House of Commons Hansard #257 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Pickering—Uxbridge Ontario


Jennifer O'Connell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to this bill, because it is crucially important that, in this country, we have a conversation about public safety and how inmates are treated, in the sense of maximum, medium and minimum security. I think it is something that most Canadians have not thought too much about, thankfully, in the sense that they have not had to experience the impacts of crime. What I find very challenging with this bill is the fact that Conservatives continually talk tough when it comes to public safety, but this is yet another example of how their tough talk actually relates to a more and more dangerous situation for Canadians.

The sponsor of this bill just ended by talking about women and women's rights, yet nothing in this legislation talks about them. I come from Pickering, right next to Scarborough. Memories of Paul Bernardo and his heinous crimes are something that women across this country are traumatized by. I will be very curious to see how many women on the other side speak to this legislation in the first place. When it comes to women's issues, one thing I remember from the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo was the complete lack of policing support for women who spoke out, who were victims of rape and assault. There is not a single mention of policing or of how to better serve women who have been victims of crime in this private member's bill.

I asked a question earlier in the House, as the members opposite were talking about their opposition day motion, about sending a note to the Senate to hurry up with legislation. However, not a single Conservative member spoke up in the House when there was legislation by their former leader, Rona Ambrose, on having training for judges for sexual assault cases. That legislation sat in the Senate, and not a single Conservative member wrote or spoke to the Conservative senators to have that bill passed. They came here today to say they speak on behalf of women and women's rights, but their actions say a completely different thing. Therefore, I want to talk about this private member's bill and why it actually makes women more vulnerable.

This bill is not just about one individual and their transfer. It actually impacts 921 current inmates, with 32% of those inmates being indigenous. The issues around the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous persons in incarceration would only be worsened by this legislation. I am going to get to that later in my speech; however, for those watching, it is important to remember that this bill impacts many more offenders than the one that the Conservatives want to speak about because the crimes he committed were so heinous, the country was traumatized.

The Conservatives want to use the most heinous criminal in our country as a way to implement reckless policies in the criminal justice system that actually will not keep communities safe. In fact, I submit to the House and Canadians watching that it will actually leave our communities less safe. Why is this? It is because of what the Conservatives fail to talk about, which is that there are different types of sentencing for the 921 inmates who would fall into the categorization that this bill speaks about. Among them, there are inmates who have a determinate sentence. That means the courts have heard their case, and the inmates have been sentenced to a certain amount of time to be incarcerated. Eventually, once they serve that time, they are back in the community.

This is certainly not the situation with Paul Bernardo, and I do not want anyone to misconstrue that. The Conservatives would love to use that to put fear in the hearts and minds of Canadians and Canadian women for their own policy agenda.

I want to stick to the facts. Individuals who serve their determinate sentence would one day, depending on the length of their sentence, be back in the community. However, based on this legislation, they would serve their sentence completely in maximum security, would have no programming for rehabilitation, would have no responsibilities, would have no assessments of whether or not they might reoffend and would have no programs in place to ensure that, once back in the community, there are conditions placed on them.

When the Conservatives talk tough on crime, they are weak on action. What this does for those who serve a determinate sentence is it releases them back into the community without any programs that would reduce their reoffending. It would, in fact, make their situation one where we could probably guaranteed they would reoffend. This is why countries around the world have determined that in criminal justice systems and corrections, rehabilitation programming is crucial to ensure public safety when inmates are released into the community. Then they have had significant programming and treatment to ensure they do not harm others again.

It is so irresponsible to bring up a heinous offender who, as the commissioner of the Correctional Service Canada said yesterday, has the highest, strictest sentence essentially in Canadian law, meaning Paul Bernardo will spend the rest of his life in prison. This bill does not speak to just that one individual. Imagine living in a community with a potentially violent offender who served their time but is just released into the public once the sentence is over. Time and time again, as we know, that does not keep our communities safe.

I could go on and on about how reckless Conservatives are, but with the remaining time I have, I want to read a quote related to the Conservative government about Mr. Sapers, who was the former corrections investigator during the Harper years. The Globe and Mail notes:

...the Conservatives [were] “tone deaf” on indigenous issues and “dismissive” of many of his recommendations....

The Conservatives passed dozens of bills, which imposed mandatory minimum sentences, changed parole eligibility, created new barriers to pardons and cut rehabilitative programming, among other measures.

He said the Conservatives did so without ever analyzing the impact. It goes to show the Conservatives have not learned anything.

