Mr. Speaker, I have been here for a good part of the day, listening to this debate, and I want to congratulate colleagues on their largely non-partisan debate. It is actually quite encouraging. I think that, for those who are watching, it is encouraging to see parliamentarians actually engage in an issue that is of deep significance to each and every one of us. I think that, frankly, over the course the day, we have done that in largely quite a respectful manner.
What brings us to this point, though, is the Supreme Court decision, which as my colleague just said, is only 18 days old and does put us under the gun, and the gun will explode one way or another on February 6, 2016. In my judgment, it is a carefully crafted judgment; it is also unanimous, it has a date, and it is also an exercise in deference to Parliament because the Supreme Court rightly thinks that Parliament is the appropriate place to craft a legislative response to its decision.
In that light, we have basically three alternatives before us.
We can do nothing. That is an alternative. The do-nothing alternative means that, in 12 months, we will have legal chaos, and I would extend that even to emotional chaos. I really do not think that Canadians would be very encouraged by their parliamentarians if in fact we did nothing over the next 12 months.
The next alternative is to ask for an extension. That is a perfectly legitimate response and has been raised by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, has been raised by the parliamentary secretary speaking on behalf of the government, and has been alluded to by the member from Winnipeg. That is, again, a second alternative and possibly an alternative that we might land on. However, I would not want to be the government lawyer on February 5, 2016, standing before the Supreme Court of Canada, asking for an extension. The first question out of the mouth of the Chief Justice would be to ask what we have done in the last 12 months. If in fact we have done nothing, then I would say that the Supreme Court would be very reluctant to grant the extension.
That basically drives us to the third conclusion, which is that we have to start doing something.
We have put forward to this chamber a motion to create a special committee to do something, because doing nothing or hoping like heck that somehow or another the Supreme Court would grant us an extension, in another year, are not reasonable alternatives in my judgment.
I think, because this is a decision that so uniquely affects 100% of the Canadian population, it behooves us to listen to what Canadians have to say, and so I adopt the reasoning of a former colleague and a good friend for many of us, Preston Manning, who outlined a nine-point process in The Globe and Mail just recently.
I will start where he ends. He says:
Let the people speak: The courts, the interest groups, the academics and the commentators have had a great deal to say on the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide.
He is absolutely right.
Now it is especially important that our elected officials and legislators hear from rank-and-file Canadians.
Mr. Manning has put before us a challenge, as has the Supreme Court. I know Mr. Manning a bit, and I know his great respect for listening to what Canadians have to say.
In his article, he goes on to talk about when he was a member for Calgary Southwest and he actually convened a number of meetings with his own constituents.
His own constituents, by and large, were in favour of legislation involving physician-assisted dying. That was, frankly, contrary to his personal beliefs, so it was interesting for Mr. Manning to be in a situation in which his own constituents were asking him to promote legislation that was not consistent with his own views.
In the process, he outlined a number of areas where we need to be concerned.
His first point was that we need to be compassionate. I have heard various members over the course of the day talking about various personal situations. Those personal situations are deeply held views and range across the entire gamut of the human experience. The first point, if and when such a committee is composed, is that it be a committee that expresses itself in compassion.
The second point that Mr. Manning raises has to do with palliative care. I think it is a relevant point, and it has been raised as well by the member for Timmins—James Bay. I think we are a bit agnostic as to whether the motion needs to be amended to include reference to palliative care, but I know the Liberal Party would be open to such a suggestion.
However, our motion was drafted in response to what the Supreme Court said. I think a lot of air would go out of the balloon, for want of a better term, if the Government of Canada and all of the other legislatures in Canada responded to the committee report that the member for Guelph, the member for Timmins—James Bay, and the member for Kitchener—Conestoga put forward. If that response was there, then maybe there would not be as much animus in this debate.
