- MPndpFri 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the sad reality is that while rates of violent crimes are dropping, the rates of violence against women are not. Being tough on crime must also mean making a priority of protecting women and girls from violence.
Will the minister demonstrate her commitment to ending violence against women and support the motion from the member for Churchill for a national action plan to end violence against women?
- MPndpFri 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the tragedy of l'École Polytechnique shocked us at the time and 24 years later continues to affect us. Today our thoughts are with the families of the women who lost their lives on December 6,1989, but we also remember that women continue to face violence in their workplaces and in their homes.
Can the minister tell the House what the government's plan is to eradicate violence against women in our communities?
- MPndpThu 2:10 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate my colleague's raising her very thoughtful arguments, particularly as they pertain to indigenous people and their concerns about this bill.
It gives me the opportunity to stand in the House and reflect for a moment on the passing of Nelson Mandela, which we just heard about a few minutes ago. Even here today, as we are debating this bill, when we think of Nelson Mandela, we think of his enormous legacy for human rights and human dignity.
As parliamentarians, it is something that we uphold and honour. Even with this bill today, which is about indigenous rights, equality, and dignity, it is something we reflect on. I hope that we carry it forward as a legacy.
- MPndpThu 12:40 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thoughtful comments from my colleague, particularly what he has to say about the committee, when the bill goes to committee. For us in the NDP, we are working in good faith and we want to bring forward amendments at the committee that would improve the bill, particularly as it relates to the Mackenzie Valley agreement, which is one of the concerns first nations have spoken about.
Could the member comment about what happens at committee? My experience is that no matter what amendments are put forward, they are automatically turned down by the government. I hope this time around there will be some genuine dialogue that takes place and some work at the committee, where the Conservatives will be open to looking at amendments to improve the bill. That is what we are trying to do. We are not holding this up. This is a debate that is taking place today. It will go to committee and that is where the proper process should take place in terms of amendments.
- MPndpThu 10:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Joliette for her very thoughtful and intelligent comments on the bill.
Does she think the bill should be split because it would amend 42 different pieces of legislation, particularly the elements of the bill that would deal with the Mackenzie Valley agreement? We have a lot of concern about that and there is a proposal that we should look at splitting the bill to ensure there is proper examination of all of those aspects.
Would the member agree that it would be much better to have an examination if the bill were split?
- MPndpThu 8:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is correct that under the agreement, the Government of the Northwest Territories will keep 50% of revenues collected from resource development on public land, but there is a maximum.
I do not know what that maximum is, but when that maximum is hit, the Government of Canada retains the remainder. Presumably this was something that came out of the negotiation. I was not at the table, so I am not privy to what the various positions were and whether this was a compromise.
When it gets to committee, this is one element of the bill that is very much worth examining to determine whether this maximum cut-off is something that should be reviewed and possibly changed in the future.
I would be very interested to hear what the position of the Government of the Northwest Territories is in what its sees as the future in revenues from resource development. It may have a longer range plan and it may be something we need to build into the bill to ensure its expectations for what devolution is are met.
There is a lot to look at in the bill and we will do that in a very forthright way when it gets to committee so this question can be answered.
- MPndpThu 8:05 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I welcome my hon. colleague from the government side to the debate. I hope he will go one step further and participate in the debate. Certainly questions and comments is one way, but there are opportunities to speak in the debate today for 10 or 20 minutes, and I hope the member will do that.
The member talked about efficiency and bureaucracy and said that the creation of this superboard was for efficiency and to eliminate bureaucracy. Efficiency does not necessarily mean that bigger is better.
The regional land and water boards were created by the Mulroney Conservative government to give aboriginal people a say over the development of lands and waters. There is a question about how eliminating these regional boards is going to serve their interests.
This is something we will follow up on in committee. I do not necessarily buy the argument about having a structure of subcommittees that do not have the same authority as the previous boards. The subcommittees would have to report back to the superboard and so they might be very limited in the scope they have. That is not necessarily a better way to go.
This will be a point of discussion and debate, I hope in the House and also in the committee because we do want to delve into this question a little more closely.
- MPndpThu 7:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-15.
I want to say at the outset that my voice is a bit rough today. The NDP had a great party last night, with live music and great sociability. It went into the wee hours. I think everybody is feeling a bit rough this morning, but it was a good time to get together. Here we are back in the House this morning, ready to debate whatever is before us, so I am very pleased to speak to the bill.
I want to commend my colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, who spoke just before me. She and I are both from metro Vancouver, so we represent ridings in Canada that are very urban. We face urban issues around affordability of housing, citizenship and immigration, poverty, transportation, infrastructure, and so on. We have a lot in common in terms of our ridings and the fact that we are both part of the metro Vancouver region.
However, I want to say that even though we are members of Parliament from the urban area, we have a sense of connection with our colleagues who represent ridings in the North, and certainly our colleague from the Western Arctic, who is the main critic on the bill we are debating today. When we visit other ridings and other communities with our colleagues, it is quite fascinating to learn about the experiences, the history, the culture, and the life conditions in those communities.
On the one hand, there are really vast differences, but on the other hand, there are incredible similarities. Every time I have visited the Northwest Territories, whether it has been Yellowknife or smaller communities, I have always been struck by how different the scene is from my community in Vancouver East, which is very densely populated. There there are 120,000 people living there. We have communities like the Downtown Eastside and historic neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Gastown. In the Northwest Territories, we are looking at communities that are hundreds and thousands of miles apart, communities that are very self-sufficient because they have to be. They have to deal with the very harsh elements in the North, yet when I get to know people and talk with our member from Western Arctic, we find that we are dealing with similar issues.
I know, for example, that one of the issues my colleague from Western Arctic has tackled in a very passionate way is the living costs in the Northwest Territories, an issue that I think is very relevant to the bill we are debating today.
In fact, he produced a 53-page report in November, just last month. In that report, he lays out, with great analysis and factual information, the concern of increasing income inequality in the Northwest Territories. That is an issue I face in my riding as well. Income inequality is growing between the haves and the have-nots.
He identifies that one of the key factors in the high cost of living in the Northwest Territories is the high price of food, particularly in smaller communities.
When I visited Yellowknife, I was very curious about this issue, so I went to the supermarket in Yellowknife, checking out the prices for milk, eggs, cheese, and vegetables and trying to compare them with my own community in East Vancouver. I was really surprised that there really was not that much difference. I remember saying to my colleague, the member for Western Arctic, “The prices are not too bad. Everything is available”. Then he said to me, “Wait until you get to the smaller communities. You'll see an incredible difference”.
In fact, in his report, he documents that a family of four in Yellowknife would be paying about $11,000 for food, but the cost of the same basket of food in a smaller community further north could increase by 13% to 210%. That really gives us an idea of what people are facing in the north. For example, the member for Western Arctic points out in his report that the same basket of food that costs $11,000 in Yellowknife would cost a family in Colville Lake more than $21,000.
It gives us an appreciation of how difficult it is, particularly for people who live on a low income. There are some people making good money in the resource industry, but there are people who are struggling to make ends meet. I know the member has frequently, in the House on behalf of his constituents, raised issues of, for example, the nutrition north food program and his concern that it is actually making food prices higher not lower. He has raised these issues frequently in the House. He has also raised issues around the cleanup of Giant Mine in Yellowknife, as recently as just a couple of weeks ago here in the House of Commons.
I would echo the words of my colleague from Newton—North Delta who spoke about the member for Western Arctic and his passion for representing northern interests and the interests of his constituents. When he presented his comments about Bill C-15, the bill that we are debating today, we were very interested to know what his thoughts were. Therefore, my comments today are very much based on the expertise, experience and knowledge of the member for Western Arctic who was elected in 2006. He was the mayor in Fort Smith, a small community in the Northwest Territories, from 1988 to 1997, so this is an individual who is very grounded in the local community. I have seen the member in action and how people know him and interact with him. His take on the bill and the expression of how we feel about the bill come from a place of immense knowledge and experience, and that is something that we very much rely on and trust.
As my earlier colleagues have said, we do support the bill in principle. That's what we are here debating today, second reading, which is the bill in principle. We have to examine the bill and determine whether the principles of the bill are enough that we think it should go forward to committee. Certainly for us in the NDP, the official opposition, we believe that the bill has made progress in terms of devolution from the federal government to the Northwest Territories. Therefore, it should be supported in principle. However, when it gets to committee there are numerous issues that would need to be looked at.
To look at the bill historically, we know that over the decades there has been a transfer of powers from Ottawa to individual territories, and that is a good and very important thing. In fact, the last major devolution of powers to the Northwest Territories was in the late 1980s, so it is not that long ago when jurisdiction over education, health care, transport and renewable resources such as forestry and wildlife were transferred.
The current process would transfer administration and control of public lands, resources and rights in respect to the waters of the Northwest Territories. That is obviously a major advance because the Northwest Territories is a very special place in our country. It is a place that is fragile. It is a place that has a history of people being close to the land, of people respecting the land and the environment, and understanding that the extraction of natural resources must be done in a way that is sustainable and protects future generations. Therefore, the bill before us, Bill C-15, which would move into the area of the devolution process dealing with natural resources, is obviously a key milestone for the people of the Northwest Territories, and the Government of the Northwest Territories has been supportive of this.
It is quite interesting to note that until this devolvement goes through, the Northwest Territories does not receive any revenues from resource development, and in fact it has to still rely on federal transfer payments and taxes to deliver public programs and services. That is something that really is outdated. We need to ensure that the Northwest Territories and its government, which is duly elected by the people of the Northwest Territories, has control over not only things such as health, education, transport and renewable resources, but also over natural resources.
Bill C-15 does address that. Under the bill the Government of the Northwest Territories would keep 50% of the revenues collected from resource development on public land up to a certain maximum, and then the Government of Canada would retain the remainder. This tells us that it really does not go far enough at this point. It is not a total devolution. Nevertheless, it is a milestone and based on the consultation that has been done, we think it is something that is worthy of support.
It is a complex agreement. It will require the amendment of 42 different pieces of legislation. That is a lot to take on. In fact, my colleague who spoke earlier pointed out that the member for Western Arctic has advocated and is suggesting that the bill should be split because there are concerns about the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. There are some major components in the bill that require very critical examination at committee. It would be a proper course of action to have the bill split.
