There being only five minutes remaining in the time provided for private members' business, at this point in the day we are going to go directly and invite the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for her right of reply.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on the motion of my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River. I want to thank her for all of her work on eliminating child poverty, the subject of the motion today.
Because this is the second hour of debate, I would like to refer to the text of the motion, which reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work in collaboration with the provinces, territories and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to eradicate child poverty in Canada by developing a national poverty reduction plan that includes: (a) making housing more affordable for lower income Canadians; (b) ensuring accessible and affordable child care; (c) addressing childhood nutrition; (d) improving economic security of families; (e) measures that specifically address the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities; and (f) measurable targets and time lines.
In other words, it is about accountability.
It has been 25 years since Ed Broadbent's motion aimed at ending child poverty was passed unanimously by the House, and yet successive Conservative and Liberal governments have failed to act on this promise. With almost one million children living in poverty, almost half of whom are indigenous, surely it is time to end child poverty.
Dr. David Hulchanski, a professor in Toronto and a constituent of mine, has documented very precisely what is happening with the declining middle class and the growing polarization in our city of Toronto. He calls it a “three city” situation, where some at the very top are getting more wealthy, an increasingly shrinking group is staying at about the same level, and a growing number of people are falling further and further behind.
Childhood poverty is costly not only for the children affected in terms of their childhood experience of inequality, but also in terms of lost potential and social costs.
I should point out that Canada ranks 23rd on child poverty among countries in the OECD, which is a shameful record. If we want to set records, surely this is not one. One out of seven children in Canada lives in poverty, but if one is born aboriginal, there is a two in five chance that one will live in poverty. These are shameful numbers.
UNICEF Canada has written a report and recommends creating a children's commissioner and making the UN convention on child poverty enforceable in court. Canada ratified this international agreement in 1991, but progress remains very slow and spotty.
The UNICEF report makes a number of recommendations worth noting. As I said, one is to make the convention enforceable in courts. It also recommends developing a national action plan aimed at bringing Canada into compliance with the UN convention; holding a parliamentary review on the recommendations of the UN committee on child rights and the recommendation of the Senate's report on children; and including in child protection legislation everyone under the age of 18; and developing a program to educate children and others on the convention rights.
I would like to speak specifically to the subelements of this motion.
First, there is an alarming situation now from the lack of affordable housing. There are 92,000 people in Toronto on the waiting list for housing. In my community of Parkdale—High Park, we see families who have to make the gut-wrenching decision to either pay the rent or put food on the table. They are going to keep a roof over their heads, and therefore we have community kitchens and food banks bursting at the seams. A number of children go to school hungry every day. This is shocking in a city as wealthy as Toronto.
I see families with two or three kids living in a one bedroom apartment because that is all they can afford. I see people living in Toronto community housing in substandard housing with serious maintenance problems with mould, water leakage, and appliances that do not work.
There are buildings in our community where the elevators do not work. We have serious problems.
We also have problems with the lack of effective rent control legislation, and companies get around the legislation. They get people out of the buildings and jack up the rent. The upshot is that people cannot afford to find a decent place to live. There is an explosion of new homes being built, but they are mainly private condos. Low-income people do not have the ability to buy these condos, and there is no affordable housing being built for them.
We also have a problem with co-ops that are finishing their housing agreements. These are not going to be renewed. We have people who were getting a subsidy, who were able to live in a decent place, a co-operative housing development, because they got a bit of a subsidy, and those subsidies have been lost. That is a huge dilemma for many in the city of Toronto.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives have abandoned their social housing responsibilities. One in four Canadian households, that is 1.5 million Canadians, families and individuals, spend more than a third of their income on housing. Canada is the only G8 country without a strategy for affordable housing. It was under the previous Liberal government that the national housing plan was abandoned. It is shocking that in a northern country, with such high needs, we do not have effective housing or even a plan to get to that housing.
When it comes to public spending on child care and early learning, Canada ranks last among developed and comparable countries. For years Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored this pressing need of Canadian families. There are over 900,000 kids in need of care in Canada, with no access to quality, affordable, child care spaces. The Conservatives promised 125,000 new spaces, but just like the Liberals, they did not create one single space.
In my community, child care spaces can run up to $2,000 per month, per child, which is clearly far out of the reach of most families. Noted economist Pierre Fortin has said that the Quebec model of child care, which is affordable, accessible, and high quality, has allowed more than 70,000 mothers to join the workforce and generate the return of $1.75 for every dollar spent on child care. That is clearly an important investment.
When it comes to indigenous children, they are the fastest growing demographic in our country. Investments made to reduce indigenous child poverty would have huge benefits for Canada. We have alarming rates of poverty and huge housing problems. Even Mike Holmes is saying that we have to build better quality houses for indigenous communities. It would be a better investment and more cost-effective. They also face huge food security issues, far more so than people do in the south.
I remember that noted Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, in answer to the question, “What is the best thing Canada can do to create innovation, boost our economy, and boost competitiveness and job creation?”, said to invest in children. Invest in child care. Invest in post-secondary education. Invest in kids. That is the best bet for a strong, innovative economy.
We want the federal government to make the elimination of child poverty a priority. We need to develop an anti-poverty plan with timelines and measurable benchmarks that would include the key components of taking on the crisis of poverty for indigenous children, making housing more affordable for lower-income Canadians, creating an early childhood and childhood education program, addressing childhood nutrition, and improving the overall economic security of Canada. We owe Canadians no less. It is our duty as parliamentarians to act. We should all be supporting this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak in the House today, particularly because recent events have reminded us of how real a threat terrorism still is for us all, and that is why we have to remain vigilant.
We know that terrorist entities have tried to attack our country. That started well before Canada joined a coalition of countries to deal with this threat in the Middle East that is displacing tens of thousands of people facing atrocities and savagery.
Obviously, we are also aware that this threat may have repercussions inside our borders, and that is why, even before the attacks of October 22, we had planned to introduce the bill that is before us today, which has just come back from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Today, we are taking another important step toward passage of the bill, since the Canadian Security Intelligence Service does not have the same tools now as it had when the courts made their decisions. This means that as parliamentarians, we are being invited to clarify the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to protect us.
This bill, which deals with the protection of Canada from terrorists, will enable us to take another important step toward ensuring that the country is secure against terrorist attacks.
Let us be clear: we will be introducing another bill to give both law enforcement agencies and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service additional tools so they are able to adapt to the evolving terrorist threat.
However, at this point in time, I would like to take a moment to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for giving their prompt attention to the bill, although I am disappointed to see that the members of the New Democratic Party opposed this legislation. We know that in the past they have also opposed the Combating Terrorism Act. This is unfortunate, but we can take some comfort in the fact that at this point in time there are individuals who are being accused under this new law of being willing to commit terrorist acts. We are committed to making sure that as politicians we make the laws that allow and enable all our enforcement agencies to track in particular those individuals who are travelling abroad.
It seems odd that the NDP supports tracking all of the firearms owned by law-abiding Canadians through a new gun registry but is opposed to tracking terrorists. I guess this should come as no surprise, given that the NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge River stood in this place to make statements comparing a day celebrated by the Tamil Tigers terrorist group to the solemn Canadian occasion of Remembrance Day. These types of actions show that the NDP cannot be trusted on matters of national security.
I would also like to touch briefly on recent events. As I just said, an individual Canadian convert was included in a terrorist propaganda video calling for attacks on Canada. These disturbing events show a clear need for Canadians to be vigilant in the face of the real and serious threat of terrorism.
In Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and right here in mid-October, we were, in a way, victims of terrorist attacks that we did not foresee.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently filed charges for terrorism-related offences against an individual in Montreal. That person has been charged with committing robberies for the benefit or at the direction of a terrorist group, and he apparently planned to leave Canada to engage in terrorist activities abroad.
Yes, terrorism is still a real threat to our country, and that is why we, as legislators, have to continue to ensure that we adapt to that threat.
