Mr. Speaker, how exciting.
At the outset, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with my friend and colleague, the wonderful member for Laval—Les Îles.
Mr. Speaker, I like the phrase “bumper sticker justice” that my colleague from Gatineau came up with. That is exactly what we have here. I will support the bill because it does clarify an existing practice of the Parole Board, but it is such a narrow bill that it is hard to wrap one's head around it.
I have two concerns with it, and first is the title. We have been talking about the “bumper sticker” title. The bill is not going to make our prisons drug free. I think there has to be some kind of procedural way to prevent having bills named in a way that is clearly not in line with what the bill actually does. I would look to you, Mr. Speaker, for an answer on that.
It is an extremely misleading name for the bill. As my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca pointed out earlier, the title is there for political reasons rather than for sound policy.
The second problem I have with the bill is that it has profoundly little impact in the scheme of things. While it does formalize existing practices, it is not actually going to do anything about drugs or addictions in the prison system. It is not exactly a revolutionary idea that we are dealing with here; it is standard practice. Do I think that prisons will be drug free once the bill is passed? No. Do I think we are going to see a reduction in drug use? No. Do I think we are going to see safer prisons or reduced crime? No.
I am not alone in thinking this. First of all, when we look at zero-tolerance drug policy, we have heard my colleagues say this is an aspirational policy rather than an effective policy response to improved prison safety. If we look at the annual report of the Correctional Investigator for 2011-2012, the report said, “Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization”.
The bill does nothing to deal with drugs in prisons in real terms and it also does not deal with the myriad of other problems we have in the prison system, such as overcrowding or the fact that we are not engaging in real, substantive rehabilitation anymore.
The Conservative tough-on-crime agenda is not working. It is not tough on crime; it is pretty stupid on crime. If we are going to seriously tackle crime in our communities and safety in prisons, we need to leave behind this outdated tough-on-crime mantra and mentality. We need to look at smart justice and abandoning that old way of thinking, which is about applying simplistic solutions to really complex issues. It has not brought us very far.
We have heard in the House that since 2008 the Conservative government has spent $122 million on tools to try to stop drugs from entering the Canadian prison system. Members have heard it before, but it is worth pointing out again: this is vastly more money than exists for addiction and treatment services, and I would look to my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I think it is at around half. It is incredible that we are spending that much more money than we are spending on addiction and treatment services.
That $122 million is a lot of money, and it also sounds impressive, so we have to ask ourselves whether it is working. Is it actually doing anything? I do not think so. I think this continues the failed approach to justice.
We are seeing our prison population grow by about 5% a year. By March 2014, the Correctional Investigator estimates that with new legislation there will be over 18,600 inmates in our prisons. This is the highest number in Canadian history. It is unbelievable that we keep adding to the number of people we are putting in prison, when at the same time, looking at Statistics Canada numbers, in 2012 we reported the lowest crime rate in our country since 1972.
The former minister of public safety said that unreported crime was increasing. How do we know that? It is unreported. That is ridiculous. The crime rate and the severity of crime have been falling since 1991, but the number of people incarcerated—I am not talking about people charged or going through diversion programs, but incarcerated—and the length of incarceration are increasing with mandatory minimum sentencing and other government initiatives.
More people in our prisons obviously leads to increased double-bunking, which frankly leads to increased violence and increased gang activity. I know I would be angry if I were double-bunked. In addition, the majority of these people who are incarcerated suffer from mental illness and addiction. To add to that, we have lists of at least several thousand people who are waiting in line for addiction treatment rather than receiving it. We have had cuts to funding for support and treatment programs. It is backward logic.
We need to start looking at a smart justice approach on how we deal with these issues. Putting more people in prison while overcrowding them and cutting funding for harm reduction programs does not make any sense. These measures are damaging for rehabilitating people who have been incarcerated.
An article in The Kingston Whig-Standard in 2012, entitled “Sentenced to suffering”, said, “Addiction to drugs or alcohol, a history of physical or sexual abuse and previous attempts to harm themselves often follow inmates through the doors of a penitentiary”.
Why would we not act on those issues? Why would we not have a bill that does something to deal with these issues versus bumper sticker justice, saying that we are keeping drugs out of prisons when in fact we are not? The reality of the situation is that we can lock people up, but we cannot close the doors on these social issues that will inevitably affect individuals during the time they are incarcerated and afterward if they do not get the treatment and support they need.
The focus is on punishment and not on rehabilitation, which is overall more costly. When we do not focus on rehabilitation, it is also more dangerous for our communities. The key has to be rehabilitation. However, punishment is a much more splashy title than rehabilitation. It helps the Conservatives with their fundraising, and that is really what this is all about, is it not? Why else would they take a practice that is already happening, turn it into a bill that has nothing else in it, and wrap it up in a fuzzy title called “drug-free prisons act” when it will not actually lead to drug-free prisons?
Not one person on the other side could stand up in the House with a straight face and say that the bill would lead to drug-free prisons. That could be why we have seen such total and utter silence from the other side of the House. They are not standing up to defend the bill, to speak to it, to talk about whether it is good or bad. They are silent because they cannot stand up and say that this will lead to drug-free prisons, or even stand up and say that this will lead to slightly less drugs in prisons. It is enshrining a practice that already exists.
It is about scaring Canadians because I think fear is a powerful tool for keeping citizens in line. They are trying to scare us into Conservative submission. They are trying to scare us into donating to their fundraising campaigns.
We saw the same thing with Bill C-2, a bill limiting supervised injection sites. It flies in the face of a recent Supreme Court of Canada case. On that same day we saw a website launch saying “keep heroin out of our backyards”, showing an empty street and a needle and scary black and white photography.