Having said that, we have a very familiar pattern with the Conservative government where it likes to load everything up into omnibus bills and come up with these huge reports that one has to wade through. That is done deliberately. The Conservatives do not want transparency and proper scrutiny. How many times have we seen time allocation on bills?
Here today, we are debating this bill, a very important bill to the people of the Northwest Territories, yet other parties are absent from the debate. I find that quite incredible. The NDP is carrying forward the debate because New Democrats think it is important. We think it needs to be debated and aired in public and some of the issues addressed in public, before it is sent to committee. That is what we are here for. That is our primary job, to debate legislation in the House of Commons, to examine it and to hold the government to account. Bill C-15 would amend 42 other pieces of legislation. There may have been consultation and the government may feel there has been adequate scrutiny, but the House of Commons is elected to do due diligence. That is what we are doing here today.
One of our key concerns is that as a result of the devolution agreement, the amendments would replace the current structure of the regional land and water boards that have been created through the land claim final agreements. It was a very major process that was undertaken a number of years ago. This new devolution agreement would supercede that and replace the regional land and water boards with one single board. Immediately, that should raise some concerns because when there are regional land and water boards that means there is local representation on those boards. It means there are people who understand local issues in a vast territory. The idea that we could now rely on a single board that would be able to scrutinize what is going on is a tall order. This is something the member for Western Arctic has expressed concern about and something we would like to see addressed in the committee.
The amendments also reserve to the federal minister the approval of all land and water usage in the Northwest Territories, which would circumvent the powers transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories through the devolution process. There is a bit of a contradiction there. We have devolution, yet the federal minister is still maintaining approval of all land and water usage. There is obviously a lot more to be done.
We hope that when the bill is sent to committee and the NDP brings forward amendments that those amendments would actually be considered on their merit.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to speak about that. I am on the health committee and I know that when we have had bills come forward, even private members' bills that were fairly straightforward, every single time that we sought amendments to improve the bill, not for some political exercise but to simply improve the bill, they have been voted down. Again, in talking to my colleagues, I know that this is basically what happens at every single committee. The Conservative members can act in a very arrogant way. It does not matter what amendment is put forward; it is shut down.
A bill such as this has far-reaching powers for future generations in terms of the way the Northwest Territories government can operate on behalf of its people. With the bill, particularly because it amends 42 different pieces of legislation, the process at committee of hearing witnesses and considering amendments will be especially important.
To my colleagues across the way, I really hope that when the bill gets to committee, they will actually consider amendments in the light that the bill could be improved. There are concerns that have been expressed, particularly from first nations. Through the parliamentary process, the democratic process and the committee process, and through hearing witnesses and expert testimony, I hope that some of the concerns in the bill can be addressed.
I hope that there is a commitment that the Conservatives will do this in good faith, and that we do not just see a repeat of what we have become so used to. It is really so disrespectful of the parliamentary process to dismiss whatever amendments are put forward.
In terms of the support for the bill, because it has gone through a process in the Northwest Territories, there are people who certainly support devolution. In fact, I would quote Robert Alexie, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, who said:
We don't have to fear devolution. It's a new beginning....
I would also quote Robert McLeod, who is the Premier of the Northwest Territories. He said:
This Assembly has a vision of a strong, prosperous and sustainable territory. Devolution is the path to that future. Responsibility for our lands and resources is the key to unlocking the economic potential that will provide opportunities to all our residents.
The Premier of the Northwest Territories made that statement in June of this year as the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories approved the agreement.
We also have the president of the Chamber of Commerce, who pointed out that it is a very “historic agreement and one which will provide the Northwest Territories with the long-awaited and rightful ability to manage and control public lands”.
However, there are still voices that need to be heard of the people who have concerns about the agreement. For example, Jake Heron, from the Métis Nation, in speaking about the consultation process, said:
It’s very frustrating when you are at the table and you think you’re involved, only to find out that your interests are not being considered seriously.
As this agreement was being negotiated, obviously there were concerns being expressed. We have the same from an MLA in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Bromley, who said:
The federal government’s proposal to collapse the regional land and water boards into one big board is disturbing, unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. ...a single board does nothing to meet the real problem, failure of implementation.
There are clearly concerns out there.
In the time that I have remaining, I would like to underscore the NDP's support for the bill in principle at second reading. We are committed to working in good faith at the committee level to hear from people in the Northwest Territories and from experts who were part of this process. We are committed to making sure that this agreement is what it should be, that it is something that the people of the Northwest Territories can live with into the future and will address their concerns and allow them the measure of self-determination that we in the NDP all believe in.
Whether it is Quebec, the Northwest Territories or the first nations, we believe that people have the right to their own determination. Fundamentally, that is what this bill is about. Therefore, we will support it. However, we will work hard to ensure the bill lives up to those expectations.
- MPndpTue 11:45 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the Health Council of Canada has panned the Conservatives for their lack of leadership. It has pointed to their repeated failures to meet clear commitments on the health accords. Last month the College of Family Physicians released an equally damning report.
The minister has had months to review these important reports by leading experts.
Does the minister agree that improvements are urgently needed, and what will she do, today, to uphold our public health care system to meet the needs of Canadians?
- MPndpNov 19, 2013 3:50 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, for bringing forward Bill C-523. It is a straightforward bill and one that is really needed. Basically, it would amend the Department of Health Act to oblige drug suppliers to advise the Minister of Health of any interruption or cessation of the production, distribution, or importation of drugs and oblige the minister to prepare and implement an emergency response plan to address drug shortages. It is straightforward and necessary.
In debate tonight, we have heard how serious the issue of drug shortages has been. There are thousands of patients and families across Canada who have suffered terrible anxiety, pain, and stress because they suddenly have found out that the prescription they require as a pain control measure or for epilepsy or a special condition is not available. It has had a huge impact on the medical community, pharmacists, doctors, anesthesiologists, and hospitals. By and large, the biggest impact on Canadians and what is causing the greatest anxiety and suffering is that their health and well-being have been compromised as a result of these shortages.
I am proud of the fact that the NDP has been monitoring and pushing for accountability on drug shortages ever since it became visible that there was a huge issue that was not being addressed by the federal government. In March of 2012, we brought forward a motion in the House of Commons for the government to, in co-operation with the provinces, territories and industries, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify and manage shortages of essential medications, require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada, and so on. It was adopted unanimously. It clearly laid out a course of action that needed to be taken. It was interesting that the government supported the motion in May of 2012.
We also tried to call for a review of that motion a year later to find out what progress had been made. We heard something in that regard from the parliamentary secretary tonight. A multi-stakeholder steering committee was set up with the provinces and health care organizations on purchases and supplies. We had a briefing in October of this year from Health Canada to find out how that work was going, and we still have significant concerns about drug shortages in Canada. As a result of that briefing in October of this year, I wrote to the Minister of Health on October 29 outlining some of the concerns we had.
Our major concern is that although the government has set up this multi-stakeholder steering committee and does involve the key players, there is still no system in place for accountability and to ensure that suppliers live up to their obligations. As we heard tonight, the system that has been put in place is basically a voluntary one, so there is no accountability to ensure it is being followed. As a result, it is left to regional purchasers such as hospitals, health authorities, and the provinces to chase after the suppliers to find out what problems there are and what they need to do.
The second concern I identified to the minister was that accountability should also extend to how the shortages were reported. I pointed out that there was only a voluntary system in place for companies to report shortages, and no consequences if they did not immediately report them, even in delays that would compromise patient health. This particular point is very much at the heart of my colleague's bill. We have been pressing for a required or mandatory reporting system. As we have heard, this is in place in the United States, New Zealand, and the European Union. It is a good practice and one we should be emulating.
The third issue that we have identified as a concern, as a result of hearing about the progress that has been made, is that there is no system in place that tracks systemic manufacturing violations. We know from Health Canada that it has identified approximately 46% of drug shortages are due to manufacturing issues, including safety violations, yet there has been no way to track which companies may be negligent in their production. In fact, Health Canada officials stated to us that they had not yet been able to address the root causes and the preventive measures that were required to address drug shortages. A system of accountability for manufacturing standards would also help in minimizing drug shortages.
Therefore, while I appreciate that the minister has taken some steps, frankly speaking, they are not adequate. They have not gone far enough. Out in the health community there is still an enormous amount of concern that we will face further shortages, that we will be scrambling as we did in 2012, that there will be yet another crisis. At the end of the day, it will be Canadians who are already in very difficult circumstances and who are already in many ways suffering, maybe in chronic pain, who will bear the brunt of a system that is not working properly.
The last comment I want to make is that we have studied this issue quite carefully. In fact, the parliamentary health committee had a study on drug shortages. The report issued by the committee was okay, it was adequate, but we felt it did not go far enough. Therefore, in the minority report from the NDP we made a number of recommendations, which I would like to refer to.
We urged the Minister of Health and the federal government to review the appropriate federal agency to assume responsibility for drug shortages notification website and to work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to set up and provide an investment for a public mandatory reporting system whereby drug companies would be required by law to report supply disruptions.
We also urged the Minister of Health and the government to convene an expert committee to identify critical drugs and require that any company marketing these critical drugs would have to give Health Canada a minimum of six months' warning of supply reductions.
Finally, there were other recommendations, but we also urged the Minister of Health and the federal government to convene a study to identify factors causing the drug shortages to determine if there were regulatory measures in addition to mandatory reporting that would identify and prevent drug shortages.
These are very extensive recommendations that we made.
I will finish with this. I was a bit aghast at the parliamentary secretary's comments earlier. On the one hand, she said that they were not going to support the bill because it sought to expand the role of the federal government and sought to expand the bureaucracy. She kind of trashed it. Then in the next breath she said that they would support mandatory reporting if it was needed. It seems to me that there is a contradiction. Conservatives supported the motion last year that came through the House as a result of an emergency debate.
Let us focus on the issue. Let us ensure that there is a system in place as outlined in this very good bill. It is very straightforward. Let us learn from what has happened in other jurisdictions and let us do a better job in Canada. We are not convinced the multi-stakeholder process that is in place now will actually do the job that is required. We urge members of the House to consider the bill and to support it when it comes to a second reading vote.
