Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laurentides—Labelle.
I support this bill at second reading. This bill, just as a bit of historical reference, is a reworking of Bill C-11, which previously died on the order paper. I certainly welcomed this new bill, thinking that it would go a bit further than Bill C-11. Unfortunately, while I am supporting it at second reading, there are some issues with this bill. It still does not go far enough in addressing the shortcomings of the previous bill, Bill C-11.
Bill C-11, the previous bill, and this bill, Bill C-27, are based on many criticisms levelled by veterans groups and the Veterans Ombudsman regarding the government's career-transition services. Unfortunately, this bill overlooks an entire group of veterans who have trouble transitioning to a new career. The vast majority of veterans do not have the necessary degrees to obtain a position in the public service, and of course, many are simply not interested in a career in the public service.
The bill would amend a number of sections and would offer priority status to members of the Canadian Forces released for medical reasons, placing them in the highest priority category ahead of both surplus employees and persons on leave. It also would increase the length of the priority entitlement period from two years to five years. It is important to note, and many people may not realize it, that Veterans Affairs also includes RCMP veterans. RCMP veterans would not be eligible for this new priority.
The bill would give Second World War and Korean War veterans priority over other Canadian citizens. By expanding the definition of “veteran” to include military personnel having served at least three years, we would see a resurgence in the appointment of veterans to public service positions, and this priority would last for a period of five years. However, surviving spouses of former members of the Canadian Forces who served for three years would not get priority. This is in contrast to widows of World War II and Korean War veterans. We do not agree with these provisions as we believe that surviving spouses of all veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country should be given this preferential treatment. In designating several categories of veterans, it appears in this bill that we have abandoned the idea that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran, which is, if I can say, a cherished principle of the NDP.
One aspect that is overlooked regarding the length of the priority entitlement period is that it would begin on the day a member left the Canadian Forces. This means that if members wished to contest the reason for their discharge or the length of time between their service and injury, their priority period would be decreasing by the day. As members may be aware, these procedures can take years to resolve. Members who pursued these courses of action would be at a disadvantage compared to other members of the Canadian Forces who did not have to appear before an administrative tribunal.
We believe that the bill does not go far enough and that it focuses on only a very small number of veterans in transition who have the training and experience necessary to pursue a job in the public service.
The government must implement the career transition recommendations made by the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General. The government is balancing its budget clearly on the backs of our veterans and is proposing half measures that would not have a significant impact on the standard of living of veterans as a whole.
Rather than implementing the recommendations of the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General, or even waiting for the revision of the new veterans charter, which will be tabled tomorrow in this House, so the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs could make recommendations about transition as a whole, the Conservatives chose to introduce a bill that applies only to a very small part of the transition program.
The priority entitlement period would end five years after a member of the Canadian Forces had been medically released. The eligibility period, as I said before, would increase from two years to five years.
We believe that an increased length of time is justified for veterans who wish to pursue university studies. For example, a regular veteran, a regular Canadian, would take about four years to get a university degree. However, in the public service, advanced degrees past the first degree are often key to getting a good job in the public service. Even with that increase, it might be too late for them to take advantage of this hiring priority.
Veterans Affairs Canada, together with the Department of National Defence, should explore other collaborative opportunities with organizations. Some of these were outlined in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman that came out in June last year. We should explore opportunities with organizations such as the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, and so forth.
It should be the job of the government, and part of this bill, to cultivate partnerships with organizations that specialize in job placement, mentorship, and internship opportunities, which, again, was indicated in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman. It should be developing affiliations with academic institutions and the provinces to translate military skills, experience, and training into civilian academic equivalencies recognized by provincial ministries of education. That was also from the Veterans Ombudsman.
It is pretty clear from the statistics that most departments do not hire veterans. A culture shift is required within government departments themselves. Of the few hundred each year who take advantage of priority hiring, 50% to 80%, depending on the year, will find positions in the Department of National Defence, not other departments. There should be a general effort made to ensure that this happens.
A universal deployment principle could be adjusted for Canadian Forces members who have been injured in the line of duty. The latest figures I have are from 2011-12. In that period, of the 942 medically released former Canadian Forces members, only 10% had a completed or partially completed post-secondary education. Nearly half of them had high school levels or less in education.