The next point has to do with provincial legislation. I and quite a number of colleagues in the House have practised law. We have dealt, from time to time, with situations in which relatives are telling us one thing and the client is telling us something else. Even absent an impending death, or even outside of an impending death, there is conflict within families. I am not telling the House anything new. There is conflict within families, and the conflict frequently spills over into conflicts involving professionals. A clarification of living wills or in some other form through provincial legislation would be very helpful.
The next point has to do with the number of letters a lot of us are receiving with respect to doctors and where they find themselves in these difficult situations. A lot of doctors got into being doctors because they are very interested in preserving life and enhancing life, et cetera. They see physician-assisted dying as inconsistent with their own understanding of why they are doctors.
That needs to be clarified sooner rather than later, because a lot of doctors, if my correspondence is similar to anyone else's in this chamber, are very conflicted about where they stand without real legislation. If this Parliament does not act by February 6, 2016, to provide some clarification of the law, there will be a very difficult situation for our physician colleagues, who will not know where they stand in the administration of this whole matter.
Let me wind up there. Again I commend my colleagues for what I believe to be largely a respectful debate. I do think it is important that the people speak. I do think it is important that we get going on this. If we could start tomorrow morning, I would be happy about that. I am agnostic about whether it has to be a special committee, but my views are that it does have to be a special committee because all of the other committees' agendas are already filled.
I am conscious that we have essentially 12 weeks to get through this. It is possible. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I hope that tonight we will get that way.
Mr. Speaker, a lot of the objections on the government side with respect to this motion have to do with not having enough time. As the member for Guelph rightly said, there is a looming deadline, and that is February next year. We do not have that much time to do it.
The argument then becomes that we may have to go to the Supreme Court to ask for an extension. The parliamentary secretary suggested that. The member for Kildonan—St. Paul suggested that.
Is it the member's opinion that our position to seek an extension, if in fact that was appropriate, would be much more enhanced if Parliament had engaged, started the process, and actually started to hear witnesses?
I point to the chair of the finance committee. It is not unusual for the finance committee to hear 300 or 400 witnesses in the course of a three- or four-month hearing process on pre-budget consultations. It is doable. I would be interested in the member's opinion as to whether our position before the Supreme Court would actually be enhanced by the commencement of a process.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver East for her thoughtfulness in this debate, and my previous colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, for her eloquent words as well.
To the question, the motion today is one way to proceed; however, it will only be a small step, because we do not have time, which is really the enemy of the process. We have 12 weeks before the end of the session. We have a budget to debate and legislation that is already underway. We then have the summer break. Also, I suspect, although I do not know and have no inside knowledge of this, that there might be an election in the fall. All of this will eat up a lot of time.
There is the possible alternative of going through the Senate. That could be done if we could get agreement among the senators.
There are alternatives, but I think the bulk of this will be done after the election.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her hard work and her question.
Our Prime Minister announced a sizeable contribution that will help vaccinate 300 million children and should save up to six million lives.
We are working with other donors, the private sector, international organizations, and developing countries to deliver results.
We are especially proud of our partnership with GAVI Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Gates to Ottawa tomorrow for meetings.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who is a true champion for women.
This law is having a direct impact on prostitution in Canada. Hamilton police recently rescued a missing 15-year-old girl from exploitation as a prostitute. Her pimp was charged twice under this new law. Durham region's human trafficking unit rescued a 16-year-old and her pimp is now facing charges as well, charges that were not previously available. We are proud of this impact of the new law.
I congratulate our law enforcement members everywhere, who are working hard each and every day to keep our communities and streets safe.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her work in ending human trafficking and child warriors.
These are indeed horrific and disturbing reports. It is just further proof that ISIL is a barbaric and murderous organization. The fact is that it has to be stopped. I can confirm that aircraft in the Royal Canadian Air Force have now conducted 109 sorties. Last week, in a pre-planned mission, two CF-18 fighter jets successfully struck ISIL fighting positions in the desert area near Kirkuk. This has significantly assisted the Iraqi security forces that are fighting ISIL on the ground in the region.