- MPndpNov 19, 2013 3:30 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, in response to what the parliamentary secretary said, I wonder if she has thought about the fact that in the U.S. the FDA does not have to monitor the fines because it has a mandatory system. It is because of the mandatory system that there is reporting. The Americans have not actually had to use the fines. They are there as a penalty, but in talking with officials at Health Canada, my understanding is that the mandatory system in the U.S. has meant that they have not even had to use the fines. It is actually a positive thing, but maybe she has not thought about that.
- MPndpNov 19, 2013 9:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, we believe very much in the principle of polluter pay. In fact, one of the issues that is not properly addressed in this bill is that we should be raising the limit for cleaning up spills. There is something called the Ship-sourced Oil Pollution Fund, which does provide a source of funds through levies when there is a major spill; however, it is interesting to note that no levy has been imposed since 1976, and although that fund now has $400 million in it, which might sound like a lot, if there were actually a major spill, it would go in a flash.
Just to put it in context, the total cleanup for the Exxon Valdez was $3.5 billion. Of course, as I mentioned, we are now dealing with supertankers that are much bigger than the Exxon Valdez, so the Ship-sourced Oil Pollution Fund would really be just a drop in the bucket if there were to be a major spill. We believe the issues of polluter pay and of increasing the limit for cleaning up spills are very important priorities, but they are not addressed in the bill.
- MPndpNov 19, 2013 9:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-3. Many of my colleagues have spoken today, which is great, because this is a very significant bill that needs to be thoroughly debated both here in the House and in committee.
The first point I would like to make is that Bill C-3 is another omnibus bill that is being brought forward by the Conservative government.
Unfortunately, we have become used to receiving these mega-omnibus bills. This one is not as big as some of the budget bills we have had, bills that stripped away environmental protection and regulations and put everything in but the kitchen sink; this is a smaller one, but nevertheless, it is still an omnibus bill. It would make amendments to five different acts, including the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act, and the Canada Shipping Act.
I am not going to focus on all aspects of the bill today, because I have limited time to speak. I want to focus particularly on the Canada Marine Act and the aspects pertaining to marine issues because I am from British Columbia and this, of course, is a huge issue for us on the west coast.
First of all, I would say that there are some positive aspects to the bill. We have gone through it very carefully and we can see that, for example, it would require pilotage and increased surveillance for boats and tankers coming in, which is certainly a small step in the right direction.
However, we note that the bill is too limited. There is still a lot more to do. Certainly one of the things that needs to be done is for the government to reverse the effects that the drastic cuts in last year's budget have had on tanker safety on the west coast.
When we read Bill C-3, I think we can see that it is a pretty thinly veiled attempt to compensate, like window dressing, for previous inaction and the Conservative cuts to marine safety.
The measures that would improve safety in Bill C-3 are relatively small in comparison with the risks that are posed by closing the British Columbia oil spill response centre, shutting down the Kitsilano Coast Guard, and gutting the environmental emergency response programs.
We see a bill before us that would have some limited effect, but it does not address the serious and major issues facing British Columbia in terms of marine conservation, tanker traffic, and safety. The bill would not go nearly far enough. It would probably be 5% of what needs to be done.
I know many of my colleagues have addressed this aspect today, but I will add my voice to make it clear that we in the NDP are committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen on our coast. Maybe some people think that is not a realistic position, that it is really just about damage control and mitigation of problems and disasters, but we think the policy we should work from is to ensure that spills never happen.
That means taking a very different kind of approach. It means taking an approach based upon the precautionary principle. It would be an approach based upon the public interest. It would an approach based upon the fact that we believe the federal government has a critical role in making it clear that for marine industries, for tanker traffic, there have to be strong, clear, consistent rules that all the players adhere to so that oil spills can never happen.
Why would we take that approach?
We take that approach because the prospect that any of the incredibly beautiful and rugged British Columbia coastline could be spoiled by a spill is something that one does not want to contemplate. It is not only the disaster that occurs at that moment, but the impact.
I remember when the Exxon Valdez had its historic spill many decades ago. It was in the news for days, weeks, months. The devastation to the environment was enormous, while the response to the spill was very limited.
People learned a lot from that, not only in B.C. but globally. Public consciousness about the safety of tanker traffic and the risk of spills increased enormously.
That was many decades ago. Now we are talking about an environment and an industry in which supertankers with much greater capacity make the Exxon Valdez look like a mini-tanker. On the one hand we are told that safety provisions, improved design, double hulls, and so on have improved the situation, but in fact accidents and spills still take place even when the hulls are doubled, so we think that taking the perspective of the precautionary principle is important. As a result, we are committed to ensuring that there is legislation, policy, and regulation to ensure that oils spills never happen on our coast. That is something we are committed to.
I believe it was in 2011 that we debated an NDP motion that sought to put into effect the existing verbal agreement that has banned oil tankers off the coast of B.C. for the past 40 years. This so-called moratorium came about as a verbal commitment with the Province of B.C., but nothing was ever put in writing.
It was a very good motion and a very good debate. The motion to have the moratorium put into legislative effect passed in the House at the time. Unfortunately, the government never followed up, so we still have this very uneasy situation in British Columbia: on the one hand we have this 40-year-old moratorium, but on the other hand there is no paperwork to show that it exists.
The Government of Canada website states:
There is a voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone off the B.C. coast that applies to loaded oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System between Valdez, Alaska, and Puget Sound, Washington. This zone does not apply to tankers travelling to or from B.C. ports.
It is very clear that it is limited. Basically, it is a very particular exclusion zone, and it is voluntary. That is the basis of the moratorium.
That is not good enough. It needs to be enshrined in a proper legislative process. If we are to protect future generations, then we owe it not only to residents of B.C. and our global community today but also to future generations to ensure that such protection does exist.
The NDP's call to ban oil tanker traffic through this corridor is supported by first nations; local, regional, and provincial politicians; environmental groups; tourism, recreation, fishing, and other potentially affected industries; and over 75% of B.C. residents. Members can see that this is a huge issue in our community.
I stated at the beginning that in principle we support this bill going to committee. However, when it does go to committee, there are many issues that we will be raising. For instance, we want to see reversal of the Coast Guard closures, including the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which was done in an appalling way. Basically it was a unilateral decision to close the station despite an uproar in metro Vancouver and the fact that its closure would not serve the community well.
We also want to see a cancellation of the closure of B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil spills. It is unimaginable that we do not have a regional office for emergency oil spills and responders. To me that is incredible.
To sum up, we feel that a number of issues are not addressed in this bill and we will be following up on them at committee. If we are to have safety on the west coast in terms of tanker traffic, this is imperative if the bill is to have any meaning at all.
- MPndpNov 18, 2013 11:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health made a heartless decision to prevent those who need access to medicalized opiates from having it.
She ignored her own experts and she ignored those who provide treatment when she changed the special access program.
Is it too much to ask of the minister to put ideology aside and support a method of treatment that is scientifically proven to be effective?
- MPndpNov 07, 2013 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to our colleague's comments. It is ironic and very curious. I seem to recall that it was the Liberal leader who went to Washington and said that the strongest middle-class jobs in Canada right now are in the resource sector. That raises the question of why he would want to export basically unprocessed oil. We would be sending 40,000 jobs to the south. It does not make sense. I wonder if he would explain this contradiction from his leader.
- MPndpNov 06, 2013 11:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are failing on one of the most important issues for Canadians: health care. The College of Family Physicians of Canada released its report card evaluating five key areas. The Conservative government failed. It failed on access to primary care, failed on home care, failed on children's health care, failed on funding, and failed on overall leadership. That is the verdict of family doctors across Canada.
When will the minister stop failing and end the growing health care crisis?
- MPndpNov 05, 2013 11:00 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I was very fortunate to be in P.E.I. earlier this year with Mike Redmond, leader of the P.E.I. NDP. We heard about the many challenges people face in accessing rural health care because of government decisions and because provincial resources are stretched to the max.
In particular, I want to support the rural community of Souris that I visited. Residents there displayed extraordinary unity to maintain their long-standing local access to services.
The Conservative government's cuts to the health care transfers are compromising health care in rural communities and putting thousands of Islanders' health at risk.
Also, this week we celebrate Family Doctor Week in Canada. Each and every day in this country, family doctors diagnose and treat illness and injury, promote disease prevention and good health, coordinate care, and advocate on behalf of their patients.
I want to thank family physicians for the invaluable contribution they provide to Canadians' health and wish the College of Family Physicians a productive Family Medicine Forum in Vancouver this week.
- MPndpNov 04, 2013 10:25 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would like to compliment my colleague for bringing in the very important element of public health. This debate is about protecting public health and the health of the community.
It is quite astounding that we have heard from one Conservative, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, that even if there were support in his local community he would still say no. This is very illuminating. It tells us that the Conservative government does not want to look at the evidence, at public health. In fact, public health is one of the principles that the minister has to consider when she is looking at applications.
If the member's community supported it, would he expect the elected representatives to then agree that a facility should go ahead?
- MPndpNov 04, 2013 9:25 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments. If there is support in the local community, whether it is Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto, or Victoria, where we know there has been a lot of consideration given to setting up safer injection facilities, would the member be supporting those applications?
I know that the Minister of Health has that decision to make. However, if it were in the member's local community, and he could see that it had local support, if he could see the statistics from East Vancouver, where the rate of overdose deaths has dropped by 35% since InSite opened, would he then be supporting such a facility in his own community?
- MPndpNov 04, 2013 9:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has given a very excellent overview of not only how InSite operates but why it is needed in his own community.
I am very curious. I believe that if we canvassed residents in B.C., generally, we would be hard pressed to find people who oppose InSite. They see it as part of the solution, not part of the problem. The members of Parliament from metro Vancouver here in the House, whether West Vancouver or the North Shore or wherever it might be, I bet their own constituents also understand and support InSite. That makes it all the more perplexing and distressing that the government has taken such a rigid hard line, such a politically motivated line where it is basically politics over medicine.
I would like to ask the member what he thinks about local representatives on Vancouver Island. I know in Vancouver one would be hard pressed to find any elected representative who would oppose what InSite has done.
- MPndpOct 31, 2013 9:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-545, An Act respecting the provision of continuing care to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in the House today to introduce my bill, an act respecting the provision of continuing care to Canadians.
First of all, I would like to thank my colleague, the member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay, for seconding the bill and for introducing his excellent motion on palliative care.
