Mr. Speaker, our whole objective in the budget is to continue the progress that we have made in creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for our country.
We heard from the opposition earlier. The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine talked about not having jobs in her area, and the member for Etobicoke North talked about youth unemployment in the country. We have looked at this and we have said that it is absolutely critical that we get these young people into jobs.
I am the very proud mother-in-law of a young man who has just finished his doctorate in electrical engineering and is looking to get into the job market now. I know that these infrastructure projects that we are investing in are going to create jobs for engineers and for construction companies, and trickle-down effects for the service companies.
I wonder if my colleague could talk about how these opportunities are going to impact his riding?
Order. The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine will have two minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has the floor for only two minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
It is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-4, the safer railways act. I would like to reiterate the comments I made this morning. Very often the opposition stands in the House and criticizes the government, as is our job to do and as is very often necessary in this place. However, it is also important to give credit where credit is due. I want to congratulate the government and the minister in particular on bringing forward a piece of legislation which is much needed, well crafted and will accomplish a great deal on railway safety in this country.
Our party's late leader, Jack Layton, used to talk about it being necessary to propose as often as oppose. The corollary to that is it is important to compliment and criticize when each is due.
The bill has been 20 years in the making. The reason the bill is in as good a shape as it is the approach that was used on this legislation. All Canadians would like to see more of that approach. The government sat down and consulted with industry, labour, and stakeholders of many different stripes. Government members sat in committee, listened to expert testimony and worked with the official opposition and all parties to make improvements to the legislation. Once again I want to thank the government and point out that its good work has resulted in a piece of legislation that is improved because of that approach. I might suggest that the government follow this procedure more often. I think it is something Canadians want to see.
The bill seeks to modify the Railway Safety Act to do a number of things. It improves the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport. It requires railway companies to obtain the safety-based railway operating certificate that indicates compliance with regulatory requirements.
The bill strengthens the department's enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing court-enforced penalties. It enhances the role of safety management systems by including a provision for the identification of a railway executive who would be legally responsible for safety, and a whistleblower protection system for employees of railway companies who raise safety concerns. I will talk about that very important aspect in a moment.
The bill clarifies the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters. It expands regulation-making authorities and clarifies the process for rule making by railway companies.
By way of background, Bill S-4 was introduced on October 6, 2011 in the Senate by the leader of the government there. Bill S-4 is virtually identical to former Bill C-33, which was introduced in the House of Commons during the third session of the 40th Parliament.
Bill C-33 was studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and was reported back to the House of Commons with amendments in March 2011. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper when the general election was called later that month.
The text of Bill S-4 incorporates the amendments adopted by the standing committee and otherwise differs from Bill C-33 only by the addition of one new paragraph and some minor changes in wording.
The bill was reported back to the Senate by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications with that one amendment in November 2011. The bill was sent back to this House where it received first reading in December of last year.
The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. The act sets out a regulatory framework for railways under federal jurisdiction to address matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada notes that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999 and operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly. Therefore, this bill is timely.
I mentioned earlier that labour supports the bill. I want to mention a couple of things which I think labour was instrumental in achieving.
Labour made several key important points.
It wanted to see better fatigue management. That aspect is addressed in the bill.
It wanted to see greater whistleblower protection. In particular, it wanted to see a process of non-punitive reporting whereby railway employees could report their safety concerns directly to Transport Canada and not to a company manager. If workers identified any defects or safety problems, they could without fear go directly to Transport Canada. There had been a problem. Some railway workers feared being disciplined. Some had been disciplined by companies for nothing more than reporting their safety concerns. This is a positive legislative change.
Some railway workers say that they do not want to rely on good luck and gravity for railway safety. They want to rely on careful attention to detail, and swift and accurate reporting of problems so that accidents do not occur and problems can be identified before something happens.
Bill Brehl, the president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, maintenance of way employees division, did stand-up work in pushing for the amendments to this bill and for the overall concept of railway safety to be included in the legislation. Rex Beatty, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, locomotive engineers, and Rob Smith, the national legislative director of that same body, also played pivotal roles in this piece of legislation.
This also shows how important it is to involve experts and Canadians from coast to coast, to bring to bear in this House their experience, knowledge and expertise. It helps make better legislation. This will make life safer not only for all Canadians, but for the thousands of women and men who work every day on the trains, tracks and rolling stock to keep them in shape.
There are some areas that need improvement. At-grade crossings are a problem in this country. Greater control of trespassing is still a problem which I do not think this bill fully addresses. The issue of track and metal fatigue is not fully addressed by the bill.
In terms of at-grade crossings, approximately 100 people per year are killed in railway accidents. Accidents happen frequently at the at-grade crossings. There are several ways to address this. We could raise the crossings, which is an expensive but effective way to go. We could bring in an automatic train stopping mechanism, as Sweden has done. There are automatic metal detectors and if a vehicle is on the tracks at an at-grade crossing, the train will automatically slow and stop in advance. That is something I would encourage the government to look at and implement as soon as possible.
With respect to trespassing, we need to fence off tracks especially in urban areas, which are places of death and injury. People trespass and get on the tracks, even though they should not.
Last, in terms of track maintenance and metal fatigue, there is no requirement to establish the fatigue life of rails. There are no common industry standards for rail life based on tonnage, defects or steel quality. For a country that relies so heavily on rail, we should be ensuring that we have state of the art world-class standards in this area. We can do more and better in this area.