Make no mistake, Canada will do its part in this fight against tyranny, oppression—
Mr. Speaker, on human trafficking, Canadians can be very proud of the leadership of the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
Canada is assisting ISIL's victims of sexual violence. A team of experts will arrive on the ground this week. Another team conducting investigations and victim outreach will deploy shortly after that. Humanitarian and military assistance are not exclusive. That is why this government is participating with France, with the United Kingdom, with the United States, to try to stop the terrorists from doing these barbaric practices.
As the president of France said yesterday, we will not sit idly by with these types of barbaric activities. We are trying to stop it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour today to speak to Bill S-211, a bill that will be voted on tomorrow, but also to mark, as my colleagues have marked, a historical moment. How would we know if we were at a historical moment? I suggest there would be a need, there would be a consensus around that need, and a movement to action.
We have heard my colleagues speak about the need, the sedentary behaviour in our culture today, the failing to meet our own physical activity guidelines, the obesity trends that suggest that a third of youth are overweight or obese, a third who now face 14 times the likelihood of a cardiac event by the time they reach 50. These are preventable diseases. We have heard about cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Not only are they preventable but the costs associated with them are phenomenal and growing, $7 billion a year says the Public Health Agency of Canada.
It is tragic when people hurt other people, but it is also tragic when people hurt themselves. We are hurting ourselves with these trends of inactivity and sedentary behaviour, and the fact that less than 7% of our youth get the recommended six hours a week of healthy activity. It is time for change and if we were at a historical moment, there would be a consensus around that time for change.
On Parliament Hill, we have seen MPs and senators from different parties come together to say, yes, we can do better. We can do better and we are doing so through the parliamentary fitness initiative that has been mentioned several times today. MPs and staff gather early on Tuesday mornings for walks or runs or to swim on Thursday mornings with remarkable volunteer coaches like Phil Marsh and Pierre Lafontaine. The unity in the House has been mentioned, how 160 people came together yesterday on Movember, which will be celebrating men's health in the months to come.
We have seen the work with the Senate, which is where the bill originates. Senator Nancy Greene Raine, Canada's female athlete of the 20th century, did a great job of bringing this to the House from the other place. The two chambers of this legislature have worked together. Today, Sport Matters is on Parliament Hill trying to invigorate us parliamentarians to be role models throughout the country, not just in passing legislation but in showing, as the member for Kildonan—St. Paul said, that though not an athlete in her own mind, she can be a role model in improving her own health and fitness by extending herself in physical activity.
We have seen initiatives in the province I come from, British Columbia, such as Rotary Ride for Rescue, which raises money for people who are saved by North Shore Rescue. We have seen Cops for Cancer all around the country, supported by West Vancouver Police Department. The Terry Fox Run is another great example of getting people to run not only in Canada but all over the world, and I am proud to say the Terry Fox Run will resume in Taiwan next month. There is Ride for Refuge, a ride that has been promoted by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. These are all activities that bring people together in a common cause and help people to understand that it is time for us to get up and move.
In my community, all 12 local governments have proclaimed national health and fitness day, which is really the point of Bill S-211, a bill that suggests that local governments ought to put an emphasis on one day a year, the first Saturday in June, to get their citizens more active. Why one day? It is not as a token, but as a way to get Canadians more active throughout the year.
In the area I represent, Susie Gimse has worked with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which was quick to support national health and fitness day this year. There have been other groups like that, such as the Vancouver Whitecaps former captain Jay DeMerit, and Whistler's Olympic gold medallist, Ashleigh McIvor.
We are at a historical moment because we are about to pass a bill. It is the beginning, not the end. It is the beginning of a nation coming together, working together, promoting healthy physical activity, of Canadians getting more active and encouraging one another to get more active, of deputies in the House approaching their mayors and councillors, and moving our country and our people to become the fittest nation on earth.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to my colleague, the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul. I have a great deal of respect for her because she is a passionate woman who tells it like it is. Because of her, I discovered something that I did not believe existed in Canada and that is modern slavery or human trafficking.