In the future, seven out of 10 jobs will require specialized post-secondary education. Therefore, the onus should be on the federal government to ensure that those opportunities are there for our veterans.
Equally interesting is that only 16% of the companies that were polled would make a special effort to recruit veterans. Clearly, knowledge and understanding of veterans and their experiences have not translated into the private sector.
Only 13% of the companies polled said that their human resources departments knew how to read the resumés of military applicants. That is understandable, because their training is a little bit different. I remember a few years ago, before the program ended when MPs had a chance to spend some time in the military, I was with the navy. I asked a question of the soon-to-retire captain of a ship. We were passing a cruise ship, and I said that there could be a cruise ship opportunity for him as a captain. He told me, quite politely, that his training really did not translate into being a cruise ship captain. People clearly do have to know how to read the resumés.
I would like to say one more thing about veterans, and Thunder Bay in particular, where the office recently closed. In 2012, 3,127 veterans were served in the Thunder Bay office, which is now closed. That office cost about $686,000 a year to keep open. All the veterans offices that were closed cost about $4 million. Strangely enough, that is the same amount of money, $4 million, the government is now spending on veterans advertising. There could have been some better use of that money.
The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle is rising on a point of order.
The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle wishes to exercise his five-minute right of reply. He has five minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I want to make a point of clarification at the beginning. I am not the member for Cape Breton—Canso and have not been for a long time. However, had he been given the opportunity to speak, and had he known what he was supposed to be speaking about, I am sure he would have enraptured this entire chamber with his eloquence. Unfortunately, members are stuck with me.
I would like to compliment my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle on this initiative. It is an important initiative. We all relate it to our personal experiences.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, you and I live in some proximity to each other. You have a very famous facility just north of Lake Orillia, and I cottage somewhat east of that. I would say it is about $200,000 east. We all have traffic. You, in particular, have traffic that comes off Lake Simcoe, up Lake Couchiching, and into the system. I have a lesser amount of traffic, but it is nevertheless a great deal of traffic. We will have both noticed that the boats are not getting any smaller, and the Sea-Doos are not getting any quieter, which is taking a toll on some pretty nice lakes and rivers in our respective communities.
That is the issue my colleague is trying to address. To rein in the excesses of some cottagers, a very small group of cottagers, the municipalities sometimes struggle to manage traffic flow. I know that the OPP intervenes from time to time, but that is an intervention on the basis of safety and criminality.
My colleague's concern is that there are vessels that are getting to the point that they are actually doing environmental damage, just by virtue of their size and speed. When a municipality wishes to rein in that behaviour, it finds that to obtain jurisdiction in the area, it has to seek the permission of the federal government.
I know that colleagues have some frustration trying to get things done around here. When we try to get something such as this done, there is buck-passing of a major order. What my colleague is trying to do, and I congratulate him for it, is slice that Gordian knot and get the buck to stop at the municipality or in the local jurisdiction that is most relevant to the lake or the river, as the case may be. I am mixing my metaphors, and I apologize for that. When the buck stops with the municipalities, they can impose regulations and restrictions, which would facilitate the peace, harmony, and good feelings that are generally associated with the lakes and rivers of Ontario, in our case, of Quebec, in my colleague's case, and certainly out in British Columbia and various other places.
We find ourselves in sympathy and in support of this initiative. We have some concerns about how this would occur and how we would transfer the jurisdiction from the federal government to the municipalities. Particularly in Quebec, some transfers would be a challenge. For us the issue is the how rather than the principle of it, but we certainly will find ourselves in a position to support the motion.
The member is right to say that no one regime fits all. Just going from lake to lake, there are differences in attitudes among cottagers. Some want a quiet, peaceful lake that is motor-free, and others want lakes where they can run around on Sea-Doos and tow skiers behind big boats.
Let me end with that. This is a good initiative. It is an initiative I hope money will flow to, because public funds are scarce. We would encourage him in his efforts to pursue this, and I encourage all members to support this motion.
I am thankful for the time and attention, and I only wish I was half as eloquent as the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.