In 2005 there was a derailment of a train near Wabamun Lake in Alberta. A report pointed out that the railway track safety rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there any common industry standards for rail life based on the state of the metal used on the tracks. A clear recommendation of the Transportation Safety Board was to establish those standards to ensure that the tracks upon which our trains roll are in the best shape possible.
I would like to conclude by thanking members of the committee on all sides of the House, and in particular the good work of our member for Western Arctic. He did such great work in pushing productively, proactively and in a non-partisan way for greater standards in the act.
I congratulate the government on bringing forward a piece of legislation that has the support of all parties of the House. It is a testament to a non-partisan, co-operative way of working together to get the job done which results in good legislation that every Canadian wants to see.
Madam Speaker, I regret the fact the mover of the bill gets the last five minutes and ends up taking time from the last speaker. I certainly appreciate the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine's comments, and I will say a little more about them later.
I want to talk about some of the other comments we heard today. I am really grateful for the support of all members, as I am sure Cassidy Megan is as well, the young lady from my riding of Halifax West, who was spoken of so often today.
I enjoyed all of the speeches today. My colleague from Kingston and the Islands spoke of a young woman from his riding who came to him to talk about this issue. For her it was an issue of overcoming the stigma of having seizures and people's reactions to, and lack of understanding of, them. He, like all of us, I think, has learned more about epilepsy from hearing about it and speaking on this topic.
My colleague from Oshawa, the parliamentary secretary for health, spoke very touchingly about his personal experience with epilepsy, because he has petit mal epilepsy. He also spoke of a person he talked to who had lost friends because of their seizures when he was a kid and who talked of the impact of that. Imagine what that would be like, how awful that would be for a young person.
I also appreciated the comments made by the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas, who spoke about the importance of making people aware of epilepsy and how it works.
I also thought that my colleague from Vegreville—Wainwright spoke very touchingly and powerfully. He said that greater awareness, we hope, will lead to greater action, greater government action, greater action from all of us. That is very much the idea of this bill. He also talked about the personal experience of his own child and the isolation that she has sometimes felt because of a hearing impairment. I appreciate that, as looking forward to his motion on MS, which I congratulate him for moving.
The member for Pontiac spoke about the difficult situation that people with epilepsy are in and of the lack of resources and support. He also spoke about the discrimination and stigmatization that they face.
The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said let us not turn our backs on the 300,000 Canadians living with epilepsy. It is valuable for us to be reminded of how many Canadians actually are affected by this and what it can mean for all of them.
I want to close, though, with my thoughts and my appreciation of all members, but particularly to Cassidy Megan, the young girl who started all this, of whom I am so proud. This means a great deal to all of us and I look forward to this bill succeeding and I appreciate the support of members.
Before I recognize the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, I would like to inform her that she will have only three minutes to make a few remarks.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
We have heard a great deal today about the OAS, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that just this past June, we all made a commitment to lift every senior out of poverty. To date, the government has taken no action on that NDP motion and has demonstrated complete disregard for seniors living in poverty in Canada. The Conservatives have touted tax breaks and income splitting but neither of those helps those in this country living in or near the poverty line. Tax breaks do not help the poor because their incomes are too low to benefit from any tax break.
Now the government is shifting gears. Instead of ignoring the poor, it is making suggestions that the poor should be the ones to pay for the financial mismanagement of the Conservative government. By suggesting cuts or other such changes to the OAS, the government is chipping away at the security of seniors in this country. Asking the poor to pay while giving tax breaks to the rich is despicable, unacceptable and unfathomable. The rumblings of changes to the OAS show complete disregard for the motion passed unanimously in this House last June. The government is well aware that the OAS and GIS are critical to keeping seniors above the poverty line. The government's own responses to the petitions calling on the Conservatives to end seniors' poverty trumpet how successful the OAS and GIS have been in reducing the levels of poverty among our seniors. I do not understand why the Conservatives are trying to create more challenges. Clearly, they do not even believe their own rhetoric.
Over the past couple of weeks, as the NDP seniors critic I have received many emails and letters from seniors across the country reacting to the Prime Minister's suggestion that there may be changes to old age security. People are outraged and insulted, but most of all they are terrified of what the future may hold.
I have heard from seniors living at the poverty line, who are wondering how on earth they will make their monthly payments and afford to buy food if their OAS is cut. Seniors have shared their fear that they may have to return to work but they have no idea what kind of job they would do. They have no skills for some of the jobs out there.
I heard from Nortel workers who have not only lost their jobs but also lost significant portions of their pensions and are relying on the OAS when they turn 65 just to make ends meet.
People wrote to me concerned about how this would impact first nations who already live in some of the worst living conditions in Canada. How can they be expected to take yet another hit?
I heard from seniors who have been forced to sell their homes because they do not have the money to keep them. They cannot keep their homes because of the reality of retirement.
Our seniors are worried that any changes to the OAS would push them over the edge into poverty.
I heard from one senior who was actually forced to move to the country, far from friends and neighbours, because he could not afford to live in the city on his meagre pension. For rural seniors, finding work is not an option. Unemployment is high and competition is fierce for the few available jobs, which are often seasonal. Services for seniors are reduced in rural areas, further adding to the burden of making ends meet. Changes to the OAS would be doubly detrimental to them.
