Mr. Speaker, it is an opportunity and a pleasure to speak tonight on CETA. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, and I look forward to hearing his intervention, following mine.
As chairman of the agriculture committee, I want to first thank all the members of all parties for their interventions and the work that was put into coming forward with the report on the economic trade agreement with Europe.
The historic agreement with Canada and Europe came about because there had been an incredible amount of consultation with farmers, which I am pleased to say has been my life occupation. When we talk about dairy, I lived that for a few decades. Thankfully, I still have the opportunity to be in farming by having someone to help manage it.
What we did as a government was make sure that we had a full impact, whether it was with farmers or processors. I guess we can talk about all the stakeholders. We did that because we wanted to make sure that when we got to the negotiating table, we had the support and the concerns of each and every one of those stakeholders.
We are at the stage now where we have the report. I am pleased to say that we have the committee's recommendations, and our government supports those. Basically there are five. It recommends that we approve the agreement to expedite the economic benefits it would bring to Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector; that we continue our strong defence of supply management, which seems to have captured a lot of the discussion here tonight; that we leverage this agreement to harmonize approvals for new agriculture and agri-food technologies; that we work with industry to protect maple products from unfair competition from substitutes in the EU; and that we continue to pursue additional comprehensive trade agreements. That last one is key to what our agriculture and agri-food industry wants us to do.
This, without a doubt, is one of the most exciting times to be in agriculture. This is an exciting time for farmers and processors. It is an exciting time for those in the agri-food industry. It is because of the 24 agreements with 43 countries that have been negotiated and finalized. What it means to our producers and our industry is that we have opened opportunities. We can produce and sell into markets and invest in our technology and innovation so that our industry looks forward.
I talk to the young farmers and the farmers who are coming along in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and Southwestern Ontario.
I am very fortunate to represent my riding, which is not unlike that of my colleague across the way from Pontiac. We talked earlier today, and we have similar ridings, very rural and agricultural with small towns, which means small family-oriented businesses. There is a diversity of livestock, supply management, grains and oil seeds as well as horticulture and greenhouses across my riding. There is incredible diversity, and each and every one of these businesses sees the opportunities in this trade agreement.
However, we are hearing from the other side: what about supply management? It is sort of an interesting comment, because everybody has their quotes, but for supply management, we must look in terms of the amount of imports that would come from this agreement, which I believe is around some 17,000 tonnes for cheeses.
Canadian cheeses are so popular. In fact, during the debates and witness testimonies in committee, we had a cheese producer from Quebec come in with some samples of cheese. I have to say that it was incredible cheese. The owner of the company commented that she did not have a concern with the agreement and actually saw an opportunity to market her product. She saw an opportunity to grow the market for these great cheeses.
We love cheese in Canada. The growth in cheese consumption in Canada is somewhere in the range of 8,000 tonnes per year. It seems to me that, when I listened to those producers and processors, they were saying that they have an opportunity and wondered why they could not meet that demand domestically in Canada. Those of us who are in the dairy industry and understand it know that it is true entrepreneurism. Those entrepreneurs think that this is a challenge and an opportunity.
When I talk to the young farmers in my riding, they are excited. The industry of agriculture is not unlike any other industry, such as high technology, and there is innovation and opportunity. This agreement talks about all of that. It talks about our farming generation that wants opportunity. The members of this generation want us to give them access to markets and then let them go.
Will they be able to provide hormone-free beef? Give them the opportunity and they will. Will there be processing plants to deal with the pork? We have had those conversations with the member from Manitoba, and we respect the concerns in Manitoba for that growth. However, we have opportunities in Alberta, where they want to build or expand a plant to process hormone-free beef. Why? It is because this agreement gives them the opportunity to sell it in a new market.
In closing, with almost half of Canada's total agriculture production exported, we have potential for growth in the sector, which lies in its ability to expand its markets abroad, making market access a key priority for this great industry that I am involved in along with many others across the country.
I ask the NDP in particular to stand and support this agreement, because not only will it be good across Canada, but it will actually also be good for those in Quebec the members keep taking about and are concerned it will harm. It will not. It is good for Canadian agriculture.
Mr. Speaker, on October 21, I was honoured to attend the Governor General's decorations for bravery ceremony.
The decorations for bravery recognize people who risk their lives to try to save or protect another. The Medal of Bravery is awarded by the Governor General to Canadians in recognition of acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances. I was proud to watch Mr. Clayton Joseph Beck of St. Andrews, along with fellow Manitoban Mark Alexander, being presented the Medals of Bravery for their selfless and valiant efforts.
