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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply April 28th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I will keep it very short. I would like to thank the hon. member for Rosemont for his comments. I think he drew a very good parallel between the state of our environment and the multilateral agreement on investment and globalization.

I would ask the member if he concurs that one of the real dangers of the MAI is that it will have a huge impact on developing countries and will, by increasing foreign investment and the power of multinational corporations, not only have an impact on deepening poverty in those countries, but will also have a huge impact on the physical environment because it will allow greater power to those corporations to plunder the natural resources not only of our country but also of those countries in the developing world. That is one of the real intents of the agreement that is being negotiated by the wealthiest nations of the world.

I would ask the member if he would agree that is one of the dangers of the agreement.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998 March 31st, 1998

Mr. Speaker, as the education critic for the NDP I am very pleased to speak in the House to Bill C-36, an act to amend certain provisions of the budget tabled on February 24. I would like to focus my comments on the budget and how it impacts or whether it alleviates the crisis facing post-secondary education in Canada.

The millennium fund illustrates very well the government's failure to recognize the crisis facing post-secondary education. If we talk to students and to student organizations like the Canadian Federation of Students, which has done a lot of analysis and evaluation of what is the reality and the situation facing students today, we find out that the average debt for students graduating this spring will be $25,000. In fact, worse than that, approximately 130,000 student loans are in default.

There have been reports of a 700% increase in student loan bankruptcies from 1989 to 1997. What is a very shocking fact and statistic is that now 25% of all bankruptcies are as a result of student loans in 1997. This means that at the end of 1997 there was something like 37,000 bankrupt graduates. This is a very dismal state of affairs. It illustrates very graphically the crisis facing post-secondary education where student are graduating into poverty and where more and more students are declaring bankruptcy. In the recent budget the number of graduate bankruptcies was projected to be 216,000 by the year 2003.

Liberal members and the government have stated that the new budget, the showpiece of which was the millennium fund in education, is something that will address this crisis. Many members in the oppositions parties and in my party have exposed the fact that the millennium fund would not even come close to compensating for the years of cuts that have taken place in post-secondary education as a result of policies of the Liberal government.

The millennium fund will provide a fund in the budget of $2.5 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but the fund will not even begin until the year 2000, which means that students will still be left with virtually no help or resources until the year 2000.

Even in the year 2000 when this fund begins we will be looking at a contribution from the fund of $250 million per year over a 10 year period. When this is put in the context of the funds that have been taken out of post-secondary education by the federal government, the real picture begins to emerge. By the time the fund starts in the year 2000 we will have lost over $3 billion from post-secondary education as a result of federal government policies and cutting back on education and transfers to provincial governments.

It is a very serious situation caused by the Liberal government that is now offering, with all the spin, rhetoric and talk about the legacy for the year 2000, the millennium fund. When the surface of that fund is scratched and examined we see that it offers very little assistance to students. It will only help an estimated 7% of students. It will provide—we are not sure whether it will be grants or scholarships—assistance to only about 7% of students who are actually in need. That puts the picture in perspective as to whether or not the millennium fund will actually address the needs before us.

Another very troubling factor about the millennium fund is that it takes us down the slippery slope toward privatization and the corporatization of post-secondary education. A lot of concern has been expressed by student organizations and by people in the educational field. Certainly the research we have done in the NDP suggests the course of action the government chose in setting up the fund was to set up in effect a private foundation. There was a named chair representing a very large corporate interest in Canada. This does not bode well for the future of post-secondary education.

Very important to the country is the notion and the principle of publicly funded post-secondary education. What we will see with the millennium fund is a private board being set up that will have the ability to set criteria as to how grants or scholarships will be administered, taking it out of the public realm.

In Ontario a lot of concern has been expressed about ongoing privatization. At the University of Toronto a fund to assist students in need was turned into a scholarship fund after the intervention of the president of the Bank of Montreal who sits on the board of governors. There are the same kinds of concern about the millennium fund because of the uncertainty about who will qualify for assistance or the level of assistance, whether it is a scholarship program and whether or not there will be creeping corporate influence in terms of setting criteria as to who will receive scholarships or loans. We have not yet received information from the federal government.

