime, we are talking about the mafia.

There is one figure that struck me, and that is that, in 2004-05, Operation Colisée estimated that organized crime in Montreal made $27 billion in a single year from this type of betting.

What do members of organized crime do with that money, hon. members? They do not buy houses. They fund other activities. They extend their reach. We need to cut them off at the knees. The lives of everyone around these people are at risk.

Let us talk about cheating. One of the main arguments against this bill is that, if people are betting on a single event, it will be much easier to rig the event in question, particularly if it involves a single athlete. It could be very tempting to try to bribe him or her.

There is nothing stopping us from exerting more control over that aspect, since we do not have any control over the outcome of these events as it is. Nothing is stopping us from increasing penalties for that because, in any case, we have no control over the outcome of most of the big sports events that people are going to bet on. Many of these events take place in Quebec and Canada, but also in the United States. I therefore think that argument is not valid.

According to the president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, legalizing and regulating these revenues take them away from organized crime and direct them to the government, which will be able to legally use this money to help people.

I should also mention that people will choose the legal alternative if one exists. In general, when people have a legal alternative, no matter what they may think of it, they will take it. Users will migrate en masse from illegal sites to legal sites, and this will give local governments money to intervene and prevent the risk and compulsive gambling in the same way as other programs mentioned earlier, such as those run by Loto-Québec. Of course, it is not a perfect system. We often wonder whether the government should really be encouraging gambling. However, at least the government has the means to help those with problems and to manage this in a fair manner.

Earlier, I mentioned that this is the fourth time that this bill has been introduced in the House. The first time, it was not debated. The second time, it passed unanimously, but then was blocked by the Senate. I hope that, if it is passed this time, it will not be blocked by the unelected Senate. It is an important issue.

Finally, the last time this bill was introduced, it was rejected by the Liberal government, which had a majority at the time. Their first argument against it was rigging, which I just refuted, and the second was that the bill promoted pathological gambling. I have addressed that as well. The government is better equipped than anyone to help victims of these systems.

Quebec and Canada have made a societal choice to legalize gambling in order to better regulate it. We prefer sound public policy over puritanism. I believe this is the path we should follow.

The only group that will benefit from the status quo if we do not pass the bill is organized crime. That is why we must pass the bill.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to conclude debate at second reading on Bill C-218, the safe and regulated sports betting act.

First, I want to thank all the members from all parties who have risen today to support this important legislation. It is not often we get members from the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and the Bloc all rising in favour of a given initiative, but that is what we have this afternoon.

This Sunday is the biggest sport betting event of the year. It is the 55th Super Bowl. Millions of dollars will be wagered in Canada on everything from the win to the props, the point spread and then the coin toss and so on. Unfortunately, almost all that money will be going to offshore websites and criminal organizations. However, we can change that.

By passing Bill C-218, we can ensure that going forward, profits from sports wagering is put back into our communities, into health care, education, problem gambling programs, youth sports and other important services rather than the pockets of offshore companies or even criminals.

In December, the government introduced its own legislation to achieve the same goal as Bill C-218, and I supported that legislation. In fact, I told the Minister of Justice months before that he should adopt my bill as government legislation so we could get it through the process as quickly as possible. I did not care if my name was on the bill as long as the much-needed change was made in Parliament. Eventually, the minister finally took me up on my suggestion and introduced Bill C-13.

To show my good faith and desire to work with the minister and the government to get this single-event sports betting legalized, I traded down in the order of precedence to give the government a fair chance to bring its legislation forward. Unfortunately, though, the introduction of the government's bill has not sped up the process. In fact, if anything, it has slowed it down. Twice now the government has cancelled debate on Bill C-13 at the last second in favour of other legislation.

I get it. The government has priorities and there are other important pieces of legislation before the House. However, if the government cannot make Bill C-13 a priority, then it does not have to. The Liberals can support Bill C-218 and all the work can be done during the Private Members' Business instead of during government business. It is true that there will be some slight differences between my bill and the government's legislation, however, I am confident that those differences can be addressed at the justice committee and that amendments could be made if needed. I am sure that the justice committee can make the right decision on this.

Let us get the legislation passed at second reading, sent to committee, amended if necessary, and then back to the House so we can get it to the Senate. The legalization of single-event sports betting clearly has support from members of all parties and the government clearly realizes that we should legalize it. Let us not play politics; let us get this job done.

Sunday is the biggest betting day in the country and we are missing out on millions of dollars for our communities.

I want to thank all parties again for their support of legalized single-event sports betting. There is a little difference, as I mentioned, between Bill C-218 and Bill C-13, but let us pass the private member's bill that will come forward in the next two weeks and then we can have the discussion at the justice committee. We are open to the amendments. We realize the horse racing industry has issues.

It is a great privilege to bring the bill forward. As mentioned before, others from the NDP also brought it forward. Together in the House of Commons this will be for the betterment of the country if we can pass Bill C-218.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party in the House wishes to request a recorded division or that the motion be adopted on division, I invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

The hon. member for Regina—Wascana.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


Michael Kram Conservative Regina—Wascana, SK

Madam Speaker, I request a recorded division.

Safe and Regulated Sports Betting ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Pursuant to an order made on Monday, January 25, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 17, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Tuesday, February 16, at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)