Perhaps the hon. member does not speak French, but a few years ago, she went to Quebec to speak out against human trafficking and make Quebeckers aware of this issue. I had an opportunity to be there with her. Today, I am very proud of that because I have seen her introduce a number of bills that would punish those who victimize the most vulnerable members of our society. Because of that, I have great respect for my colleague. What she is doing goes beyond party lines and has great historical significance for our country.
I had the opportunity to meet with groups that help victims of prostitution. I heard some heart-wrenching stories from young aboriginal people. Unfortunately, this is happening on our streets. That is why it is important to develop strategies to help victims of prostitution and human trafficking, who are exploited and stripped of their dignity. They need help breaking the cycle of dependence and constant violation of their dignity.
My question is very simple. Governments may put measures in place and organizations may be there to help, but as long as society feels it is acceptable to exploit people by choosing to ignore these issues, there will be a problem. This is then my question:
Does the member believe we can bring about a change of mentality, a paradigm shift, to raise awareness and make it criminal? It would be criminal to buy sex in this country, if this law is adopted. However, socially it is totally unacceptable to purchase sex from victims of exploitation. How does she feel with respect to that? As a society, we were successful at making impaired driving socially unacceptable. Can we do something about the purchasers of sex who are luring young victims?
Mr. Speaker, for the limited time that there is, I will be splitting my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.
I will begin this debate by acknowledging the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for leading off the debate on Friday.
I think from listening to the debate in the House, members will understand that this is a very emotional and heart-wrenching issue. We are talking about the lives of indigenous women and girls in this country and their families.
There was a special committee that was looking into murdered and missing indigenous women that issued a report. Sadly, what we found in the committee's work was the fact that although we heard a lot of testimony that called for some specific actions, when the majority report came out it disregarded some of those very specific calls for action. As a result, the New Democrats wrote a dissenting report, and I will quote from a couple of items in the report.
At the beginning of the report we referenced the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is a good place to centre what we are talking about. We started by saying, under articles 18 and 22(2):
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions....
States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.
In the New Democratic dissenting report, we said:
A call to action should imply some urgency; instead this report's recommendations suggest that the status quo remain and no extraordinary measures are necessary to deal with the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The report does not convey that there is a public safety emergency unfolding in every corner of the country and that a co-ordinated response is needed to address the high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Further on in the report, we reference the fact that:
Nearly every witness agreed that a national public inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls should be a priority of the Canadian government. Such an inquiry need not be limited simply to the circumstances of each disappearance or murder; it should also look into systemic problems with Canada's justice system and provincial child welfare systems as well as the effects of the Indian Act in perpetuating and institutionalizing racism and sexism against Indigenous women and girls.
As I have listened to the government talk about the call for a national inquiry and the fact that there are many reports that have already been done, it seems to imply that it is an either/or, either we have a national inquiry or we have a national action plan. That is simply a false statement and false premise. In fact, the member for Churchill has Motion No. 444 before the House, which specifically calls for a national action plan. That national action plan would be developed and implemented in conjunction with indigenous women and girls and their communities so that it would be driven by the communities and family members who would be most impacted. I think it is important to set the record straight that we can have an action plan as well as an inquiry.
I want to reference a recent court decision where I again hear the members opposite imply that it is just the New Democrats who are calling for some inquiry into the ongoing systemic causes for why indigenous women and girls continue to go murdered and missing in this country. Despite the actions that have been taken, we are still seeing the violence perpetrated from coast to coast to coast.
In the Oral Reasons for Sentence by Justice W.G. Parrett in British Columbia, in a trial where there were a number of women who had been murdered, he pointed out the following. He stated:
I cannot end this trial without adding something more. I am aware of comments being made to the effect that there is no need to embark on any formal inquiry into missing and murdered women, that policing is the solution to this problem.