Mr. Speaker, in his speech my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle took the opportunity to list all the groups, municipal governments and associations that support his motion. I would like to tell him that he can add the Liberal caucus to his list, because we will be supporting this motion.
Indeed, we support it, not because we know in advance what will come out of the consultations that the member is calling for, but because our political philosophy is based on the principle that any system created by human beings can be reformed and sometimes improved to better serve our society.
We believe that the idea of a study and consultations with the provinces and territories, municipal governments and first nations to determine whether the current regulatory regime for navigation on our lakes could be changed in some way is a good idea in itself.
Unlike my colleague, I represent a non-rural riding. My riding is on the Island of Montreal. However, many of my constituents have second homes on the lakes in my colleague's region. This is an issue that concerns me in any case, and it is also relevant to me because I am the member in our caucus who focuses on water resources issues. That brings me to my comments.
Canada is recognized around the world for a number of very unique attributes. First, I am thinking of its natural attributes. Second, I would mention the system of governance that we created, and members mentioned the Constitution of 1867, of course. Third, we are recognized worldwide for our technological innovation, which has led to all kinds of products used not only by Canadians, but also by people around the world. To be a little more specific, my colleague's motion addresses these three aspects of our national identity and the image we project to the world.
Indeed, we are rich in water resources. We have about one million lakes in Canada. I say “about” because if you ask a scientist, he or she will say that it is impossible to accurately estimate the number of lakes we have in Canada, for a variety of technical reasons. We can say, for the sake of argument, that there are about 1 million lakes in Canada, and I would say that about 250,000 of them are in Quebec. This issue is of concern to many Canadians, since we have such a large number of lakes.
As my colleague and the Conservative member mentioned, navigation is an exclusively federal responsibility under the Constitution. We have built companies around recreational products for use on lakes and waterways in Canada, much like we have done for snow-related activities.
I believe that Bombardier may have moved away from that, but for years the company sold motorized recreational vehicles that were used on our lakes in Quebec, Canada and elsewhere. Clearly, this motion is very relevant.
Canadian society is constantly changing and evolving, even though our Constitution is very difficult to amend. I do not believe that my colleague is asking for a constitutional amendment to make navigation an area of provincial jurisdiction. However, even though our Constitution is relatively unchangeable, we need to find ways to work within its boundaries so that we have some flexibility. As I said, society is evolving, technologically, economically and in terms of democratic values.
There was a time when there were no motorized boats. It was not a challenge to limit navigation activities on lakes. There were rowboats and there were canoes. The problem did not exist.
Now we have a whole array of motorized vessels that people can buy for their enjoyment, sometimes at their summer home. That is a major shift that requires subsequent changes in order to manage conflicts that could arise between individuals. Some people enjoy boating or using other motorized vehicles. Some people go to their summer home, or live in the area, and enjoy having a place to relax and find a bit of peace and quiet, especially in a world that is always on the go and where some people work 60 hours a week. There are conflicts, and a balance must be found.
Our democratic values have also evolved. A few years ago, people did not think they had the right to influence this kind of decision, such as creating navigation restrictions for our lakes. There was a time when people would say that it was the government's job and that we, in Ottawa, had the power and the responsibility, and that people had nothing to say about the whole thing. We had to live with what we were told in terms of regulations and legislation. That is no longer the case. Nowadays, young people want to have their say. They want to be able to influence what is going on in their communities, even if the federal government, in Ottawa, ultimately has the jurisdiction. People want to have their say.
Based on what I have read about the motion, it seems as though the process to change navigation restrictions is rather cumbersome. It might make sense to find ways to improve and streamline this process to enable citizens—the people who live on these lakes, whether it is a primary or secondary residence—to influence what is going on in their communities. Maybe we could eventually find a better way for this to happen. As soon as we start talking about the duty to consult, things get complicated, especially when a lot of stakeholders have to be consulted: municipalities, associations, outfitters or marinas.
It gets complicated. There may not be a way around the problem, but we have to try. My colleague had the courage to suggest that we do something.
Mr. Speaker, it is a known fact that the NDP leader is desperately trying to keep the separatists in his party. Only, last week, he let one slip to go to join the separatist Bloc Québécois.
