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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was forward.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Progressive Conservative MP for Brandon—Souris (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

User Fees Act September 29th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-212 in the name of the member for Etobicoke North. Not only has he brought forward this bill, I had a similar bill on the Order Paper and I have removed my bill in favour of his, so it is difficult for me to speak with anything but favour for this particular piece of legislation.

I should correct one thing. The member for Medicine Hat continually said that the cost of a passport was $65. I will clarify that. In fact, let me say for all those people listening, if there are any, that the cost is $85. The fee was increased not that long ago. If the member for Medicine Hat feels that in Alberta the fee is still only $65, he is mistaken. The fee is $85 and it is the same across the country. I ask that my office not be inundated with calls telling me that the people we have been helping with passports over the past numbers of months have been charged the wrong fee. They have not been. It is $85. However, that is the issue here: fee for service.

Conceptually, the idea of a fee for a service is not something that we could not accept. We do it all the time. We have a fee for service when we ride a bus. We have a fee for service when we go to a swimming pool. We have a fee for service when we are provided with any number of services, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal. Conceptually or philosophically, it is not such a bad thing to have a fee for service.

Those people who are in fact taking the service should in fact be the ones responsible for paying a portion of that fee. A passport is a perfect example. If you or I as an individual wish to apply for and receive a passport, which by the way is one of the finest documents that we as Canadians can ever own, then we should be responsible for some of the cost. But this is where the issue comes to a grinding halt. Just what is a fair cost? What is a fair fee for service? What value are we as Canadians receiving for that fee for service, for that cost recovery?

Conceptually what it was is that departments were supposed to recover some of their costs. There is a budget in a department. A department provides these services and attempts to recover some of the costs it has to pay out in staff time, office time and other operating costs. That in itself is fair.

But what is not fair is not being able to tell the people who are paying the fees for those services what they are getting for that service and what portion of cost recovery is acceptable to the department. That is where this whole thing falls off the rails and that is why Bill C-212 is so vital and absolutely important in trying to bring it back on the rails.

There is an advantage there, but there is also a huge disadvantage. I will give members a couple of examples. One that is dear and close to my heart, and why I was putting my bill forward as well, is a operational department within PMRA. It said that it had to recover a certain proportionate part of its costs to operate this department. Those costs to the users have been increasing quite dramatically over the past number of years.

Those users are saying that this is impacting them. It is impacting them now in trying to get a registration from what is now called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. It has been costing them a huge amount of money to get a registration for a product in this country, to the point where a lot of the producers of those products are backing off and saying it is now not economically feasible for them to go through all the regulatory process and pay all of the exorbitant fees for a very small part of the market. They are backing away, and my constituents, and in particular my farmers, do not have the advantage of these types of pest controls they need in order to continue in their agricultural pursuits.

There are other examples. Certainly with export licences, in agriculture particularly, it is now simply a matter of a piece of paper. There is not even much of an inspection that goes on when a person exports potatoes from Prince Edward Island, for example, into the United States. It is now simply a matter of a piece of paper that costs an extreme amount of money, with no inspection. Effectively it is simply a matter of a tax grab; it is trying to find more dollars to pump into the department. That has to stop.

What has to happen is identified in Bill C-212 by the member for Etobicoke North and it is pretty sound. As a party, we will be supporting it. It says, “Let us do a cost benefit analysis. Let us find out exactly what services are being provided for these costs”. It is quite simple. I agree with that and I think the department should agree with it. If we are providing the service to a group of individuals, then tell us exactly what services they are getting for that cost.

Let us also look at the overall cost recovery budgets of the departments to find out if it is simply a matter of grabbing taxes to pay for their operations without being more efficient in their operations. That is important too. We cannot have inefficiency running amok, which we see happening on occasion, in fact for most of the time in the departments on that side of the House. What we have to do is get more efficiencies built into our organization so we do not have to recover as many costs in the first place and that those licensing fees can be reduced accordingly. That is very important.

The best part of the bill and the worst part in reality is that if I am a user and I have to pay a fee that I object to I have to go to those same people who levied the fee. They may say that I am right, that it is inefficient, it is charging too much and that it will reduce the fee, but that does not happen. In reality those departments do not like to admit their mistakes.