He goes on further to state:
Perhaps an even more delicate area I want to say to those First Nations people who have so religiously attended this trial, I know in some small measure the pain and loss you feel, but this is not just a First Nations issue.
I know that First Nations people are far too much as a percentage of the missing and murdered women. They are disproportionately represented in this roll call of misery.
But as the facts of this trial so vividly demonstrate this is not just a First Nations issue. It is a sociological issue, one that arises from, among other things, a high risk lifestyle. It is something which must be dealt with.
He concludes by saying:
It is a mistake, in my view, to limit the seriousness of this issue and to pretend, as some do, that policing is an answer when the circumstances of this case raise questions about the effectiveness of that process.... We simply must do better, especially where the commitment to policing is reflected in an 84 per cent cut to the budget of the Highway of Tears task force.
New Democrats all agree on this side of the House that we absolutely must invest in policing. We must invest when a crime has been committed. We must protect the rights of victims when a crime has been committed, but we also say that we must absolutely invest in prevention. We must stop women from being murdered and going missing.
In adding their voices and asking some very good questions, APTN has been running stories. There is a recent story that says there has been a war against indigenous women since colonization. This was written by the former Native Women's Association of Canada president Beverley Jacobs. In her article, she proposed some very good points. She states:
Families of Sisters in Spirit and many of the advocates and activists who are assisting families of [missing and murdered indigenous women] across the country want answers now too. Many Indigenous women in various communities across the country are taking action with little resources that they do have. Finally, in the last couple of months the national media has been bringing attention to the issue. And we do know that action is needed…NOW…IMMEDIATELY.
She goes on to pose some questions that I think it would serve each one of us in the House well to examine. Beverley Jacobs asks:
So what is stopping all of us, as human beings, to act? What is stopping each one of us to take responsibility and address it now? Does each one of us know how to do that? Are we taking action?
She calls for the action, but in this article for APTN she also calls on us to conduct a national inquiry. We have a well-respected indigenous woman adding her voice to the call for both an inquiry and for a national action plan.
We have also heard in the House that money is being invested in shelters. One of the concerns that New Democrats have raised is that this so-called action plan to end violence against indigenous women and girls is going to result in some concrete measures, yet one of the questions we have raised is that there is a lack of transparency with exactly what these measures are, how they will be implemented, how community members will access them, and what the end results will be.
Again, I want to talk about APTN. It ran an article titled “Status of Women's 'Action Plan' inflated Aboriginal Affairs' violence prevention project spending by $24.5 million”. It says:
When it released its “Action Plan” to fight violence against Indigenous women, the...government inflated by $24.5 million the amount of money Aboriginal Affairs planned to spend on reserve-based family violence prevention projects. Status of Women’s “Action Plan,” released Sept. 15 claimed Aboriginal Affairs planned to spend $66.2 million over five years beginning in 2015 on “violence prevention activities” under its Family Violence Prevention Program.... Aboriginal Affairs, however, said over the weekend it was spending $41.7 million over five years on violence prevention projects.... The difference between the Action Plan figures and Aboriginal Affairs’ numbers is $24.5 million.
We have a government that says it has an action plan, but it cannot even get straight how much money it is spending. Right now there are 40, plus or minus, transition houses or shelters on 634 reserves in Canada, and the government cannot tell us exactly how many shelters will be built on reserve, how they will be funded, or whether they will get funding comparable to shelters off reserve, which currently they do not get. Communities deserve answers to these very relevant questions.
I heard the member for Kildonan—St. Paul talk about the fact that this should be a non-partisan issue and that we should work together. New Democrats would welcome the opportunity to work together. We have concrete suggestions and solutions. We have proposals. We have committed, in the first 100 days from when we form government in 2015, to institute a national inquiry.
However, the member for Churchill also has a concrete motion before this House on a national action plan. If that member and the Conservatives believe that they can work across the aisle, why do they not support the member for Churchill's motion on a national action plan?
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
I am pleased to stand here to speak about this motion as I was a member of the special committee. I want to take a moment to sincerely thank the other members for their work.