On August 29, 2011, Clayton Beck and Mark Alexander rescued a man from a burning house. Despite the intense heat and smoke, both men made their way inside the house to locate the unconscious victim and bring him safely outside. These men ran into a dangerous situation, putting their own lives at risk to save someone else. The actions of Clayton Beck and Mark Alexander are something that all Manitobans and Canadians alike can be proud of.
On behalf of the constituents of Selkirk—Interlake and indeed all Canadians, I thank them for their bravery and congratulate them on their deserving distinction of honour on being awarded the Medal of Bravery.
Mr. Speaker, I want to indicate at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
I rise with others to take part in what is obviously a very sombre and serious debate. Most would agree that there is never a good time to go to war, but there comes a time in every country's history when the necessity outweighs the risk, and the urgency to defend our way of life, threatened as it is, must be defended. ISIL constitutes a clear and present danger to Canada and our allies. Before us is a debate that has been put before this House with clarity and with intent, which is proposing meaningful and measured responses to a very serious situation.
ISIL is pure evil. There is insufficient hyperbole to do justice to the depth of its depravity, no rhyme or reason to the inhumanity that it brings to this world. Some seem willing to accept this new reality. We live in a global society where terrorism does certainly not respect borders, and to offer platitudes or to attempt to placate fear with the promise of acceptance or tolerance toward this type of action reflects a fundamental disconnect.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately as the case may be, we as a government do not have the luxury of indecision or inaction or denial. Beyond the rhetoric and the partisan lines, when it comes to terrorism we have a responsibility to take up arms against the sea of tyranny and to proactively help to end it. Canadians otherwise predominantly enjoy a life free from fear and far from terror because we have men and women in uniform who are prepared to stand at the ready to defend our way of life at home and abroad. We cannot and we should not stand idly by, hoping that other nations will rise to the challenge on our behalf. What we are doing, we are doing because we have always risen to the occasion, when threatened, and addressed the threat head on.
Also in the news is the scourge of Ebola. Make no mistake about it: ISIL is a human plague; an agent of indiscriminate death and clear threats to humanity.
This way of life is not be taken for granted in Canada. Where we find ourselves today as a nation has come at great cost. It has been defended on the field of battle with the blood of our illustrious ancestors. Our country was literally born on a battlefield, Vimy, according to many historians. Our greatest citizens then, as now, passed through a crucible defending our way of life. All that we hold dear rests on those sacrifices.
We need to recognize that there is a danger in complacency, and explicit in that is the notion that, when called upon, we answer, we do our part. From the privileged platform of minister of defence, I saw first hand the sacrifices made in Canada's name. There is no argument against war as compelling as witnessing first hand a ramp ceremony or a repatriation service, seeing the suffering of loved ones when their loved ones return home. That epitomizes “true patriot love”, as do the sacrifices of those who suffered bodily harm in Canada's name.
Much is at stake. Every breath we take is precious, and the bonds formed in the relationships overseas in conflict have withstood the test of time. We have all heard those stories. We have heard those who have served recount the incredible sacrifices made. However, we do not enjoy the luxury of this bond because they have sacrificed. If there is any comfort that can be passed on to families of the fallen, it lies in the true belief that their loved ones did not die in vain.
What more worthy cause? We saw in Afghanistan, as a result of efforts, little girls now able to go to school, women able to participate in the democratic process and the economy; and our efforts as a free and democratic nation have contributed to an unprecedented change of culture, albeit still fragile. It is the result of much effort on the part of many. Those are the goals to achieve for a new place in the Middle East.
Some members have invoked other images from places like Darfur, places where there have been catalogued the numbers of the dead, and yet it is these factions, those who are at the cause of this destruction and the very threat to humanity, who have come out in the past and in present to pose a direct or indirect threat to Canada, which we cannot leave unchecked.
Some have called for further debate or examination, while our traditional allies are already in the fray.
As tragic as all conflicts are, the faction involved here as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, has called for the very destruction of our way of life in the western world.
Make no mistake. These are current threats. These are real threats. This is not a war against Muslims. This is not a fight between Christianity and Islam. This is an intervention to aid in the restoration of some semblance of security against a perversion of a twisted version of a faith distorted and violence perpetrated against true innocents in that region. Yet it is perpetrated outward. It has been carried via the Internet into the homes of Canadians. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has proven its distortion of faith through extreme acts of terror so callous in nature that even al Qaeda has worked to distance itself from them.