They are very disturbing facts about the millennium fund. The first is the lack of real financial support it will provide, given the level of cutbacks that we have had. The second is the fact that it is taking us down a road of privatization and corporatization of post-secondary education.

Another issue I would deal with around the millennium fund has to do with how it was set up. We heard in the House yesterday concerns expressed about the situation in Quebec. I understand the concerns that have been put forward by members of the Bloc Quebecois about the lack of consultation around the establishment of the millennium fund. However, let us be very clear. It was not just Quebec that was left out of the picture. It was all other provinces as well that are still waiting for a phone call from the Prime Minister or someone representing the government to inform them about what their role will be in the millennium fund and in setting up the criteria.

It is another indication of unilateral action being taken by the federal government. I would like to ask government members whether or not they think this is their new kind of federalism: unilateral action and no consultation with provincial government even though post-secondary education is a provincial jurisdiction and responsibility.

We in the NDP think this is an absolutely incorrect way to go about implementing the millennium fund. We believe there should be co-operation and discussion involving the setting up of a national grants program using the funds from the millennium fund as the beginning of a national grants program.

The last point I will make is that one of the things that was discovered in the budget was that buried in some of the background material were plans to change the bankruptcy laws. It was a most cynical ploy by the government. On the one hand we were told that the budget would help students, that the millennium fund would help students. On the other hand the finance minister was very quietly laying plans to change the bankruptcy laws which will make it much more difficult for students to file for bankruptcy and will extend the deadline from two years to ten years. This is a most cynical ploy by the federal government and illustrates why the millennium fund will not do what needs to be done in terms of providing federal funding for post-secondary education.

I conclude my remarks by saying that there is growing opposition and concern about the fund as people begin to realize that it is not doing what it is purported to do by the government. There has simply been a lot of political rhetoric about the fund, but the stark reality is that it will not help the students in need in Canada today.

Millennium Fund March 30th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, today the Prime Minister met with the premier of Quebec to set up a committee to look at how the millennium fund is implemented in Quebec. Nine other provincial governments are still waiting for a call. Students who want to see a national grants program based on need have also yet to hear from the Prime Minister.

The government has been running a great public relations game on the millennium fund. However, we still do not have any idea how it will meet the needs of students or how it fits in with existing student assistance programs.

I am calling on the federal government to recognize the serious flaws within the millennium fund and immediately work with all provinces and student groups to come up with a program that genuinely meets the needs of students.

Child Benefit March 26th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in support of the motion of the hon. member for Shefford which reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should review the level at which the child benefit is indexed.

The NDP has already gone on the record in speaking to the motion as fully supporting it. We also support the amendment put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.

I begin my remarks by saying the year 2000 is very close. I begin in that way because the year 2000 has very special significance in the House of Commons, not just because it is a new millennium but because back in 1989 members of the House unanimously passed a motion sponsored by Mr. Ed Broadbent, the then leader of the New Democratic Party, that by the year 2000 child poverty would be eliminated in this country. It is now 1998, nine years later, and the situation has not only not improved. It is appallingly worse than it was nine years ago.

I am very happy the motion is before us because it addresses in a very small way one thing that could be done to ensure the child tax benefit, put forward and agreed to by the provinces, would be fully indexed. Campaign 2000, a non-governmental organization made up of many supporting groups, has vigorously campaigned on the issue of child poverty and holding the House of Commons accountable for the motion that was passed in 1989. Much work has been done.

Here we are today still talking, not about fully eliminating child poverty but about one very small piece of it. In fact the child tax benefit is only partially indexed. What that says to all of us is that we have not come very far.

I looked in Hansard to find out what government members had to say about the motion during its first and second hours of debate. Frankly I assumed that government members would support something so modest that would bring us a bit closer to making sure the benefit was accessible and meaningful to low income and poor families. Regrettably that is not the case.

One of the Liberal members who spoke to the motion in the first round of debate said “Let us not forget that with an inflation rate of 1.6% per year restoring full indexation of the child tax benefit would cost the government about $160 million per year”. He went on to say that such revenue losses could threaten the government's programs to restore fiscal balance.