The committee was formed out of the unanimous support of the House for a motion put forward by the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul. I think we can all agree that the levels of violence against aboriginal women and girls are of deep concern to all Canadians.
Indeed, I have rarely seen an issue that has attracted as much attention in the media or seen as much concern expressed throughout the public. I want to clearly add my voice in saying that the levels of violence are simply unacceptable and this situation must change now as a public priority.
Individuals who commit violent crimes against aboriginal women must be held accountable, and governments, stakeholders and communities must act together to prevent more violence and more untimely deaths. That is why when the government tabled its response to the report of the special committee on September 15, it chose to do so as the federal action plan to address family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls.
In tabling a five-year action plan for change, this government responded to the final and arguably most important recommendation of the committee's report: to move toward action on the committee's recommendations in a coordinated action plan. The plan also includes details on how the commitment in economic action plan 2014 to a further $25 million over five years will be allocated, as well as an additional $158.7 million over five years for shelters and family violence prevention activities.
This government has repeatedly stated that urgent action is needed to address the high levels of violence, which in turn have inevitably resulted in the over-representation of aboriginal women and girls as missing persons and as a homicide victims.
With more than 40 studies and reports since the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, and close to 2,000 recommendations, there is already much known about what needs to change along with who needs to take action and on what.
The Government of Canada has made significant investments to address many of the conditions that underline the higher levels of violence, including economic development, labour market participation, education, health, housing, policing and other relevant areas. Yet statistics, such as those in the National Operational Review, which was prepared by the RCMP with the assistance of some 300 police forces across Canada and released last May, point to rising proportions of female homicide victims being aboriginal.
While the number of non-aboriginal women who are murdered has gone steadily downwards from 1984 to 2012, the same cannot be said for aboriginal women. In 1984, some 8% of women murdered in Canada were aboriginal. In 2012, that percentage rose to 23%.
I am proud that this government has now tabled a comprehensive victims bill of rights, ensuring for the first time ever in Canada that justice is not only for the accused but also for the victims. The victims bill of rights would make significant improvements for the families of victims of crime.
However, none of us here with mothers, daughters, sisters or friends could be other than deeply troubled by the testimony before the special committee, or not feel the need for urgent action to prevent more violence, more deaths and more devastation of families.
I am even more proud that this government has made a commitment for more action now. The five-year action plan addresses the 16 recommendations of the committee's report and builds on the five-year targeted initiatives announced by the government in October 2010.
That first set of targeted initiatives resulted in a number of important gains: a new National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains; a new national website www.canadasmissing.ca; improvements to the Canadian Police Information Centre database; support for aboriginal community safety plans; work with the provinces and territories and with aboriginal organizations to expand culturally appropriate services for aboriginal victims of crime and to create specific services for families of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, including family liaison positions with police; support for awareness activities aimed at breaking intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse in many aboriginal communities; and with the Aboriginal Research Institute, collecting promising practices that are making a difference in aboriginal communities into an online compendium of promising practices to reduce violence and improve community safety of aboriginal women in Canada to help aboriginal communities build on existing experience in future work.
I expect the next five-year action plan to produce even more results and I look forward to hearing about them in future regular progress reports.
The action plan speaks about what the Government of Canada will do, but it is important to also emphasize what the Government of Canada cannot do or at least cannot do by itself.
That is why the action plan also reiterates the commitment of the government to work in collaboration with all partners, provincial and territorial governments with their complementary mandates, aboriginal organizations and governments with their direct connections with communities, other relevant non-government organizations and also with aboriginal communities themselves.
Addressing levels of violence against aboriginal women is a priority at a number of federal, provincial, territorial tables, including justice and public safety. This is a significant item on the agenda for our upcoming meeting in October. We will be focusing on specific actions already taken and concrete next steps to guide collaborative action to coordinate law enforcement and justice system responses to violent crime against aboriginal women and girls.