People have carefully tried to plan for retirement at age 65. Making changes to the GIS now would have a significant and negative impact on their lives.
Many of those with health problems are already struggling to keep working until they reach age 65. If the government plans to raise the age of receipt of OAS to 67, this would be a significant burden, in particular for those with little CPP or other pension savings and who are forced to rely on OAS and GIS. The people who rely on OAS are for the most part those who have struggled their whole lives. The reason they have not saved is that there is no money to save: every penny has been spent on the necessities of life, in raising kids and getting by.
I had people point out in no uncertain terms that changes to the OAS should have been brought up during the election.
What is proposed by the government is a future that is bleak for retirees. How can the Conservatives pretend, just eight months after the last election, that they were taken by surprise by this so-called crisis in the funding of OAS? The scramble that followed the announcement at Davos and the suggestion that changes will be a few years down the road and seniors now will not be affected is a tactic that will divide future and current seniors.
I also have letters from younger people in their forties and fifties who are concerned about what access to OAS they may have when they are ready to retire. They are afraid for their retirement and they see that the government is looking to divide Canadians.
The politics of division will not work this time. People have written to me and have pointed out the economic benefit of the OAS to all of society. Seniors on OAS spend all of their money in their neighbourhoods. That is money we invested in our economy. OAS is not a burden on the economy. It is an investment in our economy.
A constituent in my riding of London—Fanshawe has called the government and its actions an abusive act on the average working person. I could not agree more.
I wish to be very clear. The money for OAS is readily available. We have the money to lift seniors out of poverty in the present and the money to address additional expenses the government will face in the future as our population continues to age.
Instead of investing in Canada, the Conservatives chose to saddle the treasury and Canadians with corporation tax giveaways that will not create and have not created a single new job.
Seniors represent one of the fastest growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from about 4.2 million to 9.8 million from 2005 to 2036. With so many more people retiring in the years to come, we need to have the social safety net in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty in the future.
The current government is clearly making the wrong decisions regarding how to care for the increased number of seniors in 2036 and its plan falls far short of what we really need.
We need investment in home care and in pharmacare, increased access to resources, appropriate and affordable housing and investment in geriatric studies. Investment in our communities and in our families are essential.
Our actions now will have an impact on how we treat our seniors in the future. If we fail to invest and make plans for and aging population, it is our own retirement that will be in jeopardy. Future seniors will not have the choice to age in their homes and will not have access to the care that they need. The concerns for the future are very real.
Today, only 38.5% of Canadian workers have workplace pensions and nearly one-third have no retirement savings at all. More than 3.5 million Canadians are not saving enough in RRSPs for what used to be called their “golden years” and 75% of workers are not even participating in a registered pension plan.
Clearly, the notion that retirement savings can adequately account for retirement through purchases of RRSPs does not work and urgent government action is needed.
It should further be noted that private retirement savings are concentrated in a small percentage of families. According to Statistics Canada, 25% of families hold 84% of these assets, while three out of ten families have no private pensions at all.
In total, more than a quarter of million seniors live below the poverty line and, since the mid-1990s, incomes of seniors have reached a ceiling. Now there is a significant gap. Seniors' incomes have increased by about $4,100 while other Canadian households' incomes increased by $9,000. The situation is even more pronounced among seniors living alone.
Seniors have worked hard all their lives, have played by the rules and now they simply want access to the programs and services that their hard-earned tax dollars helped to build. They saved that money, made that money available and now they demand that it be made available to them in their time of need.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
moved that Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents of Dufferin—Caledon to open the debate on my private member's bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code, which is mischief related to war memorials.
The bill seeks to add significant penalties for anyone convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other structure honouring or remembering those who have served in our armed forces and those who have died as a consequence of war. The timing of this debate is particularly significant, given that we pause to honour our fallen and our veterans next week on Remembrance Day.
Vandalism and defacement of a war memorial should not be tolerated in our great country. It is a duty of every Canadian citizen to respect those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. For those who do not share the same revered respect for members of our armed forces, there must be punishment.
Bill C-217 would amend the Criminal Code to make a conviction punishable by a fine of not less than $1,000 on a first offence, imprisonment of not less than 14 days on a second offence and imprisonment of not less than 30 days on subsequent offences. Unfortunately, I feel these increased measures are necessary due to the increased amount of mischief against Canada's cenotaphs and monuments.
In November 2008 in my constituency of Dufferin—Caledon, a cenotaph was desecrated within a week of its rededication. The town of Orangeville, the community where the cenotaph is located, spent nearly $2,000 repairing the newly restored monument just days before the annual Remembrance Day services.
Regrettably this is not the only case of mischief against cenotaphs and monuments. This type of vandalism occurs all over the country and it is for the 41st Parliament to take action. It is most concerning that in the past few years there have been numerous incidents of war memorial vandalism across the country. It is time to take a stand against this desecration of our sacred memorials and punish those responsible for this type of destruction.
Bill C-217 would place stiffer penalties on the vandalism of war memorials and hopefully force potential vandals to seriously reconsider defacing these important Canadian symbols of pride and honour. By allowing the Criminal Code to remain unchanged, we are doing a disservice to all those who have served in our wars and to all those who have sacrificed their lives so that our great country may remain free. The desecration of our war memorials must not continue. Vandals must face a harsher punishment to ensure that they will think twice before committing this type of violation.