The Conservatives also like to say the transfer of Paul Bernardo is in some way connected to Bill C-83 and the “least restrictive” clause. However, what Conservatives ought to know is that the “least restrictive” term was introduced by Conservatives in the 1990s by Brian Mulroney. As to the former Conservative language, Public Safety has issued quite publicly that the language around “necessary restrictions” would have also led to a transfer, which was decided by the independent Correctional Services. It said yesterday that the security and safety of the public can be maintained with this decision.

I know my time is over. I think what is most important is that the bill does nothing to keep Canadians safe. In fact, it would put more people at risk, because the Conservatives are reckless, just want to talk tough and do not do the work to make our communities safer.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, I was listening to my colleague who is introducing this bill and he said that he sides with the victims. That is good. I can assure him that the Bloc Québécois does as well. It always has and always will side with victims. The Bloc also sides with society. We must never lose sight of the fact that our justice system is not just about avenging a victim or punishing a criminal. The purpose of our justice system is to build a safer society where life is good and everyone feels comfortable.

Respecting victims' rights is important. I truly believe that. However, we must also respect the rights of people who have committed crimes. What I just said may seem contradictory, but it is not. We often lose sight of the fact that most people who are sent to prison today will get out at some point. What type of individual do we want to see leave our prisons in five, 10, 20 or 30 years? Do we want these people who committed crimes at the time of their conviction to be comfortable in their role as criminal and to consider resuming the same type of life and behaviour upon their release? Would we not rather want these people to be rehabilitated over the years? That is what I would want.

We have all lost people or been harmed in some way. We have been victims of various crimes in different ways. We must never lose sight of the importance of rehabilitation. We must never lose faith in human beings and in society, even though there may be times when we want to do just that. The Bloc Québécois sincerely believes that we must stay the course on rehabilitation.

Obviously, the Bernardo affair is haunting this debate. My colleague spoke about this earlier. Had it not been for the events of last spring when Mr. Bernardo was transferred from a maximum-security facility to a medium-security facility, we probably would not be talking about it today. This bill might not have been introduced. Members will recall that Paul Bernardo committed crimes in the early 1990s that we will never be able to understand as a society. Can he ever be rehabilitated? I do not know. One thing is certain. The crimes he committed will never be considered acceptable in our society.

In September 1995, he was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. That amounts to a minimum of 25 years of incarceration before he can apply for parole. It has been about 30 years since he was sentenced. He can apply for parole, but is he likely to get it? It is not up to me to decide, but I have not seen anything in all that I have read or heard about him that would lead me to believe he has been rehabilitated and is ready to reintegrate into society.

As I was saying earlier, last May, he was transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security penitentiary. I have not seen or heard anything to convince me that Paul Bernardo has been rehabilitated. That being said, is it possible that he has been rehabilitated? Who am I to decide? Thank heavens the decision is not mine to make. We have established authorities, specialized courts and a process to assess these things, and I have faith in the people who handle it all.

The Parole Board of Canada does important work. It decides whether a prisoner can or cannot reintegrate into society, and it grants escorted or unescorted temporary absences, depending on the stage of the sentence. The decision is up to the Parole Board of Canada.

It has the exclusive power to grant, deny, cancel, terminate or revoke day parole and full parole. It also has the power to authorize or approve temporary absences. It is not I, nor is it the Speaker, nor is it my Conservative colleague who makes those decisions. The Parole Board is an independent administrative tribunal, a so-called quasi-judicial tribunal that, as part of the Canadian criminal justice system, makes quality conditional release and record suspension decisions. It makes clemency recommendations and manages the whole process.

The board contributes to the protection of society by facilitating the timely reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens. Public safety is the primary consideration in all parole board decisions. I want to emphasize the “timely reintegration” part because, regardless of what people want or would like to see in a perfect world, here in Quebec and Canada, we no longer hang people who commit crimes like the ones Paul Bernardo committed. We do not electrocute them either. We put them in jail. We try to rehabilitate them. Sooner or later, 90% or 95% of them are released. As I said earlier, that is important, essential even. If we care about keeping our families, our children, our neighbours and society in general safe, it is important—indeed, crucial—to ensure that they are rehabilitated by the time they are released.