What about the threat to Canada's poor children? What about the threat to poor families suffering from the impact of years and years of slash and burn approach by this government? What about the threat to kids who are still living in a world where they cannot access programs, where they do not have adequate housing and where government programs are being cut back? Now we are living in an environment of increasing poor bashing. What does the government member have to say to those kids, the 1.4 million children in Canada who are living in poverty?

It is astounding because this is the same government that claims it wants to stop poverty for children and deal with poverty in Canada. This is the same government where the Minister of Human Resources Development said in a committee meeting late last year that the child tax benefit was the greatest social policy since the 1960s. If that is true, why cannot government members find a measly $170 million to protect poor families from inflation by fully indexing this benefit?

I will read further from Hansard the comments of other government members who spoke to the issue and who were trying to explain and rationalize why they could not deal with it.

On February 5, 1998 one member said “Second, there is a trigger. The Income Tax Act states that the child tax benefit will be indexed each year by the amount which the annual change in the consumer price index exceeds 3%. This policy of partial indexation is consistent with the treatment of most other parameters of the personal tax system and is respectful of the fiscal problems which are facing the federal government.”

Here we have another government member who is trying to defend what is really an appalling record by saying that the kids of Canada and poor families have to be respectful of the problems the government created.

The people of Canada, groups like Campaign 2000 and other anti-poverty groups like the National Anti-Poverty Organization are simply appalled at the government's record. The kids of Canada and their parents who are facing unemployment and massive EI cutbacks will be delighted to hear that they need to be respectful of the government's problems.

The reality is that the child tax benefit is being used as a political shield by the government. The government wants to hide behind the reality of poverty in Canada. The political grandstanding that has gone on in this issue by government members is simply disgusting.

The child tax benefit has now been announced four times. It is obvious the government will not provide adequate funds to index the fund. There was no announcement in the budget we just dealt with.

Earlier today when we were debating Bill C-28, the income tax amendments, there was reference to the so-called increase in the Canada health and social transfer from $11 billion to $12.5 billion. We know that it is not an increase at all. There is not one new dime, not even a penny, going back to the provinces in terms of transfers. It is simply a shell game being conducted by the Liberal government. It is the same kind of shell game that has gone on with the child tax benefit. This so-called new increase is a recycled announcement that the latest cuts will not come into effect.

One thing is clear. Poverty among Canadian children and families will not be eliminated by the kinds of measures that have been put forward by the government. What we need to see is a recommitment to national standards. What we need to see is full indexation of the child tax benefit. What we need to see is an increase in the child tax benefit to poor children living in one parent families so that the benefit will not be lower than what they would have received under the 1996 federal budget.

We need to ensure that all poor families receive the child tax benefit, including families on social assistance. Under the government's program those families, the poorest of the poor, will be excluded.

We also need to pressure the federal government to commit to a new national child care program, an early education plan and 150,000 new child care spaces by the year 2000. What happened to the promise from this Liberal government and the former Liberal government to create a national child care program? That too has evaporated. As my hon. colleague says, the election is over and it is back to the same old dirty business.

We in the NDP are committed to holding the government accountable. We are committed to working with organizations in Canada to ensure that the government is held accountable.

There is real disappointment about the performance on the child tax benefit. In fact government members—and there are the empty rows here today—are not even listening to the debate. The motion was an opportunity for the government to come forward and say that it would ensure full indexation at least on this small basis. Unfortunately that has not been the case. There is real disappointment over this matter.

We will continue to pressure the government to ensure there is full indexation of the child tax benefit. I thank the member for bringing forward the motion. It has been good to hear support from other parties. We have to keep the pressure up on the government to come through and say, if it is truly committed to eliminating child poverty by the year 2000 as members voted in 1989, that it has to take this one very small step. We have to take other steps as well, but this one in a very minimal way that will at least ensure full indexation and that poor families will not be losing pace with inflation.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997 March 26th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her comments. The analogy that she used to describe the cutbacks in the Canada health and social transfer was very vivid and aptly described the situation before us as opposed to how the government tries to manage a shell game about the Canada health and social transfer.

