When we started statements by members, there were five minutes for questions and comments for the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands
It being a couple of minutes before statements by members, we will get started with that and allow ourselves a bit of time.
The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville will have five minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion, likely just after question period.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
I have the pleasure of speaking to this difficult subject because I think it is an extremely important one, not just for me, but for many Canadians.
I realize this is primarily a debate about process, but since my position is already on the record, I will start briefly with that point.
I was part of the minority who voted in favour of the Bloc Québécois bill a few years ago. Naturally, I am in favour of the Supreme Court decision.
I think I could say that perhaps I have a libertarian streak in me, because I always favour the right of individuals to make their own choices if it does not hurt other individuals.
I was in favour of the right of gay couples to make their free choice to marry because it certainly did not impact my marriage negatively by one iota. I am in favour of the right of a woman to wear a niqab at a citizenship ceremony if that is indeed her religious belief. I am in favour of a women's right to choose. I am in favour of this decision by the Supreme Court, although I would like to see in its implementation a great deal of attention paid to true consent and a great deal of attention paid as well to expanding our palliative care system, because the stronger that system, the fewer people will be obliged to take this decision.
I understand that while this is my view, Canada is a diverse country. My riding of Markham is particularly diverse, having been declared by Statistics Canada to be the most diverse city in the country. I understand that not all Canadians will agree with me, and I certainly respect their right to a different opinion for religious reasons or other reasons.
I was born in Quebec. Up to now, I spent most of my life in Quebec. I must say, as a former Quebecker, that I am extremely proud of the measure implemented by the National Assembly of Quebec. It truly took courage for the MNAs to act on this difficult issue; they put their partisanship and even their personal ideology aside. They formed a committee. They heard a number of witnesses and, at the end of the day, they reached not only a consensus, but a unanimous decision.
Therefore, what I am proposing to the chamber and my fellow federal parliamentarians is that we show similar courage that was shown by our provincial counterparts in Quebec. Indeed, it was more difficult for them because they acted before the Supreme Court decision. We will be acting after the Supreme Court decision, so in that sense the parameters or the guiding rules have already been laid down for us.
Federal parliamentarians have often been slow or weak in dealing with these difficult moral questions and they have been left to a legal void. We should do our jobs for Canadians to take part in the debate on these difficult issues for the sake of Canadians and we should not be obsessed with our own personal ideology or partisan issues. That is what was done in Quebec and we, in this Parliament, should be willing to do no less.
I also believe it is in all of our interests to engage in such a process as we in the Liberal Party have proposed, whatever our personal views on this matter. Let us, for example, suppose that a group is opposed to the Supreme Court decision. If there is a committee and witnesses are called, those groups will be allowed to make representations to make the interpretation of the law narrow, to ensure consent is real, to ensure everything is done to increase palliative care. On some of these issues, I have already indicated that I agree.
That side will have an opportunity to make representations, but absent such a committee, absent such a process, we will be in a legal void, in which anything can happen and the people on that side of the debate may not have any influence at all on what the outcome is. Similarly, those on the other side who favour the Supreme Court decision, they too will have an opportunity to make their cases known, to present evidence and will then have an impact on the ultimate decision.
Quebec, in some ways, is more homogeneous than Canada, so I would not anticipate a unanimous decision on this issue by the federal Parliament, certainly not before the next election. However, it is incumbent on us to do our job for Canadians, to do as our Quebec counterparts did, which is to put aside our partisan inclinations and personal beliefs and get down to the very difficult, arduous work of listening to Canadians, hearing witnesses, debating and debating until we come up with a position that will not necessarily satisfy everybody, but which, one would hope, will command a large consensus in this place.
To put it briefly, we federal parliamentarians should do what we were elected to do. We should work on behalf of Canadians on a very difficult issue and follow the spirit of our counterparts in the Quebec national assembly.
The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
Mr. Speaker, one of the main challenges of the 21st century is switching from self-destructive development to real sustainable development that brings human beings into harmony with the earth.
Every country and every community must wage this global battle.
This is why I rise today as the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville to applaud the borough of Saint-Laurent, proud winner of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Sustainable Community Award.
With this award, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is recognizing Saint-Laurent's efforts in support of public transit and the construction of LEED-certified buildings.
This award speaks to Saint-Laurent's outstanding achievements in urban development and bodes well for a promising future.
I thank the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its recognition of Saint-Laurent's ambitious vision for its residents and look forward to continue working with the people of Saint-Laurent to make the borough an even greener and better place to live in.
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me say that I will be sharing my time with a very distinguished member of this House, the member for Markham—Unionville. I know members will want to be here not only to listen to my remarks but to stay for the incisive remarks that will follow my presentation.
Of course I am very pleased to rise to support the motion moved by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who has set an important example to all Canadians across our country of how to manage a federation that works.
Throughout the years when my colleague was the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs, there was a constructive and positive relationship between the federal government and its partners in the Canadian federation.
For instance, many important agreements were signed between the two levels of government. There was co-operation and mutual respect not only regarding their respective areas of jurisdiction, but also regarding the difficulties shared by all those who represent Canadians and are seeking significant solutions to the economic, social and environmental problems facing our country.