The purpose of Bill C-351 is to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to take away the discretion that Correctional Service of Canada officers currently have to change the security classification of individuals deemed to be dangerous offenders, as well as those convicted of more than one first-degree murder. The security classification is what will be used to determine the setting in which the individual is detained. What services can be provided to try to rehabilitate them? What conditions must be met in order for the individual to be eligible for visits, either under escort or alone, or for parole? I do not think it is wise to think that they are always going to have a maximum-security classification. This individual will be detained under maximum-security conditions, but one day, they may be released without a rigorous, step-by-step rehabilitation process. That goes against my belief, my faith in the human race. I think that even if we do not want to do it, we have to do everything we can to rehabilitate these people.

In closing, I would like to mention that Anne Kelly, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security yesterday. She told us that Bill C‑351 could make things more difficult for the people who manage our penitentiaries. If inmates know ahead of time that they will never be downgraded from a maximum-security classification to a lower one and get into a lower-security penitentiary, they may lose all motivation and interest in rehabilitation. If we want these people to rehabilitate themselves, they need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They need to believe that by working hard and by being good citizens, they will one day be able to see their families, friends and loved ones again and reintegrate into the community, ideally to become active members of society again.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say from the outset that our thoughts are with Paul Bernardo's victims and their families.

What we saw a few months ago was sad. I think that everyone here in the House is trying to ensure that someone like Paul Bernardo, who has a long record of assault and murder, who had no conscience and who committed horrific crimes, should never be able to leave prison and walk among ordinary folks.

We know full well that this will never happen, either. I think that is quite clear. The correctional service was also very clear on that. The crimes he committed are heinous.

Our thoughts are with the victims.

That being said, it is also important to note that the NDP brought forward a motion at the public safety committee that all members of Parliament around the committee table agreed to for the study we are currently working on. I think it is fair to say that all parties are working together to get to the bottom of the transfer of offenders like Mr. Bernardo to ensure that it never happens again. Tomorrow, we will be having other hearings. The recommendations will go to the government. I am confident that we have learned a lesson from this situation and will not encounter it again. It is extremely important for the victims, for the community and for us all.

The question is whether this bill offers some type of solution. I am very concerned by its use of a flawed process within our correctional services that is really the foundation of this particular bill. I do not know if it was because it was rushed to be produced. However, the fact is that it hangs on the designation of a dangerous offender, when we know that, in our correctional system, the definition of “dangerous offender” is deeply flawed. It needs to be fully investigated, judges need to be trained and there needs to be a shift in how we designate dangerous offenders.

A number of my colleagues, including the parliamentary secretary who spoke, have raised the broader concerns that are before the public. We have a correctional system that is, according to the correctional investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger, “nothing short of a national travesty.”

According to an article on his report, “More than 30% of inmates in Canadian prisons are Indigenous — even though aboriginal people make up just 5% of the country’s population”. That is why Dr. Zinger described the situation in our correctional facilities as a travesty.

Moreover, the “figure is highest in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where Indigenous people make up 54% of the prison population.” Furthermore, “Numerous factors — including poverty rates and racism in policing — contribute to the imbalance in convictions.”

The article continues:

And once in detention, Indigenous people face another set of systemic inequities: Indigenous offenders are more likely to be sent of maximum-security facilities and are disproportionately the recipients of harm, both self-induced and in incidents involving “use of force”. They are also much more likely to be placed in solitary confinement.

What makes the findings even more troubling, said [Dr.] Zinger, is that the proportion of Indigenous prisoners has steadily increased. Since...2010, the Indigenous population in prisons has grown by nearly 44%....

Let us come to the definition of “dangerous offender”, because that is the cornerstone of the bill before us. Here we see that the travesty that was raised so eloquently by the correctional investigator is even more manifest.

A CBC News article notes:

Advocates say...Indigenous people are disproportionately harmed by dangerous offender designations and are not given adequate support.

“All they want to do is put a dangerous offender designation on and then, just put him away where you'll never hear from [them],” said Congress of Aboriginal Peoples national vice-chief Kim Beaudin.

There were 860 offenders designated as dangerous offenders under the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada...[and] 36.3 per cent were Indigenous, according to CSC....

The number of Indigenous dangerous offender designations has increased 58 per cent....

We have a deeply flawed designation of dangerous offender such that an indigenous offender is 12 times more likely, even committing the same crimes as someone who is non-indigenous, to be designated as a dangerous offender. That is the travesty the correctional investigator was referring to. That is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

As PressProgress reported just a little while ago, the prairie provinces are failing to address systemic racism in the criminal justice system. When we have a situation where 4% of the population makes up almost half, or 36.3%, of the dangerous offender designations, there is a problem with the kind of designation taking place. The concerns around systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including with sentencing and judges, are things that as a society we need to take on. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was very clear that this is a fundamental problem.