The example provided about the change in tax laws reminded me of what the government did with bankruptcy laws. It changed the laws to make it more difficult for students to declare bankruptcy. Both examples serve to show that on the one hand the government is saying it is helping students but on the other hand it is actually making it more difficult.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997 March 26th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I would be delighted to respond to the member's comments though I doubt I can respond to all of them.

I would like the member to show me the increase in the cash floor. Unfortunately the member was not present when I made my comments. I went to great lengths to point out that there was actually no increase in the Canada health and social transfer. Not one new dime is going to the provinces. Would the member dispute that? Is that not the case? The government is not going ahead with a previous cutback. No new money is going to the provinces.

In terms of the bill and its provisions for donations it is very nice that big corporations can get a bigger write-off for making donations. We need to ask ourselves why we are now in a situation where organizations and community programs are forced to rely on a very Victorian notion of charity from big corporations so that they can get a tax break to help some poor person in my riding in the downtown east side.

I do not call that equality. That is more inequality from the government. It is another benefit to big business under the guise of making donations to help low income Canadians. If the government were truly concerned about those people it would ensure a real increase in the cash floor of the Canada health and social transfer.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997 March 26th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member that the role of provincial governments in establishing educational priorities is critical and is a prime responsibility of the provincial governments whether in Quebec or British Columbia.

However, I and my party think it is very important for the federal government to be involved in establishing a national standard around accessibility for post-secondary education. We also believe that the federal government must provide adequate funding for post-secondary education, which I am sure the member would agree with.

The federal government should sit down at the table with provincial governments to ensure those funds are directed to support public facilities and support students in need through a national grants program. That is what we stand for and what we believe in. We believe the students in Quebec would benefit from that as well.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997 March 26th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity today to speak on behalf of the NDP on third reading of Bill C-28. I will first comment on the format of the bill.

I am the NDP member on the human resources development committee. I recall that at one of the first meetings of the committee, a government representative attended and told us about the various provisions available on websites and government publications that were designed to make government more understandable to people.

Certainly as a new member of the House trying to wade through various bills and motions and understand the complexity of the issues before us, I certainly concurred with the government representative. I saw it as a positive step that the various government departments were interested and intent on trying to make government more understandable to ordinary Canadians.

Then along comes Bill C-28. Looking at the volume of this bill, more than 400 pages to be precise, there is no question that this bill and how it has been drafted takes us in exactly the opposite direction to what the government states is its goal in terms of making legislation more understandable to Canadians.

In actual fact, Bill C-28 is very technical legislation. It deals with income tax measures from the February 1997 budget and many technical amendments to a whole variety of acts, including the Income Tax Act as originally outlined in Bill C-69.

This needs to be said before we get into the substance of the bill. It has already been debated by some members that because of the format in which this bill came forward, its complexity and the technicalities it contains, it is ridiculous to expect that Parliament would deal with such a complex bill. I would suggest that the language in the bill and the way it is presented would be incomprehensible even to the most highly paid tax experts. They would certainly have difficulty in deciphering this bill.

The bill is simply anti-democratic because of its format and its language, but most important because of its content. It is wrong for a government to present legislation that is steeped in such isolating language and expect not only parliamentarians but ordinary Canadians to understand and to be informed about what the government is doing.

I wanted to make that comment at the beginning because as a new member of the House it is something I am interested in. It was curious to me that we have been told efforts are being made to make the language more understandable but this bill certainly takes us in a different direction.

I would like to focus some of my comments on Bill C-28 in terms of what it proposes or purports to do in increasing the Canada health and social transfer.

In Bill C-28 we are told that the Canada health and social transfer will be “increased” from $11 billion to $12.5 billion. This is not something new. In fact we heard the announcement not only by government members during the federal election campaign in May 1997 but also in the budget which came before the House for the next fiscal year.

It is very interesting that we are told repeatedly that Canadians can expect to see an increase in the Canada health and social transfer. The government is putting forward the message in that way, that it is an increase. The reality is that this is not an increase at all.