However, this should come as no surprise. After all, the member for Hull—Aylmer was a member of the Bloc before she joined the NDP; the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie donated 29 times to Québec solidaire, even in 2012; and the member for Laurentides—Labelle has supported the Bloc in the past. In fact, the NDP has more Bloc MPs than the Bloc has MPs.
Unlike the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, we are not interested in reopening old constitutional battles. While the Bloc and the NDP are focused on trying to make it easier to split our country apart, our government remains focused on jobs and economic growth.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle for his comments and his question.
If he wishes to talk about dead ends, then he will have to speak about the bill introduced by his own colleague from Toronto—Danforth, Bill C-470, to abolish the Clarity Act and thereby lead Canadians and francophones outside Quebec to think that our country could be split by a simple 50%+1 majority.
If he wants to talk about dead ends, then he should talk about his own motion—the NDP motion—which we have been discussing all day, about abolishing the Senate. The NDP, which claims to care so deeply about unemployment, young people and the environment, has decided to talk constitutional nonsense today. The motion may be welcomed by some, but New Democrats know very well that it will never see the light of day. The NDP might think that it could happen, but it is constitutionally impossible.
Order, please. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle is rising on a point of order.
I would like to remind hon. members to address their questions and comments to the Speaker, not directly to other members.
There is enough time left for a brief question. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle has five minutes.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle. I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 5:30 p.m., in five minutes, to call a vote.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île who gave, not only a passionate discussion of the issue, but also a very thoughtful one. I congratulate my colleague from Vancouver Quadra for her statements this morning, as well as the member for Laurentides—Labelle and the speech from the member for Scarborough—Rouge River which I had a chance to listen to yesterday.
I have also had a chance to listen to the interventions from the minister who took some exception to some of the statements made in the House and insisted that what Canada was doing was in the finest traditions of Canadian respect for the law. I want to take some time to ask how the minister can actually say that in good conscience.
He said that after the arrival of the boat from Sri Lanka, polls showed that the Canadian public wanted to refuse people all right of entry and that this measure was very modest in comparison to what the public were demanding.
I have the advantage of having been around for quite a while and I was present in the House during the debate on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was present in the House when we voted in favour of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think I am correct in saying that I am the only member here who can point to that. That debate focused on the question of what we should do to protect to minorities even when it is unpopular, because at that moment we were reflecting on our history as a country.
We were reflecting on the fact that if a poll were taken on the decision of the government of the day, which was a Liberal government, supported strongly by the official opposition, the Conservative Party at the time, to intern Japanese Canadians without trial, without right of appeal, simply on the basis of their race and on the basis of the minister having designated someone as a person of Japanese origin and who, therefore, would be incarcerated. If we had taken a poll that would have been very popular.
Is this something where we hold a finger in our mouth and hold up the finger to see which way the wind is blowing? That is not the issue here. This is an issue about the substance of Canadian law, the process that we must follow as a country in order to uphold our obligations to ourselves under the charter and our obligations to other countries. I will go back to the basics. i will use the words of my good friend from Crowfoot, the former chair of the House foreign affairs committee, with whom I had the great pleasure of working for a period of time. He said that everybody was an asylum seeker, that they are not necessarily a refugee. That is correct.
However, this law would give the minister the power, in effect, the obligation, to designate someone in a particular category so that person would be treated differently than another asylum seeker who is also claiming refugee status. The minister uses his power to designate an individual and, as a result of that power, that person is put in detention. That separates out different kinds of refugees depending on the circumstances under which he or she comes to Canada.
Let us be clear: the popularity of the bill is not the issue here. The Conservatives are telling us that they are concerned about the economy, but that is not evident in the debate. They are addressing the issue of refugees and introducing crime bills. The Reform Party is still there; it has not disappeared. The name of the party has changed, but the Conservatives have not changed their stripes. They are not concerned about the economy. They are concerned about something else.
For us, the issue is very clear: is it legal for the government to treat people who are trying to obtain refugee status differently, based on the way in which they arrive in Canada? I do not think that that is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter clearly states that everyone has the same rights and must be treated the same way. People cannot be treated differently based on the way in which they arrived in Canada, because this can be unfair to an individual.