Palliative care and continuing care are critical issues to Canadians. There is a strong national consensus from academics, health professionals, and the public that we are sadly lacking in a pan-Canadian plan for continuing care, including home care, long-term care, respite care, and palliative care.
That is what the bill is about. It would establish pan-Canadian standards for best practices in continuing care, caregiver support, training, infrastructure, and affordability. It would ensure that the federal government would play a key role in a collaborative process with the provinces and the territories to meet the needs of Canadians who need home care, long-term care, or palliative care in a timely and accessible way.
I am very proud of the work that went into this comprehensive bill. It lays out a clear, achievable, and equitable direction to establish a critical program for continuing care and would ensure funding for continuing care services in Canada.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
- MPndpOct 28, 2013 12:10 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to introduce two petitions today.
The first petition is signed by people in Vancouver. They want to draw to our attention the fact that unwanted contamination from GM alfalfa is inevitable, that it will contaminate organic systems, and that it will compromise the ability of both organic and conventional farmers to sell alfalfa and related products into domestic and international markets. The petitioners call on Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa in order to allow a proper review.
- MPndpOct 18, 2013 8:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, there was barely a mention of the critical issue of health care in the Speech from the Throne. The Conservatives have failed in their promise to reduce wait times, failed to deliver home care and failed on pharmacare, but they are quite happy to impose billions in health care cuts on the provinces.
When Canadians are so concerned about health care, why was it missing from the government's Speech from the Throne?
- MPndpOct 18, 2013 7:55 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the minister's ignorance is absolutely breathtaking, especially since she is a health professional. To suggest that people just be trundled off to the emergency department tells us that she knows absolutely nothing about InSite and what it does. One of the reasons it was set up was to prevent people from going through a revolving door at the emergency department at an astronomical cost of ambulances and being in and out of emergency departments.
InSite is about public health and public safety. It is not about whether one is pro or against heroin. These drugs and substances exist in our society and unfortunately there are people who use them. Our job as legislators is to bring forward sound public policy based on evidence, not a demonization of people, not on fearmongering, but to bring forward programs based on public policy and health facilities that actually save lives. That is what InSite has done. I challenge the minister to visit and find out actually what it does.
- MPndpOct 18, 2013 7:30 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, it has been interesting to listen to the parliamentary secretary present the bill today. It is very important that we look back at the history of this case and begin with the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2011, because it has been referenced a lot. If we can just remember, InSite, as I mentioned earlier, did go through a rigorous process to establish itself in the city of Vancouver and has been a very successful operation in saving people's lives, preventing overdoses and improving public safety in the neighbourhood. Of course, it was challenged all the way by the Conservative government and it did end up at the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that InSite was a very important health facility. I want to quote a very key part of its ruling because the legislation that is now before us is supposedly based on this ruling.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruling said:
On future applications, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.
That is what the Supreme Court of Canada said. What was the government's response to that? Reading from the press release that the Minister of Health issued June 6 when the bill was first introduced, she began by saying, “Our Government believes that creating a location for sanctioned use of drugs obtained from illicit sources has the potential for great harm in a community”.
There was nothing in this press release and in fact when one reads the bill, there is nothing in it that strikes the balance that was referenced by the Supreme Court of Canada for public health and public safety. From the very beginning, from the get-go, it has been very clear that the bill is a stacked deck. It is designed to frustrate and to make it virtually impossible for any safe injection site to be established in this country.
One has to ask the question: why is the government so biased on this issue? Why have Conservatives refused to consider all of the evidence that has been put before them? We just had the recent situation, a very similar case where the Minister of Health overruled her own experts on an application that was approved to provide heroin maintenance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the inner city. It was quite astounding to see that the minister ignored all of the evidence, overruled her experts, stepped in, intervened and made it clear that this special application, which had been approved by her officials, would not go ahead.
What was most disturbing was to see that both of these cases, the safe injection site bill and also the application for heroin maintenance, within 24 hours, became a fundraising letter for the Conservative Party of Canada. Imagine that government legislation and an intervention and interference by the minister is catapulted and turned into a fundraiser for the Conservatives' base. I find that really alarming and it illuminates for us what this debate is really about. It is about creating an environment of fear. It about creating an environment of division. It is about creating an environment based on them and us. It is about an environment that the Conservatives want to escalate that demonizes people who use drugs and people who are facing serious addiction issues.
The parliamentary secretary made some references to the bill. When we actually read through the bill to see what is required, it is quite incredible. First of all, the parliamentary secretary said that the minister must consider criteria that are laid out as part of a submission for an application to set up a safe injection site in any particular community. However, clearly what the bill says is that the “Minister may consider an application” once the application has been submitted and the criteria met. It is not even that she must then look at it, but she may. Even the discretion takes place at that level.
When we look at the criteria in the bill it literally goes from (a) to (z). There are 26 different criteria considerations that are so onerous and so stacked that they would make it virtually impossible to even meet the criteria laid out in the bill.
For example, it requires a letter from the provincial minister who is responsible for health. It requires a letter from the local municipal government. It requires a letter from the head of the police force, outlining any issues that it has. It requires a letter from the leading health professional organization. It requires a letter from the provincial minister responsible for public safety. It requires a statistical analysis. It requires police checks for people. It requires extensive public consultation.
All of this has to be gathered in addition to a 90-day public notification period that the minister herself can also conduct. There are two streams of information coming in, and even then, as we can see from the bill, the minister actually does not have to consider the application. Once this information has been gathered, there is further consideration in the bill, subsection (5), that lays out that the minister may only grant an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act after having considered the following principles. I think these principles clearly lay out the government's intent.
The principles are:
illicit substances may have serious health effects;
adulterated controlled substances may pose health risks;
the risks of overdose are inherent to the use of certain illicit substances;
strict controls are required...;
organized crime profits from the use of illicit substances;
and criminal activity often results from the use of illicit substances.
What I find really curious about these principles on which this bill is based is that there is absolutely no mention of public health. There is no mention of preventing overdoses. There is no mention of preventing serious infections, like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. There is no mention, no principle of ensuring basic public health or protecting public safety.
What are the principles about? Clearly, they are about frustrating any application and giving the minister so much room that she can easily turn down any application, if she even decides to consider it in the first place. We attended the briefing that the government gave on the bill, and in that briefing it was made very clear that, if the criteria are met, the application may be considered but it will not necessarily be approved.
We find this bill offensive, and we will be opposing it. Clearly the bill does not live up to the spirit and the intent of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling. It is designed to frustrate that ruling, and in fact I would suggest that there will probably be ongoing legal challenges about this legislation. This bill is designed to create a situation where everything will run in the government's favour to not even consider applications or, if it does, to simply turn them down based on the principles it has outlined.
Let us just take a couple of minutes to talk about the one case that we do have in Canada, which is called InSite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Setting up InSite was probably the most important health measure that has ever been undertaken in this country. It took years for it to be up and running. It went under incredible local scrutiny. There was opposition.
In Vancouver today, not only do the police support the safe injection site, but so do local businesses, the board of trade and municipal politicians. In fact, I think members would be hard pressed to find anyone in Vancouver who would actually dispute the value and the importance of this particular facility that is located on East Hastings Street.
The facility has been scrutinized and has been the subject of 30 scientific studies and reports. It has gone through enormous evaluation.
However, what I think is most important is that if we actually visit the place, we can see for ourselves what work is being done and how important it is to provide a safe, medically supervised environment for people with serious addiction issues to get off the street and to be in an environment where they are safe, where they are taken care of and where they can make contact with health care professionals.
I have seen that because most of the people who use this facility are my constituents. I know many of them personally.
What I find really just incredibly disappointing is that no ministers of health have had the courage, or even just the reasonable wherewithal, to actually visit InSite to find out for themselves what is going on.
So, all of this rhetoric, all of this bias that the Conservatives show is based upon an ideology that they are perpetuating. It is not based upon either experience or first-hand knowledge. It is not based upon consideration of the incredible body of evidence that now exists. It is simply based upon a political position that they have staked out because they think it caters to a Conservative base.
I find that really quite abhorrent, in terms of how we approach public policy in this country.
I do not know how much money has been spent on all of the litigation involving InSite. It is probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, this facility in Vancouver has survived. It has survived all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and is still continuing to operate.
In fact, just a few weeks ago it celebrated its 10th anniversary, and I use the word “celebrate” because it was a celebratory event. To see the people in the community who have become part of the clientele of InSite, to see the people who are actually still alive, who are better off, who are doing better, who are better connected, who have a health connection—these are very important things. Without InSite, many of those individuals would likely have died of overdoses.
However, is there anything in the bill that would address that, the simple basic human fact that InSite is part of the solution, not part of the problem? We do not see anything in the bill on those issues.
I know that the government has come under intense scrutiny and criticism from a number of organizations across the country, which of course it has ignored. For example, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and the Pivot Legal Society issued a statement in which they made it very clear that:
People who use drugs are entitled to needed health care services just like all other Canadians. It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and the public purse to block access to supervised consumption services which save lives and prevent the spread of infections.
I think that is it in a nutshell. What we are talking about here is public health. It is about community safety. It is about people giving people very basic access to health services. Yet, we would never know that by looking at this legislation; we would never know that by reading the minister's press release; and we would never know that by listening to the rhetoric we have heard from the government side on this bill and on the issue generally.
The Canadian Medical Association issued a press release when the bill first came out, in June, in which it said:
...the CMA is deeply concerned that the proposed legislation may be creating unnecessary obstacles and burdens that could ultimately deter creation of more injection sites.
Dr. Evan Wood, a renowned scientist who works for the B.C. Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS, points out that one of the important aspects of a safe injection site is that, given that each HIV infection costs on average approximately $500,000 in medical costs, InSight has contributed to a 90% reduction in new HIV cases caused by intravenous drug use in British Columbia, which is why the B.C. government has been such a strong supporter of the program. That is from an article he wrote in The Globe and Mail in June.
We also have Dr. Mark Tyndall, who is the head of infectious diseases at the Ottawa Hospital. He says:
Supervised injection sites will be opened in Canada and the government will be challenged for its callous and misinformed policies through legal avenues and whatever else it takes to do the right thing. Thousands of Canadians, the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill, our brothers and sisters, are depending on us.
These are just a few of the opinions and analyses that have come in from people who have studied this issue over and over again.