Let us be crystal clear. The evidence to act in defence of Canada is there. ISIL has targeted humanitarian workers, journalists, and citizens. Millions are displaced, and the suffering is enormous. Acts of genocide, rape as a weapon of war, kidnapping, and slavery as a stated intent are threats against our country and theirs.
We have been asked by a democratic state to assist. This brings further justification to our actions.
ISIL, on the other hand, has shown no tolerance and no conscience and has no regard for beliefs or democratic principles other than its own twisted and distorted view of the world. Now it has descended in that region into a type of maniacal barbarism and brutality rarely seen in human history. Comparisons to other conflicts are limited to the worst in world history.
ISIL has waged a brutal, inhumane war, showing equal disregard for women and children, Muslims and Christians alike. Its claim to religious authority over all Muslims worldwide and its goal to bring Muslim-inhabited regions under its own diabolic control and to spread throughout the civilized world cannot go unchecked.
Religious freedom is a fundamental Canadian value that we protect and promote throughout the world.
In addition to military collaboration, we have also sent humanitarian aid in the tens of millions to those affected. It has not been one or the other, but both. We are one of the top donors, in fact, as a country, which again is a source of pride.
We have also helped through immigration. Thousands have been liberated, because they were displaced and left vulnerable as a result of this conflict.
If we must once again put our faith in those who wear the Canadian Forces uniform, we want Canadians to know that it was a decision not taken lightly but is one we have confidence in. We cannot thank those brave men and women in uniform enough. Putting soldiers in harm's way is, as others have said, an undertaking that we must do with extreme caution and deliberation. Asking these brave souls of the Canadian Forces to defend our nation, our way of life, our beliefs, and the rights and freedoms of Canadians at home and abroad weighs heavily on all minds.
However, as a government, we take this responsibility seriously. We believe that parliamentarians should and do have an opportunity in this debate to help to carefully calibrate force and action, which is why we have added another day to this debate and why we have made this a confidence motion.
For a period of up to six months, our forces will launch air strikes against ISIL, along with our allies and partners, including Arab states, utilizing up to nine aircraft and support elements. Humanitarian relief will continue. This is a meaningful, impactful contribution. As always, we will do our part with pride and purpose.
Incremental costs will of course be reported to the Parliament of Canada, as they always are.
The current deployment of 69 members who will be participating in a non-combat advisory role will continue. As the Prime Minister has said, we are not participating in any ground combat mission. We do so in coordination with our closest allies and with the greatest intent in mind to bring about a sense of security in the region.
The dedication and determination of the men and women in uniform that we have witnessed first-hand thus far is inspirational as always. We have a long and storied history when it comes to protecting our system of beliefs and those we count among our closest friends and allies.
There are easier paths we could go down, but we will not shy away from our duty. We will do what is right, honouring our glorious history and preserving our precious future.
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the following reports from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs: the 19th report in relation to the question of privilege related to Elections Canada and the member for Selkirk—Interlake, and the 20th report requesting an extension of 30 calendar days to consider matters related to Motion No. 489. If the House gives its consent, I should like to move concurrence at this time.
I would also ask that the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that was presented on Tuesday be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, there are no boots on the ground, so they must be in sandals or levitating. They are not in a combat mission, but they are there to fight.
Yesterday, the member for Selkirk—Interlake also hinted that it is entirely possible that the 30-day mission in Iraq could last longer.
Before Canada commits itself any further, when will the Conservatives keep their promise to provide all the information to which Canadians and parliamentarians are entitled and to hold a vote in Parliament after a thorough debate?
We have the right to vote, as the Conservatives promised, on whether Canada is to go to war.
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has failed to answer clear questions about his ill-defined military deployment in Iraq.
Yesterday, Conservatives refused once again to answer in this House, but the member for Selkirk—Interlake stated on CPAC that the mission will end on October 4.
Will the Conservative government confirm that the 30-day Canadian commitment in Iraq will indeed end on October 4?
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity, while I am on my feet, to thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake. I know that he is strongly committed to working with Ukrainians in Canada. He has spent tremendous time and commitment flying back and forth on government aircraft to make sure that things are being done as best as they can be for Ukrainian Canadians.