Let us take our responsibility as members seriously. If the government were serious about this, it would refer the legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada. It would say that reasonable people, and that includes about every law professor and a former chair of the Immigration Appeal Board who I spoken to, have said that they do not consider this goes outside the framework of the law.
However, the government has chosen not to do that. It has not changed the legislation. It is the same bill it produced the last time the House would not have passed in its formation at that time, because the government did not have a majority. Now that it has a majority, it has said that it will go ahead and push the law forward.
For the members opposite, let me clearly make the position of the Liberal Party. We do not care whether the legislation is popular or not. The question is whether it is legal, constitutional and, therefore, the right thing to do.
I probably have spent as much time as anyone, with very few exceptions, particularly my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River who has lived with this issue, looking at the situation in Sri Lanka. If the government were to say that it wants to get tough on the people who are smuggling, we would say that smuggling is already illegal, that it is already against the law. It is not as if we have no legal structure in our country to deal with people trafficking in persons. It is not as if we have no laws to deal with this question. It is not as if we do not have the ability, if we can get the proof, to actually arrest people, charge people and have a trial. However, the purpose of the legislation, and the minister said it yesterday, is to ensure that people who might consider trying to come to Canada under these circumstances think long and hard before they do it.
Therefore, contrary to what the Conservative member from Musquodoboit said earlier, this is not about treating people who come by this means more fairly, which was an absurd argument, This is about actually discriminating against people who were coming in this circumstance.
The government may win all kinds of kudos from people who say that this is right on, that we should lock those people up and throw away the key. Frankly, it is important for a political party to say that this is not the issue here. The issue here is the law of Canada, which includes the charter, which is the Constitution of Canada, and that is the weakness of this bill. I can take members hammer and tongs through every piece of sentence in this law and say that, in its most simple form, it creates two classes of refugees. If people come by plane, they are one class. If they come by car, they are in another class. However, if they come in a boat, we do not want to have anything to do with them. That is wrong. Like cases, people who are applying for refugee status, should be treated fairly and squarely, according to the fundamental principles of Canadian justice.
Order, please. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle must have sufficient time to answer.
Mr. Speaker, ironically, 14 years ago I took part in this same debate, but there were significant differences: after two weeks of strike action by Canada Post postal workers, the Liberal government of the day wanted to introduce back-to-work legislation. That is obviously when an arbitrator is appointed. However, unlike what we are seeing today, the arbitrator spoke to both the employer and the union. A binding agreement was reached. Having an arbitrator makes the decision binding. It ends the strike and people return to work.
I would say, for the benefit of the thousands of people watching us on television, that a number of things are going to happen today. First, since the government has a majority, it will not matter who tears their shirt over this; the bill will pass. Then, the official opposition will tear its shirt and engage in what we call a filibuster: it will take all the time in the world in order to look good to the workers and the union. The opposition will have done its job, but the bill will pass nonetheless.
I think we must take this opportunity to help people understand what is really happening and how dangerous this bill is. This tactic is often used by this government. It is important to remember that we are not just talking about Canada Post. The government showed its true colours in the case of Air Canada; in less than 24 hours, the government was ready to introduce a bill. It was a warning. That means that, as of now, the government no longer believes in bargaining power. The government no longer believes that employees and unions can sit down and talk with management. The government is on management's side and that is that. There are no more collective rights.
What is troubling is the way this bill is being introduced. I want to talk today about respect because, as the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle said earlier, the government is also starting to label: unions are bad and management is good. The bad guys are the greedy employees who have a very big collective agreement and who, when it comes right down to it, are well paid. Does the government need that? Now, it is going to try to make the public believe that this bill is important because some people are losing a lot of money and others are not receiving their cheques, etc.
Can we put things into perspective? The Liberal Party believes that we must take a pragmatic approach. Yes, it is true that Canada Post is an essential service and is linked to an economic reality. However, it is also important to understand that, unlike 14 years ago when the strike lasted two weeks, this time the workers were not on a general strike but, rather, a rotating strike. Service was still being provided. It was the employer itself that decided to reduce the number of days that the mail would be delivered: three days a week rather than five. In addition, according to the union—and this information must still be verified—a little bit of mail was being set aside. This made it more difficult to deliver all the mail. Then, after 12 days, Canada Post declared a lockout.