It is simply the government making a decision because of enormous public pressure from opposition parties, from provincial governments and most of all from Canadians who have told the government that they are suffering from the impact of massive cutbacks in the Canada health and social transfer. What has the government decided to do? Rather than provide an increase, it simply is not continuing with another round of cuts that it had previously announced. That in reality is what the so-called increase to the Canada health and social transfer is all about.

It is regrettable there are not any government members present in the House today to hear that because this is something which sorely touches every Canadian. We can look at the polls. Concerns have been expressed about the cutbacks in health care, in social services, in social assistance and in education. It is a very critical point to look at the main mechanism by which the federal government uses revenues from Canadian taxpayers and transfers them to provinces to build and create social programs in our country.

We in the NDP find it shocking and outrageous that the government would put forward this bill and include in it a supposed increase in the Canada health and social transfer when in actual fact it is not an increase at all. Indeed cash transfers to the provinces for health care, education and social assistance have not increased by one penny. That is the reality of what has happened.

I would like to continue on this point and refer to some material that has been prepared by the National Anti-Poverty Organization, NAPO. This group has done extensive research to assess and analyse the impact of the devastating cuts in the Canada health and social transfer, particularly on low income Canadians. This is very important, valuable work.

On one side of the House we hear from government members that we should not worry about what is going on, that in fact they are there to defend the interests of poor Canadians, that they are there to defend the interests of poor children. I can say that this organization, an independent anti-poverty advocacy organization, comes to a very different conclusion.

The organization released a report entitled “Government Expenditure Cuts to Health Care and Post-Secondary Education: Impacts on Low Income Canadians”. That report documents that cuts in government funding of social programs have not only led to increasing inequality in money income, but rapidly growing inequities in access to both health care and post-secondary education.

It is pointed out in the report that federal cash transfers to the provinces under the Canada health and social transfer for health care, post-secondary education and social assistance were cut. Here again is where we hear the real story. Not an increase as the government is telling us, but a cut from $18.2 billion to $12.5 billion over the past two fiscal years.

What is very interesting about the report is it goes on to analyse what this means in real per capita terms, that is taking into account the effects of population growth and inflation. If we look at it from that point of view, then the federal cash transfers for social programs fell by more than 40% between 1993 and 1997.

Initially this came about as a result of the freeze on spending under the Canada assistance plan and the established programs financing. Of course since 1996 that cut of more than 40% has come about because of the deep cuts that have been made to the Canada health and social transfer.

That is what has actually happened in this country. It is not what government members have told us and certainly is not what is contained in Bill C-28.

It is very important that we consider the real impact and consequences of these cuts. It has meant in Canada that there is growing inequality and there is increasing poverty. Since 1989 the tragic situation in Canada is that 538,000 more children now live in poverty. To read those statistics does not give a real sense of the tragedy involved in terms of young Canadians, poor Canadians and poor families. These people historically have relied upon federal programs, on the co-operation between federal and provincial governments on transfer payments, for example for social welfare. These things traditionally have had great meaning and value particularly for poor and low income Canadians.

Now that we are witnessing the deep cuts in the Canada health and social transfer, we can see that poverty in this country has actually grown. Indeed the number of low income persons in 1996 was 40% higher than it was in 1989. In 1996 is when the Canada health and social transfer began to kick in. These are real statistics and something that cannot be denied by the government.

The other consequence that is very evident to local communities is high unemployment that has resulted from the massive cutbacks by the federal government. Again, this bill before us today, Bill C-28, will do absolutely nothing to reverse that, nor will the recent federal budget that came before this House. The reality is there is very high continuing unemployment in Canada that is simply a national tragedy.

Those of us in the NDP believe that it is the first priority of the federal government to attack and deal with this issue of high unemployment and to bring in real programs and targets to reduce unemployment. We have heard a lot from the finance minister about his targets to cut the deficit. But where have the targets been to reduce unemployment? Where have the targets been to reduce poverty in this country? They simply do not exist. I think that is a crying shame and the government should be ashamed of its record on that score.