However now Treasury Board is saying that we need an appeal but we need it to go to the same people who levied the fees. That is ridiculous. The bill is saying that we should have an independent adjudicator to whom we can go and, even if I do not win my argument, at least there is a perception that I am listened to, that someone will take this seriously and listen to my arguments so that maybe the fees can be reduced accordingly. That is embraced in the bill. I appreciate that and I think the bill should go forward.

I believe Treasury Board is moving to bring forward another policy statement. Let us not get caught up on this. Let us go forward with this private member's bill. Let us put it on the table and make sure the government has to deal with it because, quite frankly, the new policy that is being brought forward is no better than the old policy.

The member for Etobicoke North as well as others on this side of the House have caused a little bit of concern and consternation in the departments. Individuals are saying that there are some fires so they may as well put them out and bring forward their own policy. However that policy is no better than what is in place at the present time.

Let us not use that idea from the Liberal side of the House to say that they are already working on that so we can just forget about this private member's bill and let the departments come forward. Let us not fall into that trap. Let us make sure the legislation goes forward because it is sound. In my opinion it has better proposals than were brought forward by the departments themselves. Let us not make the mistake that simply because there are people looking at it from the department side it will fix itself. It does not fix itself.

The problem with user fees, as I said conceptually, is sound as long as there are two things: first, a cost benefit analysis for the service being provided; and second, we recognize that there is a certain percentage of the cost recovery based on efficiencies of the departments themselves.

The third issue has to do with the economic competitiveness that we have in the country now. We need to ensure we have the ability to compete in the global market and in order to do that we need to ensure we can control our business costs. This is an uncontrollable cost. This cost is currently workable but not acceptable. However that is not to say that the departments cannot at some point in time arbitrarily increase those costs without anybody having an influence as to why and how.

The question of the passport is a prime example. We do probably 250 passports a month out of my office. Arbitrarily the department made a decision one week to raise those fees from $65 to $85. We were not even notified of those increases until after the fact. When my constituents come to me for a service and I do not even have the right number or any argument as to why that number was raised, to me that is a ridiculous opportunity from a department itself.

I appreciate the bill coming forward from the member for Etobicoke North. It is a similar bill to one I had tabled originally with respect to cost recovery and licensing fees. I would suggest that on Wednesday everybody, not only this side of the House but on that side of the House, should hold the feet to the fire of the departments that arbitrarily increased those fees to an exorbitant amount.

Agriculture September 17th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, as usual when I come back to the House after summer recess, colleagues of mine and members of the staff always want to know if I had a good summer.

I can honestly say I did not have a good summer. I have been dealing with some very desperate people in my riding with respect to the border closure of May 20. These are desperate people. They are people who are totally depressed. This is not like the softwood lumber where we can put two by fours on a trailer. These are animals which have to be fed when there is no feed, no money and no market.

There is a demonstration out there right now with hundreds of producers who want to know from the Minister of Agriculture what if anything he is doing and when will the border be open to live cattle?

Supply September 16th, 2003

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. In 1999 I did support the definition of one man and one woman but things change. Society evolves.

By the way, I do believe this same member also voted to not accept his pension when he was being elected as a Reform member. I think they changed their minds on that one. Did society change? Did other variables get thrown into the mix that the pension issue should change and now he has changed his mind on that?

Society does evolve and change. We now have the order of three different superior courts. We have a society that has evolved. We have issued and granted same sex benefits, which were not there in 1981 or 1982.

If we are not flexible enough to change with our society then we probably should not be in the House.

Again, I find it strange that they can change their minds on issues, and that is fine, but others cannot change their minds on issues.

Supply September 16th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, there were three questions and I will deal with the first one.

My inappropriate suggestion that the Alliance was not dealing with BSE is not just my suggestion. Today the Calgary Herald stated:

Conservative Leader [member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough] stepped up as champion for the stricken beef industry Monday, using the first Commons question period....

It goes on to stated:

Oddly, even though the Canadian Alliance represents the majority of ridings in Western Canada, hurt most by the ban, party leader...did not mention the issue....

I suggest that there is a champion out there for the stricken producers of cattle.

We have talked about the Egan decision in the Supreme Court. I think that was answered quite emphatically by the Bloc member who said that this was an issue of same sex benefits, not a question of marriage. Although they try to, they cannot muddy the two issues. We have to be very specific but that certainly was not the case.

The courts of B.C., Quebec and Ontario, the three most populated provinces, the three jurisdictions that came forward and certainly the three superior courts, have looked at this piece of legislation we have, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have read those orders and the order is quite specific. It says that they uphold the appeal. In fact, they say quite emphatically that in a just and democratic society marriage should be extended to same sex relationships.