The travesty that was referred to by the correctional investigator needs to be tackled. However, instead of informing the bill by that in any way, it uses a term that has become fraught with peril given the horrible overrepresentation of indigenous people among those with a dangerous offender designation. This is a huge problem and is something I believe the mover should have thought through and consulted on.

At the public safety committee, we are working through ways to ensure the transfer that occurred a few months ago never happens again. To have a bill that would create many more problems by effectively doubling down on a system fraught with systemic racism, to the point where an indigenous offender has a 12 times greater likelihood of being designated a dangerous offender than somebody who is not indigenous, should be of concern to all of us.

My colleague, whom I respect very much, made a number of partisan comments. I want to reply by talking about the justice system in a more adult fashion.

First off, one of the ways we maintain public safety is to ensure those who are sentenced in our correctional institutions stay there. I note that the six worst years for the number of escapees in Canada from our correctional services, from maximum-security and medium-security prisons, all occurred under the Harper regime. Every single one of them did, which is three times more than what we are seeing today. When the Conservative Harper government, the Harper regime, was running our nation's prisons, the threat to public safety was horribly greater than what we are seeing now and what we saw prior to the Harper government. The worst years on record were all from the Conservatives.

Second, I note that other countries, such as Norway, had high recidivism rates that were lowered by taking the approach Canada has taken. Norway's recidivism rate, based on the United States, was over 70% and is now down to 20%, which is the lowest in the world. Canada is at 23%. Those approaches work.

The Conservative intent of always importing Republican-style American approaches to the justice system has been a massive failure. The U.S. has the highest rate of recidivism in the world, with 76.6% of prisoners rearrested within five years. If what we are really talking about is public safety, this failed approach from the Conservatives, failed in terms of prison escapees and recidivism rates, is not something that should be replicated.

We will continue our work at the public safety committee to ensure that something like the Bernardo transfer never happens again. However, the approach we need to take is one that puts public safety at the top level. This bill would not do that.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Tony Baldinelli Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in my place today to participate in the debate with respect to Bill C-351, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, maximum security offenders. My Conservative colleague, the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, has done an incredible job in bringing forward this important bill, which builds on the private member's bill I introduced last June.

On June 14, I introduced Bill C-342 at first reading in the House of Commons. I felt motivated and compelled to introduce this private member's bill after learning that Canada's most notorious criminal had been transferred by Correctional Service Canada from a maximum-security institution to a medium-security prison. In my community, the name Paul Bernardo is synonymous with evil, given the heinous crimes he committed not only in the Toronto area but also in St. Catharines. His actions are so vile that I will not speak of them here. What I can say is that he and his ex-wife took the lives of three young women in Niagara, and the families and friends of those victims have been left to deal with the insurmountable loss, pain and grief he caused for over 31 years now.

Bernardo is a monster who belongs locked up in maximum security for the rest of his life. This prison transfer, which was a downgrade of Bernardo's prison security classification, is completely abhorrent, unimaginable and unacceptable. This decision, which was made last spring by CSC officials, sparked outrage from residents of Niagara, whom I help represent, and from Canadians far and wide across the country. Local municipalities in Niagara, including the cities of St. Catharines and Thorold, passed municipal resolutions to notify the federal government of their alarm and their grave concern regarding Bernardo's prison transfer to medium security. Thorold officials also demanded that Bernardo be sent back to maximum security where he belongs.

In response to this shocking news about Bernardo's downgrade, I tabled Bill C-342, which is common-sense legislation that proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to require that all court-ordered dangerous offenders and mass murderers be permanently assigned a maximum-security classification. It also proposes to repeal the language of the least-restrictive environment standard for assigning inmates to prisons and replace it with the language of “necessary restrictions”, which is used in the public safety legislation passed by the previous Conservative government to support safe streets and communities.

While Bill C-351 is similar to my bill, its key difference is that it adds a coming-into-force clause, which would see it come into force three months after royal assent. This clause is necessary to make sure that prison transfers such as Bernardo's would not happen again and that this act could take force as soon as possible after it is passed in Parliament.

After eight years of the Liberal government, events like Bernardo's prison downgrade reveal just how out of balance and broken our public safety, corrections and justice systems are and just how far off track the federal government is from its public safety obligations. It is also telling that we cannot even get unanimous consent from all parties in the House to send Bernardo back to maximum security where he belongs. Last spring, I tried twice to get unanimous consent from the House to achieve this outcome, and both times my motion was rejected.