The problem is that Canada Post is owned by the government . It is a crown corporation. I refuse to believe that the Minister of Labour was not speaking directly to Canada Post's management. In summary, this whole situation does not really hold water.
The Canadian public must understand that, yes, the mail is an essential service; yes, the mail must be delivered; yes, there are economic considerations, particularly in rural regions. We understand all that.
To demonstrate the good faith of the Canada Post workers, I note that some people were to receive their cheques last week. They received them because the postal workers did deliver social assistance cheques, for example, and cheques for seniors. That shows that there is some element of good faith in this situation.
What exasperates me in this kind of debate is that everything is black or white. Unfortunately, the NDP is dogmatic, with its all or nothing approach. We heard the member for Acadie—Bathurst who was fit to be tied. We are also fit to be tied, but he should watch his blood pressure.
Even on the Conservative side, just now, there was a member who did not understand that in the Canada Labour Code there is a right to stage rotating strikes. Things are not going well.
That is why this debate is important: people have to understand how things work.
What I find even more disrespectful, as a Quebecker and a French Canadian, is that with the NDP's symbolic obstruction and the way the Conservative Party is proceeding, it has been decided that even though June 24 is the national holiday of Quebec, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, we are going to sit anyway. The national holiday is being treated as something of no importance. I agree with the Bloc, as I mentioned this morning, that we could have adjourned. If we believe Quebec is a nation, we should respect the Quebec nation. I do not see why we would sit on that day. In any event, let us not panic; on the 24th, there is no mail delivery in Quebec, and so we would not have received any, in any event. At some point, we have to have some principles.
That being said, it is unfortunate to see a bill offering employees a lower wage than what the employer had offered in the first place. We have an arbitrator who is essentially being held by the throat and told what he has to impose, how he is going to achieve it, that it is either the employer’s package or the union’s package. The way things are working, I would find it very surprising if the union’s package were accepted. We are on a very slippery slope in Canada. At some point, the issue is one of rights and values.
Certainly if there had been a general strike for two weeks in the same circumstances as the strike 14 years ago, the situation would be different. After two weeks of a general strike, the bill could have given the arbitrator some latitude and the binding authority to look at both sides of the coin and pick some things from each side. When there is an arbitrator, there are losers on both sides, the employer’s and the union’s. I have seen enough examples in my lifetime to know that. But in this case we get the clear impression that the dice are loaded.
I think it is really very sad that we find ourselves in this situation. The government is going to try to tell us how awful it was during the Liberals’ time, and that this government believes in the economy. We believe in the economy too. In 1993, when we took power, the Conservatives had left us with a $42 billion deficit, and we balanced the books, as my former leader Jean Chrétien said. And now we have another deficit.
It is odd; Canada Post is earning a profit. They cannot pick and choose. The hot topic concerning the economy this fall will be the future of pension plans for those who have them. Look at what is going on with the City of Montreal and others. All collective agreements are being reopened. There is something going on with pension plans. Furthermore, young people are entering the labour market. They will notice they do not have the same working conditions and will perhaps not have any pension plan.
Bullying tactics, like the action being forced down our throats, will not solve anything. They are simply sweeping things under the rug. It looks good, people return to work, but the problems will still be there. The government could have been more creative and respectful of collective rights, while still respecting individual rights, by creating appropriate legislation. I hope that the minister will want to make some amendments.
As a member from Quebec, I will not be here on June 24. If we are still sitting on June 25, I will be happy to return, but out of respect for Quebeckers and French Canadians, I will not be here on June 24. If there is something on the 25, we will be here. We believe that we must have just as much respect for French Canadians and Quebeckers as for workers.
The Liberal Party has a pragmatic approach. I congratulate and thank my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso, our labour critic. He has shown how different our approach was compared to the NDP's and the Conservatives'. At some point, any government, regardless of the political party, will introduce back-to-work legislation. There must be a balance to help the general public, but we must not ignore the fact that workers also have rights and that, above all, they deserve decent working conditions.