In my riding of Vancouver East, probably the lowest income urban community in Canada, which includes the downtown east side, the impact of these policies and the impact of the measures that are contained in Bill C-28 is very visible already. In looking through this bill I had to ask myself is there anything in this bill that would improve the lives of people in my riding, in particular unemployed people and single parents who are struggling below the poverty line, who cannot find access to child care, who cannot find adequate housing.

Having looked at Bill C-28 and trying to make sense even of what it contains because the language is so difficult to deal with I and others in my party have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in this bill that will improve the lives of ordinary Canadians.

Will it improve housing or are there any tax measures that will improve the situation for low income Canadians to find affordable housing which is a very basic human need, the provision and security of shelter? There is nothing that will deal with that.

Will this bill improve access to health care? Regrettably the answer to that question as well is no.

Recently in my riding I organized a number of round table discussions with young people. Some of them were street people. Some of them were service providers working with young people who are unemployed and having difficulty finding work or having difficulty accessing post-secondary education. These round table discussions were very informative for me as the local member because they really brought home to me the stark reality that is faced by young people in this country. What these young people said to me is they know they have a very bleak and dismal future and the prospect for them to find long term secure employment that is not part time, that is not low wage, was increasingly diminishing.

When I look at the impact of this bill on my local riding and when I hear from my constituents, in particular young people who are unemployed, they tell me they are very fearful about their lack of access to post-secondary education. That is even in a province like British Columbia where we have been very fortunate to have a provincial government that has shown leadership and has frozen tuition fees three years in a row in order to ensure that there is some measure of accessibility.

B.C. has led the way in that regard, but even so it is very difficult for young poor Canadians to get into a university, a community college or a technical school simply because the tuition fees are so incredibly high. We have to ask ourselves why are those tuition fees so high. It is because of $2.1 billion which has been cut from education in the Canada health and social transfer that will not be reversed in this bill before us today, despite the claims from the federal government that it is increasing the Canada health and social transfer.

My constituents who are trying to get into community college, university or technical school know what the reality is trying to go through the door, trying to get into those schools and realizing that tuition fees are too high. Even if they are successful in going through the entrance, what are they then faced with? The next barrier is a massive student debt.

The average student debt a few years ago was around $13,000. Today the average student debtload is $25,000. Why is that? We can relate it directly back to the federal government which has shirked its responsibility to provide adequate funding for post-secondary education.

In the last month we have heard a lot about the millennium fund and how this will answer all our problems and needs. As the millennium fund begins to unfold and as students, young people and Canadians begin to understand what the millennium fund is all about people will realize it will not even come close to compensating for the massive cuts we have faced in post-secondary education.

What the government chose to do was rather than increasing its support to public post-secondary education that could have been contained in Bill C-28, it provided a scholarship grant program through a private foundation that only begins in the year 2000. Students will still be facing very high tuition fees because universities and colleges are forced to raise tuition fees to compensate for the decreasing funds from the federal government.

The impact of the bill, the lack of funding and the cutbacks in the Canada health and social transfer are not just felt in my riding, they are felt right across the country. Even here in Ottawa there was a very interesting situation yesterday where students at Carleton University organized a vote on several key questions involving post-secondary education because they are so concerned with what is going on in their own educational environment.

To refer to the material they have distributed to students in that facility, they said that recent decisions by the provincial government give the board of governors and the management of Carleton University the power to raise tuition fees for undergraduate students up to 20% over the next two years and to deregulate tuition fees for graduate students.

The students say about the putting out of this material that they need to ask themselves who sets tuition rates and how. Ask the federal government which jettisoned national standards by ending direct funding for education in 1996 and it will say it is the provinces' responsibility. Ask provincial governments whose main response to decreased federal government was to make it easier for universities to raise tuition fees and they will refer you to the universities. Ask Carleton management and it blames both governments for cutting education funding. Who is telling the truth?

In a sense the responsibility for tuition fees has become offloaded to everybody and nobody. That is what students at Carleton University are facing as they put forward the questions in a vote that was held on the campus yesterday. The questions they posed to students at that facility are as follows. “Do you think the board of governors and the university management should freeze tuition for the next two academic years, 1998-99 and 1999-2000 at current levels, yes or no? Do you think Carleton should honour its obligations to tenured faculty and students when making decisions about closing programs, yes or no?”