On the international side, we must degrade and destroy this terrorist organization power at its source and reduce its ability to rally its followers to carry out terrorist attacks on western nations, including Canada.
We are at a critical moment in our counterterrorism efforts. We must take action in a measured but decisive manner. We must not overreact to terrorists, but neither can we afford to under-react. If we delay, defer, or vacillate, we put Canada at risk for more horrific acts of terrorism. Of course, nobody in this House wants this to happen.
That is why we cannot hesitate when the time comes to pass bills that guarantee that our law enforcement and national security agencies have the tools they need. We must provide them with the strong legal foundation they need to do their essential work.
That is why all members of the House are invited to help us protect Canadians against terrorist threats by passing this bill without delay. After hours of debate, here and in committee, there is no need to reiterate that this bill allows any individual who has been charged with an offence to have a just and fair trial.
In addition, subclause 4 on page 3 of the bill, which is only seven pages long, clearly states that an amicus curiae or special advocate who is appointed may apply to a judge in a proceeding for an order declaring that an individual is not a human source or that information is not information from which the identity of a human source could be inferred, or, to establish the accused’s innocence, that it may be disclosed in the proceeding.
There are mechanisms elsewhere that ensure that this bill both meets all the requirements of the Canadian constitution and allows for a just and fair trial. Most importantly, this bill clarifies matters for the authorities in the intelligence services so that they are able to perform their role of protecting Canadians.
As we have heard during debate and the study of this bill, we are proposing targeted amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which has not in fact had any major amendments in 30 years.
All our efforts to make our national security system robust and effective adhere to the rule of law and respect the rights and freedoms that are dear to all Canadians. I will repeat: our efforts to make our national security system more robust and to better protect the Canadian public against terrorists adhere to the rule of law and respect the rights and freedoms that are dear to all Canadians.
That is why I hope this bill will move quickly through the House, go to the Senate for consideration and come back to us, so that the security services can do the job assigned to them at a time when we are fully aware that the terrorist threat is real.
This bill is a response to two court decisions that have major consequences for the mandate and operations of CSIS. Our measures only address ambiguities in the CSIS Act that have created uncertainty concerning how the Act is to be interpreted. They also provide protection for the sources that are at the very origin of information, but again, within a framework of complete respect for rights and freedoms and with access to a just and fair trial.
I could give many more examples, but we know that there are individuals right now who want to commit terrorist acts outside Canada or here at home. It is important that we be able to exchange information with our international partners. It is important that CSIS’s mandate be clearly laid out in the law. That is what this bill does, and that is why I urge all parties, all political parties and elected members of the House, to support it, since it is an important step in protecting Canadians against the terrorist threat.
Mr. Speaker, recently the member for Scarborough—Rouge River stood in the House to celebrate Tamil heroes day, which is a day that marks the death of terrorists fighting for the Tamil Tigers. I say terrorists very deliberately, as our Conservative government listed this organization as a terrorist entity in 2006.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety please tell the House whether she thinks it is appropriate to compare the deaths of terrorists to the deaths of fallen Canadian soldiers, as the member for Scarborough—Rouge River did? Could she tell us what our government is doing to combat terrorism?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House and speak to this important issue.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
Allow me to give you an overview. In 1961, the Government of Canada approved the sale of thalidomide as a safe drug for alleviating nausea among pregnant women. However, it was observed that this drug caused miscarriages and serious birth defects, such as missing limbs and organs, deafness and blindness.
This drug had adverse effects and disastrous consequences for many families. For the past 50 years, the survivors have been living with their limitations. Many survivors are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear on their bodies. It has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs to care for themselves and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their mobility. It has limited their ability to gain employment and it means they have often had to depend on others for very basic tasks, such as using the toilet, dressing and preparing meals.
As we see, there has been a wide range of impacts, and those are not limited to what I have mentioned, actually. There certainly are a lot of things happening to these victims—the survivors, actually, because as I have indicated I believe, and as many have indicated before, approximately 10,000 thalidomide victims were born worldwide and there are about only 100 of them who are actually still alive here in Canada. We can see that their lives are being affected very deeply, at this point.
I am going to quote a few articles from the newspapers because I think it is important to hear these victims' personal stories.
This is a report from the CBC news, entitled “Thalidomide victim calls on Canadian government for compensation”.
The story is from Marie Olney, whose arms are only about 15 centimetres long and each has only three fingers. We can see how challenging it has been for her. She states that, “The disabilities we have were caused as a direct result of a decision by Health Canada to approve the drug without further testing”.
She goes on to say that it is very difficult for her to prepare meals. To even shovel her walk is actually quite impossible for her to do,
She stated that “On a daily basis there are many things I have to do using my legs, my feet, my mouth, my chin” .
Then, “What I'm garnering from my work is a lot less because of all the money I'm having to pay out for these services”.
We see a person who has been so severely affected trying to make ends meet and is unable to do that because the services have either been cut back or are just not there, and we have to understand that, certainly, the federal government's cuts to health care do not help. At the end of the day, the money that she does make does not go far enough.
She certainly is needing more and more services as she ages and, unfortunately, the money is just not going far enough.
Also, Mercedes Benegbi, who is from Montreal, states, “Many of us still rely on our parents, our friends. We can't live like that anymore,” and of course a lot of them have aging parents and we know that they are not able to care for them the way they would like to care for them.
She goes on to say, “Without funding from the federal government, we are living in a state of never-ending crisis—one that is not only physical, but also financial and emotional”.
Other countries have already provided yearly support to thalidomide victims. We are pleased to see that the government will support the NDP motion on this.
I want to go back to Ms. Olney, who basically said that she is disheartened that the government has taken so long to step up but is happy that it has. She went on to say:
They promised in 1963 and, but for a very small compassionate amount in 1991, they've not delivered on that promise at all. It's money that we need to survive in dignity and to stay as independent for as long as we can.
It is incumbent upon us as legislators and policy-makers to ensure that when we have legislation or situations in Canada that affect people, especially when it impacts their health, the proper resources and supports are there for them to live in dignity. I have a sister with Alzheimer's and I know how important it is for her to get the services and to ensure that she has the support she needs to continue to live a dignified life.
We need to tip our hats to Dr. Kelsey, a Canadian-born doctor who held the position of medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington in the early 1960s. She almost single-handedly averted a public disaster in the U.S. with respect to this specific medication, because she would not allow the department to approve it. Although the drug companies kept pushing her, they were not providing the proper information needed to ensure that she would be confident that it would be a good decision to make with respect to the protection and health of U.S. citizens.
Unfortunately, at the same time those applications were put in, the federal government of the day in Canada rushed it through and passed it. Although it felt like an eternity, it was not long afterward that babies were born with flipper-like arms or limbs. There were some who were born abroad to Canadian families because women had been prescribed thalidomide. There were at least 15 wives of Canadian soldiers who were posted in Germany who had given birth to children with severe limb deformities between 1959 and 1961. That had to be swept under the carpet because at that time the women were not supposed to be with the men overseas, and some of those children were left behind because of their disabilities. As members well know, in the older days a lot of these children were put in asylums or perished. Therefore, we must look at the impact this is having on not only the survivors but also the families who had children affected by thalidomide who may not be alive today and who still live with that.
As my time is coming to an end, I think it is extremely important to raise a couple of issues with respect to what needs to happen here. Not only should the survivors be compensated, but it is also imperative that a thalidomide survivors' fund, consisting of two components, be put in place. They are asking for the following: a one-time payment for survivors to help them address their immediate and urgent needs; a monthly payment to the survivors based on the level of disability to assist with ongoing care and medical needs; the creation of an independent board to oversee the implementation and administration of the fund; the appointment of a program administrator responsible for assessing the degree of disability of each survivor based on a simplified three-point scale, and for issuing monthly payments; and the creation of a monitoring and reporting program for the outcomes of grants to be executed by an independent body. It is an opportunity for us not only to do the right thing but also to ensure that we get it right and learn from these lessons.
On that note, I await questions and answers.