Supply September 16th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I rise to debate this issue in the House of Commons. It was mentioned earlier that it is a very emotional and passionate debate and, in a lot of cases, certainly a divisive debate within what was mentioned, within constituencies and within families.

One of the advantages I have in my party is the opportunity of putting forward my position, my beliefs, my options and my concerns, contrary to the views my leader holds. We have the opportunity in our party to be our own people, to be ourselves, and I will respectfully be disagreeing with some of what my leader put forward on behalf of his own beliefs.

I would also like to say it does not surprise me that the Alliance would come forward with this somewhat hot button, divisive issue on the second day in the House of Commons, as opposed to something that is more rampant in our communities right now, which is the fact that a lot of families are being devastated with respect to the border closures on cattle because of BSE. Last night, with my leader, I attended a meeting of some 250 ranchers who are absolutely devastated and who have nowhere to turn. But today it seems that the Alliance would much rather put forward a divisive issue as opposed to trying to put forward something so that we could in fact assist those people.

I have found that this issue is broken up into three categories. The first one, without question, is that of equality and the charter that we hold dear and close to our hearts, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without question, three superior courts in the land, those of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, have come forward and said they have interpreted our law. And it is our law. It is the law of the people who sit in the House. It is the law of the people I represent and the law of Canadians in the country: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Unequivocally three courts said that it is our law and that in fact we are breaking our law, that we are not extending equality to those people who wish to have equality. Under section 15(1) of the charter, the courts have said that either we change the law or we comply with it.

I hold that charter dear and close to my heart because that is what it means to be a Canadian. That is our freedom. That is our cornerstone. If we change the law, then we change our society. Every night on the news we see examples of societies today and we see what happens when we do not have that Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Those courts have said to us, “Comply”. I know the argument is that this should have been appealed to the Supreme Court, but that is a stalling tactic. That is not taking responsibility. That is not making decisions. That is not acting on what we believe is right in our society. It is a stalling tactic to go forward to the Supreme Court. We recognize that it would come back to us at some point in time and say yes, we are in fact not complying with the law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so we must comply. And everybody would be happy to say that the courts had forced us to do it.

But it is our law. And we put it in place. I was not 11 years old when it came into the House, but I was not in the House, and I should tell the House that it is something I hold very dear and very close to my heart.

So right off the bat we have equality. We have that. Also, when people question how it would infringe other people and organizations with their rights and freedoms, I say there are reference questions. My leader said, “Withdraw the reference questions and let us put the legislation on the table”. I do not disagree with that. Let us discuss legislation. This is a motion from the Alliance Party, which wants to push those hot buttons, but let us get the legislation here. Let us talk about it. Let us look at how those rights are going to be protected, not just for same sex marriages and same sex couples but for the religious freedoms we hold so dear, in that same legislation. Let us bring it forward. But we do not have that. There are reference questions. My caveat will be that we cannot take rights away from one group to give to another.

The third reference question is quite specific. I hope everybody has read it. It asks if civil marriages, and I underline civil, are allowed in the country, will religious organizations have the right to refuse same sex marriage ceremonies in their religious churches and organizations? That question has to come back as “yes, those rights are protected under that same charter”. We cannot take rights away from one group or individual to give to another. Unequivocally we have to protect that right in the charter. I think reference question number three will certainly speak to that.

There has been a lot of debate about the word marriage. Should that word be used with a same sex couple? I stand here having been married to a woman for 31 years, and I take those vows very seriously. In fact, I take those vows probably more seriously than a lot of people with whom I grew up who have not taken those vows very seriously and who have probably been divorced once if not twice. I can stand here and say that I do take my vows very seriously.

My wife and family disagree on this issue. My wife and I have had honest, open discussions, like the ones we are having here in the House. She said that marriage is something that we should sanctify. It should be a man and a woman. I said that currently there are in this society same sex marriages. We could pick a number: 100, 200, 300, 400, probably 500. There are probably 500 same sex marriages in this country right now which have already been sanctified by the courts. I asked my wife how that has detracted from our marriage of 31 years. Is it less today than it was yesterday when somebody took a vow in Toronto or someplace else in Ontario? I asked her if our marriage meant less to her than to me and she replied that it did not. After 31 years that is the relationship we have developed with or without a word.