The following are some examples of this.
In Kirkland Lake a teenager was charged with urinating on the Memorial Wall, but was able to attend a diversion program to allow the mischief charge to be dropped.
In Ottawa, our nation's capital, a man was found urinating on the National War Memorial on Canada Day. The charge was withdrawn after the culprit issued a written apology to Canadian veterans, completed community service and donated a mere $200 to charity. After this unacceptable conduct, this criminal did not even have a mischief charge against him. This is simply unacceptable.
It is obvious that these vandals do not think about what they are doing and have not thought about the blatant disrespect they display for these memorials. We must give them something to think about. Significant fines and weeks of imprisonment will complete this objective in a way that simple apology letters and deferment programs do not.
Canadian citizens should be proud of their history and remain proud of the monuments honouring those who have given their lives so that we may remain free and not fearful that their monuments will be desecrated by thoughtless individuals.
In Toronto vandals hooked up a chain to a concrete cross and using an all-terrain vehicle, pulled it from its perch on a cenotaph. This was the second time the cross had been stolen in less than a year.
A very disturbing story was someone in Beamsville broke into the Konkle Mausoleum and empted an urn of ashes onto the ground. Though three people are buried in the mausoleum, it is likely that the ashes belonged to a War of 1812 veteran.
In Waterloo police arrested three young people, ranging in age from 12 to 18, who were responsible for toppling between 300 and 400 graves, many of which were graves of war veterans.
We have heard of multiple cases in which our cherished war memorials and cenotaphs have been vandalized and disrespected. We must discourage such behaviour. Explicit punishments must be written into the Criminal Code for mischievous conduct to address these atrocious crimes. We have a duty to protect the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may continue to live freely in our great country. These memorials and what they represent command our utmost respect and efforts to preserve and protect them. Canadian citizens also deserve to know that conduct as this will not be tolerated in any way.
In a most disturbing case, on the morning of this past September 25, a Canadian Forces veteran who served in Afghanistan discovered fresh sprayed-painted graffiti tags on the monument at Girouard Park on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine neighbourhood. This was the second time in less than 18 months this beautiful monument had been defaced. What a slap in the face for the Canadian Forces member to have been the one to discover such disrespect. City workers later had to remove the offending graffiti at a cost of several thousand dollars.
Our country's bravest deserve much better. They have fought and died for our country and, therefore, deserve our utmost respect. We have an obligation to protect and preserve their dignity. Canadians as a whole deserve to know that we take our war memorials seriously and that we understand the significance they embody.
It is time for Parliament to take a stand against mischief relating to war memorials. The use of fines and imprisonment will convey this message to those who appear to have no respect for our armed forces' veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Anyone who wilfully damages or desecrates a war memorial should face stiff consequences. We owe it to our men and women in uniform to protect these revered memorials.
The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 will be upon us next year. As Canadians, we are extremely proud of the role that our great country played and we will soon be celebrating this important anniversary, often at the feet of our war memorials and cenotaphs. We must ensure that these memorials will still be beautiful for our ceremonies rather than desecrated by vandals on the eve of the services.
Following the anniversary for the War of 1812, the 100th anniversary of World War I will occur. Canada played an immense role in this war and this anniversary will be a time to remember all those who died defending our country and democracy. Numerous memorials throughout the country have been erected to honour those who fought in World War I. Parliament must help to ensure that these memorials remain untouched by vandalism.
With these important events around the corner, this is an opportune time to pass this legislation to protect and preserve those symbols to the best of our ability and this bill would do just that.
We all know someone who has fought for our great country: a father, a grandfather, a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a friend. We appreciate these men and women for the dedication they have shown to our country and for their willingness to fight abroad for our freedom here at home. Memorials in our communities are dedicated to those people and none of us should want to see them damaged or defiled. Harsher penalties will keep this from happening. They will make potential vandals think twice before acting against memorials, which so many of us consider sacred.
As all members know, this past summer the Canadian Forces wound down combat operations in Afghanistan. This was Canada's longest-ever combat mission, a mission in which our country lost 157 brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. As a result, our memorials and cenotaphs have a renewed sense of purpose and value, especially in communities which lost one or more of their own. Indeed, that conflict continues and only this past weekend Canada lost another brave soldier to a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul.
We owe so much to our men and women in uniform. Indeed, it is widely agreed that Canada came of age as a nation on the muddy battlefields of France during the First World War. Our participation in that great conflict was out of proportion to our population and we overcame challenges that had defeated other nations. Our mettle was tested, to enormous loss of life and many of our brave soldiers sacrificed everything in the defence of freedom.
The call came again in the Second World War, when once again tens of thousands of brave young Canadians went to the aid of our allies in the cause of freedom. That conflict reshaped our world and Canada played no small part in its outcome. From the Battle of the Atlantic to Juno Beach, from Italy to Hong Kong, Canadians were at the forefront in that conflict.
In Korea and on to the birth of UN peacekeeping with the Suez crisis, Canadians Forces continued to place their lives on the line for freedom and democracy. Through dozens of peacekeeping missions and during the long years of the Cold War, our young men and women in uniform have always been ready and willing to put country before self.