Mr. Speaker, I was hoping to get a question in to my colleague from Thornhill, but I guess we ran out of time. He started off his speech accusing the NDP of legislative vandalism, so I am going to start off my speech by talking about legislative vandalism.
Legislative vandalism? How about the fact that we have had time allocation in this House, cutting off debate, effectively limiting democracy, 82 times? He wants to talk about legislative vandalism? How about the fact that the Conservatives use in camera proceedings for any kind of real debate or discussion that happens at committee. The member wants to talk about legislative vandalism? How about the fact that the chair ruled Chief Allan Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, out of order because he wanted to talk about the downstream effects, the impact, of the oil sands on his people. The chair said that Chief Allan should actually wrap it up, because they were there to talk about the benefits of the oil sands.
If Conservatives want to talk about legislative vandalism, how about the fact that we are at third reading on this bill and we have yet to hear from the minister herself, not one word. Where is she?
That is legislative vandalism.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask to be given a bit of a warning towards the end of my time, because I have a lot to say about this bill, and I want to make sure I can get in my key points.
When this idea of Rouge Park becoming Rouge national urban park was floated, we saw it in the throne speech. I am not generally happy with throne speeches, but I was really excited to see that. I love the idea of Rouge national urban park. The NDP is a great supporter of this idea of national urban parks to begin with. However, the fact that Rouge Park could be the first is exciting stuff.
Let us imagine if we could have urban parks across Canada, where people could take public transit to actually go see nature, be in nature, and understand the cultural and ecological significance of the space. It is a great idea.
We were so excited about it that the NDP was actually successful at committee. We were doing a study on urban conservation, and we were successful in getting a couple of days of study on Rouge Park so we could get an update. We heard from Parks Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. We really wanted an update on how things were going since the throne speech, what we needed to know, what areas needed to be worked around or figured out, and where we needed to be creative.
In fact, we are so supportive of this idea of a national urban park at Rouge Valley that my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, is a patron of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. It is her personal commitment as a member of Parliament to say that she is engaged with the process and that it is something she supports and wants to see come to fruition.
We were all really excited when we saw this in the throne speech. What happened? I will note that we have been very supportive of the work on the ground that has been done around Rouge Park. Local, provincial, and national groups have worked for decades to make this happen. The idea of turning this into a national park, with all the national park status and national park protections that come with it, is something they have been working on for decades.
Imagine how excited they were to see this in the throne speech. They were actually at a point where they could see everything they had worked on coming to fruition. It was really happening. Yet I am holding in my hand a news release that all these groups worked on together and sent to all members of Parliament. I am going to read from it. We are so excited about this park, but listen to the news release:
Dear members of Parliament:
As organizations with a long-standing interest in establishing Rouge National Urban Park, we are writing to convey our grave concerns with Bill C-40. We urge you to oppose this bill at third reading. A more robust legislative framework is needed to ensure Canada’s first national urban park will adequately protect the Rouge—an amazing natural treasure—for Canadians today and into the future. We attempted to work constructively through the Parliamentary process, supporting amendments to address major flaws in the bill when it was before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in late October and early November. Unfortunately, the Committee rejected all proposed amendments.
There is a piece in here about the problems with the bill, but I will get to that in my speech. I want to skip to the last paragraph. It is emotional, and it lays out the situation for these groups:
The Province of Ontario has already informed Canada that it will not transfer its Rouge Park lands unless the bill governing the creation of the national urban park is amended to "meet or exceed" the environmental policies of existing Greenbelt and Rouge Park Plans. Bill C-40 fails to meet this test. If Parliament proceeds with this flawed bill, the province's substantial Rouge Park lands (25+ km2) may not be transferred to Parks Canada. The resultant Rouge National Urban Park will be less than half the park's announced size and will not include the heartlands of the park, the beautiful Rouge Valley system. It will be a park in name only.
Please oppose Bill C-40 at third reading and recommend that stronger legislation be drafted and brought back to the House.
It was signed by the executive directors of Nature Canada, Environmental Defence, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Ontario Nature, and the STORM Coalition. It is incredible to think that these groups would want us to vote against this bill, but that is the reality.
My colleague, the member for Beaches—East York, and I, after committee, were faced with a decision when none of the 19 amendments brought forward by the NDP were adopted. We were faced with a decision on what to do and what to recommend to our colleagues in voting on this bill. A lot of these groups, including Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Land Over Landings, and Ontario Nature, said to come to the park, and they would take us on a tour of the park and talk about what needs to happen. The two of us did that last Monday, and it was incredible.
People have worked so hard to protect this land over the years in the hope that one day, it could become a national urban park. After this incredible tour of farmland, wetlands, beach, and the valley we all gathered in an environmental education centre for young people, and the members of the groups spelled it out. They said, “We want you to vote against this bill”.
How did we get here? How is it that these groups are pushing us to vote against it? It is not that we do not understand compromise. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good; that is the saying.
We had a similar situation with Sable Island National Park. If members remember that debate here in the House, Sable Island National Park is in my riding of Halifax. We had similar issues with the bill. It was not quite what we needed it to be.
We engaged with the legislative process. We brought forward amendments. Those amendments were rejected, which is kind of to be expected with the Conservatives these days, but we still did it in good faith. At the end of the day, I realized that the legislation for Sable Island National Park would carve out a protected area in the middle of a gas field. This is a natural gas field. It is a unique situation. It would carve out a protected area, and I knew that one day, on the Monday, there could be drilling in that national park, but if we passed that legislation on the Tuesday, there would no longer be the right to drill in that park, so it was worth it. Even though the bill was not perfect, even though we brought forward amendments and they were rejected, we still supported it.
I am incredibly proud of that work, and we will continue to work to make the legislation and the park management plan robust and strong and to put in the proper protections for that park.
However, Rouge national urban park is different, because this legislation crosses a line. It obviously is a precedent-setting bill. The park is the first national urban park in an urban setting. It can be accessed by public transit. It creates a new model for protecting areas in an urban setting, because we have to take into consideration the presence of highways. There is the 407.
I was overlooking the Rouge Valley the other day and I could hear the roar of Highway 401, even though I was looking at this beautiful nature valley. It was incredible. There are roads, highways, railway lines and farming, so it has to be different. A precedent will be set.
However, there is a negative precedent, and that is around ecological integrity. We heard the member for Thornhill talk about ecological integrity. He said that we could not protect ecological integrity in an urban park. I disagree. If we look at the Parks Canada Agency Act, it talks about the first priority being the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, which is the improvement of ecological integrity.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a definition of a protected area, which says, “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed...to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”. They are different words, but the same idea. They talk about the conservation of nature. The prioritization of ecological health or ecological integrity is all conservation.
What do we have here? We have something totally different in this bill. I will read it verbatim, and members will be shocked, because the bill states:
The Minister must, in the management of the Park, take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems.
We go from prioritization, improving and maintaining to we should probably think about it, and that is not acceptable in the least.
I heard the speech of my colleague from Thornhill and all of the arguments at committee at second reading. The Conservatives said that a burn off of a forest could not be done when a highway went through it and there were houses, that farms would not be ripped up so trees could be planted to restore the natural ecosystem. No one asked for that.
At committee, we had incredible testimony from environmental groups, local organizations and farming groups. The Conservatives would have us believe that it is this environmentalist and farmer fight, and never the two shall meet. That is not the case. Everybody was perfectly reasonable at committee. Everybody said that they wanted to protect farms. Farmers said that they want to protect their livelihoods, but they wanted to have a park. Environmental groups said that they wanted to protect farms and have a park. Everybody was reasonable.
There was a way to figure this out and come to a compromise in protecting farmland and ensuring there were no silly rules that said that Highway 407 had to be set fire every 10 years to stimulate new growth. We are smart people. We are legislators. We have Parks Canada and legal drafters. I know them and they are smart people. We can figure out a way around this.