We are talking about government resources. However, we did not get an answer from the NDP. The member is well aware that the Leader of the Opposition has been asked to sit before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to explain his plans to open political branch offices across Canada, which clearly are not for government uses. With the smoke and mirrors and the opening statements we have heard from our colleagues across the way, I am wondering if he could clearly state his position and understanding of the appropriateness of using funds for political offices being opened up across this country.
The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.
Mr. Speaker, it is a different question of privilege. Further to the brief verbal notice I gave you, Mr. Speaker, and the House yesterday, I rise at this time on a question of privilege flowing from the actions taken by the government of the Russian Federation.
In the course of its aggression against Ukraine, Russia has purported to impose personal sanctions directed against certain specific Canadian citizens, 13 in total so far. They include Mr. Paul Grod, the distinguished national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; Wayne Wouters, the Clerk of the Privy Council; Jean-Francois Tremblay, deputy secretary to the cabinet; Christine Hogan, an advisor to the Prime Minister; a cabinet minister; the government House leader; two Liberal members of Parliament, the members for Mount Royal and Toronto Centre; a New Democrat MP, the member for Ottawa Centre; three government members, the members for Niagara West—Glanbrook, Selkirk—Interlake, and Etobicoke Centre; a senator, Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan; and the Speaker of the House of Commons.
These sanctions are obviously intended to be insulting and intimidating. They are designed to interfere with the normal and proper behaviour of the named individuals. Typically, those who have reacted, so far, to their being included on this Russian blacklist have worn their sanction status as a badge of honour for standing up for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for defending the independence, integrity, and sovereignty of Ukraine. I am sure that all of us in this House endorse that principled Canadian attitude and reject the notion of these Russian sanctions.
It is bad enough that such sanctions are directed against a prominent Canadian citizen like Mr. Grod. It is bad enough that they are directed against several professional public servants. It is bad enough that the Russians are purporting to sanction Canadian members of Parliament to punish them, to interfere with their public and parliamentary duties, and to seek to intimidate them in their defence of freedom and rights. All that is bad enough.
However, it is worse still that a foreign power has attempted to insult and demean the Parliament of Canada as a whole by purporting to sanction the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker represents the rights and privileges of all MPs, regardless of partisanship or any other distinction, and through them, the Speaker represents the basic values of our democratic way of life. The Speaker reflects the fundamental dignity of the House of Commons.
Sanctions by a foreign power against the Speaker of the House of Commons are a fundamental affront to Canada. They are, in my view, an unmistakable contempt of Parliament, and they should not go without a response.
I will not belabour the point. I believe it speaks quite eloquently for itself. I would simply refer to one short paragraph on page 82 of the second edition of O'Brien and Bosc's House of Commons Procedure and Practice. It reads as follows:
Any disregard of or attacks on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House. There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House....
I believe that a sufficient prima facie case of contempt exists in the circumstances of these Russian sanctions. If the Chair so finds, I would be prepared to present a motion, that, in summary, would first, reiterate the clear support of this House for freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Ukraine and the independence, integrity, and sovereignty of Ukraine; second, express our united condemnation of the behaviour of the Russian Federation in relation to Ukraine and our rejection of Russian sanctions against Canadians; and, third, call upon the appropriate committee of this House to investigate the full meaning and consequences of a foreign power showing contempt against the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada.
In the alternative, given what I think is a strong common view in the House around these points, I would be happy to see the House leaders convene to discuss an appropriate all-party motion on this matter of contempt to deal with what is an unprecedented situation, and to give some guidance as to how we can and should respond, as a Parliament, in cases of foreign contempt.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about our new economic action plan 2014, “The Road to Balance: Creating Jobs and Opportunities”. I have been thumbing through it, and I am excited about all the good things in this budget and that we are on our way to a balanced budget. I am excited that we will be able to start paying down debt and making more investments into our economy and for Canadian families. There are so many great things in here. I am going to briefly go through a few of them, and then I am going to talk about the things that are important to my riding of Selkirk—Interlake.
We will launch the Canada job grant effective April 1, 2014. We will partner with most provinces and move ahead in matching jobs with people who need jobs. We will have the investment and partnership from the business community. The job-matching service is something we would do to help match jobs with Canadians who are looking for work.
We are going to create the Canada apprenticeship loan and run it the same way that we run the Canada student loans program. It would finally allow youth who want to participate in the red seal trades with an opportunity to get student loans while they are taking their apprenticeships. We would increase the number of unpaid internships for young Canadians, with $55 million.