We need to understand that if this bill goes through, not only would it prevent other safe injection sites from being set up in Canada—and we do know that there is a great interest in Toronto, Victoria and Montreal—but it would also have an impact in Vancouver. As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, the current exemption permit for InSite will be up in March 2014, so it too will have to go through this process. Given the incredibly ridiculous and absurd criteria and considering the stance of the government, we can see that approval is very unlikely, or it will be very difficult to get.
What does that mean? It means that a place that has been operating successfully for 10 years, that has been well accepted in the community and that went through all of the approval processes will potentially be shut down, and people will be turfed out on the street. It means people will die of overdoses. It means we will see open drug use on the streets. It means we will see greater pain and suffering in this community, and the whole community will be impacted by that.
I want to keep coming back to the most basic point of this whole debate, and that is that a safe injection site is not some kind of bogey man or some kind of scary place; it is simply a health facility. It is a health facility that provides a service that helps people who are facing very difficult addiction issues. It provides a safe, medicalized and supervised environment. It helps people get into treatment. It helps people get off the street. Most important, it stops people from dying of overdoses.
Does that mean anything to these Conservatives? Do they even care that people are dying? What they want to do is vilify those people. We heard the parliamentary secretary. She talks about her mother and somebody else's mother walking down the street. This is about creating fear in local communities. Maybe that is the reason, as my colleague has pointed out, that this bill is going to go to the public safety committee, because the Conservatives want to have it viewed only through a lens of law and order, as opposed to a needed, necessary and essential public health approach that is about public health and public protection for people, not only the drug users but the community as a whole.
This bill that we have before us is the antithesis of a public health approach. What is this bill really about? It is about fear. It is about dividing people. It is about demonizing people. I find that really offensive because we are talking about individuals. Drug use cuts across all classes. It cuts across people of all different political persuasions. So we have to examine whether this bill is something that would hurt not only the existing safe injection site but the potential for others across the country that would save lives.
I will finish my remarks by moving a motion. I move, seconded by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-2, an Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, because it:
(a) fails to reflect the dual purposes of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to maintain and promote both public health and public safety;
(b) runs counter to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Canada v. PHS Community Services Society, which states that a Minister should generally grant an exemption when there is proof that a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and when there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety; and
(c) establishes onerous requirements for applicants that will create unjustified barriers for the establishment of safe injection sites, which are proven to save lives and increase health outcomes.
(d) further advances the Minister's political tactics to divide communities and use the issue of supervised injection sites for political gain, in place of respecting the advice and opinion of public health experts.
- MPndpOct 18, 2013 7:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the member for Mississauga—Brampton South on her appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health.
Here we are debating the first bill. The bill could be more properly named the anti-public safety bill because it is very stacked against public safety. Despite what the member has just said, if one looks at the bill and examines it very closely we can see that it is designed to prevent any safe injection site from ever being able to operate.
I would like to ask the member if she knows anything about InSite, the only safe injection site we have in Canada, which is operating in Vancouver, or how it operates. Is she aware that it went through all of the municipal requirements that she just talked about? As a former city councillor, I am very familiar with public notification, input, and so on. I wonder if she is aware that InSite went through a vigorous process of public scrutiny, city council looking at the application, and so on. In fact, it is now very well accepted in the community. Has she ever visited the facility? Does she know what goes on there?
If the member thinks the municipal process is a good process, then why not let these applications be dealt with at the municipal level? Why does it require that the minister have all these criteria in effect so that she can turn it down?
- MPndpJun 18, 2013 9:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if I completely understand the member's point, or maybe she misunderstood my point.
My point was that we want to make sure that NGOs and non-profits that are delivering very important aid do not get prosecuted when they are just doing their jobs. I certainly agree that we need to focus on officials who are doing the bribery, and we do need to make sure that people are getting paid properly. The NDP has a long track record of saying that when we engage in trade deals and various international treaties, at the top of the list is ensuring that we have proper labour conditions, safety and human rights.
We are now seeing more and more situations around the world, the most recent in Bangladesh, of human misery and tragedy and what happens when there are not proper standards for corporations. They can literally get away with murder.
We are the ones who have been blowing the whistle on that for years. We have said that it is completely unacceptable and cannot continue.
- MPndpJun 18, 2013 9:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague with interest. I am a little surprised that he thinks three convictions over five years is a good track record. Surely, Canada can do better than that. That is a actually a bit shameful, to have such a minimal response from the Canadian government.
I would like to respond to my colleague by referring to what we heard today about the G8 communiqué, which he has likely seen because of the role that he has. We need a commitment from our federal government that it is going to live up to international treaties and that there is going to be follow-through, whether it is on this bill, or cluster munitions, or trade practices, or matters affecting human rights. The follow-through is so important, and I do not get that sense from the member.
He talks about accountability. He says the bill will send a message. However, if we do not follow it up with the proper enforcement and the transparency, then it is not worth the paper it is written on. Three convictions is not quite good enough.
- MPndpJun 18, 2013 8:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-14, an act to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, and as we are debating this at second reading, it still has to go to committee.
I have listened with interest to the debate in the House today. It appears that all parties will be supporting this bill. We are debating it in principle but, nevertheless, it is important for us to go through the bill to examine it, as we should all legislation, and then it will go to committee.
I want to begin by saying that these last few weeks in the House have been particularly difficult because the government has used time allocation, a form of closure, I think 47 times, if I am keeping the tab correctly. It is really quite incredible that so much legislation has been rushed through.
We serve our constituents in this place. We do our work in the constituency, but our role in this House is due diligence in examining legislation and going through it. Even if we are going to support it, we have to go through it. That is part of holding the government to account in our parliamentary democracy, so it is very disturbing that we see the pattern over and over again. It has become routine. Other colleagues in the House have commented earlier that bills are now pro forma. We are expected to have a couple of hours of debate and take a cursory look, and then there is a time allocation for going through committee, report stage, and third reading. It is all established by timelines.
As members well know, that is not the way to do parliamentary business.
I wanted to begin my remarks with that because, as someone who has been around here a few years, I have watched the erosion of parliamentary and democratic practice in this House.
I can almost hear the voice of Bill Blaikie in my head, the former member for Winnipeg—Transcona. He was one of those folks in this place who had the long-term memory to know what had changed over the years. When change happens incrementally, just a little snippet at a time, it is difficult to get that overview. I think it would be useful one day to have that overview and to actually look at how much certain practices have changed in the House, say, from 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I think we would all be quite shocked, actually, no matter what matter party we belong to.
In any event, we are debating this particular bill today.
I want to begin by saying, as others have remarked today, that the bill is long overdue. Canada has, really, an embarrassing record on corruption overseas, in terms of lack of legislation.
As many have pointed out today, Transparency International, a very credible organization that monitors corruption and bribery in terms of what happens in different places in the world, in its 2011 report, ranked Canada as the worst of all the G7 countries with regard to international bribery. It pointed out that we had little or no enforcement, based upon the very minimal legislation we had.
There is no question that this is absolutely long overdue. It begs this question. Why does it take so long?
We look at the legislative agenda and look at all of the little boutique bills that come through on the Criminal Code, when they do not need to happen. Why has it taken so many years for something as major as this, which would deal with crime and corruption? Why has it taken so many years for anything to come forward? Where is the balance here? Where are the priorities? We are sort of pulling apart the Criminal Code clause by clause and adding in more mandatory minimum sentences. We have had so many Conservative backbencher bills. Yet, with something as major as this, in terms of Canada's role in the international community, we are hauled on the carpet by an organization that monitors international bribery and corruption, which has said, “You guys have got a pretty bad record; in fact you're basically the worst of all of the highly industrialized countries”. This is an embarrassment.
Further, there have only been three convictions in the last number of years, in fact, since 1999, and two of those were in the last two years. This is a pretty appalling record.
Suffice it to say I am glad, at least, that we are debating this bill today. At least the bill would take some steps.
Just to focus for a moment on what this bill would do, for those who are watching the debate, there would be four main changes to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. One of them would be to increase the maximum sentence of imprisonment applicable to the offence of bribing a foreign public official from five to fourteen years. That is a fairly significant change.
The second change in the bill would eliminate an exception that had been in operation for what is called facilitation payments, where foreign officials are paid to expedite the execution of their responsibilities. I will come back to this, because there are some concerns about it. While we agree that this exception should be eliminated, we have to examine the impact of that, for example, on NGOs that are operating in extremely difficult circumstances in political environments that are very risky and where they have to provide payments to get essential emergency humanitarian goods through—for example, going through police checkpoints. One does have to find that balance.
Third, the bill would create a new offence for falsifying or concealing books or records in order to bribe or conceal bribery of a foreign official. This is a very important change in terms of ensuring that transparency goes right the way down the line.
Finally, the bill would establish a nationality jurisdiction that would apply to all of the offences under the act. What this means is that Canadian nationals could be prosecuted for offences that are committed overseas. Again, that is a very important measure.
I want to say very clearly that New Democrats have long supported clear rules that require transparency and accountability by both Canadian individuals and corporations overseas. In fact, the NDP has had a number of bills in this regard. One of my colleagues, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, had Bill C-323, which would allow lawsuits in Canadian courts by non-Canadians for violations of international obligations. The member for Ottawa Centre had Bill C-486, which would require public due diligence by companies using minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
These are very important issues for Canadians, because we know that the extraction industry in Canada and the way it operates overseas is a major business concern. The way those companies do business is something of great concern to Canadians in terms of ethical practices. We have seen many movements here in Canada, including NGOs, the labour movement and individual citizens who have made sure they became active on this issue.
I want to point out something about a bill we voted on not that long ago, Bill C-300, which was a Liberal member's bill. When I raised transparency in the debate, the Liberal member for Charlottetown who replied to me pointed to Bill C-300 as another attempt to bring about better transparency and corporate accountability in foreign practices.
What is really interesting, and I am sure many members here will remember, is that it was defeated in part because 13 Liberal members voted against it. I remember the bill when it came up. There was intense advocacy for the bill from major NGOs across the country. They did an incredible job. The bill itself was very reasonable. It laid out basic standards for practice. However, there was, of course, a lobby against the bill. It was really quite shocking that 13 Liberal members voting against the bill resulted in the bill being defeated by a mere 6 votes.