The NDP proposed many things, because there are a number of flaws with the bill, around the issue of prioritization of ecosystem health or ecological prioritization. We proposed to replace clause 6 and say that the minister must, in the management of the park, prioritize improvement of the health of the park's ecosystem. We are talking about prioritization. We are not saying that we have to do outrageous things that do not make any sense. We just want to prioritize the improvement of the health of the park's ecosystem.
Then we put forward a subclause (2) that for greater certainty, the minister must recognize and take into consideration the ongoing presence of agriculture in the park. That is important. I hear the Conservatives ask what is going to be done with the farmers. Let us spell it out. We are going to take into consideration the ongoing presence of farms in the park. We are not saying ongoing farms, but secretly this is a conspiracy to rip up all the farms and plant trees. We are talking about protecting the agriculture in the park.
I will read a couple of quotes from committee because they are so simple and straightforward.
Faisal Moola is from the David Suzuki Foundation. He said:
—we do not believe that maximizing ecological health and support for agriculture are mutually exclusive objectives in the park. The David Suzuki Foundation supports sustainable farming in the park.
That is perfect.
Kim Empringham is with the York Region Federation of Agriculture. She was wonderful at committee. She understood compromise and coming together to try to reach consensus. She said:
Two of the guiding principles for the Rouge national urban park are to maintain and improve ecological health and scientific integrity, and to respect and support sustainable agriculture and other compatible land uses.
We have a woman who testified on behalf of farmers and a man who has testified on behalf of environmental groups, and they are saying the same thing. What I do not understand is why we have this fake fight and this pretend argument that we cannot do this. We can do it. We came up with a solution. In my opinion, that one amendment would solve all the problems that we are having.
What do we do? I would like to talk a bit about the political process. We worked really hard within this process to create the best bill possible. If members remember, at second reading, the NDP was not combative on this. It said yes, that we wanted to get this to third reading. I think that we actually fast-tracked it a bit and said that we would only put up a certain number of speakers because we were eager to roll up our sleeves, get to work at committee and deal with this.
In our speeches, the New Democrats said that we wanted to come up with a solution, that we could do this and figure this out. We had quite supportive yet tempered speeches in the House. They were really interesting. We heard from MPs, mostly in the Toronto area because they know the park so well. They really wanted to say something about this park and be a part of navigating the path forward. The speeches were excellent.
We then worked with different groups. Sometimes it is back and forth. We are on the phone a lot. Someone says “what about this word?” and we are the go-between. You know this, Mr. Speaker, from your background in law. We negotiated that, but we did it, and we came up with this good amendment and really good language for clause 6.
What we had to do was talk to the grassroots organizations that wanted to protect farming in the park and yet recognize farms as another unique aspect of this park. I think we did it. What is left here?
The NDP brought forward 19 amendments at committee. It was a pleasure working with my NDP colleagues on this, because they really took it to heart. They really did want to ensure that the bill was better. Kudos to the MP for Scarborough Southwest and the MP for Scarborough—Rouge River for the work they did. We lost that fight, so we will take the advice of these groups that are on the ground that want to see this urban national park more than anything, but not at the expense of creating a bad precedent for urban parks from here on out. We will take their advice and we will vote against the bill.
However, we support this park, so what do we do? We have started that work already. My colleagues and I, particularly the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, have been sitting down with this amendment to clause 6, for example, and other amendments, and we will put together a private member's bill that will lay out what the NDP will do when it is in government, how it will change this bill to actually protect ecological integrity, yet ensure the ongoing presence of agriculture in the park. We will bring forward this bill, and I will be so proud to do that. I hope I get to second the bill.
We can do this. We can have an incredible urban national park. We can make it the jewel in the national park crown and set a positive precedent for urban parks to come. That is what we are working on. I look forward to the introduction of that bill. We really will lay out how we can make this happen, protecting all of the interests that need to be protected, including the health of this ecosystem.
Mr. Speaker, since the last Thursday question two weeks ago, the House has seen fit to support a number of good pieces of legislation.
The member for Scarborough Southwest introduced a bill to make Remembrance Day a national holiday; the member for Alfred-Pellan introduced a good bill to create a national day of the midwife; and of course, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River just introduced a bill to eliminate child poverty.
These are all good bills that have received the support of the House. The official opposition, the NDP, has shown a lot of common sense, and I want to make sure people know that.
So that common sense continues, we are continuing to bring forward on the floor of the House of Commons a whole variety of important policy alternatives to what the government of the day is proposing, such as a national child care program—which is only one election away now—and also putting in place a public inquiry for missing and murdered indigenous women, which would take place within 100 days of an NDP administration.
In a couple of weeks, we have a couple of NDP opposition days coming up. We are looking forward to putting those opposition days forward and continuing to provide hope to Canadians that, within less than 11 months, we will see a change of agenda in Ottawa. That is something I think all Canadians are looking forward to.
With that in mind, I would like to ask my colleague the government House leader for the opposition days that are coming and the government's agenda for the coming week.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the private member's Motion No. 534, which was introduced by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. I would like to thank her for tabling this motion, because it allows me to speak to the important things the government is doing to reduce child poverty in Canada.
We know that the best way to tackle child poverty is to improve the economic well-being of Canadians, especially those who are in poverty. Our approach is working. We are collaborating with the provinces and territories. We know we are at an all-time low. In fact, 225,000 fewer children are now in poverty than when we took office in 2006.
Our universal child care benefit is specifically aimed at supporting families with children. As the Minister of Finance just recently announced, an enhancement of that plan will benefit all families with children. Members might be aware that we are increasing the universal child care benefit, the UCCB, for children under the age of six. As of January 1, 2015, those parents will receive $160 a month for each child up until the age of 6. That is up from the $100 that is currently exists. That works out to $1,920 a year, which is a huge impact for those with low incomes.
We are also expanding the UCC benefit to children aged 6 to 17. Again, as of January 1, 2015, the expanded UCC benefit will see $60 per month for children aged 6 to 17. That works out to about $720 a year. This is a brand new addition to a very important program that, again, will help families with low incomes.
We are also increasing the child care expense deduction dollar limits by $1,000, effective for the 2015 tax year. The maximum amounts that can be claimed will go up from $7,000 to $8,000 for children under 7, from $4,000 to $5,000 for children aged 7 to 16, and from $10,000 to $11,000 for children who are eligible for the disability tax credit.
Our plan recognizes that there is no one size that fits all for child care for Canadian families. We are delivering real results.
I was in the child care licensing field for a short time. I recognized that in our rural communities, our shift workers needed many different options in how they responded to child care services. We have a plan that will deliver.
Another thing the NDP regularly forgets to mention is that families with low incomes in the provinces receive significant subsidies for their child care through provincial programs. This is regularly not spoken about. The NDP talks about what it costs, and it certainly a significant number of dollars, but what it does not talk about is how much the provinces subsidize those costs for the low income families.
Our Canada social transfer is providing an all-time high of $12.6 billion in 2014-15 to the provinces and territories. That is up from $8.4 billion under the last year of the Liberals. We are continuing to increase these transfers by 3% a year. This gives the provinces and territories the flexibility to address the elements of this motion that are in their constitutional jurisdiction. I have already alluded to the fact that every province provides significant support to low-income families for their child care.
We also provide billions of dollars in benefits to families with children through the Canada disability benefit, the national child benefit supplement and the child tax credit. In budget 2012, we introduced measures to support the well-being of our most vulnerable children, including supports and services for first nations schools and students, as well as proposed enhancements to the registered disability savings plans for the families of children with severe disabilities.
While the opposition is focused on trying to create more bureaucracy, we have actually been reducing child poverty to all-time lows. That said, we agree that the child poverty rate remains too high. However, our policies are working, especially the working income tax benefit.
Everyone in the House wants to tackle the issue. Our government is tackling this issue in a solid and sensible way, and we are making a real difference, rather than creating a significant bureaucracy, which perhaps the NDP is looking at.
The working income tax benefit is an incentive for low-income Canadians to get over the welfare wall. It encourages them to work by providing them with benefits the more they earn. The proof is in the numbers, which show that 1.5 million Canadians benefit. This has brought thousands of Canadians out of poverty.