The full results have not yet come out but I know from speaking to members at the university that they have had a very high vote and they expect a very high, resounding yes in answer to these questions.

In closing, this bill contains nothing of real measure to help Canadians.

Division No. 118 March 25th, 1998

Madam Speaker, there is still very strong concern in my riding of Vancouver East regarding the immigration legislative review.

Vancouver East is one of the most multicultural ridings in Canada. It is made up of people whose mother tongue is English, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French, Tagolog, Vietnamese, as well as other languages. Vancouver East has a strong historical multicultural root and has always welcomed immigrants from every continent.

It has the rich tradition of a working class immigrant settlement shaping such diverse neighbourhoods as Strathcona, Chinatown, Grandview-Woodlands, Little Italy, Oppenheimer Park and Japan Town.

Vancouver East is also home to many multicultural organizations and services. I provide this brief snapshot of my community to illustrate why the recommendations of the legislative immigration review concern me deeply. If implemented, the recommendations stand to fundamentally change Vancouver East as a living, vibrant example of multicultural diversity that enriches everyone in the community.

Prior to the hearings that began in Vancouver on February 27, I met with local organizations and organizations that served the immigrant communities and multicultural communities including organizations such as Success, the Chinese Benevolent Association, Mosaic, Immigrant Services Society, the Philippine Women's Centre and the Storefront Orientation Service.

My constituents and those organizations told me that they were deeply concerned about the recommendations contained in the report, particularly involving language, education and the fees imposed on prospective immigrants to Canada.

I also heard very strong concerns about the process of the review itself. Even before the report became public there was a very closed door process, by invitation only, in which many organizations not only in my riding but in other ridings were not allowed the opportunity to have input into the report before it became public.

The public hearings themselves that began in Vancouver were also something that caused a lot of concern in my riding. Many groups wanting to speak to the hearing were not heard and even though the minister provided some extra days of hearings there was inadequate time for local organizations to be heard on what really is the most serious situation involving potential change to Canada's immigration and refugee policies during the last 25 years.

There was also a lot of concern about the recommendation concerning language requirements. Reading through the report and from what I heard from my constituents is that in Vancouver East we believe very strongly that the recommendations show a very deep bias toward non-anglophone and non-francophone people. If those recommendations are implemented they would fundamentally change the kind of neighbourhood and the kind of riding that Vancouver East has been over the years.

I want to call on the government and the minister on behalf of my constituents to make it clear that this report will not be adopted. There is a lot of concern this report will be rushed through by the end of the year or that some recommendations will be dropped and that other recommendations, which maybe do not have popular support in terms of policies around refugees and lack of security around an independent process, will be pushed through by the government.

I would like to get an assurance that the government is not going to rush through legislative changes, that there will be a full and open debate around our immigration and multicultural policies and that the government will assure us that there will not be punitive and biased recommendations—

Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide March 25th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House to support the motion of my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, that a special committee be appointed pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)(b) to review the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with euthanasia and physician assisted suicide and that the committee be instructed to prepare and bring in a bill in accordance with Standing Order 68(5).

As a new member of this House I have come to learn that the House of Commons deals with many important issues, but rarely do we get an opportunity to discuss with reason and clarity the issue that is before us today.

First, I would like to thank my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for bringing this motion forward again. He has done it with courage. He has raised this issue in the House before. He has been an advocate for the dying with dignity movement and has become personally involved with this issue in a number of cases. It is not an easy matter to deal with. The fact that he has brought this forward and called on the House to enter into an intelligent discussion is something that shows courage and strength which all members of this House should support.

I would like to deal with several points. The first point I would like to make is that the status quo as it exists today is simply impossible and increasingly untenable. That is why this issue will not go away. It is increasingly untenable not just for Canadians as individuals in our society, but also for us as parliamentarians and under the law.