We actually did come close to having that bill go through the House of Commons. I know that many of the organizations and individuals that had supported the bill were quite shocked that it had been defeated and were hugely disappointed about the amount of energy, time and effort that had gone into it.
It was a wonderful example of how Canadians look beyond their own border, look globally to see what Canada is doing. They had paid great attention to the need for Canadian corporations, companies and businesses to be accountable, to engage in ethical practices and to ensure there is not bribery and exploitative practices taking place in terms of labour rights or the environment.
These are things Canadians are actually very concerned about. I always feel very inspired when I see these organizations and people, whether they are putting out petitions or sending us emails. People really care about what we do in other parts of the world. We care about whether or not people are being exploited.
Just a little while ago, my colleague from Ottawa Centre talked about the situation in Bangladesh. I saw the story too, last night on CBC, and it is gut-wrenching and it makes us want to jump up and ask what we have to do to make sure these kinds of terrible, appalling conditions no longer exist.
We are talking about thousands of people who lose their lives because they work in terrible conditions where safety is disregarded, where people are not paid decent wages. If we layer on top of that all of the bribery and corruption that goes on, this is a multi-billion dollar business in terms of corruption and unethical practices.
I do not think the bill before us would address all of that, so the other bills we have before the House, particularly from the NDP members that I mentioned, are critical to ensuring there is a comprehensive approach to the way we are dealing with this situation.
We do have some concerns about the bill, which I would like to put on the record. assuming that the bill does get referred to committee. Because the bill would amend the definition of a business to now include not-for-profit organizations, we believe that this should be studied very closely at committee, and obviously witnesses need to be brought in to look at the impact of this particular change on charitable and aid organizations. As I mentioned earlier, the reality is that those organizations do sometimes, out of sheer necessity, have to make payments to expedite or achieve delivery of very essential items and humanitarian goods. This is something that is out there in the real world.
The bill is really tackling corruption and bribery, from the point of view that money is being made, money is being put in people's pockets and officials at embassies and so on are being bribed. That is what we are trying to get at, so I think we have to be very careful that we do not, by consequence, lay down a rule that could actually have a negative impact on organizations that are legitimately and in good faith trying to do very important work in some of these global areas where there is political, military and civil conflict going on. To make sure that kind of aid is delivered in a proper way is very important. We are hoping this issue would be examined more closely at committee.
The second item we think needs further examination is that the committee should also study the consequences of establishing an indictable offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison, because once 14 years is reached, it is actually the threshold at which conditional or absolute discharges of conditional sentences become impossible. It is obviously a much more serious penalty, and the committee, when it receives the bill, should examine that very carefully to make sure there is a balance in terms of our judicial system and conditional sentencing or the question of absolute discharges.
It is easy to make a blanket case, and again we have seen that so often with the Conservative government. It tends to make harsh, blanket rules that do not allow for discretion within our court system. Our court system has a history and a tradition of allowing judicial discretion, so judges can actually examine individual cases and the circumstances that warrant a harsher or a more lenient approach. That is what balance in the judicial system is about.
Therefore, one has to be very careful that in bringing forward new legislation we do not tip that balance and create a system that becomes so rigid that it becomes counterproductive. As the penalty is so harsh, people could end up pleading not guilty more frequently, or prosecutors may even be more reluctant to bring forward charges. There could be unintended consequences of having penalties that are so harsh. This is an issue that we think should be looked at in the bill. We support, in principle, the penalty being increased and the sentencing threshold being increased. However, we have to look more carefully at whether 14 years is the right cut-off.
Finally, in terms of changes that we think need to be looked at, there is the question of the rule on the facilitation payments that I spoke about earlier. We need to figure out how it impacts NGOs and non-profits. That issue would not be part of royal assent but rather would be under the consideration of cabinet, which is in the current text. That one aspect of the bill, if this bill were passed as is, would not go ahead with the rest of the bill. Therefore, that has to be examined. We need to know the reason that is being put aside. The discussion on the facilitation payments as they would impact NGOs might help inform that debate, but it is something we need to look at.
I also want to talk briefly about more current situations. We heard today from the member for Ottawa Centre, who updated the House on a communiqué he had received from the G8 that is currently taking place. It was quite interesting. He pointed out that in this communiqué the issues of corruption and transparency were quite prominent. His point was that we need to know that our own government is committed, not only to the words in these communiqués, but that it is actually going to follow up. I thought the member used a very good example when he spoke about international treaties that we sign for which there is no follow-up.
The example he used was Bill S-10 that was rushed through this House a few days ago, on cluster munitions. I was one of the people who spoke to that bill. The member pointed out very clearly in the debate on that bill that the NDP believes Bill S-10 would actually undermine the very international treaty that it is meant to be following up. The point is that when these communiqués come out and these commitments are made in places like the G8, we need to know they are actually going to be followed up. We need to know that those commitments mean something.
Again, we get back to this particular bill, Bill S-14, that has taken so long to come forward. Why has it taken so long? Why is there not a greater priority and emphasis on these kinds of bills? In the G8 communiqué, among the issues that were flagged, was the need to have greater transparency and a public registry.
The member for Ottawa Centre told us that one of the proposals is the need for a regime whereby companies would not be able to set up a shell company. Even if there is good legislation, if enforcement is to be taken on issues of bribery and corruption, it is very difficult. There could be a lack of political will, as I have just spoken about, or it could be that they are trying to figure out who the operatives are in a particular company. There is the idea of a public registry and the need for better transparency, as well as the notion that we should not allow elaborate legal complexities for the setting up of shell companies that in effect allow individuals and operatives to hide behind other entities. That makes it much more difficult to figure out who is doing what and where enforcement should be applied.
That is a very significant issue, and it is not covered in the bill, so it does show us that the bill does not go far enough. I think that was the member's point this morning.
Nevertheless, we are supporting the bill at second reading. We will pay great attention to it in committee. We will seek to improve the bill so that it lives up to its spirit and intent, which is ensuring that we tackle bribery and corruption by public officials in other countries.
- MPndpJun 18, 2013 8:40 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's comments on this legislation. I certainly agree with him that the bill is long overdue.
I just wonder whether he also picked up on the communiqué from the G8 that my colleague from Ottawa Centre mentioned earlier in the debate. One of the items that he focused on in looking at the G8 communiqué was the need to have a public registry, a need to have much better transparency for companies operating abroad, and to get away from the practice of hiding behind a shell company. Even if we do want to enforce the law, it is hard to know on whom it should be enforced.
Does my colleague agree that we need to go further than this legislation and adopt measures such as a public registry to avoid shell companies being set up?
- MPndpJun 18, 2013 7:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to introduce more petitions. I have been introducing these petitions throughout the session. I would like to thank the thousands of Canadians who have been signing this particular petition, as it deals with dogs and cats that are brutally slaughtered for their fur in a number of Asian regions.
Today's petitions come from Saskatoon, Vancouver, Windsor, Kitchener and right across the country. As I have said, I have been introducing these petitions now for a number of months, and obviously it is an issue that people are very concerned about.
The petitioners request that Canada join the U.S.A., Australia and the European Union in banning the import and sale of dog and cat fur. They support the private member's legislation that is before Parliament to make sure that this comes about.
I would like to thank the people across the country, who have been organizing this petition, for their hard and diligent on this very important issue.
- MPndpJun 12, 2013 11:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, apparently the minister is completely ignoring this report. The fact is, Conservatives came to power on a promise to reduce wait times for medical care. Now, seven years later, Canadians are waiting just as long, if not longer. Lack of long-term care, home care and affordable prescriptions are all contributing factors, as noted in the report.
Can the minister explain why the Conservatives have failed to reduce wait times, and what are they going to do now to fix this broken promise they made to Canadians?
- MPndpJun 11, 2013 8:00 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but begin by drawing attention to the fact that, yet again, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rose in the House a few minutes ago and sought unanimous consent to rush through another government bill. Of course, he failed to get unanimous consent, so he served notice that the government intends to bring in time allocation. I would point out that it will be the 46th time that it has happened with the Conservative government, which is a record among all governments.
I want to bring this up because it is 11 o'clock at night, we are sitting until midnight and we are debating legislation that has been sitting around for years. This particular bill that we are debating tonight, Bill S-10, is one such example. It is really quite extraordinary that we have a government that is so contemptuous of democratic practice.
We are here as parliamentarians to uphold democratic practice for our constituents and for all Canadians. That is what we do in this place, we debate legislation. I consider it an affront to all members of Parliament, but particularly the opposition, because our job is to analyze legislation, scrutinize it and hold the government to account. That is the basis of our parliamentary democracy. To see the government time and time again without purpose and rational reason, but for political reasons, rush through legislation and cut off legitimate debate in the House is deeply disturbing.
I just wanted to begin my remarks with that, because it has become so routine that we now come back to the House during the day, interrupting committees and other business, to vote on these time allocations. Even we, ourselves, forget just how sickening it is in terms of what this process is about and how bad it has become. The government now does not even blink an eye. It has just become its modus operandi, its MO, in terms of how it does its business. That is a pretty sad day for Canadian democracy.
The bill before us tonight that is being debated, Bill S-10, deals with the ratification of the treaty on cluster munitions. It is surely a very important bill, as the convention is very important too. Many of my colleagues tonight have given wonderful descriptions and oversight of the importance of this issue and the fact that these cluster munitions are now stockpiled to the amount of something like four billion. That is incredible when we think of the harm that is being done to civilian populations. We do know that 98% of all recorded cluster munitions casualties have been civilians. They are innocent people.
We know that these cluster munitions, or bomblets as they are sometimes called because they are very small, can do tremendous harm, if not killing people, then maiming them for life. We have seen this in many countries. I think there are about 37 countries that have been engaged in actions where cluster munitions have been in effect.
Clearly, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. Canada has historically had a very good record. The Ottawa agreement on banning land mines began in Ottawa. The global momentum came from this country. We have a very honourable record on some of these issues. Canadians have been very proud over the decades to be advocates for nuclear disarmament and for disarmament generally. Certainly, when we look at these inhuman cluster munitions and the damage that they do, we can all recognize that a convention that would ban their operation is critically important to real human security.
We live in such a militarized world. We live in a world where the resolution of conflict often becomes a military resolution. We have seen a global situation where diplomacy often takes a back seat. One thing that really worries us is that we now see a Conservative government in this country that seems to have a mindset that sees military operation as a higher priority. We have seen diplomatic actions and the role that Canada has played historically as something that becomes more minimal in its approach. That is very disturbing.