We are working on many fronts to reduce poverty in this country.
I would now like to put some emphasis on the significant investments we have been making to facilitate access to affordable housing for low-income families.
We have been working in co-operation with our partners, the provinces and territories, to improve access to affordable housing. For example, since 2006, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, better known as CMHC, has invested more than $16.5 billion in housing. It is working with its partners.
We have helped 915,000 Canadians and their families, including Canadians with disabilities, recent immigrants, aboriginal people, and low-income families with children. Over the last few years, many facilities for families have opened in my own riding, providing important support.
Over the next five years, our government is going to continue to invest another $10.2 billion in housing to reduce the number of Canadian families who are in need of housing. These investments include $1.25 billion for a five-year extension of the investment in affordable housing agreement. CMHC is working with the provinces and territories on this.
There is another area in which we significantly differ. Our government knows how critical it is to work with the provinces and territories rather than to have a large federal government perspective. Every province and community is different in terms of their needs and what is going to work best for them. We work with a partnership strategy and look at local and regionally tailored housing solutions.
Our poverty reduction plan has been recognized throughout the world as one that works. The recent UNICEF report said that child poverty decreased during the last recession by 180,000. The president of UNICEF Canada had this to say about Canada's performance:
Canada is faring far better than other western countries. It is due to measures that are favourable to families, like tax credits, fiscal measures, and benefits that have been maintained or put in place to counter the effects of the global crisis.
We are proud that our plan is working, but we are not done until no children in Canada are living in poverty.
My hon. colleagues know that reducing poverty is not the responsibility solely of the federal government. It is a shared responsibility that requires the participation of multiple levels. That is why I mentioned that we are working hand-in-hand with the provinces with the significant Canada social transfer.
I am pleased to support today's motion, because as I have outlined, our government has a plan, a plan that is working. The proof is that fewer children are living in poverty today than when we took office.
Our comprehensive approach to addressing poverty works by increasing opportunities to get into the labour market and by contributing to strong, healthy Canadian families and communities. Strong economic stewardship is essential to Canada's success and to the welfare of our citizens, including our children.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to lay out a bit of the timeline around the bill and some of the key issues.
Before I get into that, I do want to take a moment in this House to thank my colleagues, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River and the member for Scarborough Southwest. They have been really helpful. It has been great to work closely with them as MPs in the NDP who are right there where this park is. It has been great to get their advice from the ground to hear what is going on.
I also want to take a minute to thank some of the environmental organizations and local organizations that have been very helpful with our analysis of the bill. They include the Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Friends of the Rouge Watershed. When we are here on the Hill, we try to do an analysis of legislation as it is presented, but it is hard to know exactly how it will play out in local communities. They have been very helpful to us.
There was a study at the environment committee on urban conservation. The NDP was successful in getting two days set aside to specifically look at Rouge Park. I think this was last year. That was incredibly helpful. We got an update from Parks Canada officials and we did hear witnesses. We heard about the incredible consultation that has been happening, over 25 years of consultation, and the work around this park. We heard about the great work that Parks Canada staff have been doing to try to ensure everybody is at the table and to deal with creating a piece of legislation that would create a park. That is very difficult.
This is an urban national park. Even the concept of it is challenging, because there is a highway in this park. There are farms in this park. It is an incredible gift to think that we could have a park that we could access by subway. However, with those gifts come great challenges.
Often when bills are presented in the House, we will hear from government; usually the minister will speak to the bill. Then we will usually hear first from the opposition critics to lay out a party's position and see where we are going.
I am actually speaking at the end of this debate. I have been listening to it since the beginning, with a small break for committee duty. It has been really interesting. I am not saying that the way a politician says, “This has been interesting”. It has been really interesting. There has been actual debate in this House.
My colleague, the member for Beaches—East York, sits behind me and I turned to him in the last of debate and asked, “Are you listening to this? People are talking about ideas. There's a little give, a little take.” I learned from each and every speech, regardless of whether it was a government member giving the speech, a Liberal member, or an NDP member. Why is that? I think the people who are speaking in the House to the bill have a vested interest in it. They are MPs from the area predominantly. They are MPs with expertise. They are MPs who have been engaged in this issue and engaged in the creation of the park for years.
In that debate, that honest debate that has been happening here in the House, I would say that most members have put aside their talking points and have talked about some of the real issues. I find that to be incredibly refreshing.
I think everybody who has spoken to this bill really does want to ensure that we get this legislation right, but they also want to ensure that we create this park. That is priority number one.
I will say that I will be supporting the bill, and I know that my caucus is behind that recommendation. As members know, critics make recommendations to their caucuses on different pieces of legislation. We are united and we do believe this is a good project, the creation of this park. We strongly support protecting land through creation of national parks writ large, as long as those national parks are backed with strong environmental legislation.
We also support this legislation, the creation of Rouge Park, Canada's first urban national park. That is the first thing.
The second thing is that I will come to this debate with an open mind, an open heart, and put down my talking points as well, to try to present some ideas, try to present some proposals, because I do see problems with the bill, and I am not alone on that. However, I think there are solutions, and I do believe that we as parliamentarians could work on those solutions together, alongside the community, and actually come up with a stronger bill.
A lot has happened with this bill. It was introduced in June, and frankly, I think some politics were involved in that. I think it was hastily introduced in this House, but we had some byelections happening in the Scarborough area so it is good for the government to say, “Look. We are going to hold up this bill.” That is just my assumption, but I do think it was tabled pretty hastily. There continue to be politics when we see what the Ontario government has been doing and saying via the media.
This park will be 58 square kilometres. The Province of Ontario owns two-thirds of that. The federal government owns about one-third, with some small parcels owned by Markham and Toronto. In order to create this park, we need a transfer of lands. Some 5,400 acres of parkland would be transferred from the Ontario government to the federal government. At least that was the theory we were working with in June. It is not so much the theory now.
In early September, we heard that the Ontario government was thinking about not transferring the land because of the issue of ecological integrity. I will get to the ecological integrity piece in a minute. About a week later, we saw that the Minister of the Environment said that the federal government would move ahead with this park anyway. I have a concern that we would be creating a park that we do not actually know what it will look like. We do not actually have the full parcel of land. I will admit I would rather create a very small park than no park at all, but we are in a situation where we are not 100% sure what land is going to be involved.
What is the issue with ecological integrity? This is important. The National Parks Act specifically states, “Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks”. The first priority is maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity.
This bill says that the minister must take into consideration ecological integrity. That is a big sticking point for a lot of people.
Community groups have come out and said that this is not acceptable, that it is a lower standard of environmental protection. I understand what they are saying and I believe what they are saying.
There was actually a pretty good release put out by a number of groups, including Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, for example. They said:
We call on the federal government to uphold its commitment to the Memorandum of Agreement. As it stands now, the draft federal legislation threatens to undermine 25 years of consultation, scientific study and provincial policy development that made ecological integrity the main purpose of the park and the top priority for park management.
That is their concern. I share their concern, but I think we can figure this out.
Listening to the debate here in the House, I have heard my colleagues, in particular the members for Wellington—Halton Hills and Oak Ridges—Markham, talk about the fact that this is an urban park and it is complicated because there are farms and there is a highway. How do we have this standard of protecting ecological integrity when Highway 401 is going through it? That says to me that maybe we legitimately need a different standard, not a lower standard but a different standard, for urban parks. I buy that. That is something worth exploring.
The problem I have right now, though, is that I have trust issues with this government.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by noting that today is the first day of the Markham Fair, which runs from October 2 to October 5. This is one of Ontario's largest agricultural fairs. It has been going on since 1844 in my community. It highlights the important role that farming and agriculture have played in the development of my community and the entire York region.