The motion today I think sets out a very simple premise. The simple premise is that the Prime Minister of Canada has a responsibility, as head of the executive of the national government, to work constructively with other orders of government and with his partners in the federation: other first ministers.
This Prime Minister has resisted so vehemently sitting down in a structured first ministers' conference, where all premiers would have an opportunity to express their shared concerns about economic issues facing their populations and their citizens and what the national government can do in partnership with them to better serve the citizens that all of us have been elected to this place to serve.
I wanted to give some concrete examples from the regions, especially my province, New Brunswick, where a constructive and respectful commitment on the part of the Prime Minister towards his provincial counterparts would give them the opportunity to come up with regulations, a solution or some way to move forward on difficult and complicated files, while respecting jurisdictions and the spirit of partnership and constructive engagement.
It is no secret: my province, New Brunswick, is in a very difficult economic situation. In many respects, that province has performed the worst when it comes to job creation and economic growth. We have suffered significant job losses. Industries that have traditionally been very important to New Brunswick are struggling, and this has led to job losses in other sectors.
The situation is serious. This is a critical time, and that is not a partisan statement. These circumstances have meant that the former Progressive Conservative government, the Liberal government that preceded them and the current Liberal government have all faced issues that do not fall solely under provincial responsibility; they also require an engaged federal partner.
Take, for example, the question of employment insurance. The current government decided to make changes to employment insurance benefits, particularly for those who work in seasonal industries across many regions of this country. In New Brunswick, those changes obviously have a disproportionate impact, because a certain percentage of our economy will necessarily be seasonal. However, right across the country, in Quebec, northern Ontario, and the Prairies, the decisions the Conservative government made around employment insurance benefits had a negative consequence.
The Atlantic premiers decided to commission an independent study to look at the direct impact these changes would have on the revenues of families in their provinces at times of the year when there is no employment. In my province of New Brunswick alone, hundreds of millions of dollars, over $400 million, was taken out annually from the pockets of New Brunswick families who depended on employment insurance benefits. As I said a minute ago, at a time when the unemployment rate increases, if the corresponding employment insurance benefits are reduced and limited, it has a devastating impact. It also has a devastating impact on the provincial treasury, as many of these people land on income assistance and social development measures, the instruments that the province has to look after income security.
Was the Prime Minister willing to sit down and talk about employment insurance with the Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward for the last four years? Of course not. Was he willing to engage with the newly elected Liberal government of Brian Gallant on the important issue of employment insurance? Of course not.
This is an example of a problem that is shared by other premiers. It is an example where the national government has a program that has a punitive effect in many regions and provinces of our country and where the premiers asked the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister to sit down with them to look at solutions, to understand the impacts, and perhaps constructively and collaboratively find a solution.
The current Prime Minister was not interested. Think of the changes to provincial health transfers. The former finance minister, the late Mr. Flaherty, went to a premiers' meeting and announced that a certain amount was available. There was no negotiation, no discussion, no acknowledgement of the demographic realities of each province.
The province of New Brunswick has an aging population, and many people live in rural and remote regions. Its proportion of people who live in regional centres and rural areas is one of the highest in Canada. We have two official languages, and I am extremely proud of that. However, that means New Brunswick's provincial government has to spend more money to provide adequate services in both official languages.
Instead of engaging in constructive collaboration with the provincial premiers on this important issue—providing high-quality health care in all provinces of Canada for the long term—the current Prime Minister is unavailable.
We talk a lot about infrastructure in the Liberal caucus, because we hear from premiers, mayors, community leaders and citizens about the negative effects right across the country of the recent reductions and cuts to infrastructure spending. The premiers are in Ottawa today and tomorrow. They would have given anything for an opportunity to be invited by the Prime Minister to sit down and talk about a positive and comprehensive infrastructure investment that would not only create the much needed immediate jobs right across the country that, but also prepare our economy to be a sustainable green economy, a growing economy, and a productive and competitive economy.
Route 11 in New Brunswick is one of the important north-south highways from one end of our province to the northern part. The provincial government of Premier Alward, who was defeated this fall, had asked for the Government of Canada to be a partner, twinning with them in making this highway a four-lane highway. We have seen tragic accidents, with people losing their lives on an overcrowded, dangerous two-lane highway, often through difficult winter conditions, but the government refused to sit down with its provincial partners to find a way to make this important economic project a reality.
Even federal infrastructure, such as wharves, ports and smaller infrastructure, lacks funding. For example, the town of Richibucto in New Brunswick needs money for infrastructure repairs. The mayor of Richibucto asked for money. Provincial elected representatives have once again realized that they do not have a federal partner.
For years, the restoration of Moncton's Petitcodiac River has been a provincial government priority. It is the right thing to do for the environment and the Moncton region. The government refused to get involved in any constructive way.
Projects like the energy east pipeline and other energy projects that are vital to the economic future of my province are stalled because we have a Prime Minister who will not engage with his provincial counterparts. We think the Prime Minister has a responsibility to hold annual first ministers' conferences and to discuss issues like this that are important to citizens right across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that I have a few more minutes to participate in this important debate on the first ministers' conference.