I began by thanking the committee for its important work. It is only fitting that I end by taking a moment to thank all those individuals who took the time to appear before the committee in person or by videoconference or those who submitted their stories in writing for their help in the committee's study and for their recommendations for change.
As I mentioned, many of the witnesses spoke of their own personal experiences with violence and of the experiences of their family and friends and communities with violence and its all too heavy cost. The recommendations of the committee were guided by their words and their stories. The government's action plan will put into action these recommendations.
The change that has begun in communities and in new and emerging services and programs will amount to effective change on the ground for individuals, for today's children and for tomorrow's children and for their families and their communities.
Order, please. The time for government orders has expired. Questions and comments for the hon. member for Winnipeg North will take place after question period.
Statements by members, the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
Mr. Speaker, I am taking this occasion to rise on this bill, titled the reform act, 2014. I would like to thank the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for presenting us with the occasion to debate that very subject before this chamber. This debate allows us to highlight the important improvements we have witnessed under this Prime Minister and this government in the area of democratic reform.
I understand that in politics, one of the idiosyncrasies with which we must be faced is that sometimes narrative departs a long way from the facts. People have a tendency to confuse, for example, strength with centralization, competence with control, and so it is when many critics in the public sphere judge the degree of central power in the various parties that are in the House today.
I think we should examine the facts to see how the parties actually add up on this very question. Let me examine some of those empirical facts.
The Globe and Mail published an analysis of 162,000 votes cast on the floor of this House of Commons by individual MPs. It found that during a two-year period, between June 2, 2011, and January 28, 2013, the Liberal Party voted as a unanimous block 90% of the time, with no difference of opinion whatsoever.
The Conservative Party had independent votes; that is, members of the caucus voted differently than the leadership in one in four votes on the floor of the House of Commons.
The NDP whipped 100% of its MPs 100% of the time. That is to say, in that two-year period, there was literally not one MP who dared disagree with their leader even once, which is an exceptional statement of the centralization of powers that has occurred in the NDP.
We move to the subject of the Senate. I think all of us are frustrated with the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on that question. However, it is important to note what was at stake. The reference to the Supreme Court on the question of the Senate was actually very ironic.
I am not aware of another occasion in our history when a Prime Minister has gone to court to ask judges to take powers away from him. He actually went to the court and asked the court to allow him to give the people authority over who would represent them in the Senate. He agreed that if provinces held elections, he would respect the outcome and he would oblige himself to do so in federal statutory law.
Equally ironic was that it was the courts that actually refused to let him give away the powers he wanted to cede, but no less, it is interesting to note that he wanted to cede them in the first place, an action and a motive that is not normally part of the constitution of any leader of government, but with this Prime Minister it is, as I will further elaborate when I come to our position on this particular bill.
On the question of private members' bills in general, I should note that under this Parliament, with a majority Conservative government, and this Prime Minister, we actually have had more private members' bills passed into law than at any time since 1972. In that Parliament, many of the bills were just name changes to constituencies.
In terms of legislating, this Parliament, under a majority Conservative government, led by this Prime Minister, has had more backbenchers enact legislation than at any time in history.
Some have become cynical about this fact and have said that it is actually just the government putting private members up to passing legislation. They offer no proof of that except that the government actually voted for the legislation.
There is the Catch-22. If the government had voted against this backbench legislation, they would say that the government was blocking it, but with the government having voted for it, they now say that it cannot be that independent if the government supported it at the end of the day. Members will see that with these critics, there is no winning.
However, Canadians are winning. They are winning because of the democratic action of members of this House, such as the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who was able to introduce legislation to protect vulnerable people from human trafficking, and the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, who was able to amend legislation from the Prohibition era that prevented Canadians from transporting wines and other spirits across borders. The legislation now allows Canadians to actually drink Canadian-produced wines and beers. We also had the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, who succeeded in passing suicide prevention legislation through the House of Commons. This was serious, substantive legislation passed by backbench MPs under this government.