What is very special about the Markham Fair every year is the importance that the entire community places on it. Every November, I have the opportunity to attend the president's banquet at the Markham Fair, and we recognize the individuals who have volunteered their time at the fair. It always amazes me how many people have been there for 5, 10, 20, 25, 40, 45 and 50 years, volunteering at the Markham Fair. Generation upon generation of families volunteer to make this annual fair a special event for our entire community.
As I said, it is an agricultural fair. We see all the things that we could expect to see at an agricultural fair. There are ploughing matches There are competitions for things like hogs, chickens, the best homemade apple pie. There is soap carving. Obviously, there is a midway and there are all kinds of other things that highlight the importance of agriculture to our community.
Today, as they kick off another year of the Markham Fair, I just wanted to congratulate them and wish them well.
There has been a lot of difference of opinion on the creation of the park. Actually, let me take that back. I do not think that there is a difference of opinion with respect to creating the Rouge national urban park. I think that the difference is in the form that the park would take.
As the members for Scarborough—Guildwood and Wellington—Halton Hills highlighted, a lot of people for many years have been focused on trying to create a national park in the Rouge. That is something that has been talked about for many years.
It is important to look back a little bit at where this all started and how we got to this place. A lot of the land in this area became available to the government through the expropriations in 1972 by the Trudeau government of, I think, over 18,000 acres of land for the creation of potential new airports and a second airport for Toronto. At that time, farmers in the area were evicted from their lands. Some were given leases to lease back their lands on a yearly basis, but many were evicted. That has been the reality for many of the farmers in the area since 1972.
Fast forward to 1994, when the Rouge park concept started being put into play. As it has already been noted, it really followed Pauline Browes, who was the minister of state for the environment in the Campbell government and a parliamentary secretary in the Mulroney government. A decision was made that $10 million would be set aside to help create, manage and preserve some of the natural heritage of the Rouge park. That brought in a heightened significance of how special the natural heritage of the Rouge is.
Consequently, there have been provincial governments that have also recognized its significance. Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Mike Harris government transferred thousands of acres of land into the management of the park. Also through that time, plans were made to manage the Rouge in a more effective way so that we could preserve and protect the national heritage of the area.
As we have got a little bit further into the discussion, there were thoughts about what could be done to protect the Rouge park. As it has been mentioned, the Rouge park falls into two different categories. There is a Toronto category, and then there is a York region part of it.
For those who do not know the area, in the Toronto category there is a large street called Steeles Avenue. South of Steeles Avenue, some of the most extraordinary natural heritage in Ontario or Canada can be evidenced through the Rouge park there. It is absolutely spectacular. I do not think anybody can question that.
North of Steeles Avenue, we start coming into more agricultural areas. A vast majority of the land to the north of Highway 7, which would be put into Rouge park, is agricultural land that has been farmed for hundreds of years. This is not just a new concept. This land has been farmed for hundreds of years. In fact, I would invite all of my colleagues in the House to look at a program called The Curse of the Axe. This program highlights the Wendat people who were settled in this area some 500 years ago. It was discovered that the Wendat people had been farming those very same lands. The extent to which they were farming completely changed how we viewed our first nations and the role that they played in agriculture and trading in the area. I would invite all my colleagues to look at the program. It will highlight again how long this land has been farmed.
North of Highway 7, it is farming. To the south, as the member for Scarborough—Guildwood rightly pointed out, we have the 401, a hydro corridor, the Toronto Zoo and, on one edge of it, there is a landfill. However, there are extraordinary pockets of incredible beauty that the Ontario government, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and what was previously the Rouge Park Alliance had been working on preserving for a number of years. We have done that with partners in the private sector. By and large, we have done a very good job.
However, when the concept started evolving with respect to a national urban park, and we knew we had some excess airport lands, that is when the debate started to change a bit. We knew, as has been mentioned by other speakers, that we could do something very special here. We could protect the natural heritage of the Rouge Valley, but at the same time we could extract those lands that had become surplus to any potential airport needs, and put them back into a Rouge park so these lands could be protected for a long time to come.
The Ontario Farmland Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes farmland preservation, said, “The new Rouge National Urban Park offers one of the most innovative opportunities for the protection of farmland resources, agricultural heritage and local food production in our generation.”
If I am not mistaken, it is only 1%. This is class 1 farmland. We have lost so much farmland in this area to development. In the park south of Steeles Avenue, pretty much all of the farming that was there is now gone. I believe that we have to do our absolute best to ensure that the class 1 farmland on the northern part of the future park is preserved and saved, and that we allow our farmers to continue to farm, using best farm practices, for a very long time.
Our farmers are sometimes condemned as not being proper stewards of the land. I disagree. These lands have been farmed for hundreds of years, and our farmers are some of the best stewards of the land. The proposal that has been brought forward by the minister would see these farmers finally get long-term leases. Bear in mind that these farmers have been working on yearly leases. It is very hard, if not impossible, for them to make investments in the land that they have been farming. They cannot make the investments that most farmers would want to make. They are forced into a certain type of farming because they are on a yearly lease. This has disadvantaged the farmers in this area for a very long time.
We have the opportunity through this legislation to do both things that are very important, to protect the natural heritage of the park, while at the same time reversing decades of poor treatment of farmers in the area.
That is why I am very excited about this. Obviously throughout this process there has been a lot of debate. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills and I have not always seen eye to eye on this. We have had a tremendous amount of debate. When the proposal first came to me as the member of Parliament for Oak Ridges—Markham to create a Rouge national urban park, I was dead set against it if it meant that farmers in my riding would be disadvantaged the way they had been and if they were to be treated the way they had been under the existing Rouge Park management.
There is a 2001 Rouge Park management plan. Part of that management plan calls for a 600-metre corridor. The net result of that corridor would mean the elimination, at a minimum, of 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland and that is completely unacceptable to me, to farmers and to my constituents. We can make sure that we work with the farmers, who are not opposed to making sure that the entire ecosystem is protected. They want to work together with government to make sure that they can do that. I want to read a letter from the York Region Federation of Agriculture, which represents farmers in the area, to the hon. Brad Duguid, the Ontario minister who has highlighted that the Ontario government does not want to transfer the land. It says:
The York Region Federation of Agriculture members are the 700 farm businesses in York Region and Toronto including the farmers in the Rouge National Urban Park. ...you arrived at your decision to not recommend the Provincial land transfers after discussions with stakeholders and local citizen groups. You did not consult with the York Region Federation of Agriculture, the farmers in the Park, or the community living in the Park. We urge you not to hold up the transfer of Provincial lands to Parks Canada.
The farming community in the Rouge National Urban Park are the same farm families that have been farming and caring for the land...for the past 200 years. The future of the farms in the Rouge National Urban Park have been in limbo since the farms were expropriated in the 1970's. The farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park is Class 1 Agricultural Land, meaning it is the best land for agriculture production. Less than 1% of Canada's farmland is Class 1. The farmers in the park have already given up 1000 acres of productive farmland in the Rouge National Urban Park to reforestation projects.
We support Parks Canada's consultation process that engaged over 100 stakeholder groups and thousands of individuals to create the Rouge National Urban Park Draft Management Plan.
It went on to say:
We believe that Parks Canada will improve the ecological integrity of the Rouge National Urban Park while maintaining the farmland in food production.
I want to reference another letter, from the Cedar Grove community group to Minister Duguid. Cedar Grove is an extraordinary community within my riding, a very historical community. This is what it has to say:
On behalf of the Cedar Community Club, we write with regard to your letter of September 2...which presents your decision to withdraw your recommendation to support transfer of land to Rouge National Urban Park.... It was shocking to learn of your decision and we strongly disagree.... With the promise of the coming Rouge National Urban Park, there was an anticipated hope for stability for the farmers and residents of Cedar Grove and surrounding communities.
It went on to support what the minister has done to bring about the Rouge national urban park.
I want to talk about what has recently transpired with the Province of Ontario.
We obviously have been working with the Province of Ontario for a number of years. Since this announcement was made in the previous election of 2011 and rehighlighted in the throne speech, we have been working closely with the Province of Ontario to bring about the Rouge national urban park in a way that respects the ecological integrity and promotes the national heritage, but also protects the farmers and gives them the stability that they have been looking for since 1972.