That is why, when Canada signed this convention in 2008, it was seen as a progressive thing, as a good step, a good step forward.
We know that 111 countries have now signed the convention and 68 have ratified the convention. Once the convention has been signed, it is still up to individual countries to then bring in their own legislation to ratify, which is what we are debating tonight.
Clearly, we would all like to see those remaining countries sign the convention. However, what we are debating here tonight is what Canada's position is, what Canada has done, and what the government is proposing.
The first thing I would do is echo the comments of my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who asked the obvious question as to why this legislation has been sitting around for so incredibly long. It was signed in 2008. It did not get tabled in the House of Commons until December 2012. Then it went to the Senate and hung around there some more, yet here we are, jamming it through at the last minute, at 11 o'clock at night with, really, no regular debate.
I think, number one, it becomes very suspect as to what the government's agenda is and the fact that it is not willing to allow this legislation to stand the rigorous test that all legislation must live up to. That is our role, but it is also the government's role.
Therefore, number one, I want to put in the debate that we are very concerned about the timing of this bill and how the government deliberately seemed to allow this bill to lapse for so long and now is now rushing it through when, presumably, not many people are paying attention so late at night. We know that many Canadians are concerned about this issue.
One of my colleagues tonight spoke eloquently about the thousands of young people who have signed petitions in support of the convention and expressed their concern about these cluster munitions. We know that people are very concerned about this issue. They want to see our government do the best it can do—not the minimal, not the lowest common denominator, but the best effort that we can do.
When we examine this legislation and look at what other countries are doing and look at what experts are saying, we come to the conclusion that this bill, Bill S-10, is flawed. It would not live up to the convention. In fact, it would undermine the convention.
We hear what others who have been very involved in this issue have said. For example, the former DFAIT negotiator, Mr. Earl Turcotte, stated, “the proposed Canadian legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention, to date.” That is a very a strong statement. That is coming from the former negotiator for Canada on the convention. Surely the government would listen to this kind of expert advice, but apparently it is being ignored.
Then the former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, stated, “It is a pity the current Canadian government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.” Again, these are very strong and quite astounding words to hear from an ally, a former prime minister of Australia, about this Canadian legislation.
Many of my colleagues tonight have painstakingly gone through the legislation and shown point by point, but particularly in section 11, how this legislation would not meet the standard that needs to be met in order to live up to the substance and the principle of the convention before us.
I would quote one other expert source, and that is Mines Action Canada. It did a comparison between Australian and the U.K. and then looked at current best practices of various aspects of the bill, including New Zealand and Belgium.
It too comes to some analysis that I think should set off the alarm bells for us in terms of what Bill S-10 is all about. It states, “Canada's legislation allows Canadians to be more proactive in their involvement with the use of cluster munitions, which we feel runs counter to the prohibition on assistance. Section 11 seems to go further than any other legislation worldwide in permitting Canadians themselves to use cluster munitions in very specific cases. This is an unacceptable deviation from the spirit and letter of the convention and from Canada's commitment to lessening the humanitarian impact of conflict.”
It further states, “Section 11, paragraph 2, regarding Canadian transport of cluster munitions, has no equivalent in the draft Australian legislation or in the U.K. legislation, again showing how far Canada's legislation has strayed from the spirit of the convention on cluster munitions”.
These are not ambiguous words that the representatives of Mines Action Canada are using. It is not fuzzy. They are stating quite clearly that from their expert analysis the bill is leaving Canada in a very ambiguous position. It would leave our Canadian Forces in a very ambiguous and uncertain position. I do not think that is acceptable.
I am glad that my colleague asked a question just now as to whether the government is willing to look at amendments when this bill goes to committee. It presumably will, because it is under time allocation. The member responded that if we could all agree, there could be an amendment.
However, again we get back to this process issue of a travesty when legislation goes before a committee. The government is hell-bent on getting something through and is not willing to consider amendments that are eminently reasonable and rational and actually seek to improve the legislation. There are hundreds of examples of this happening, although with the bill before us we feel particularly bad because it is based on an international convention, and there is a great history of how these conventions can help with global security.
Surely it is incumbent upon Canadians, through our government, to ensure the legislation we have is the very best it can be, not the worst. It is very disconcerting that according to a number of these experts, Canada is doing the least it can do. Worse than that, it would produce conflict between the convention and the bill, this so-called “ratification”. It is not really a ratification at all, but something that is contrary to the bill.
We will debate Bill S-10 as long as we possibly can. The bill will go to committee, and we will do everything we can at the committee. With due diligence and in good faith, we will try to improve it, and it will come back under time allocation, I have no doubt.
We have to alert Canadians as to the appalling agenda that the Conservative government has, not only in terms of what it does but also in terms of how it does it. It flies in the face of democratic practice.
I hope we will get another opportunity to debate this bill.
- MPndpJun 11, 2013 7:05 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, it is really disingenuous to have a government member ask another member to in basically 30 seconds compare a piece of legislation to two other countries. It is absurd. We are here today debating this legislation the government has put forward as compared to the treaty. That is what is important.
Anything we look at tells us that Bill S-10 is undermining the very treaty that was signed by Canada. I am very glad that my hon. colleague raised the fact that there are thousands of young Canadians who have signed this petition. It is really distressing that they had the best expectations that the government would bring forward a bill that would actually meet the spirit, principle, intent and substance of that treaty, yet this legislation has failed.
I am very glad that the member made the point she did tonight. I think it shows how far removed the government has become from not only the feelings of Canadians but even from meeting the spirit and the substance of a treaty Canada has signed.
- MPndpJun 11, 2013 4:30 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the parliamentary secretary. He used some pretty loaded language. He said that the opposition was hypocritical. Then he talked about self-righteousness. Listening to the debate, I could only surmise that the self-righteousness is actually coming from him.
I know that he believes that he knows a lot, but the fact is that we all look at legislation, and we have basic questions we want to address. To characterize this as self-righteous or hypocritical is very unparliamentary, because there are basic questions that need to be asked.
One of them is why it took so long for this legislation to come forward. The convention was signed in 2008. It took four years for it to come forward, and all of a sudden, it is being jammed through, rushed through, at the last minute, which, of course, is a pattern with the Conservative government. It is very disturbing.
I guess the most basic question is how the government can stand up with any credibility and pass this legislation and call it a ratification of the convention, when in actual fact, examination of this bill would suggest that it is undermining the convention. If we heed the words of the former negotiator, Mr. Turcotte, that is what he said, in effect.
Leave aside the self-righteousness. Why not just address some of the questions that are legitimately coming forward about this bill?
- MPndpJun 07, 2013 8:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I repeat: it is only the Conservatives who have a secret fund that is controlled by—
- MPndpJun 07, 2013 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, only the Conservatives have a secret fund controlled by their chief of staff and only the Conservatives have a—
- MPndpJun 03, 2013 11:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, desperate Canadians are heading overseas to buy organs on the black market only to see these organs fail when they come back home. They end up in hospital and tragically some have died. As we have debated in the House, unfortunately this is not a new situation.
After seven years in power, why is the government still dragging its feet on the critical need for a national registry for organ transplants?
- MPndpMay 31, 2013 9:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
With regard to government funding, what is the total amount of government funding allocated within the constituency of Vancouver East during the fiscal year 2012-2013, broken down by: (a) department or agency; and (b) for each body mentioned in (a), by initiative or project?
- MPndpMay 24, 2013 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, Canadians want the Conservatives to come clean on this whole sordid affair.
We now have another federal judge slamming the behaviour of the Conservatives. In his judgment on electoral fraud, Justice Mosley writes:
Despite the obvious public interest in getting to the bottom of the allegations, the [Conservatives] made little effort to assist with the investigation at the outset despite early requests.
Will the Conservatives continue to claim they fully co-operated when the court has now said the exact opposite is true?
- MPndpMay 08, 2013 3:45 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House today to speak to Motion No. 230, which has been put forward by the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, and I thank him for that.
I know the member had a similar motion in the last Parliament, but it did not go further because of the federal election, and so we are debating the issue again. It is always good to see members continue to press on with their issues.
Unfortunately, the vote we just had on sodium reduction was lost, but I am very committed to working with the 50-plus organizations across the country that supported the bill. Even though the vote was lost, we will continue to press very hard because sodium reduction in our country is a major public health issue.
As the health critic for the NDP, I am pleased to speak in support of the motion before us.
The question of anaphylaxis is a very critical issue. It affects about 500,000 Canadians and 50% of Canadians know of someone who has at least one food allergy. In our own personal experiences we can all think of someone we know who has a serious allergy and who has to be very careful of where and what that person eats.
The motion before us begins to address the issue anaphylaxis, which affects a growing number of Canadians. The NDP is supportive of the motion, but we will demand an accounting from the Conservative government on its health care track record.
The motion asks the House to recognize the importance of taking steps to ensure that Canadians with anaphylaxis have a certain quality of life. However, as we have seen with a number of these motions, this motion is very general and does not go further into precise measures. Therefore, while we support the motion, in as far as it goes, this is an opportunity for us to debate the issue and to keep pressing the government for much better accountability on health care generally and on something like this that does affect so many people.
One of the issues with anaphylaxis is that even the purchasing of the auto-injectors is an added cost for many families, and there are families that cannot afford this kind of injector. However, I find it curious that in the budget bill, which was approved at second reading and which was rushed through the House under another time allocation motion, and will be rushed through the finance committee in five meetings, one of the provisions is taxing hospital parking lots.
I do not know if anybody listened to the CBC story recently. In fact a couple of stories have been done. One of the biggest responses is from people who feel outraged that when they go to a hospital to visit a friend or family member who is sick, they get hit with exorbitant parking fees. Now, to add insult to injury, this budget, the latest omnibus bill from the Conservative government, will add taxes on to hospital parking.
Why I am raising this issue now in this debate on the private member's motion? It is because, while on the one hand we see these sort of window-dressing kinds of motions coming through from the Conservatives, and I appreciate their intent, the fact is there are so many significant issues that are going unaddressed in our health care system. The government has fallen down on or simply retreated from its role on health care. I wanted to get that bit about the hospital parking tax in there because it is something that really grates. The Conservatives have the gall to talk about being the government of tax reduction and yet on something that is as basic as hospital parking, where people are basically a captive audience and have no choice but to pay these exorbitant cost, they will now be hit with a tax. Why would the Conservatives do that? It seems unconscionable.