I have talked about how those kinds of conferences were essential from a provincial minister's perspective in bringing forward key initiatives to address some of the big challenges, and how in the past they were unfortunately frustrated by a Conservative government that wiped out the Kelowna accord and Canada's national child care plan and essentially neglected the 10-year health accord and other important national initiatives in our federation, such as the national housing strategy of 2005 and the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's Project Green, which was also the product of much consultation with premiers across the country and included work done on a provincial level by ministers and their staff, who all participated in, supported, and created a national approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This has been an abject failure on the part of the current government. It ties into the current Prime Minister's hubris and refusal to meet with the other premiers from across the country.
In my final minute or so, I would like to touch on some of the key challenges we have that absolutely demand the kind of collaboration that comes out of these meetings with premiers. Premiers can undertake to champion certain issues and can work with the federal government and the Prime Minister to bring colleagues from across the country on board so that we can have a national approach to these national issues.
One is the health and independence of seniors, including support for caregivers. With the changing demographics in Canada, this is a huge concern for Canadians. In its polling, the Canadian Medical Association identified this as a current key issue right across Canada and one that will become more pressing in the years ahead.
We cannot say in good conscience that we are addressing the concerns of Canadians adequately if we fail to come together to collaborate on a new strategy and method of ensuring that the health, independence, and caregiving of seniors can be better supported in the years to come. That is the kind of thing the Prime Minister should be talking about with premiers in an annual meeting. That is just one.
Of course, there is also dealing with the environment and climate change, but that requires leadership—not dictatorship and not autocracy, but actual leadership. That is what we are asking from the Prime Minister. That is what the Liberal Party leader is promising to provide to Canadians should he have the opportunity to do that in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to stand in the House today and respond to the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. I want to begin by reassuring the hon. member that our government has worked, is working, and will work in close co-operation with the provinces and territories.
In addition, even a rough consideration of our current system makes clear that our government's overall approach to partnership with the provinces and territories is based on the principles of fairness and co-operation. Those principles are also the foundation of our economic action plan.
Our Canadian federation works. It is a federation founded on co-operation, mutual understanding, and compromise and it has served us well for generations. It has offered us a standard of living among the best in the world.
Fortunately, our government not only believes in a principled approach to federalism in Canada's intergovernmental relations but also acts on the basis of these principles. Let us look at how these principles were applied in guiding our government's response to the worst fiscal crisis to sweep the globe in generations, that is to say, our economic action plan.
It is also important to bear in mind that the action plan not only ensured that stimulus resources flowed out on time and on target to help Canadian businesses and families through these challenges at a time when stimulus was needed the most, but that it was also focused on making strategic investments that leveraged the unique advantages of regions and sectors across Canada to support longer-term growth, create and protect jobs, raise living standards, and assist those most in need.
Developing an effective stimulus package meant that governments in Canada had to work together. Approximately 40% of the stimulus set out in the action plan consisted of joint actions of federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments. Together, by providing over $63 billion in timely fiscal stimulus, Canada's action plan made important investments that contributed to Canada's long-term economic prosperity while supporting those most affected by the global recession.
The fact is that since we introduced the economic action plan to respond to the global recession, Canada has recovered both more than all of the output and all of the jobs lost during the recession. Real GDP is significantly above pre-recession levels. That is the best performance in the G7.
Canada's economic resilience and job growth also reflect the actions our government took before the global crisis in lowering taxes, paying down debt, reducing red tape, and promoting free trade and innovation.
However, our government understands that our job is not done yet, and in our efforts to continue Canada's economic success story, infrastructure plays a critical role.
In the short term, investments in infrastructure create jobs for the construction industry; in the long term, they position us to succeed in the competitive global economy. Our government's investments in infrastructure have been historic. Through the $33 billion Building Canada plan, the government has helped to build over 12,000 provincial, territorial, and municipal projects from coast to coast to coast.
Economic action plan 2013 included $70 billion for public infrastructure over the next decade. This includes the $53 billion new Building Canada plan for provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure. This plan is unprecedented. It is the largest and longest federal infrastructure commitment in Canadian history.
A key part of that plan is the gas tax fund. This is federal money that goes to municipalities to support their infrastructure priorities. It was originally a temporary program, but when we saw how important it was to Canada's cities, towns, and villages, we took action: we made it permanent, we doubled it, and we indexed it. It grows annually now, representing an additional $1.8 billion in funding over the next decade.
In November 2014, the Prime Minister announced an additional $5.8 billion investment to build and renew on-reserve schools and federal infrastructure assets across the country. This funding will support the modernization and repair of important infrastructure assets to create jobs in communities across Canada and to contribute to Canada's long-term economic prosperity. Many of these projects could not have been accomplished, or will not be accomplished, without the co-operation of every single province with our government.
Let me now address today's recommendation for a first ministers conference.
The member must be unaware, apparently, that the federal, provincial, and territorial finance ministers generally meet semi-annually to discuss priorities in the lead-up to budget preparations, as well as meeting after the tabling of budgets in all jurisdictions.
Further, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers meet with their provincial and territorial counterparts on a regular basis to discuss issues within their respective areas of responsibilities, including taxation, economic and fiscal matters, and fiscal arrangements. For example, work on retirement income adequacy over the 2009 to 2013 period required the creation of additional ad hoc committees at the ministerial, deputy minister, assistant deputy minister, and working group levels.