Disappointingly, members of the Liberal government decided to not support our common-sense solution. In fact, one member was quoted in our local Niagara Falls Review as saying that we need to have an adult conversation about this and not be playing politics. They asked for an honest conversation.

Well, this is the time to have that honest conversation. We are in a parliamentary debate about a bill that, if passed, would send dangerous offenders and mass murders such as Bernardo back to maximum-security prison, just as the people in Niagara and their municipal elected representatives have requested, and just as law-abiding Canadians want to see happen. The fact that this prison downgrade took place is evidence enough that something is broken with our core institutions. They need to be fixed to not only correct the mistake of transferring a monster such as Paul Bernardo but also ensure it never happens again in relation to that vile monster and the other dangerous offenders and mass murderers now serving time in maximum-security prisons.

While Bernardo is the primary subject of this debate with respect to Bill C-351, many other dangerous offenders and mass murderers have also been transferred from maximum- to medium-security prisons.

Canadians remember the names of Laura Babcock and Tim Bosma. They are innocent victims who were abducted and killed by Dellen Millard and Mark Smich in July 2012 and May 2013 respectively. The national outrage about Bernardo's prison transfer helped prompt Laura’s mother, Linda Babcock, to speak out on behalf of her family and the Bosma family last June. In May 2021, just five years after his conviction, Smich was transferred to Beaver Creek Institution, a medium-security prison in Gravenhurst, Ontario. It is absurd to believe that someone who commits two first-degree murders can be transferred out of maximum-security prison at all, never mind so quickly, yet here we are again.

This perplexing pattern of dangerous offenders and serial killers being downgraded in our prison system is deeply disturbing. It ultimately erodes faith, trust and confidence that law-abiding Canadians place in their public safety, corrections and justice system to protect them. There is only one political party proposing practical policy solutions to fix these issues and restore confidence in our institutions. The other parties, including the Liberals, can choose to support us or they can be silent by their complacency and ignorance of the deeply troubling problem at hand.

Just because the current policies are weak does not mean these policies cannot be strengthened like they were before. Just because this Liberal government let the Bernardo transfer happen does not mean it has to double down to keep Bernardo in medium-security prison.

This is not a Conservative versus Liberal issue. This is an issue we should all be able to agree upon as elected parliamentarians who work to achieve the common and public good for the country. This government has an obligation to law-abiding Canadians and it must start prioritizing the interests of victims of crime over criminals and protect public safety and our communities. Conservatives are calling on members of all parties to support this legislation so that it can pass as quickly as possible. We must do the right thing. It is about standing up for the victims’ honour, their dignity, their memory and their loved ones. It is about doing what is right for law-abiding Canadians who want to keep their loved ones, families and communities safe. Bill C-351 gives us a chance to do what is right and to do what Canadians expect of their elected officials.

Marcia Penner was one of Kristen French’s best friends growing up. Today, she is a prominent business owner in Niagara-on-the-Lake in my riding, and she is a steadfast victims advocate.

On June 8, Marcia wrote to the CSC commissioner, Anne Kelly. In her email, she wrote, “Paul Bernardo is a monster, and one that is beyond rehabilitation. He is a serial pedophile rapist, abductor, and murderer. He has been deemed a dangerous offender. The worst of the worst. If he doesn’t fit the mandatory requirements for maximum security for his entire prison stay, then please tell me who does.”

Marcia is right. If monsters like Paul Bernardo and Mark Smich are not eligible to stay in maximum-security prison for the rest of their living days, then which dangerous offenders and mass murderers are?

Politics aside, let us support doing what is right. Bill C-351 presents us with this opportunity. I hope members from all parties can come together to support this bill, which is common-sense legislation that will help restore Canadians’ trust and confidence in our public safety, corrections and justice system.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


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

The time provided 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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

November 28th, 2023 / 6:25 p.m.


Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise and address a very important issue facing people in northwestern Ontario and right across the country, and that is, of course, the cost of living and how that couples in with the carbon tax that this NDP-Liberal government is planning to quadruple.

We know that inflation continues to rise as a result of inflationary spending from this NDP-Liberal government. It has made the cost of many things, especially many essential things like gas, groceries and home heating, rise to the point where Canadian households are in crisis. However, the higher taxes being brought forward by this government are making the situation even worse. People across the north are wondering how they are going to be able to afford to put food on their table. We have seen record numbers of people visiting food banks right across the country. People in northern Ontario are wondering how they are going to be able to afford to heat their home.