In the first Gulf War, in the Balkans, then Afghanistan and now Libya, the best of our young men and women have shown time and time again their willingness to defend Canada and our values. All too often that willingness has cost them their lives.
To honour the memory of these young men and women, our communities erect memorials and cenotaphs, and rightly so. We create honoured spaces in our cities, towns and villages where we can gather to remember them. Whether it is on Remembrance Day or any other day of the year we might choose to pause and reflect, these spaces and those memorials signify the cost of our democracy, freedom and way of life.
Those of us who enjoy the hard-won freedoms that are part of modern Canada owe it to those who have paid in blood and life to keep those honoured spaces free from harm or insult. We have a solemn duty as citizens and residents of our wonderful country to protect and preserve our memorials and cenotaphs in the memory of those who have fallen.
When vandalism occurs in one of these honoured places, we are all diminished. An act of such disrespect is offensive not only to our local veterans, but it is offensive to all those who care about those veterans and everyone who cares about the sacrifices they have made.
Bill C-217 delivers a clear message. The vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We are compelled to protect these revered places. We owe it all to the Canadian men and women who have fought in our armed forces.
In consultation with the Minister of Justice, I propose to move an amendment at committee, should Bill C-217 carry in second reading, that would increase the minimum penalty under indictment from my proposed five years to ten years. This is a technical amendment which would simply ensure that this new offence would be consistent with the current similar Criminal Code offence of section 430(1)(a), which criminalizes the wilful destruction or damage of property. Without this amendment, we would be creating inconsistencies within the existing legislative framework.
I urge all of my colleagues to consider the adoption of Bill C-217. The desecration of war memorials is something that can happen in any community at any time. We all owe it to the constituents of our ridings, especially to the veterans of our respective ridings, to support the passage of the bill. This amendment to the Criminal Code would help protect Canada's war memorials and cenotaphs from vandalism, defilement and damage. Those who have fought and died in our great country deserve to know that the 41st Parliament is working to protect the monuments and memorials erected in their honour.
As I said at the outset, all colleagues in the House will join millions of Canadians next week on Remembrance Day as we honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep Canada the true north strong and free. Our long and proud tradition of standing up to defend freedom and democracy and to defend our values is one of the things that makes Canada the greatest country in the world today. We are a free, open and democratic society that prides itself on the rule of law. Those who would disrespect our honoured community spaces that are dedicated to the remembrance of the fallen through vandalism or other such acts must be held to account under the law. The debt we owe our veterans and the fallen soldiers requires that we look upon any disrespect to our cenotaphs and war memorials as a deeply grave matter with very serious consequences.
I believe that the passage of Bill C-217 is necessary to ensure that those who would damage our honoured places think twice before they act to desecrate our war memorials and cenotaphs. I encourage all of my colleagues in the House to join me in taking decisive action on this important issue.
The hon. member for Hochelaga just proposed an amendment to the amendment.
Questions and comments? The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
This very good letter outlines some facts. It said:
I was puzzled to read reports in which you defended the latest Senate appointments as necessary to allow your Government “to move forward on [y]our tackling-crime agenda.” You accused the Liberal opposition of having “obstructed that agenda in the Senate.”
If members knew Senator Cowan as I do, they would know that he always assumed the most purest of motives about anybody. He said:
I can only assume that you have been misinformed as to the progress of anti-crime legislation. In fact, as I am sure your Cabinet colleague, Senator Marjory LeBreton, would tell you, the overwhelming majority of your Government’s anti-crime bills had not even reached the Senate when [the] Prime Minister...chose to prorogue Parliament. Indeed, an honest examination of the record compels one to acknowledge that the greatest delays to implementation of your justice agenda have resulted from your own Government’s actions--sitting on bills and not bringing them forward for debate, delaying bringing legislation into force, and ultimately, of course, proroguing Parliament. That action alone caused some 18 of your justice-related bills to die on the Order Paper.
He goes on in his helpful way to further enunciate the status of those bills. He says:
Your Government introduced 19 justice-related bills in the House of Commons. Of these, 14 were still in the House of Commons at prorogation. Of the five justice bills that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:
two passed the Senate without amendment;
one (the so-called Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime bill) was tabled by your Government in November in the Senate but not brought forward for further action after that;
one was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued; and
one was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued and all committee work shut down.
He goes into a bit more detail on exactly what happened with the government's alleged tough on crime agenda.
There have been a number of initiatives and we have been supportive of just about all of those bills. However, we have had concerns because some of the bills have come to us with very little or misleading information. I think about what we could do for the health of our children. One of those, in fairness to the minister, is to deal with it in the way that Bill C-54 would.
When we look at any societal problem, we need to do two things. We need to ask if there are regulations in place that ensure we are protecting our children from being exploited or hurt in this manner. There not only needs to be a legislative response but also a response that looks at the causes of the issue that we are trying to prevent.
If we could invest more money in the boys and girls clubs, we would need less prisons. If we could invest more money in early learning and child care, we would need less prisons. The studies on the impact of early learning and child care on criminal behaviour are absolutely amazing. If we want to reduce the amount of money that we need to spend on prisons, then we should invest in reducing poverty.