Another example is the work with provinces on harmonizing the provincial sales taxes with the federal GST, most recently with Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. These discussions demonstrated how the department moves from organized multilateral forums to bilateral discussions in order to achieve a long-standing priority with interested jurisdictions.
While the hon. member's party continues spinning its wheels trying to breed acrimony and sow discord, the Government of Canada has been actively and successfully building on a stronger and more prosperous Canada by working with the provinces day to day and meeting by meeting, in accomplishment after accomplishment.
This practice is something that we employ quite regularly in my riding, in my province, and in my communities. All three levels of government work closely. It is about getting the job done. It is about working together and it is about seeing results.
That unheralded co-operation is enhanced by real support for Canadians in all regions where it counts the most: in dollars. In fact, major federal transfers to provinces and territories will total $68 billion in 2015-16, an increase of $3 billion from the current year and almost 63% more since 2005-06. The government is ensuring that they will continue to grow. Specifically, equalization will grow in line with the growth of the economy: the Canada health transfer will grow at 6% per year until 2016-17 and also in line with the growth in economy starting in 2017-18, with a minimum assured growth rate of 3% per year. The Canada social transfer will continue to grow at 3% annually in 2015-16 and in future years.
As the hon. member can see, comparable treatment for all Canadians is fundamental to the government. That is why, through budget 2007, the government legislated an equal per capita cash allocation for the CST and, beginning in 2014-15, the CHT. To ensure that no province or territory is unduly affected by the CHT change, economic action plan 2012 put in place protection to ensure that no province or territory experiences a decline in its CHT cash entitlements relative to its 2013-14 cash levels.
Programs that help address fiscal disparities among provinces and territories are important components of Canada's system of fiscal federalism. That is why the government continues to provide significant and growing support through both equalization and territorial formula financing programs.
Let me also remind the hon. member that equalization payments are determined based on the province's ability to raise revenues at national average tax rates, also known as its fiscal capacity, compared to an average of all 10 provinces. Therefore, a province's ability to raise revenues varies with its underlying economy conditions, and a subsequent decrease in equalization payments reflects a relative strengthening of a province's economy compared to other equalization-receiving provinces.
Equalization amounts for provinces are based on a legislative formula and change from year to year, based on a province's economic strength relative to other provinces. That is a good-news story, and it is exactly how equalization is supposed to work.
I can reassure the hon. member that provinces can continue to count on long-term, growing support from this government as we work together in this uncertain global economy.
That relationship is what provinces want. Provinces want to know that they can depend on what the federal government is telling them is coming their way. They do not want to be surprised. They want sustainable funding. They want dependable funding. This government has demonstrated over the last nine years that we have been able to provide that support and provide that level of sustainable funding that they require to move forward and to provide for their constituents. This is what the provinces need.
In my past life, as I generally refer to it, I was a provincial politician. I understand how important the relationship with the federal government is. We used to come and meet with federal ministers. I was a provincial minister, and the idea that the opposition members have of ideal federalism certainly did not work out that way in practice. I remember being at those meetings. They make it sound as though they sat around and discussed the issues, brought forward solutions, and acted on them. That is not exactly how it worked. I remember very clearly those days when I sat there, as a provincial minister of agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture. I remember very clearly the situation. A federal minister would walk in the door and basically say, “This is how it is, and you guys deal with it”. There was no relationship, as they suggest, wherein they walk in the door and sit down, we all work it out together, leave hand in hand, and happily go on our way and everything works out great. That certainly was not the case.
What happened was that the Liberals had a heavy-handed approach that they employed the whole time they were in government. We saw this through the downloading they did on provinces. I remember those days when transfers were cut. I can remember those days when equalization was cut and health care funding and social transfers were cut. It was unbelievable.
They talked about themselves as great fiscal managers. They talked about what they did for the economy here in Canada. Well, they downloaded those issues. They put the problem off onto someone else, yet they like to tell us here today that they worked it all out together. If it had been worked out together, that would not have been the solution. That is not how it would have worked out. If those discussions were as they try to portray them, their portrayal of federalism is something that is almost a fairy tale. It is unbelievable, the way they remember it. It would be nice if that were how it was, but that is not how it was.
The provinces can depend on our government. They can depend on the transfers that come from our government. They can take the word of our government and take it to the bank. That is what the provinces want and appreciate. That is what the relationship should be between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. It should be a relationship that is built on trust and sustainable funding. We have delivered that over and over again.
To conclude, the facts show that our government is keeping its word. Contrary to what the hon. member may believe, we are co-operating with the provinces and territories. I can assure the member that we demonstrate that every single day. With total transfers at record highs, growing predictably at a sustainable and affordable rate, we are providing unprecedented support to the provinces for the delivery of the health and social services on which all Canadians rely. Even during the global economic crisis, our government increased transfers to the provinces and territories to help Canadians across this great country of ours, and they can continue to count on our government as the days go forward.
I would therefore urge the hon. members to act as Canadians expect all members of the House to behave, to work together in good faith, mutual respect, and understanding to build a better life for all Canadians, as we are doing and have been doing through our economic action plan. I would encourage all members to reject the motion before the House.
Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and I believe if you seek it you will find unanimous consent for the motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the Member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Monday, February 2, 2015, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.
Mr. Speaker, Canadians have known for years that the NDP bows to the will of their big union bosses and their illegal political sponsorships. Earlier this month, however, some big union bosses announced they would supporting the Liberal Party rather than their fellow travellers in the NDP.
It did not take the Liberal Party very long to start following its new union bosses' instructions. Earlier this week, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville was advertised on the Public Service Alliance of Canada's Twitter account, gleefully holding the childish Brigette DePape stop sign.
Unlike the Liberals, whose only idea is to legalize drugs, on this side of the House we stand up for Canadian taxpayers' interests. This government lowers Canadians' taxes, balances budgets, and puts money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadians, and we will continue to stand up for them day in and day out.
Mr. Speaker, Canada is a country that welcomes immigrants, and as such, there are few things more critical than successfully integrating newcomers from around the world. Immigrants can be disoriented, and they must be welcomed by the community. Integration is essential, but it would be impossible without outstanding front-line volunteer organizations.
One such organization is Entraide Bois-de-Boulogne, a non-profit in my riding, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, that helps immigrants from around the world, particularly the Middle East. This year, the organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
I know that all of my colleagues will join me in congratulating and thanking management and volunteers at Entraide Bois-de-Boulogne for their half century of unwavering dedication. We thank them for every family they have assisted, every child they have helped with homework, every stereotype they have shattered and every successful inter-community dialogue. We thank Entraide Bois-de-Boulogne for taking to heart and implementing Amin Maalouf's philosophy: “The more you absorb the culture of your new homeland, the more you can imbue it with your own.”
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak after the members for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Hamilton Centre and Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale. They have a done a fairly good job of addressing all the points that should be made about Mr. Alexander, the first being his history in terms of his input into this process of politics, the second his input into being a Canadian citizen and being proud of, and living that type of life, and, third, his commitment to public service.
I will not try to reiterate each and every one of the points that were made, but it should be noted that the government is in support of Bill S-213. It is my hope, as the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned, that the bill is passed unanimously, and I hope that is the case.
I would also note the comments by the member for Hamilton Centre about the opportunities we have every once in a while to work together and speak in unanimity on a specific topic.
Sometimes when folks back home ask me about the conflict or the apparent disagreements that take place in the House of Commons from a government and opposition perspective, I hearken back to the time of minority governments, from 2006 to 2008 and then 2008 to 2011, when, despite all of our differences, time and time again not only was there a requirement for at least one other party to support government legislation, but there was a need for us to work together for the betterment of our country.
I reflect on that a bit when I think about Mr. Alexander and his number of firsts, such as being the 24th lieutenant governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991, the first black person to hold that position. He was the first person in his family to attend university, where he obtained a law degree. He was the first black member of Parliament and, under prime minister Joe Clark, Mr. Alexander became the first black cabinet minister. He also served an unprecedented five terms as chancellor of the University of Guelph, a first as well. As was mentioned, whenever it came to Lincoln Alexander, being first in a number of these categories certainly befits who he was.
I had a chance to look at his history. This was a man who achieved so many honorary degrees from universities: the University of Toronto in 1986, McMaster University in 1987, the University of Western Ontario in 1988. He skipped a year and did not receive one in 1989, but received one in 1990 from York University, in 1991 from the Royal Military College in Kingston, and in 1992 from Queen's University. Those are not honorary degrees that are bestowed upon just anyone. The fact that one would achieve those from so many different top-notch and respected universities in our country is quite something.
He was also an advocate when it came to education, and equality was one of the most highly regarded beliefs that he had. All members have spoken about his book, which is entitled Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy, and he used that inspiration to pursue higher learning and strove to influence youth to do exactly the same.
When he was lieutenant governor, he had three specific goals at the centre of his mandate: addressing youth-related issues in education; fighting racism; and advocating on behalf of seniors and veterans. He set out to meet these goals by delivering inspiring speeches throughout the country and continually challenged educators to not simply give lip service to anti-racism, but to accept that responsibility and lead.
Having served as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Mr. Alexander was an active advocate on veterans' issues. He was serving as chancellor of the University of Guelph when the devastating events of 9/11 took place. Later that year, while marking Remembrance Day at the university, he took the opportunity to salute the armed forces and delivered a message of hope. He said, “Together, we will battle against narrow perspectives, ignorance, and racism”.
It was that objective that he never lost. Whether in grade school, high school, university or in the House of Commons, whether as a lieutenant-governor in the province of Ontario, as a chancellor or as simply a member of the community in Hamilton, he never lost the vigour and fight against ignorance and racism. He noted the toll of suffering and sacrifice that veterans had endured, and urged the crowd not to forget. He also said, “Their blood and tears were the awful price for the peace, comfort, and democracy we enjoy...We should never forget”.
Yesterday in the Niagara and St. Catharines community we had one event celebrating Declaration Day, commemorating those who went before us. I do not think Lincoln Alexander actually needed June 6, June 7 or November 11 to remember those who sacrificed themselves for our country and our democracy. He used every day of the year to do that.