The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle has less than a minute to answer.
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-288, which was introduced by my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle and introduces a tax credit for new graduates working in regions facing economic challenges, has been before the Senate for almost nine months. However, the bill is being completely blocked and its study is constantly being postponed because of pressure from the Conservative government, which opposes Bill C-288.
Students from the FEUQ and the FECQ are on the Hill today to condemn this situation. At a press scrum over the noon hour, they condemned the attitude of the Prime Minister, who is playing party politics and going against the democratic will of the members of this House who want the Senate to examine Bill C-288.
The Prime Minister is trying to dictate each and every issue that the Senate examines, and this only emphasizes its partisanship, even though he himself promised to put an end to it. Is there a single Conservative member from Quebec who will have the courage to stand up and condemn this situation?
I am now prepared to rule on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010 concerning allegedly misleading statements by the Minister of International Cooperation and the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, the member for Kootenay—Columbia.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the members for Kootenay—Columbia, Guelph, Laurentides—Labelle, Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, Toronto Centre, Ottawa Centre and Scarborough—Rouge River for their interventions.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood charged that the Minister of International Cooperation and her former parliamentary secretary made statements in the House that were deliberately misleading with regard to who had been responsible for a government decision to reject a funding proposal for the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, known as KAIROS.
He measured those statements against a response to a written question, testimony in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request. Guided by Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, Third Edition at pages 653-4, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood stated at page 7,144 of Debates:
In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.
In response, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia apologized for his statement, made in the House on March 15, 2010, that “CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities”. He characterized his statement as a mistake and that he had not known that it was misleading and concluded that he had not intended to mislead the House. I thank him for his timely apology, and I consider any allegations against him to have been satisfactorily addressed.
For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader maintained that the matter was not one of privilege but rather of debate as to the facts. As to the proceedings of the standing committee referred to, the parliamentary secretary emphasized that as no report had been made to the House on this matter, it would be inappropriate for the Chair to take note of those proceedings.
In a ruling I gave on January 31, 2008, I stated at page 2,435 of Debates:
...before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.
For the question of privilege now before us, the Chair is, in essence, being asked to assess the accuracy of the minister's answers to questions in the House. In any such circumstance, it has been well established over time that the Speaker has a limited authority. House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 510 clearly explains it by stating:
The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
It was based on this practice of ours that, on January 31, 2008, at page 2435 of Debates, I stated:
...any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge.
This is not to say, however, that there are not circumstances when the Chair could determine, given the proper evidence, that statements made to the House have indeed breached the privileges of the House. In fact, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood neatly laid out the standard of proof that would be required to demonstrate that the House has been deliberately misled.
It was with these principles in mind and ultimately the need to determine that there was intent to mislead that I undertook to review all of the evidence that could be taken into consideration in this case. Again, however, the Chair was limited in its ability to act on the full range of that review since much of the proceedings referred to in member's submissions were never officially placed in the hands of the House. The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader was not mistaken in his assertion that any and all statements made in committee, even when those have been repeated verbatim in the House, remain the business of the committee until such time as it elects to report them officially to the House. This is a long-standing practice and I would refer members to a ruling I made on June 14, 2010, at page 3778 of Debates, where I stated:
...if there are issues about the proceedings in the committee, it is incumbent upon the committee itself to deal with them and, should it deem it necessary, to report to the House on the matter.
Furthermore, while a copy of an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request was provided to me, it was not tabled in the House and, thus, is not officially before it.
As a result, in this particular circumstance, the Chair has been left in a delicate position.
As noted earlier, the Chair reviewed all the documents available. In doing so, to fully grasp the allegations being made, particular attention was paid to the committee testimony of the minister and senior CIDA officials and to the internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request made available to me by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood. The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
However, despite the obvious frustration expressed by many of the members who have intervened in this case and the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House. With regard to statements made by the minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.
In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind and in the absence of a committee report on this matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that she believed them to be misleading or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the minister deliberately misled the House and, therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
The electoral district of Laurentides--Labelle (Quebec) has a population of 105,884 with 88,692 registered voters and 252 polling divisions.
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