Just this week, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development snuck in a totally inadequate response to a poverty report done by all members of this House, including members of her own party. We have heard from people like Don Drummond and just about every social policy organization, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. We have seen the impact that can be made on reducing criminal justice by investing in reducing poverty. We would see huge reductions in health costs as well. A report organized by the food banks in Ontario, which Don Drummond was part of, said that by reducing poverty we would reduce criminal justice costs in Ontario alone by some $600 million in a year.
We are on a failed course in terms of criminal justice. Those who the government emulates on criminal justice, who are the hard right Republicans in the United States, have had an epiphany, a change of course.
Newt Gingrich, who will be running for president in 2012, was one of the architects of this new tough on crime agenda. It was part of the contract with America in, I believe, 1994. The Americans were saying that they needed to invest in prisons, that they needed to spend money on our prisons, that they needed to put people behind bars because that is how to deal with these situations.
On January 7, 2011, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “Prison reform: A smart way for states to save money and lives”. This is an amazing document that repudiates the alleged tough on crime agenda of the eighties and nineties that put so many Americans behind bars. The article reads:
There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections--300% more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.
Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but...half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.
That is a pretty powerful statement.
What Mr. Gingrich is calling for is a Conservative response to what the Conservatives caused in the last two or three decades with this “tough on crime” approach, which has not reduced crime. In fact, the article goes on to say:
Some people attribute [this] to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime...some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety. Americans need to know that we can reform our prison systems to cost less and keep the public safe.
Asa Hutchinson was quoted recently in the Globe and Mail on March 3 talking about these same issues. Part of that article reported that:
Because of tough criminal justice policies in the United States, one in every 100 American adults is behind bars--up from one in 400....
Mr. Hutchinson was also stated:
The United States has five per cent of the world’s population but 23 per cent of the world’s recorded prisoners.
That was an admission that there was a failed policy brought into the United States to jail more people and spend more money on prisons. The problem is that it did not reduce crime, but it cost a lot of money. We know the condition of the American economy and the situation that it is in.
The case is very clear. In all cases, throwing more money into prisons and locking more people up does not work. We are not be looking at the causes of crime and the root issues that create criminal intent in our young people. We are not investing in early learning and child care. We are not doing very much to equalize out the opportunity. It does not need to be all kinds of government spending. It could be targeted support for our wonderful Boys and Girls Club.
Tomorrow I will be bowling in Halifax for the Big Brothers Big Sisters. Let us think about the work it does to reduce crime in our communities and the work it does to mentor young Canadians so they do not, as a first instinct, think about becoming a criminal but instead think about the dignity and self-worth they have as individuals. Those are the kinds of things we should be investing more in if we are going to be reducing crime.
I appreciate the minister's indulgence in being here for the discussion on this debate. I commend him on this bill but, overall, I think the justice agenda of the government is taking us in a wrong direction. We cannot even get the exact costs of what the government is proposing in terms of building these mega prisons. It seems that building more prisons is the Conservatives' answer to a national housing strategy but it is not. If we want to keep people out of prison, one way to start is to ensure people have a roof over their heads when they go to sleep at night. We need to provide those kinds of supports that Canadians need.
I am pleased to support this bill. Our Liberal critic, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, has worked very hard on these issues and will also support the bill. It is a sensible bill under the circumstances. We worry about our kids and we want to give them all the tools they need to be happy, healthy and productive adults. From a government point of view, there is a responsibility on us as legislators to recognize that the world is changing.
I support Bill C-54 and I urge other members to do the same.
The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Mr. Speaker, I am continuing a question of privilege and I appreciate the indulgence you gave us prior to the break with respect to responding to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
I was away in the earlier part of this week and my good colleague from Guelph responded on my behalf. I do not want to be repetitive with respect to many of the things that he has already said.
I would just like to finish off by saying that with respect to my question in question period today the key point was that a minister is to answer, honestly and accurately, questions put to them in the House. That is the Prime Minister's code of conduct with respect to ministers responding in the House and, indeed, in order paper questions.
One of the key points that seems to have been lost in this whole exercise is the response, particularly in French.
“...KAIROS was recently refused funding as it was determined that KAIROS' 2009 program proposal did not meet the government's priorities.”
In other words, it was the agency that determined that it was not going to be receiving its funds.
Mr. Speaker, as you have been privilege to, and I put the word “privilege” in quotation marks, the many questions that have been put forward in the House, now exceeding some 90 questions, you will know that the response to the enquiry of the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine is not an accurate response and speaks to the issue of not answering honestly and accurately in the House, both in written and verbal forms.
The other point I wish to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, before saying that I am prepared to move the motion in the event you make a prima facie finding is that after the hon. parliamentary secretary intervened and made his argument, there were talking points issued from the Conservative caucus, which basically said that the minister was not present either for the signing or the insertion of the famous “not”. It is, once again, one more version of the facts.
I have not been able to keep track of all of the versions that the government has put forward, but it certainly falls far short of the standard set by the Prime Minister for his ministers, namely, that questions be answered fully, forthrightly, honestly and accurately.
I appreciate the efforts on behalf of my colleagues particularly on this side of the House to speak to this serious issue and I look forward to the Speaker's response.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to reply to the government's response to the question of privilege raised by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on February 17, 2011.
By now, Mr. Speaker, you are quite familiar with the facts. My colleagues and I allege that on at least four separate occasions the minister responsible for CIDA misled or attempted to mislead the House or its foreign affairs committee in responses to inquiries about the KAIROS funding grant.