I do not think it is a big secret that we were close to an agreement. We had a signed agreement with the Province of Ontario that we probably would have announced had an election not been called for the Province of Ontario. Then, after the election that changed, unbeknownst to any of us. I know I picked up the Toronto Star one day and saw a letter from Liberal Minister Duguid outlining the Liberals' concerns. They were no longer going to be transferring the land because they had some concerns with ecological integrity.
Never had they mentioned this before. The province had signed an agreement with us. The transfer was to happen. We were to move forward with a management plan that was working with the province and the stakeholders in the area. Then this came. Coincidentally, everything is held up until November 2015, after the next federal election. It is truly shameful.
It is worth remembering that these are the same provincial Liberals that had before requested, not ecological integrity, but money for the lands it was going to transfer. They wanted to be bought out. Therefore, when they asked for I think it was $120 million, they had no concerns with what they were seeing then. Their concern was that they wanted to be bought out of their position in the lands; “Give us a hundred million dollars and we'll transfer it to you, no problem”.
It was highlighted by people like Alan Wells, who was the final chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, that this had never been the case. Governments had transferred lands to the Rouge Park for a very limited amount, I believe for $1. The provincial government had done that before. The provincial government of Mike Harris transferred lands to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority so that it could be managed. That was pointed out to the minister, but they needed to get their $100 million.
I really want to reiterate what the provincial Liberals' proposal would do. In his letter to the Minister of the Environment, he highlighted what the member for Scarborough—Guildwood and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands talked about. It is worth noting that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, the member for Markham—Unionville, and I am not sure if anyone else, submitted petitions to the House supporting a 1994 framework, saying that this park could not go ahead unless the 1994 framework was supported. However, as I said earlier, the 1994 framework would cause 1,700 acres of class 1 farmland to be taken out of production. It would mean the eviction of farmers and would probably mean the closure of one of our most successful farms in the area, Whittamore's Farm.
To say that the farmers do not trust the provincial Liberal government on this is an understatement because they have seen this before. There was a park called Bob Hunter Memorial Park, where 600 acres of class 1 farmland was taken away from farmers. People who had lived there for 33 years were evicted. Trees were planted across this class 1 farmland. Millions of dollars were put into it. There was no consultation. It was done and forced upon these farmers. Therefore, the farmers do not trust the provincial government. Quite frankly, governments at the federal level have never undertaken a consultation process like we have on this, and that is all governments. The Conservative and Liberal governments in the past have never done what we have done now.
While I agree that the southern part of this extraordinary ecosystem needs to be protected, and that is what our legislation does, I do not agree that means sacrificing thousands of acres of class 1 farmland in order to create a Rouge national urban park.
I hope that members of the House will work with us to create a park that we can all be proud of and give the millions of people who live in this area access to a treasure that we will be able to brag about because we helped create it.
Order, please. Could all hon. members speak when they have the floor and refrain from doing so when they do not? If there is a discussion that needs to take place, members are obviously free to leave the chamber and do it outside the chamber.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
Mr. Speaker, in starting my remarks, I would definitely like to thank my fabulous colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River for her remarks and for the great representation she provides for the constituents of Scarborough—Rouge River.
I am happy to participate in the debate on Bill C-3, An Act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
As folks can well imagine, it does make a number of changes to a number of pieces of legislation. As my colleague has said, the NDP will be supporting this bill at third reading because it does make modest improvements to the existing legislation, although we did make some proposed amendments to the bill, which we thought would strengthen it significantly. Unfortunately, the government was not open to those amendments.
Let me just briefly describe what the bill proposes to do.
Part 1 would enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act to indemnify the aviation industry for the cost of damages in the event of what they call “interferences” for things like armed conflict or an attack, things that normally would be outside the normal operation of the aviation industry, a crisis of some kind.
Part 2 would amend the Aeronautics Act to provide the Airworthiness Investigative Authority with the powers to investigate aviation accidents or incidents involving civilians and aircraft or aeronautical installations operated by or on behalf of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces or a visiting force.
Part 3 would amend the Canada Marine Act in relation to the effective day of the appointment of a director of the Port Authority.
Part 4 would amend the Marine Liability Act to implement, in Canada, the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea. That is a 2010 convention which basically establishes a liability scheme to compensate victims in the event of a spill of hazardous or noxious substances. It puts a limit to that liability, which the act details.
Part 5 would introduce requirements for operators of oil handling facilities, including the requirement to notify the minister of their operations and to submit plans to the minister.
The NDP supports this bill, but we believe there should not be a limit to the liability. We do not believe Canadians should be on the hook for clean-up costs and damages following a spill of hazardous or noxious substances.
The Conservatives have even refused reasonable amendments that would increase the liability. Canadians would ultimately be on the hook if the damages exceeded that liability.
Basically, the New Democrats are committed to preventing spills on our coasts whatsoever. We want to ensure that we have an effective Coast Guard and that we have effective environmental precautions so our coasts are protected. We do question the government when it takes actions like closing down B.C.'s oil spill response centre. If we want to make the coasts safer, why would we close down the oil spill response centre? Shutting down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and gutting environmental emergency response programs, these do not sound like the actions of a government that has the interests of the safety of Canadians as its priority.
However, as I said, there are some positive parts of this bill. The required pilotage and increased surveillance is a small step in the right direction, but the bill is very limited in its scope. New Democrats believe that the government needs to reverse the effects of the drastic cuts of last year's budget on tanker safety to really be effective.
If we are talking about tanker safety, let us take a look at some of the more recent statistics. Tanker traffic has increased dramatically and, therefore, has created an increased risk of an oil spill in Canadian waters. The federal government decreases marine communication traffic centres and environmental emergency programs even though estimates state that oil tanker traffic has already tripled between 2005 and 2010 and that oil tanker traffic is planned to triple again by 2016. Therefore, we are seeing dramatically increased oil tanker traffic, which would require stronger measures by the government.
Proposed pipeline expansion projects would increase crude deliveries from 300,000 to 700,000 barrels per day. We are seeing a tremendous increase in traffic and we should have the strongest precautionary measures possible. One of the precautionary measures is to ensure that the polluter pays, so that if there is a spill or a problem, which hopefully there is not and something we can prevent, the polluter pays for the damage caused.
We know what the government's record is when it comes to environmental protection. We have seen in omnibus budget bill after omnibus budget bill the extent of the cuts, such as the gutting of environmental protections and the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. A major urban heritage river, the Humber River, runs through my riding of Parkdale—High Park. It is truly a national treasure, which is why it was deemed to be a heritage river. It has been delisted from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, all except the very mouth of the river. That is of great concern to conservationists, biologists, and the community at large. New Democrats are trying to get that river and many other rivers put back under the protection of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
The government is also making changes in aviation safety, which is one of the issues addressed in this bill. In my riding of Parkdale—High Park it is home to many flight attendants and pilots, people who work in the aviation industry. One of the issues that is of great concern to them is the number of flight attendants on aircraft. We all remember, at least in Toronto we all remember, back in 2005 when Air France flight 358 crashed at Toronto Pearson International Airport. It was a horrific crash. When people first saw the smoke and fire, they wondered whether anyone would survive, but the full complement of cabin crew managed to evacuate all the passengers from that burning aircraft in less than 90 seconds. Talk about professionalism and dedication. They were exemplary.
We know from the history of aviation accidents that having more flight attendants positioned at emergency exits improves every passenger's chance of escaping and surviving in the event of an aircraft accident. We have seen the government previously attempt to reduce the number of flight attendants on aircraft. Right now, the ratio is 1:40. It is trying to reduce that by 25% and increase it to 1:50. I believe that is fundamentally wrong and it could be very dangerous for the travelling public.
While New Democrats support this bill, we have many other concerns about public safety and environmental protection. Frankly, the scope of the changes in this bill are very limited.