Now, the government has put out a carve-out for some Canadians in certain regions of the country based on how they voted, but those in northern Ontario are continuing to have to pay a lot more for home heating. As winter is approaching and temperatures are getting cooler, many people are worried about what they are going to do in terms of paying for their home heating.

To make matters worse, the GST is slapped on top of all of it. It is adding to these costs even more. It is a tax on a tax. We see that at the gas pumps when people go to fill up. In northern Ontario, of course, we must travel great distances to get to medical appointments and for essential shopping trips. It really is not an option. People need to pay for gas and need to be paying the higher carbon tax as a result of this government's plans.

The government has made life more unaffordable for us in northern Ontario, and to make matters worse, its carbon tax plan has not done the job to protect the environment. Canada now ranks 58th out of 63 countries and “remains among the very low performers” on the climate change performance index. We continue to miss target after target. We have missed virtually every target, I believe, outside of the pandemic, which completely shut down our economy. The only way that this NDP-Liberal government was able to successfully meet a climate target was to shut down the entire economy during the pandemic. We have also seen recent reports from the environment commissioner that have shown that Canada will once again miss its targets this year and that we are not on track to meet our 2030 emissions targets.

The government is making life more unaffordable and driving up the cost of living to the point where people and families are in crisis, and we are not seeing any of the benefits that the government purports should be coming as a result of this carbon tax scheme. It is simply all economic pain with no environmental gain, and Canadians want to know when this government will finally scrap its failed carbon tax.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Milton Ontario


Adam van Koeverden LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and to the Minister of Sport and Physical Activity

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this very important issue.

I first have to, unfortunately, correct the record on a couple of things. Back in 2015, Canada was trending to exceed 2005 emission levels by 10%, but by 2030, we will have effectively bent the emissions curve. We had a lot of work to do, since the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper completely ignored climate change and denied that the existential threat of climate change even existed.

I again have to correct the record. Our plan is working, and experts have indicated that up to one-third of current reductions are a result of carbon pricing. I would remind the member that, in the last election, in 2021, when the Conservative leader was Erin O'Toole, all Conservatives ran on a plan to price carbon. It was this sort of Zellers green catalogue where one could choose some green products, perhaps. It was also affectionately titled “The more you burn, the more you earn” by experts. It was not likely to achieve very good results, but our plan has achieved results. We have an 8% or 9% reduction already since 2005. That curve has required some time and effort to bend since 2015, but we are on track to reduce our emissions by 34% by 2035.

I agree that we need to do more to reach Canada's ambitious 40% reduction target, but not by just repeating slogans in the House of Commons. It might be fun to say “axe the tax”, because it rhymes and fits well on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker, but it is not an environmental plan. It will not do anything to reduce emissions in this country. I would urge the member and all Conservatives, if they have really good ideas for how to fight climate change and lower emissions, to bring them to the House, because that is what these longer debates are all about. Unfortunately, we are still debating whether we should fight climate change rather than how to fight it.

As I said, we have more work to do. We have to be more ambitious. The environment commissioner said that we are moving in the right direction, perhaps just not fast enough. A 34% reduction by 2035 is not enough. We need to reduce our emissions by 40%, and our reduction target is still in sight. A price on carbon pollution is an integral part of that plan. As has been said over and over again, up to a third of our carbon pricing to date is responsible for our reductions. Let us also not forget that our plan, unlike the Conservatives' Zellers green catalogue, sends more money back to 80% of households that are under the backstop program with the federal government.

It is also always worth noting that provinces and territories under the federal backstop plan do not have a plan to fight climate change and lower emissions. British Columbia, Quebec and others have their own plans, which work well too. However, it is incumbent upon all provincial premiers to have a plan to fight climate change and reduce our emissions. Canadians in northern Ontario and across Canada understand the cost of inaction. It is extremely stark. If we ignore climate change entirely, by 2025, we could see a $25-billion annual slowdown in our economic growth. That is why our climate plan is not just a plan for the environment but also a plan for the economic stability of Canada's future.

A climate plan today is one of the many ways to make life more affordable for Canadians. I would again encourage my Conservative colleagues to come up with some good ideas. Canadians used to look to members such as the member of Parliament for Wellington—Halton Hills for a little climate leadership; unfortunately, it seems all that climate leadership and ambition has dried up with the Conservatives.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, there is a lot in that answer that I would like to respond to, but I do not have the time.