It was early in his law career, during a visit to Africa, when he was confronted by the boundless issues of racism, colonialism, political turmoil and poverty, that he discovered his political calling. The trip, he said, instilled in him a sense of pride and shaped his desire to promote leadership within the black community. He credited that trip to inspiring him to become the first black member of Parliament in Canada and eventually the first black cabinet minister of our country.
These achievements served as an example for both the black community and for Canada. Linc was never shy to describe his life as a cabinet minister, and never determined that it was not for him to tell people about that experience. It was that experience that he believed should be transferred to all others in our country, whether they be minority or they be black, that the opportunity to serve in the House of Commons was not something that was for just a few; it was for those who were prepared to serve.
Mr. Alexander was a symbol for democracy and he spoke for anyone who suffered from prejudice or injustice. He believed in unity and he focused on the similarities that bound and drew our country together. He once stated, “One is not elected...to be a spokesperson to any particular segment of the constituency”. It showed that his sense of justice surpassed creed, colour and any type of social standing.
Canada prides itself on its diversity. Our diversity strengthens our nation by building an inclusive society that values differences and fosters a sense of belonging. We do not have to look too far over the last number of years to see, each and every year, an average 250,000 new Canadians making that statement and understanding that the principle of belonging is a value that is instituted within them because of the institutions of our great country. Lincoln Alexander was the embodiment of those Canadian values. He stood for justice and equality and most of all he believed in service to others.
Declaring Lincoln Alexander day in Canada would formally recognize, as Canadians, a lifelong commitment to public service and multicultural understanding. It would also serve to underline Lincoln Alexander's leadership in promoting human rights, justice and the importance of education. However, at the end of the day, when we look at the naming of Lincoln Alexander day, it is not something just to commemorate and honour him. What he would have said was to use that day to justify why we needed to keep fighting in our country, whether at the political level, the personal level or within our own communities, the aspects and values of what we are as Canadians in terms of multiculturalism, acceptance and understanding that people who come here, regardless of where the country of origin was or what position they held or what their last name happened to be, that there is an opportunity for them here to become not only permanent residents or Canadian citizens, but to add value to what it is to be Canadian.
I have a feeling the bill will pass unanimously. Every time we celebrate Lincoln Alexander day it is not just to remember Linc, but also to remember who we are as a country, the values we hold as individuals, the values we bring forward, and show the rest of the world what it really is to be Canadian, what it is to lead and to understand what that leadership is.
Every once in awhile, we can look back on the work that we do as parliamentarians and say that we did something right and that we did something good. Today is a step forward in honouring Lincoln Alexander and what he stood for. I certainly look forward to seeing all of us stand in unanimity when the bill is passed.
Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague for bringing this forward. There has been a lot of discussion about this for quite some time, to say the least.
A lot of it is taking place electronically. A lot of it is taking place through many of the forums we see around here and outward. This is one of those issues where people say, “You guys only talk about this in the bubble of Ottawa”, but quite frankly, it has burst through the bubble and many people are talking about this across the country from coast to coast to coast.
I congratulate my colleague for bringing this discussion to the nation because, as he mentioned in his speech, each and every leader, dating back 50 or 60 years or more, has always talked about electoral reform and we have seen it managed at a snail's pace in many cases. What the member is attempting to do is say that some of the incremental changes that took place within legislation some time ago should be taken further; in other words, we have a choice.
Back in 1970, there was the requirement that, in order to have the party attached to one's name on a ballot, one had to have the signature of the party's leader. Anyone within this House and beyond who has ever run in a federal election, unless he or she is an independent, had to have that affixed next to his or her name or have a letter from the party's leader saying that he or she stands as the candidate. Candidates may have been elected through the electoral process within the party itself, by nomination as we normally call it, or by appointment for whatever reason. That is certainly within the ability of a party leader to do, because we must remember that what is required is the signature. Therefore, what my hon. colleague is doing is taking that and pushing it further to affect the two acts in question here.
Just to recap what was talked about thus far, the enactment would amend the Canada Elections Act. Nominations of contestants would be held by a party's electoral district association. Proof of the party's endorsement of prospective candidates would be provided by the nomination officer of the party's electoral district association, and now with other signatures, so there has been a slight change in that. I also commend the member for making that change based on a provincial designate.
There is a fundamental shift here in what we are looking at; that is, it would make it a local aspect of a nomination process. Originally, there was to be a nomination officer in each electoral district association. We have made a slight change. A lot of people are okay with that.
We also talked about some of the other changes the member would make, such as the ability of the caucus to eject a leader or to call for the vote on a leader. We also have that juxtaposed to the fact my hon. colleague pointed out, which is that in this country the process of selecting the leader of a party or ejecting a leader from that position would now also involve the caucus in a much more proactive way. That is something we have to address within this debate as well.
What I hope to do here today is present some of the facts and further this debate. I will not leave members in animated suspense, because I have not yet decided how I am going to vote, because I believe in debate in this House. I do believe I am leaning in one certain direction—God forbid that I tell anybody—but what I want to hear during this debate is this. In a private member's bill there is what we call a five-minute rebuttal that the mover of the bill gets to do. What I am planning on doing is being specific, which was started by my colleague from Quebec, and talk about some of the concerns that were brought about during our discussions not only within our caucus but within the structure itself of the Liberal Party of Canada. We are talking about some of the concerns around imposing the same rules by a single law to all parties and caucuses. The fact is that the parties are free to adapt and change the rules. With this bill, they would not be able to do that anymore.