We only have to look at the tragedy of what happened to Sue Rodriguez. We only have to look at what has happened to Canadians who have been forced to leave Canada in order to exercise personal choice about their health and circumstances in their lives. We only have to look at the cases that have been spoken about in this House of people who are in desperate situations having to take desperate action because the law has been inadequate, the law has been archaic, the law has not been able to deal with the needs of people today.

The impossibility of the status quo exists in part because of our inaction. I will be the first one to rise and acknowledge—and this is the first time I have debated this issue, but I have heard it debated by other members—that this is a complex and difficult issue to take on.

I do believe that Canadians expect and want to see debate and guidance from Parliament, from their member of Parliament and from the House as a whole, on this issue. The reason I say that is that all of us know that Canadians today take more and more responsibility for the choices they make about their lives and particularly about their health care.

We only have to look at the debate that is going on in the standing committee on health around herbal remedies to know what an incredible industry has developed around alternative medicines. More and more people are choosing to become educated and informed about their health. In that context there has been a public debate.

There are polls which indicate that Canadians want the issue of physician assisted suicide to be clarified and to be resolved, not just to be debated, but for the status quo to be examined.

I was interested to see a poll that was done in December 1997 by Pollara. Astonishingly maybe to some members of this House, it found that 70% of Canadians would find it acceptable in some circumstances for a doctor to help a patient die.

The history of this issue in the House and in our local communities makes it very clear that Canadians believe the status quo is unacceptable.

The second point I would like to make is that the right to die with dignity is a most personal issue. It has been very interesting to hear the debate of some Reform members and government members in this third hour who have talked about the intervention of the state. I have heard Reform members on other issues talk about how the state should stay out of the lives of Canadians.

Here we have a most fundamental issue, and a personal issue, which is someone's right to die with dignity. I believe very strongly that the purpose of the law should be to facilitate individual choice, not to facilitate the denial of choices. But unfortunately today's status quo situation leaves individuals suffering a terminal illness or an incurable disease without legal choices.

We are debating in the House the basic right of a competent adult to make a decision about their own life when they are in circumstances of a terminal illness or an incurable disease. I think it is fundamental in this motion, and in all the debate that has taken place, that what is key is that the decision can only come from the person involved, not from anyone else. It cannot come from a doctor, not from a family member, a stranger or a health care provider. The decision about what we do with our life is our decision alone.

I have some personal appreciation of how difficult and how intensely personal these matters can be. I do know what it means to be with someone you love who is dying. I do know what it means to care for someone in that situation. What I have learned is that the needs and wishes of that person are the most important things on the mind of a care provider. Nothing else matters.

In those circumstances I believe that for family members involved and for the person facing these kinds of choices there is actually a heightened sense of clarity about what choices there are and what it is that is personally ethical.

There is no question there are difficult decisions, even around issues of palliative care. A number of members have spoken about palliative care and have suggested that it somehow is the answer to this issue, that if we could somehow make that work better we would not be dealing with physician assisted suicide.

I am a very strong supporter of palliative care. From personal experience I know what is involved and what it means. Even in that situation there are very difficult decisions to be made by a patient or by family members. But at least in that situation we do have a health care system that provides some support and guidance.

But when it comes to other circumstances, when a person has made a fundamental decision that the time has come, that they need to have assistance to end their life because of their circumstances and what they are facing, then there is no question that families are often left alone with no help, no support to make those very painful decisions that they know to be right. That is something we cannot take away from people.

I believe we have an obligation to resolve this issue. We have an obligation to review the law. We have an obligation to guide the law and we have an obligation to make the law fit our society today and the right to die with dignity.

The motion before us, which we will vote on today, simply asks that a special committee be appointed to review the provisions of the Criminal Code. That is something that should be supported by all members of this House in the acknowledgement and understanding that if we do not do this today we will likely be debating this matter in another few months or in another year because the issue will still be here.

Surely it is the proper course of action that we pass this motion. This is what we are here to do. We are here to debate, to review and to decide on issues that affect our lives, the lives of Canadians, not just in terms of budgets and resources, but in terms of the quality of life itself and the right of a competent adult to make her or his own decision concerning their life.

I urge all members of the House to support this motion.