While I am happy to be debating this motion, as far as it goes, I do want to shed light and illuminate the bigger picture around health care in our country.
Unfortunately, we have seen the federal government basically walk away from the table. The Conservatives made a unilateral decision about health care funding that has now left the provinces and territories about $36 billion short over the longer term. The government has failed to implement the health accords. Therefore, while we support the motion, we have to look at it in the context of the bigger picture. The government has a miserable failing record, an F, on health care.
As the health critic for the official opposition, the NDP, I do a lot of work with organizations across the country. People are just chomping at the bit. They want to see a stronger federal role or any federal role in health care.
In the House, we have had issues around drug safety and drug shortages. We have seen the abysmal health status of aboriginal people and cuts in Health Canada. The list is enormous. We need to put this on the record and hold the government to account. While I am sure the Conservative members in the House will support the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, which is good, they need to question themselves on what is happening to our health care overall.
Why have not made any progress on a national pharmacare program? Why have not made any progress on a home care and long-term program?
All these issues were discussed in 2004 and supported by the federal government and the premiers across the country. We believed, and Canadians believed, that we would see some way forward and that we would see some progress on these issues. However, nothing has happened, and not only has the status quo remained, even worse, the government disbanded the Health Council of Canada, which was the body that monitored the progress and implementation of the health accord.
It is a pretty dismal picture, which I am sure we can all appreciate. I really want to draw it to the attention of members in the House.
I encourage Conservative members that when they bring forward a private member's motion, such as the one we are debating today, they need to link it to the broader health issue. They need to think about what about the public health interest. It is very disappointing that they chose to defeat the bill on sodium reduction, which had incredible support across the country, yet I am sure this motion will go through.
At the health committee, we have had a number of these such bills and I have supported them. That is fine, but we in the NDP do have a plan for health care. We want to see our health care system improve its accessibility. We want to see the kinds of things that people need, like pharmacare, home care and long-term care. We want to see progress made on those very critical health issues.
We are very determined, as we move toward 2015, that there is an alternative on health care that we can present to the Canadian people. If the people want medicare 2.0, we know what that is. We are actually out there, consulting with Canadians on that on a daily basis.
I know many of my colleagues get emails and work with local constituents. We know health care is really the number one issue about which Canadians are concerned. On any poll that is done, health care is always at the top of the list.
I thank the member for presenting the motion. It is very important to draw awareness to this issue, which affects about 500,000 Canadians, and what it means to face a severe allergy.
Let us recognize that we need a federal government that will be responsive to the health care needs of Canadians and willing to be at the table with the provinces, territories and first nations. We need a federal government that is committed to implementing the accords that were signed in 2004 and to bringing in new accords and a new vision for medicare that is based on the Canada Health Act, accessibility, portability, public administration and universality.
We in the NDP are committed to that. We stand for that. We are the party of medicare. We are proud of the work that we have done and the work we continue to do.
While we support the motion, we know that it is just a bit of the big job that needs to be taken on. We are taking on that job.
- MPndpMay 06, 2013 3:10 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, it is also a budget that would have hundreds of tax hikes on everything from hospital parking to credit unions and safety deposit boxes. These hikes would cost Canadians nearly $8 billion over five years. I want to ask the member about the hospital parking. I am sure he knows that there is a huge constituency out there of people who are hopping mad about how they get caught by hospital parking. It is very high. Now to know that there would be a tax on top of that from the current federal government would really add insult to injury.
How can the member, after giving that speech, defend that kind of proposition where people would get taxed even on hospital parking?
- MPndpMay 06, 2013 10:50 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, not only are the Conservatives not doing anything concrete for jobs, but they are doing very concrete things in terms of tax hikes. In fact, there are hundreds of tax hikes on hospital parking, credit unions and safety deposit boxes, and the list goes on and on. I wonder if the member could comment on that.
I know the feedback I get is that people are always pretty outraged at the incredible cost of parking at hospitals. We are kind of a captive audience since there is nothing we can do, yet the bill would permit increased taxes for people who have to go to hospitals and pay for parking. I wonder if the member could comment on that.
- MPndpMay 06, 2013 10:20 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member has said, not only are the Conservatives cutting millions from infrastructure and other programs, but they are also sneaking in fee increases and tax increases.
One of the ones included in Bill C-60 has to do with immigration, including visitors visas, work permits, study permits and visa and permit extensions. It would mean that under the budget the government would be able to increase fees without tabling a proposal in Parliament and without being transparent about how much revenue the fees would bring in.
Could the member comment on the impact that would have on the many people who sometimes find it very difficult to pay those fees anyway, and who would now be facing possible increases?
- MPndpMay 03, 2013 11:25 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today at the end of the second hour of debate on Bill C-460 to have the last five minutes to respond to the debate.
First, I would like to thank all of the members on all sides of the House who have participated in this debate. Many members have participated with great passion and vigour, and certainly the issue before us is a very important one. In fact, I would argue that this is probably the most critical public issue that is facing us today.
It is very interesting to note that there has been an incredible amount of media attention on the need for sodium reduction. There are major articles in the press every day. It is something that is of great concern to many people in Canada.
I am looking at a recent article in The Globe and Mail, which says, “Health Canada's voluntary, unsupervised guidelines for the food industry aren't adequate to the task, say health experts and advocates”.
The article quotes Kevin Willis, the director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network, who said:
We don't have data available in a transparent way that we can monitor that these changes are actually occurring. Government could require companies to make that information available so it can be verified. It's all part of the transparent monitoring process.
I have to say that in the development of this bill there has been an incredible amount of support across the country, and some of the organizations have been mentioned here in the debate today. I particularly want to thank Dr. Norm Campbell, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada CIHR chair in hypertension prevention and control, and Bill Jeffery, national coordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. These two individuals have been just incredible, both here on the Hill and in providing information, education and awareness. I think they have spoken volumes about the critical need to have this bill move forward at second reading.
I have listened to the arguments from the Conservative members, and I want to reiterate that this is actually a very straightforward bill. Again, this bill would implement the sodium reduction strategy that was developed not by me or by any member in this House, but by an expert working group in 2010. The purpose of this bill is to make sure that the guidelines and strategy that were devised are actually followed through.
As we have heard from many members in this House, the non-action, the pathetic lack of leadership from the government on the sodium reduction strategy and its disbanding of the sodium working group have really been quite shocking. As many people I have spoken to in the community and some organizations have told me, at one point Canada was the leader in the world, and other countries looked to Canada to take leadership. However, that situation has now been completely reversed. We are so far behind on this issue and on many other public health issues that it really is very disturbing.
In arguments we have heard today, in fact, we have heard members who wanted to ridicule the bill and make fun of it and come up with jokes. That was very perplexing. It makes me wonder if they know of the major organizations in support of this bill. They have done the research, they are the experts, and they believe this bill is sound. Do the Conservatives not understand that the Canadian public want to see the Canadian government take leadership?
Some members referred to a survey that was done. A very recent survey was done by the University of Toronto in March of this year. It tells us that 78% of Canadians support setting maximum sodium levels in food sold in grocery stores and that 76% agreed that warning labels and statements should be displayed so that people have the information they need.
I want to end by saying that other countries are doing what needs to be done. Recently South Africa announced that it is now going to require regulations for sodium reduction that have to be met by June 2016. Many other countries have taken much more significant action than Canada has.
At the end of the day, I think we have to ask ourselves a question: are we committed to the health of Canadians and to preventing the deaths that are now taking place? Will we ensure the health of Canadians in the future? If so, then this bill is one concrete measure that would allow that to happen.
I urge all members of the House to read the bill properly, to look at who is supporting it and to support it at second reading so that we can look at it in committee, where we can address any issues or concerns that may exist. I urge members to vote to support the bill in principle.
- MPndpMay 03, 2013 9:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
With regard to the proposed Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, published in the Canada Gazette on December 15, 2012 for public consultation: (a) what was the number of responses received by the deadline of February 28, 2013; and (b) of these responses, (i) how many responders indicated they disagreed with all or certain sections of the proposed regulations, (ii) how many responders indicated they agreed with all or certain sections of the proposed regulations, (iii) what were the 3 sections of the new regulations that were most commented on?
- MPndpMay 03, 2013 8:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, they should read the full report.
Conservative members on the Canadian heritage committee have launched a review of history teaching at provincial schools. Conservatives have already intervened politically in the War of 1812 advertisements; they are remaking the Museum of Civilization in their image, and yesterday we saw the first Canadian in space being removed from Canadian space history for political reasons. Surely, Canadians deserve better.
Why are Conservative MPs now intent on telling provincial schools what they should teach?
- MPndpMay 02, 2013 11:15 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, the minister should go check his facts. In reality, the Conservatives simply do not know what happened to billions of dollars in spending, and they are making up new excuses daily to try to explain this mismanagement.
In opposition the Prime Minister once said, “...one would think that there would be some element of shame from the Liberal Party regarding today's report but there is none whatsoever.”
Is the Prime Minister now ready to live up to those words and show some contrition for mishandling $3 billion in security spending?
- MPndpMay 02, 2013 7:10 am | British Columbia, Vancouver East
With regard to the tax subsidies for private health insurance plans under the Income Tax Act in the 2011 fiscal year: (a) what was the total value of the deductions, in terms of foregone tax revenue, provided to corporations for their contributions to employee health insurance plans; (b) what was the value of the deductions, in terms of foregone tax revenue, provided to corporations for their contributions to employee prescription drug plans; (c) what was the total tax expenditure for the Medical Expense Tax Credit; and (d) what amount of the tax expenditure for the Medical Expense Tax Credit was for premiums paid for private drug insurance plans?
- MPndpMay 01, 2013 12:15 pm | British Columbia, Vancouver East
Mr. Speaker, first, I too would like to present petitions today in support of Bill C-460. The petitioners support the sodium reduction strategy for Canada act to ensure that the amount of sodium in the Canadian food supply is reduced to safe levels.
The petitioners are calling upon the House to ensure the swift passage of Bill C-460, which we will be debating at the end of this week and voting on next week. I hope it goes through.
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