For the sake of clarity and by example, on April 23, 2010, the Minister of International Cooperation tabled a signed reply to a Liberal order paper question in which she wrote, “the CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.”
Later on, on December 9, 2010, when asked if she knew who had written the “not”, while testifying at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, the minister responded that she did not know who had written the “not”, yet later admitted that the “not” was inserted at her direction.
On September 20, 2010, the minister tabled a signed reply to an order paper question submitted by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine reaffirming that it was in fact an agency decision to cut the funding for KAIROS, contrary to her later admission that funding was in fact denied at her discretion.
On this side of the House we have been asking questions about KAIROS since November 2009. We now have five or six versions of the events put out by the Government of Canada.
In defence of the minister, the government has advanced four lines of argument: one, the opposition should have been more diligent in its questions; two, the committee report makes no accusations; three, CIDA encompasses both officials and the minister responsible for CIDA; and four, bureaucratic and ministerial paper flow is not a work of art.
In his first line of argument, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader said in his statement to the House:
Perhaps the member should have asked different questions or more questions or have been more diligent in his inquiry, but his unhappiness with the answer is not a breach of privilege.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it is not for want of trying. Since November 2009, the KAIROS funding has been the subject of 88 questions in the House, of which I have asked many; six statements by members; four order paper questions; 31 questions in committee; and one access to information inquiry.
Perhaps the member for Scarborough—Guildwood should have asked more questions, or different questions, or have been more diligent, but does any reasonable person believe that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood would have gotten a truthful response?
What the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is really saying is that it is permissible for ministers to be as evasive as possible in avoiding the truth.
At some point there has to be a conclusion that the minister knowingly attempted to mislead members by suggesting that the decision to de-fund KAIROS was a CIDA decision; a decision made by the very people who sat beside her at committee, who testified that they had in fact endorsed KAIROS for the grant and had even recommended an increase in funding.
Had we not confronted the minister and CIDA officials at committee and had we accepted the minister's answers in the House, we might well believe to this day that CIDA had recommended against the grant.
The second line of defence is:
No direct accusation of any sort is contained in the body of the report, no contravention or any aspect of the law of privilege is enunciated, and no person is accused of anything. There are no contradictions of fact, there are no incongruities in testimony and no indication of what the “other information before the House” might be. There is nothing.
It may be that the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has misunderstood parliamentary procedure or he has set up a full argument to engage in spurious rhetoric. Either way, Mr. Speaker, parliamentary committees cannot make a prima facie finding of breach of a member's privilege; that is entirely your function and role. Therefore, a committee can only lay facts properly before you and suggest that there appears to be a possible breach of privilege.
The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader appears to invite an accusation and seems disappointed that the committee did not do so, knowing full well that it is not within a committee's power or mandate to draw such a conclusion. It has chosen to place the facts and circumstances before the House through a report. A finding of breach of privilege is a finding reserved specifically to you, the Speaker of the House.
However, if the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has not heard any accusations, then he has not been listening. We have laid out in precise detail the accusations and the support for such accusations that my and other colleagues' privileges have been breached.
The third line of argument is that “CIDA encompasses both officials and the minister responsible for CIDA”. Some of the time that may well be true. However, when the minister responded to the order paper question of the member for London North Centre, she chose to distance herself from her officials and left the impression that the officials made the decision rather than her. She implied that the KAIROS grant did not meet CIDA's standards.
Again, in her response to the order paper question of the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, the minister was quite clear:
“...KAIROS was recently refused funding as it was determined that KAIROS' 2009 program proposal did not meet the government's priorities.”
Finally, when her parliamentary secretary was speaking on her behalf, he stated:
CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities. This is important.
She let that impression hang out there for months. Simply put, the minister had Parliament believe that she did not fund KAIROS because CIDA officials did not want it to be funded. We now know that this is false and that CIDA officials wanted to fund KAIROS. Therefore, it is clear that the minister was not speaking for CIDA and herself, as the parliamentary secretary wants us to believe.
Even the parliamentary secretary is now mangling words to re-characterize the minister's intent, when her intent was to mislead us into believing it was a decision of CIDA officials and not her own.
The fourth line of the argument is that “bureaucratic and ministerial paper flow is not a work of art”. I agree. Paper flow is not, nor does it have to be, a work of art. I would settle for accuracy and truthfulness. A reasonable person looking at the critical recommendation line might well conclude that all three signatories disapproved of the grant, when we know that two and possibly three approved of the grant, until a person, who the minister claims is unknown, inserted the now famous “not”.
It is clear that the minister did not intend that it might one day be made public. That part is clear. Neither the government nor the minister intended that this document see the light of day. Mr. Speaker, the reason for it being buried is that the minister and the government wanted you and I to believe that the officials made the decision to deny the grant. Therein lies the intent to mislead and deceive me, my colleagues, the press, KAIROS and, most disturbingly, the Canadian public.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House in the debate on today's opposition motion. When I speak with my friends and constituents, I often sense their frustration when it comes to public affairs. They tell me that governments should be run like companies. In other words, when it comes to public governance, private sector principles should apply. It is obviously difficult to compare the two. The two domains are quite different, and some would argue that there is little overlap between them. They do however have one thing in common. In democracies, as in financial markets, there must be, to the greatest degree possible, a fast and unfettered flow of precise and accurate information.