The same is true of those loving relationships that have been sanctified by civil marriage in Ontario. Why take that right away from those couples because we think it will have an impact on them? That is marriage.

There is an issue with the freedom of religion and the protection of that freedom of religion. I will stand and fight anyone who suggests that right should not be extended to everyone who wishes to exercise that opinion and those beliefs. That is in the charter, the same charter that we say should have equality rights for same sex couples in relationships.

There are religious organizations in this country today that extend same sex marriages. The question is: Do they not have those same rights of religious freedom in the charter? Are we supposed to take those rights away from them because someone else says they are right and everyone else is wrong?

We have all had phone calls and letters and organized campaigns. The fact is that if the United Church in its wisdom decides to extend those rights to marriage should people not be given the right to religious freedom under the charter? In some cases I have heard people say no. I have heard people say that right should be taken away from them. That is a very slippery slope.

When I ask why people should not have the right to exercise their religious rights and opinions, the answer I have been getting in some cases is that they are right and the others are wrong. That is a very dangerous position to take because if they are right and others are wrong extends to religious beliefs and religious opinions where could that go?

Does the majority have the right to say they are right and others are wrong on other issues? Would there be freedom of speech, the ability to cast a ballot or the ability to travel across our country? I do not want to fearmonger because too much of that has already taken place but that is a slippery slope and we cannot get caught up in that movement.

This is a divisive issue, an emotional issue and it has the country divided. The issue will be resolved, not by the courts but by us in Parliament, by legislation that will be tabled in the House. This issue will be resolved on the basis of equality and equal rights. It will not be resolved on the basis of discrimination. It will be done in a free and just society. All of us should be proud to say that Canada has the ability to extend those rights to all equally.

Disaster Assistance September 15th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister shortchanged the province of Quebec during the ice storm, he abandoned Ontario during the SARS crisis, he disappeared during the blackout, and he has yet to offer a workable assistance package to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta cattle producers. It seems the Prime Minister's broken promises are moving west.

Recently he promised federal assistance to the fire-scarred regions of British Columbia. When can the good people of B.C. expect the Prime Minister to break that promise?

Agriculture June 10th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, or more appropriately on the horns of a mad cow. On March 23, 1990, the minister is quoted as saying:

If we look around the world it does not matter how a country is trying to survive, if it does not have a strong, viable, economically strengthened agriculture industry, then the economy and the future of that country is certainly in question.

There is no doubt that the agriculture industry is in peril and that the economy of this country is in jeopardy.

The dilemma is, does the minister help the industry or does he let it die? Or will he stop floating trial balloons and come up with real money for the cattle industry?

Foreign Affairs May 29th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, recently the Prime Minister said about national missile defence “Ministers always support a government decision or some of them will no longer be ministers”. Yet the Minister of Canadian Heritage is opposed to the decision to move forward on missile defence and states that it “runs counter to everything the Liberal Party has ever stood for”.

Would the Minister of National Defence tell me if he has the full unqualified support of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Natural Resources to proceed with the missile defence plan?

Member for Calgary Centre May 29th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus to acknowledge the contributions the right hon. member for Calgary Centre has made to the House and Canadians since being elected leader in 1998.

Canadians recognize the member's dedication to our country and that his commitment to our party has seen us through the many highs and lows of the last five years. His perseverance has held the government accountable. Clearly he is the best statesman the House has seen in the past decade.

It is with some sadness that we see him pass the torch. The torch, however, is being passed to one of several potential bright young Tories with a burning desire to lead a viable alternative to the current incompetent Liberal government. There is wind in our sails as we head to Toronto this weekend to elect a new leader. Our party is running on momentum from our recent byelection victories in Gander—Grand Falls and Perth—Middlesex. The P.C. Party is without a doubt the alternative that Canadians are so desperately seeking.

A new day is dawning for the Progressive Conservative Party as we welcome a new leader with enthusiasm and optimism.

Agriculture May 28th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, every day the U.S. border is shut to Canadian beef, the situation becomes more desperate for producers, feedlot operators, auction marts, packing plants and truckers. Today the Prime Minister once again poked the U.S. President in the eye with his nonsensical ramblings. It is obvious the Prime Minister does not realize our economy is strong because of our dependence on U.S. markets.

My question is for the Minister of Agriculture. Why did the Prime Minister blind side him like this? Why is the Prime Minister going out of his way to make it so difficult to open this border?