It would be a precedent to allow Parliament, the party that holds the majority, to decide internal democratic rules for all parties. A majority of MPs may vote for the current provisions of the bill against the will of the majority of a specific caucus. For example, a caucus within the House may contain members from an entire region, not just one province, of the country. Therefore, that voice would get weighted in a certain direction for one particular reason.
Propositions for reform, trying to convince parties to implement it, the Liberal Party made specific changes about nomination processes in the past. The Conservatives are welcome to adopt these changes for themselves. This is why I think the colleague from Alberta asked the question about leaving it to the party itself to decide these rules and not make it institutionalized within Canadian law. There are concerns about how we police that once we break the law.
Leaders are chosen by caucuses alone in some places. While they also have the power to take them out of that leadership, and that has been the case in countries around the world, it is not the case in our country. Then there is the process of allowing caucus to play a major role in removing a leader from his or her position when, at the genesis of that, it did not play a role in selecting that leader. Many people within parties would certainly have that concern.
On the positive side, there are a few things I would like to talk about, and I am reflecting my own personal view. I want to return to the nomination process. I think the member is on to a fundamental concept of allowing local democracy to select the candidate of their choice.
There are mechanisms within parties. We have one called the green light committee, which decides whether a candidate is eligible to run for the party. There are certain things about candidates, whether they are passed or whether they support the principles of the party. These kinds of measures have to be analyzed by every party in the House. It is no good for one of us to condemn another party for having a stringent process, saying that it is against democracy. It is not. Otherwise, we would have candidates in all political parties, no matter what their ideology, who would run madly off on all directions on whatever issue they chose.
The member is infusing an element of local democracy that to me shows promise, especially when he made changes before tabling the bill. That was also a good thing to do.
Let us go back to caucus chairs. We currently select democratically our caucus chair and so forth, but to eject someone from caucus, we go back to the principles that my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned earlier. We can apply the same sort of misgivings about that.
I hope when we return for debate, my hon. colleague gets a chance to rebut some of those concerns we have. I know he has done it personally, but I would like to see him do it within the House as well.
However, I want to commend him for all the work he has done on this. Over the course of this debate, I hope we all reflect on what we have done over the past while as politicians, as representatives. I hope we can say that we believe in a local democracy and we believe that people living within the boundaries of our riding or province should have the fundamental say over who the candidate should be. Then there is whether the party should be the decider of who that person represents it in that riding. If that is the way we feel, then we all need to personally reflect upon that.
This is the long way of saying that we need to have a good think when it comes to this legislation. I certainly look forward to having more debate on it. Unfortunately, we are confined as to the time we have. I know a lot of my colleagues would say that I should send it to committee. That requires me to say yes in principle, and therein lies the debate.
Do we say yes in principle to this, that we want democratic reform? Or does it currently go too far within legislation to confine parties on how they operate in the House, and by extension govern the country?
Again, I congratulate the member, and I look forward to the following debate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
Opposition and government members can agree that the fair elections bill has been a mess from beginning to end. This legislation reflects the incompetence and stubbornness of the Conservative government.
Indeed, the government stubbornly refuses to deal with the facts and the reality of what actually happens on the ground when voters go to the polls. It also refuses to see what is not happening. The bill attempts to eliminate fraud that has yet to be identified.
It also reflects the government's usual bad faith in its approach to governing, as pointed out a few moments ago by my colleagues from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and Ottawa South.
The government created ghosts to justify the measures included in its legislation. What did we see in the House? What did Canadians across the country see? They saw the government's ideological approach, as always. More than that, we saw a partisan approach. We saw the government playing politics. Worse yet, when it comes to improving the efficiency of our electoral system, we are now behind where we were before the bill was introduced.
One might even say that things were better before the government got involved. We suffered a setback because the credibility of the electoral system among Canadians was undermined as the government took every opportunity to foster political cynicism. It did so by engaging in shenanigans and taking an overly aggressive approach.
However, the government was successful in two ways. I suppose it can pat itself on the back for that achievement. First, it drew the attention of Canadians to the ins and outs of our electoral system. After all, this is not an everyday topic. It is not something we discuss every evening, around the dinner table. We rarely discuss the workings of the electoral system among friends. However, because of the introduction of this bill and the related controversy, I noticed that people in my riding were quite aware of what was going on. They did not really like what they saw and their response was rather negative.
The second thing the government managed to do was that it showed Canadians how it likes to operate. Canadians saw that the Conservatives love to play politics on issues that the government should consider in a serious and dignified manner. I will add that the government did itself a disservice in terms of public opinion. At the beginning of March, Angus Reid published a poll, and I will give you the headline. It said that the more Canadians are aware of the fair elections act, the more they oppose it.
According to the poll, nearly two-thirds of respondents firmly believed that the government introduced the bill to settle its score with Elections Canada, in particular, and with other political parties. Why are Canadians responding so negatively to this bill?
As members who are in touch with our constituents' values, we know that Canadians have a very keen sense of fair play. This bill flies in the face of Canadians' sense of fairness. In other words, Canadians recognize that we should not change the rules of the game without the consensus of all parties involved, including the voters themselves.