Information must not, however, be confused with propaganda, a brand of freedom of expression where information is carefully controlled and manipulated by a head of state, for example, who may, for partisan purposes, wish to conceal the truth from the public or misinform voters. I am referring, of course, to our Prime Minister, whose political staff, as we know, occasionally devote their time to drafting hefty, secret instruction manuals for the benefit of Conservative members as they go about their task of creating confusion in committees, thereby stifling democratic debate, which is intended to be a way of informing the public about important issues of the day, issues that the public cares about.
Allow me to use the analogy of the financial markets. The government's behaviour is akin to that of a person who manipulates information in order to benefit one investor over another, or to benefit himself.
I will digress for a moment. I am reminded that my colleague, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, attempted to amend the bill on white-collar crime, Bill C-21, in an effort to introduce tougher penalties for crimes that involved manipulating the financial markets. Her amendment was, unfortunately, defeated. I will not say more on that issue, though.
We cannot make informed decisions without having as much information at our disposal as possible. A dearth of complete and reliable information leads to poor decision-making—everyone knows that—whether in business or in politics.
In politics, an absence of information is an attack on democracy and an absence of transparency is a sign of the government’s contempt for the electorate. And in practical terms, it ultimately leads to ill-conceived policies and programs that produce results that disappoint the public, results that are not what the public wants and expects, results that run counter to their welfare.
In a parliamentary democracy, the tabling of a budget and the debates and votes that follow are a crucial process and are at the very heart of our parliamentary democracy. The budget embodies the government’s vision and the priorities that flow from it. It is the plans and specifications, the government’s actual architecture for the year to come. Canadians must be able to see their values and their aspirations reflected in the budget.
As parliamentarians, we have a heavy responsibility when it comes to the budget. We, on behalf of the electorate, must decide whether it reflects their priorities and achieves the budgetary balance that will enable our society to progress, socially and economically, while at the same time not creating a burden for future generations. More specifically, in the present circumstances, there is an urgent need to know, on behalf of the electorate, how much the incarceration plan put forward by the Conservative government will cost. We are trying to find out how much the irresponsible policy of cutting corporate taxes will cost Canadians in the long term.
In short, absence of transparency has become the trademark of this Conservative government, which is weakening our democracy with its complete lack of respect for the right of parliamentarians and our constituents to have access to the best possible information. Canadians are the ones paying the bill, at the end of the day. We are dealing with a government that wants to spread disinformation for purely partisan political purposes. That is called manipulation, contempt, a lack of ethics—in short, corruption of Canadian democratic values.
It feels as if we have gone back to the Duplessis era, the Nixon era, the Joseph McCarthy era. They are blithely drawing up lists of enemies of the state and of good, committed people, like Colonel Pat Stogran, the Veterans Ombudsman; Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin; Marty Cheliak, Director General of the Canadian Firearms Program; Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission; Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission; Paul Kennedy, Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP; Adrian Measner, CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board; Munir Sheikh, Chief Statistician; Steve Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime; Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer; and Rémy Beauregard, Chairperson of Rights and Democracy. The list is much too long for me to be able to finish it in the limited time I have.
Before we can decide whether or not to support the budget, it is very important that we know how much the government's justice policies are going to cost, not only this year, but in years to come. We have to know what the burden will be on our children and our grandchildren. This will create additional expenses, debts that we will not be able to wipe out as quickly as the Minister of Finance thinks.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said many times that we will not even have a balanced budget in 2015. He recently added that we now have a structural deficit of $10 billion. We have to address this because as the Canadian public ages, there will be additional health care costs. There will be additional costs associated with the Canada pension plan. This will become a sort of demographic deficit with regard to the federal budget.
That is why, before voting on this budget, we need to know what the financial impact will be of the measures the government is announcing before the budget, the justice laws to incarcerate more Canadians and undermine the safety of our communities.
These are the types of things we need to know if we want to act as responsible parliamentarians.
Mr. Speaker, I guess the short answer is that the only people delaying this legislation in this chamber are the hon. member and his party and the official opposition. I think it is worthwhile to remind ourselves why we are having this discussion.
I will quote from a victim of the Earl Jones fraud who is from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Quebec.
He said, “Obviously you and your loved ones have not been the victims of white-collar crime. As a victim of Earl Jones, I can tell you that the way the law stands now, Jones will be free long before any of us regain any semblance of normalcy and closure. It makes no sense that a man sentenced to 11 years in jail for ruining the lives of 158-plus people will serve only 22 months in jail.
“I can tell you that my father died and the whole estate was stolen all within three months, leaving us completely devastated. Two years later we are still scrambling to pay dad's 2008 taxes.
“This is a very serious crime with serious long-term repercussions. The penalty should be proportionate to the crime.”
I say to the hon. member that these victims deserve our support. This bill gives it. You are not providing that support by holding up this legislation. I think if you really cared, you would not be obfuscating and not pushing it--
Before resuming debate, I would like to come back to a point of order that was raised about the appropriateness of the notice of motion by the minister. It clearly indicated that the debate on the item, which is the subject of the notice, must have begun before notice of closure may be given. Therefore, it is in order.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
The electoral district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine (Quebec) has a population of 104,715 with 76,119 registered voters and 200 polling divisions.
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