Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills.
It is always an honour to stand in the House and speak to a number of measures, in this case it is one of the most important measures that a government could introduce, the budget implementation act, or the BIA. I remember when I was on the finance committee for a number of years, this was a very important time of year, when the BIA was sent to the committee for deep analysis and study. I know this year will be no different at the finance committee.
I want to take an opportunity to address Bill C-19 in the House, and to speak to it from, I suppose, a different point of view. I want to speak on economic matters but economic matters that are proposed in the bill that would impact Canada's foreign relations. I think it would be appropriate to begin, arguably at least, with one of Canada's most important voices on the international scene, and that is former prime minister Lester Pearson.
Long before he was a prime minister, in 1957, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Lester Pearson said:
Of all our dreams today there is none more important — or so hard to realise — than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.
This is a tremendous insight, obviously, one that Pearson believed in very strongly when he was speaking in 1957, and one that has occupied the attention of statesmen and even members of Parliament in democracies throughout the world. Canada is no different.
The question, the challenge, is how to best achieve this, particularly from the vantage point of a middle power such as Canada, a middle power that has tried to find its way, particularly in the post-World War Two order, surrounded as we are by superpowers, such as the United States, China and Russia. How exactly is it possible for a middle power to exert influence on the international scene so this goal of world peace could be possible?
The dilemma is a real one and one that could be achieved by looking at what Canada has done. I speak here not only in terms of the Pearsonian legacy of foreign policy, which is a strong and very proud tradition in the Liberal Party, but also of the real important voices from the Conservative Party through Canada's history who have sought to find a place for Canada in middle power terms.
One possible path forward that has worked is diplomacy. I think of Pearson, and I think of diplomats such as George Ignatieff and Saul Rae, and there are others I could point to as well. They, in their work as diplomats, found a way. They carved a way for Canada so we could exert influence on the international scene. That would involve, of course, peacekeeping. That is a great example of what Canada has done in the past to pursue this goal of international peace.
Another example would be working with international development organizations, specifically those non-governmental organizations that are on the ground, carrying out vital work in lesser developed countries, in countries where poverty is the experience of so many, or is the experience of the vast majority.
When we look at governments of the past, when we look at the government, we see governments that have funded, have helped to fund and worked with NGOs, which are pursuing those very laudable aims of economic growth and development, encouraging entrepreneurship, encouraging peace and bringing people together at the same time.
Since 2015, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of countries in my tenure as a member of Parliament, including Ukraine, and I wonder if there will be an opportunity later in questions where I could speak to that. Ukraine was one example, and there is also Colombia, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, Poland and Latvia. I have had the opportunity to see NGOs, supported by the Canadian government, carry out that vital work. Through that, the goals of a middle power could be achieved, with that goal of ultimately coming back to peace.
Contributing to multilateral institutions is another key way that a middle power such as Canada could make a contribution to this outcome. Especially now, how relevant it is that we see Canada highly engaged in NATO.
I know there are voices out there that want us to do more, and yes, of course, we can do more. I think if we were to canvass the opinion of NATO allies and NATO leaders, we would find that Canada's contributions, specifically with respect to what is happening now, vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine, is not just applauded, it is admired. We need to continue that work, and of course there are policy innovations that can help us move toward the path of peace and human rights, which ultimately underpin peace.
That brings me to the budget implementation act, or the BIA, Bill C-19. I am thinking of the Special Economic Measures Act, the SEMA, and the Magnitsky law, which takes its name from the great champion of human rights, Sergei Magnitsky, who lost his life for his advocacy at the hands of Vladimir Putin and his regime. Under those existing laws, property held in Canada by individuals involved in the undermining of international peace and security, or the gross and systematic violation of international human rights norms, can be seized. That property can, in fact, be seized by the Canadian government. There is a challenge, though, which is where the BIA comes in. What is exactly meant in the SEMA and in the Magnitsky act by the term “property”? How is that defined conceptually?
Under SEMA, for example, property is defined as any real or personal property. That is one way forward. Again, I go back to criticisms that have been raised before that this needs greater clarity and greater precision in the legislative language. Bill C-19 rectifies that and would add an extended definition if it is agreed to by the House, which I think and hope it will be. Should Bill C-19 pass, property would be defined as any type of property immovable or movable, tangible or intangible.
What does that mean in concrete terms? It means that property includes not just physical assets, such as a building, for example, or planes, homes, helicopters or jets, all the things that certain individuals, such as tycoons around the Russian regime, for example, are known to keep, but also money and, very importantly, virtual currency. Cryptocurrency would fall under this new definition and something called non-fungible tokens, which are, for example, digital art or audio recordings that can be found and purchased online. This is important because it is crucial that legislation along these lines keeps up with modern developments. I am glad to see the government recognizing that and moving in the right direction.
Most importantly, though, is the change that allows for seized assets to be sold by the Canadian government. Those assets that would be seized from individuals who have been found to be going against or somehow undermining international peace and diplomacy, or who are involved in the violation of international human rights, could be not only seized under this proposed change but also redistributed as compensation. They could be sold, to be simple about it, with the proceeds going to victims to advance goals of international peace and security in some way, or to assist the rebuilding of a foreign state after war. The post-war rebuilding process always proves to be very important. It is complex, to be sure, but very important.
Should this pass, I know that the government has said that certainly the aim would be to assist the Ukrainian people, the victims of Putin's war and, after the carnage that it has brought about for Ukraine, to assist the government in a massive rebuilding. Canada needs to be there and must be there as part of what some have called a “Marshall Plan”, envisioning what Ukraine could look like in terms of a project for the future. I say “project” in the sense that allies would come together and assist another vital ally, which is obviously going through a very difficult time.
Others have raised a point of checks and balances, so I am heartened to see that only a superior court justice would be able to give the order allowing for seized assets to be sold. I think that is quite crucial when it comes to ensuring that there are checks and balances on the decision to seize and sell an asset in the way I have described, the way the bill proposes.
Finally, I will conclude on this point: There has been a lot of commentary in the media and other circles that points to the fact that this amendment to the SEMA and the Magnitsky act comes in the context of the crisis in Ukraine. I would say that it sends an example for the world, and I am glad to see that Canada is the first G7 country to lead the effort. Hopefully, the other democracies pick it up and employ it as well.