We called on the government a number of times to go out and consult Canadians on this highly controversial bill. The Conservatives replied that they were not interested, that they would rather stay here in Ottawa, that they would not hear what Canadians think about this bill and that they would stick to discussing the bill around a table on Parliament Hill.
On the one hand, this bill does not go far enough, as others have already mentioned. Elections Canada will not be able to compel testimony from someone who is aware of a case of election fraud, as the Commissioner of Competition can do. On the other hand, it goes too far when it transfers the duties of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, who operates under the purview of Elections Canada, to the office of the federal chief prosecutor, which will now be responsible for investigating cases of election fraud. This office, however, does not want that power.
What a farce. The person being given the responsibility is saying he does not want that additional power. The prosecutor himself said that it would be dangerous for him to have oversight of the electoral system because such an arrangement could undermine voter confidence and give the appearance of a conflict of interest. Any appearance of conflict of interest undermines the credibility of the process, and people lose confidence.
The electoral system is a sacred democratic institution. The government must not undermine the people's confidence in their electoral system. I think that doing so is very dangerous. This is a farce because the person to whom the government wants to give the power is saying, “no, thanks”.
At the heart of the controversy is the vouching system, which seemed to be working just fine until now. Nobody complained about the system. Our vouching system is fine, but the government wants to change it even though there is no empirical evidence of any fraud.
Earlier, the member for Don Valley West drew a comparison to the pieces of ID required to obtain a health card in Ontario. He said that people have to present three pieces of ID. That is quite a stringent requirement.
Similarly, my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville said that, when we ask the government questions, it compares apples with oranges when it should be comparing apples with apples.
There are cases of fraud involving health cards. We know it; it has been proven. People who obtain health cards fraudulently have a pretty clear motive: they want benefits. That is what motivates fraud.
However, when a person wants to vote despite not having the right to, he derives no monetary benefit. He is not really helping himself. Basically, he is helping an organization, a party or a candidate.
Even then, it is not clear that he will be able to influence the outcome of a vote in a particular riding. They are comparing apples with oranges when they should be comparing things that are actually comparable.
I will end there. This bill is an absolute disaster, and the opposition will vote against it categorically this evening.
Mr. Speaker, I stand before my hon. colleagues tonight to close the second hour of debate on Bill C-208, my bill that aims to make English-French bilingualism a new requirement for judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
I also want to thank my NDP colleagues who have spoken tonight and in the first hour and who support my bill. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and the Liberals who supported my bill in 2008, in 2010 and again today.
Everyone can see that the Conservatives are the only ones saying no.
This is my third attempt to get this bill through, and I hope that all my colleagues on the other side of the House will vote in favour of the bilingualism requirement for Supreme Court judges when we vote on May 7.
In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit a few universities and a few communities to talk about Bill C-208. I went to Sudbury and had the opportunity to present my bill to students at Laurentian University. I also presented my bill to students in the faculty of law at the Université de Moncton and law students at the University of Ottawa.
People in my riding support my bill enthusiastically. Everywhere I went, people said that the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges was important for the equality of both official languages and equality in the access to justice.
Let me now tell the House about the support I have received from various stakeholders in the fields of official languages and justice.
In his letter of support for Bill C-208, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, said:
...since 2008, I supported the principle that all Supreme Court justices should be bilingual, and that is still my opinion. I believe, out of respect for all Canadians, that it is a matter of ensuring that they are all served by judges of the highest distinction and greatest ability, who can hear and understand a case in either official language
The Barreau du Québec also supported my bill and said that:
[It] has always believed that functional bilingualism should be among a Supreme Court judge's required skills in order to ensure equal access to justice...
The Quebec Community Groups Network also supports this important bill. Its letter of support for Bill C-208, it stated that the QCGN supports the requirement that Supreme Court Justices be capable of executing their responsibilities in both official languages without the aid of an interpreter on the same basis. In addition, the letter stated that the QCGN believes that Bill C-208 strengthens the principle of the rule of law upon which our society is based.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, or the FCFA, and its members have also shown their support for Bill C-208. In its letter of support, the FCFA indicated:
...we find it completely unacceptable that, in this day and age, French-speaking Canadians still cannot be heard and understood by all of the judges who sit on the highest court in our country without the assistance of an interpreter.
I would like to thank all the people, groups and associations who shared with me their support for the important issue of the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges.
I would like to remind hon. members of the importance of my bill. This is a matter of access to justice. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and it is very important for its judges to be able to understand both official languages without the help of an interpreter.
Second, having bilingual Supreme Court judges would ensure the equality of both the official languages. We have to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized the equality of French and English.
In conclusion, I urge all my colleagues to vote in favour of my Bill C-208.
We must protect the equality of our two official languages and equal access to justice. In particular, I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec and the members who have francophone communities in their ridings, such as the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and the member for Saint Boniface, who is the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, to ask their Conservative colleagues to support my bill, which seeks to ensure that Supreme Court judges are bilingual. It is a matter of justice and equality.
The electoral district of Saint-Laurent--Cartierville (Quebec) has a population of 109,015 with 76,777 registered voters and 188 polling divisions.
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