The member spoke of the cost of inaction, and Canadians are seeing that cost right now under the government. Canada is 58th out of 63 on the climate index for performance under the government's plan. It continues to miss climate target after climate target. All the while, the government is driving up the cost of living, making life more unaffordable for Canadians.

It is clear that the Liberals' plan has not worked, but their only answer is to say to continue following their plan. It is not working. When is the government finally going to recognize that?

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Madam Speaker, Canadians are starting to recognize what the Conservative Party is all about. It was really highlighted last week when, en masse, they voted against the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement, using carbon pricing as a wedge against it, suggesting that it was because the agreement mentions carbon pricing. It is worth noting that the agreement does not insist that either country have a carbon pricing plan. It is also worth noting that Ukraine has been pricing carbon since 2011. This is nothing new for it.

Despite the fact that President Zelenskyy himself, the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce begged Canadian members of Parliament to vote for that agreement, Conservatives used carbon pricing as a wedge and decided to vote against it. Apparently, this “axe the tax” strategy that they have put forth over the last couple of months is more important than the rebuilding of Ukraine. Ukrainian Canadians see that and are extremely disappointed in the Conservative Party, as am I.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Madam Speaker, three weeks ago, I asked the government if there would be a free vote for its backbench for the upcoming Conservative motion on removing the carbon tax from all forms of home heating for all Canadians. I had singled out the member for Calgary Skyview.

The response I got from the parliamentary secretary was a justification rooted in concern about the cost and efficiency of oil furnaces and the tired pretense that the carbon tax carve-out was somehow not only for Atlantic Canadians. The parliamentary secretary apparently thought that Canadians would somehow believe that, since there are a few Canadians in remote areas of northern Ontario, and a few other places here and there that have oil furnaces, somehow Canadians would think that the carbon tax carve-out was not just for Atlantic Canadians, which is the only part of Canada where oil furnaces are commonly used.

There are two problems with the parliamentary secretary's spin. The first is that the Minister of Rural Economic Development confirmed on national television that it was, in fact, a political position aimed at Atlantic Canadian voters in response to an Atlantic Canadian backbench revolt. She told Canadians that, if people in the Prairies wanted a carbon tax carve-out for their heating bills, their solution would be to vote for more Liberals. There it is. The policy is a regional exception, rooted in political desperation, and has nothing to do with the relative efficiency of various heating sources. How could it? The rest of their standard answer has always been that the carbon tax does not make life unaffordable. In one fell swoop, the government admitted that the carbon tax is crushing Canadians by inflating their heating bills and that the solution to fixing this is to remove the tax from home heating, but it is only willing to do it in one region of the country.

The second problem with the response is what I want the government to address tonight. I asked whether the member for Calgary Skyview would be allowed to vote freely on the Conservative motion to remove the tax for all Canadians. I know the riding of Calgary Skyview pretty well. It is in my city, and I know that virtually everyone of his constituents has either a natural gas forced air furnace or a gas-fuelled central boiler. We know for a fact that Calgary is cold enough that everybody in the city needs a reliable source of heat to keep their homes at a safe temperature in the winter, so we are left to wonder.

Atlantic MPs obviously fought for their constituents to get a break on the carbon tax, but what about the member for Calgary Skyview? Is he totally indifferent to the people in Calgary? Does he care if they cannot afford to heat their homes? Does he think that, since they have a natural gas furnace, they should have to pay the carbon tax? Does he think that all the people in his riding should be glad that the carbon tax is there and that the government's other anti-Alberta policies, which have killed investments and jobs, are a good thing? Does he think that they sent him to Ottawa to impose the carbon tax on them and to run interference for the government at the natural resources committee?

If the member for Calgary Skyview had a free vote to keep the tax, then shame on him. If the member for Calgary Skyview said nothing, but was whipped into line, then shame on him and on the Liberal government. If the member for Calgary Skyview actually did demand the carbon tax carve-out for people in Calgary and he was ignored, then shame on the Prime Minister and the government for cynically playing region against region and forcing Canadians, who cannot afford rent, food and fuel, into paying a carbon tax when all they want is to not freeze during a cold Canadian winter.

I will ask this again: Did the government allow the member for Calgary Skyview a free vote when he voted to punish his own community by voting against the Conservative motion for a carbon tax carve-out?