We now have another bill before the House of Commons, the reform act. That bill would address the 45-year-old requirement in law that a leader sign off on the candidacy of every single person who is on the ballot for the party. Since 1970, it has been a requirement in law that a party leader sign off on every candidate. Without that signature, one cannot be a candidate. Even parties that would prefer to have another form of approval for their candidates cannot do so, because the statutory law in paragraph 67(4)(c) bans them from doing it.
When my friend in the Liberal Party, whom I congratulate on giving his maiden speech, said that these matters should not be codified in law, I point out the fact that they already are codified in law in this instance. That statute forces parties to give leaders veto power over their candidates, even if the party constitution disagrees. The treasured party autonomy of which he is in pursuit does not exist in the current law.
The member for Wellington—Halton Hills seeks to change that by removing this veto power from the leaders and allowing parties to select any officer or officers they think fit to approve their candidacies.
I suspect the Liberal Party would oppose that idea. The leader of their party has abused that power in order to prevent numerous people from running for the Liberal Party. Just today, six former MPs for the Liberal Party spoke out against their leader and said that he was abusing his veto power to impose his ideology on every single candidate who runs for the Liberals. He has further had preferences for friends whom he wanted to have on the ballot for his party. He has basically used the legal authority embedded in the Elections Act to hand nominations to those friends at the expense of other people who would probably have more merit and be able to win the nominations if they were held democratically.
In our party, that decision is left to local party members, the grassroots. In practice, our leader has not used his whip, his legal power, in an abusive manner.
Furthermore, in another instance of this Prime Minister acting in a manner more democratic than any of his predecessors, he becomes the first leader in half a century to declare his support for the removal of the legal veto power of party leaders over candidates. Once again, that speaks to his willingness to cede power to the Canadian people and to grassroots political participants so that they can exercise their own will. That gesture on behalf of our Prime Minister demonstrates that he is ahead of his predecessors on the question of democratic reform and certainly ahead of his competitors in the House of Commons.
The member who brought forward this legislation has congratulated the Prime Minister for creating a space in which this kind of debate can occur. The member is absolutely right that there is no other party, no other caucus, under no other leader, in which this kind of debate would ever have been permitted, because only on this side of the House and under this Prime Minister can we openly discuss the nature of our democracy and propose substantive reforms to improve it.
For that I thank our Prime Minister. I look forward to continuing this debate.
Before I go to the next question, I want to remind all hon. members that when there is a time allocation motion before the House and the 30-minute debate ensues, we do not follow the normal rotation where questions go from caucus to caucus to caucus, but rather a large majority of the questions are reserved for opposition members and typically one or two questions are given to a government member. There seems to be some confusion on that score.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul.
Order, please. I do have to remind the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul not to use the second person, but the third person, to go through the Chair.
The hon. member for Gatineau.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her exceptional hard work in support of vulnerable persons.
Our government's approach represents a comprehensive made-in-Canada model that reflects Canadian values. The bill would crack down on those predators, pimps, and johns who fuel the demand for this inherently dangerous activity, while protecting our communities. It would also provide for an exit strategy for victims.
We had heard today from courageous women who talked about the exploitation and victimization they had experienced. They saw merit in Bill C-36 and wished it had been in place for them.
It is a sensible, practical, principled approach that should get support from all members.
Mr. Speaker, I feel privileged to ask a question of the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who is a model and a source of inspiration for our government in its fight against human trafficking and for the victims of prostitution.
I want to commend the remarkable work of our colleague. We are very proud to stand with her in this party. She has been a great source of inspiration. She met this morning with people who have been victims of prostitution and have been able to exit. I would like to hear this from the member. Is it important for our government to put exit strategies in place for those victims of prostitution? What is the profile of those individuals? Who is the typical person this bill is aimed at supporting and helping?
The electoral district of Kildonan--St. Paul (Manitoba) has a population of 81,532 with 63,508 registered voters and 178 polling divisions.
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