It is not a call to action. It is not a call for the community to come together and solve the problem of intravenous drug use. It is to raise money. That is what this Bill C-12 is all about. That is why we have bumper sticker justice these days. It is a fundraising campaign.
Mr. Speaker, like the previous speaker, I want to sincerely thank the NDP member for Laval—Les Îles. I was the critic for seniors and pensions following the 2008 election. Jack Layton asked me to take on this file. I travelled over the next two and a half years to 57 town hall meetings across the country. I listened to seniors and heard stories about how difficult it was for them to get along in society. They had contributed to this society, but in many ways, they were excluded from the benefits of society.
Before I go further, a previous speaker for the Liberals, the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, talked about what the Liberals had done for seniors. I want to add a little more. Yes, the Liberals brought in OAS and CPP, but OAS was proposed to them by J.S. Woodsworth of the CCF, following the fact that on the Prairies, in those days, many farmers and their families were actually starving.
Again, in the 60s, in a minority situation in Parliament, Stanley Knowles, who was like the dean of this place, par excellence, brought forward the concept of the Canada pension plan. In both instances, we worked together to bring these forward.
I just thought it would be worth putting that on the record for people to hear to remind them of the participation and leadership shown by the CCF and the NDP in the House when it comes to seniors.
The member for Laval—Les Îles, who brought the bill forward, is actually moving forward on things we had in our 2011 platform.
I want to speak to a statement made in the House by a Conservative speaker about how they increased the guaranteed income supplement. Yes, they did do that, and we will give them some credit for that. However, in our proposals in the 2011 election, we proposed an increase of $200 a month for seniors on OAS and GIS who had a combined income of approximately $1,400 a month, just to bring some 300,000 of those folks to the poverty line.
I have spoken many times in this place of the hardships people face when they are on such a meagre income. Yes, the Conservatives brought in their $50 a month, but it is nowhere near what is needed to address the situation.
It has been stated by others in this place that it would benefit members to take the bill to committee to examine the pros and cons. If there are improvements we can make to the bill, that is the appropriate place to do that. However, we should think for a moment about the intent of the legislation.
The people I have spoken to and have listened to are in their senior years. I know that when members of their families pass away, and they are suddenly hit with $8,000 or $10,000 in costs, and for a number of reasons they have not set aside any money earmarked specifically for that but have perhaps put aside a little in an RRSP, to be able to take out $2,500 and put it toward that cost would take the edge off the stress during that time of loss.
It really needs to be stressed that it is not intended to do anything to replace the benefit from CPP, which some people are able to get.
There is another issue it is important to talk about. Some people who are on GIS have gotten part-time jobs and have earned a little money. The following year, after they have honestly filed their taxes and have brought that to the attention of the tax folks, their GIS has suddenly decreased. The provisions in the bill would ensure that this is not the case. In fact, their GIS would not go down, and they would not be penalized.
There is a reality, though. The bill says that the $2,500, when put to use, would have to have taxes paid on it. That is only fair to other Canadians.
Going back to the financial burden on seniors, oftentimes, when they have lost a lifelong mate, it is a burden. This is just a small way we can help these seniors deal with those times of trial.
Again, I spoke about the fact that in the 2011 election, my office and staff put together our platform on pensions and for seniors. I am very pleased to see the member for Laval—Les Îles bringing forward a concrete measure to this House in line with our thinking of that time.
I cannot say the same for the Conservatives. They are increasing the eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67, and adding another two years of burden on workers who perhaps works in a mine some place or as a waitress who has been on her feet all the time. I have had people actually say to me, “I do not know whether I can do it.”
I recall in my days at Bell Canada, there was a gentleman who worked to about 68 years of age. We were frightened every day, because he would go out and climb poles. He strapped spurs on his legs, and his legs were so spindly the spurs hardly even fit him properly. It was his choice to work that long. However, the government is saying, “You have reached 65 but you must work two more years” in either a hazardous job or one that is strain, like for the waitress. People just do not know how they are going to do this.
Some things are crucially important to seniors. We know how seniors tend to worry a bit more about some things in life, such as whether the kids in the neighbourhood are putting up too much graffiti. These things look larger to seniors. If the noise level of the party next door is too much, things like that bother them. We can imagine the feelings of loss of a family member, and then the additional sorting out of the finances. If this, in some small way, helps then I think it is well worthwhile.
Again, we are simply talking about sending this bill to committee to study. I look forward to our people from the NDP on that committee working with the government side. Perhaps there are ways to improve the legislation to make it better for seniors. We will be pleased to do that.
Some of the speakers on the government side today sounded somewhat reluctant. They have proposed some reasons why they have concerns about it. That is fair.
However, let us send it to committee so that it is studied properly. Experts can be brought in and we can look at this in a comprehensive fashion. Then, whatever comes back to the House will be as good a bill as we can possibly make it. I think it is a responsibility of all of us at committee. Sometimes we do not live up to that responsibility for a variety of reasons.
I want to stress that from those 57 town hall meetings that I attended, we brought notes back to my office and shared them with our colleagues. We set our agenda for the last election.
It also carries forward beyond that, because the problems that were there have not yet been addressed. For us, this is a continuation of ensuring that senior Canadians understand that they are a priority to the NDP. They should be a priority for this entire House.
There are some programs, like CPP or the Quebec pension plan, that have similar credits to this. Again, I want to stress this is not intended to compete with them in any way. It is intended for a very simple, direct purpose. It is to assist seniors in a time of need, both financially and emotionally.
I have brought up, a number of times in my remarks today, the importance of doing what we can to add peace to the life of seniors who have had a loss.
The electoral district of Laval--Les Îles (Quebec) has a population of 111,958 with 87,749 registered voters and 224 polling divisions.
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