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Milton Ontario


Adam van Koeverden LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and to the Minister of Sport and Physical Activity

Madam Speaker, what an absolutely out-of-touch question this is from an urban member of Parliament who clearly has no idea what it is like living in a rural part of the country.

There are lots of members in our society who live too far away from a natural gas pipeline, who still use home heating oil to heat their homes. It is not a regional thing. There are lot of people in Atlantic Canada who still use home heating oil, but there are over 150,000 Ontarians, and hundreds of people in my riding of Milton, who still use home heating oil. It continues to be the dirtiest and the most emissions-intensive way to heat homes. It is also the most expensive by far.

The market-based instrument that is used to nudge people away from certain products, like home heating oil and other emissions-intensive products, work best when there is a clear alternative. That is what we are doing, we are creating that alternative for Canadians. We are providing free heat pumps. We are working with provinces to get people off the dirtiest form of home heating in favour of an electric option.

It is really disappointing to continue to hear this from members. The Conservatives have become a one-issue party. They are really focused on carbon pricing, when they all ran on a promise to price carbon. The member talked about accountability, why we were sent here and under what pretense we were sent here. I hate to tell the member again, for the third or fourth time, but he ran on a promise to price carbon. It was in the Zellers sort of catalogue of green options, “the more you burn, the more you earn” was the byline that a lot of people gave it.

The continued insistence that this is a regional program and that carbon pricing does not work is categorically false. Our emissions are dropping in Canada. We are making great progress. We had a lot of work to do from 2015 when we got elected, because the previous Conservative government was completely oblivious to climate change. It did not believe it existed, and it did not want to lead around the world.

With this fall economic statement, released just last week, our government is taking further action to support the middle class and to lower our emissions. Our economic plan is all about building a strong economy that works for everyone, with more homes built faster and great jobs that Canadians can count on.

As we have seen the rapid rise in interest rates, they have started to really have an impact on Canadians' wallets. That has been a significant financial challenge, but tying it all to climate action and carbon pricing is not just misleading Canadians, it is also completely false.

I am glad that, last week, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance announced some new targeted measures to help stabilize some prices and make life more affordable, and protect people who have mortgages to pay. We are meeting the moment. There is an affordability challenge out there, so we are finding solutions to actually help Canadians while the Conservatives just wear their t-shirts, slap their bumper stickers on the back of their trucks, and say “Axe the tax.” That is not a climate solution. That is not an economic solution. That is not a solution for affordability.

It will not help Canadians. It certainly will not help lower- and middle-income Canadians who get more money back than the price on pollution actually costs them. It is a very well-known thing. It is not surprising to see the Conservatives always standing up for people who earn the most money. That is what they did with their universal Canada child tax benefit. They sent cheques to millionaires. It was a completely ineffective way to lower poverty.

The Conservatives have never really been that focused on lowering poverty. They are focused on supporting oil and gas companies, sending cheques out to millionaires, and taking us years back on climate action and fighting climate change.

In his rebuttal, I would just beg the member that if he is so insistent that we stop pricing carbon and he does not want to go back on the solutions that he provided in his—

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


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

The hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Madam Speaker, talk about who is out of touch here.

Are people who cannot afford food and rent so angry that they put bumper stickers on their trucks? He is going to dismiss that as not being a reflection of deep problems that exist in Canada.

On the point about the regional carve-out of this, a member of his government admitted that this was a regional carve-out. She told a national television audience that the reason for the carve-out was because Atlantic Liberal MPs asked for it, and that if Prairie Liberal MPs asked for it, maybe they would get a carve-out for their constituents who do not use oil furnaces.

The Liberals admitted that it is a regional carve-out.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Adam van Koeverden Liberal Milton, ON

Madam Speaker, allow me to say it again: The affordability challenges being faced by Canadians right now are a top concern of the government. We are putting forward real solutions to help meet the moment and make sure that they can afford things such as home heating, groceries and rent. Finding real solutions means meeting the moment and finding ways we can actually help Canadians. However, if the lowest-income Canadians are getting more back than they put in on carbon pricing, then taking it away is not a solution.

Our government's pollution pricing program is working. It is responsible for up to a third of our current emissions. Climate change is causing wildfires and natural disasters across this country. For the Conservatives to continually come back into the House, repeat their cheesy slogans, insist that is their only affordability measure and offer no solutions to fight climate change, shows they have taken quite a few steps back from when Erin O'Toole was the leader of the party and they had a plan to fight climate change. It is disappointing.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


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

The hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon not being present to raise during Adjournment Proceedings the matter for which notice has been given, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)