Order, please. I appreciate the hon. member wanting to get a third aspect in there. We are squeezing into the time allowed for questions and comments.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
Mr. Speaker, New Democrats do not represent the government yet, but on October 19, 2015, this will be the government side of the House. There is no doubt.
What the minister just said is, I think, quite disingenuous. There were two very good questions from the members for Scarborough—Rouge River and Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, both of them saying that it is a real problem when 280 members of Parliament are cut off from being able to speak to a bill. It is not up to the minister to then say that the Conservatives will let a few of them speak, and somehow that makes it okay. This particular time allocation motion shuts 280 members of Parliament out of the debate on what the minister admits is a very important subject.
The Conservatives do not seem to want to speak to these issues or any others. They just do not seem to represent their constituents. However, New Democrats actually care about the quality of the legislation we bring forward and its impact on the lives of Canadians. How can the minister accept that 280 members of Parliament are being denied their ability to speak on behalf of their constituents on this bill and to offer improvements so that the bill can be fixed, unlike Bill C-15, which languished for three years until the government dumped it? How can he shut 280 members of Parliament out of this important debate?
Order, please. On a point of order, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River.
With the exception of our first nations brothers and sisters, all of us in the chamber are newcomers to this country, every one of us, and we should be very aware of that reality when we start to bandy about and talk about citizenship. My own family came from places across the world.
My husband is from Holland, one grandmother was from the United States, a grandfather was from England, and my paternal grandfather was from Italy. In the case of my paternal grandfather, there are various stories about the reason for his departure from Italy. Some say poverty. I am inclined to believe it had something to do with him smoking under the police station veranda and accidentally causing a fire that made his departure essential. No matter what the reason, all who came here came for a better life. They came to make a new beginning, and that is what makes this bill so very important. That is also what makes it so very important to get Bill C-24 right.
Bill C-24 is an attempt to amend the Citizenship Act. It causes, at least on this side of the House, some great concerns regarding the fairness and constitutionality of the changes suggested by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Everyone agrees that Canadian citizenship is something of enormous value. It is sought after around the world. However, what we do not want to see is any approach that plays politics with the issue, a situation that we have seen all too often from the government.
The Conservatives have a track record of politicizing issues for partisan gain. They also have a history of violently denouncing anyone who dares to contradict or disagree with them, including public servants like Linda Keen, Richard Colvin, Kevin Page, Pat Strogran, Munir Sheikh, Marc Mayrand, environmental groups, scientists, unions and international NGOs. How can the government be trusted with the power to decide, with no reference to courts or appeals processes, who should have their citizenships revoked and who should be secretly granted citizenship?
Some of the changes to the Citizenship Act would address deficiencies in the current system, and they should be applauded. With respect to the bill, it is high time that the issue of the lost Canadians was addressed. This is an absurdly unfair situation that has gone on far too long. The bill would allow for individuals to finally obtain Canadian citizenship, individuals who were born before the first Canadian citizenship act took effect. This would also extend to their children born outside of Canada in the first generation, this citizenship that is their right.
Despite this positive amendment, though, other parts of the bill are, as I said, profoundly concerning. For example, the question of revoking citizenship has raised significant legal concerns and we are always worried about proposals to concentrate more power in the hands of the minister. Under the provisions of the bill, the minister may revoke citizenship if he or any staffer he authorizes is satisfied on the balance of probabilities. Staffers are not elected, they are not responsible to Canadians, and yet they may be granted the authority to say that an individual has obtained citizenship by fraud.
Until now, such cases have all typically gone through the courts and cabinet. It would not be the case anymore. Again, the judicial process would be sidestepped. Are the Conservatives telling Canadians that they do not believe we have a reliable judiciary? Well, maybe just Supreme Court judges.
This aspect poses serious issues to the extent that the minister would have the power to revoke a person's citizenship solely based on suspicion, without an independent tribunal to rule on the veracity of the allegations. Does no one on the government benches understand how terrifyingly dangerous this is? Many organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association and the United Nations Children's Fund, have also expressed a concern over this and many other of the bill's provisions, and they have offered several amendments that could strengthen the bill.
One of the major problems that we have addressed with this bill is the broad discretionary powers granted to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, especially when dealing with revocation of citizens with dual citizenship. This is extremely concerning. Canadian law has already established procedures by which to punish individuals who commit unlawful acts. It is unnecessary to grant these powers to the minister. Ministers come and go. The judicial system is the one constant, but this bill would take the Federal Court out of the equation except in very limited circumstances. Awarding this much power to the minister is, as I said, dangerous and, in a matter as serious as citizenship, a fair and impartial decision-maker must be maintained.
The Canadian Bar Association believes that because revocation of citizenship is such a serious matter, a statutory tribunal like the immigration appeal division should have jurisdiction to consider the validity of the minister's decision to revoke citizenship. This provision to allow the minister such power would create a two-tier citizenship system where some Canadians would have their citizenship revoked and others would be punished by the criminal system for the same offence. The new revocation procedures are apparently related to a citizen's loyalty to Canada. However, it is unclear why only dual citizens should be so targeted. Do the Conservatives think dual citizens are less loyal than other Canadians? We have to step back from this and make a very clear statement that all Canadians should be treated fairly and equally. The Canadian Bar Association also warns that this process is likely unconstitutional and warrants serious additional review. Many of the revocation processes are quite simply discriminatory and retroactive.
UNICEF has also weighed in. It argues that these changes could place vulnerable children at risk and leave them without sufficient protection. The potential revocation of a child's parent who is of dual citizenship could lead to family separation where the child is abandoned in Canada without a parent or legal guardian. Just some weeks ago I was in Geneva at the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting. We discussed at length the issue of abandoned children, children in war-torn areas or children who had lost their parents, and what the world had to do in terms of ensuring these children were protected and safe because they were alone. And here we are in this country that is supposed to be democratic, that is supposed to have principles and mores, setting up a situation where a child could be abandoned. It is unspeakable. It is unbelievable. What have we come to?
Further, under these revocation procedures, it is possible for a child to be found to be or believed to be guilty of an act that warrants revocation. How absolutely absurd to treat a child as an adult. This is undermining international law. Children who are faced with these circumstances will not likely have any familial ties in their homeland and may not have the proper channels to fight any decisions that revoke their citizenship. They are children, and we are supposed to care about that and we are supposed to protect them. These potential situations can place children in situations where their lives and their futures are at serious risk. UNICEF suggests incorporating an amendment that would require children under the age of 18 to not be included in the assessment.
Canada has a proud record of high naturalization rates. We are among the highest in the OECD, and we should continue to encourage people to become new citizens rather than creating procedures that only make it more difficult for them to do so. These individuals have the potential to be the biggest asset that we have. They account for 67% of our annual population growth. It is imperative that we make the necessary changes to this bill so that our society can continue to flourish and benefit from new Canadian immigrants.
Order, please. I do recall asking members many times previously to wait until the hon. member has finished her question. If they choose to applaud her question at the end of it, then they can feel free to do so, but not in the middle of her question.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River has the floor.
Mr. Chair, I want to thank my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River for her comments tonight. It is important that we have these respectable debates and talk about the issues that are important. She mentioned how important the donations are right now and how important it is that we got boots on the ground as quickly as we did. I want to let her know that I appreciate her acknowledgment of all the efforts of the government.
My colleague also talked about how people in the Canadian Filipino community have been active in fundraising and addressing the needs in the terrible tragedy that we are seeing in the Philippines. I hope she can also speak to the broader audience, to all Canadians. We need every Canadian to get out and raise money and find those dollars. I know that we are going into the Christmas season, and people have other priorities. Sooner or later, the news will change the channel again, and we will not be listening to what is happening with the ongoing human crisis taking place in the Philippines. If we can continue to encourage Canadians from coast to coast to coast to continue to donate until December 8, that is something we want to continue to work collaboratively on.
The electoral district of Scarborough--Rouge River (Ontario) has a population of 130,974 with 85,505 registered voters and 197 polling divisions.
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