We would cut more red tape for small business. I know of small businesses up and down the main streets in my communities and the owners have to do so much paperwork. The more we can do to reduce that load, the better. We have been working at this for the last several years, and the more we can do, the better off our businesses are going to be.
We are going to continue to have more research in technology and innovation and development, with $1.5 billion over the next decade to allow our universities and colleges to establish the Canada first research excellence fund. These are great things.
There were some things that I was hoping to see in this budget that I am very pleased to see are here. They are important to Manitoba and to Selkirk—Interlake.
One of the things we announced was a $200-million natural disasters mitigation program. This would help communities prepare for natural disasters. Selkirk—Interlake has had a number of overland floods because of either ice jams on the Red River, or flooding over Lake Manitoba because of the diversion along the Assiniboine River and Lake Winnipeg. Whenever we have had weather bombs come through and raise the lake levels, or there is excessive moisture because of heavy snow melts as well as wet springs, we have had a lot of damage.
Where we have been able to put in flood mitigations like the Red River Floodway, “Duff's Ditch”, as we call it in Manitoba, they have saved billions and billions of dollars from flooding in the city of Winnipeg. If we can continue to make those types of investments in dikes and diversions and floodways, it would provide more opportunities to protect more communities, more property, and more Manitobans.
However, it is not just in Manitoba; this is available across the country. I know that in Quebec we have had flooding. We have seen some disasters this past spring in Calgary and High River, and other places in southern Alberta. This is the type of investment from our federal government that would ensure we could mitigate those types of disasters and provide the infrastructure that would have ongoing benefits to communities. It would not cost the treasury billions of dollars time and again with the devastation like we saw in Calgary this year.
I am excited to see the new horizons program get another $5 million in addition to what it already gets. I know that the new horizons centres in my riding, as well as other seniors centres, have benefited from this program. Whether it is from accessibility grants, mentoring programs, or investing in their facility, it provides a place for seniors to gather, share, and have fun, and to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. I know they appreciate it whenever they get money to keep improving their facilities.
In 2005, one of the bills I introduced when I was in opposition was called Jonathan's Bill. That became law a couple of years ago, through the hard work of my friend and colleague from Leeds—Grenville. We were able to establish a program that provides EI sick benefits to parents and families who are caring for terminally ill or critically ill or injured children. I am happy to report that program will be enhanced by $2.4 million over the next two years. It would continue after that with funding of $1.2 million in excess of the EI benefit there now, to allow families to stay at home and care for their children. There is nothing worse for children than to have to depend on the care of someone who is not their mother, father, or grandparent, and to be sitting with strangers, maybe in a hospital.
It is better for their recovery and for their well-being if they can have time to sit at home and be cared for by a family member. Especially if they are undergoing treatment or surgery, it is going to be important that children are with loved ones and that their families get the support they need to help them recover.
In my riding, I often hear how difficult it is to be wired in on the Internet. In rural Manitoba, as in lots of places across rural Canada, Internet access is difficult. It is either dial-up or really poor wireless service. The $305-million broadband program that was announced would speed, extend, and enhance the broadband high-speed Internet network across Canada to over 280,000 Canadian households. That would be a welcome addition for so many homeowners and businesses throughout Selkirk—Interlake.
We would invest another $40 million to improve small craft harbours. I know that many people do not realize that in Manitoba we have an inland sea. In the riding of Selkirk—Interlake, we have over 1,000 commercial fishers. Those commercial fishers on Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba depend on having safe harbours. It is important that they have the ability to access funding to improve those harbours to keep them safe and to deal with some of the weather damage they have experienced over the last few years. I can assure everyone that they are thankful.
As a farmer in an area that represents a large farming and ranching area, I am glad to see one thing I have been asking to have for some time, which is an extension of the tax deferral program for livestock producers when they undergo drought or overland flooding. Right now cattle, goats, sheep, bison, and hogs are the only livestock that qualify for tax deferral. If farmers are in a situation where they have no feed, no pasture, and no opportunity to grow a crop to feed those animals because of flooding or drought, one option many farmers and ranchers entertain is to actually sell the livestock and re-buy stock when weather conditions improve. We have always offered farmers a tax deferral of up to 12 months if they have had to liquidate their herds. Rather than having to pay it off as income tax, they have that cash on hand so they can purchase replacement livestock.
I am glad to report that in the budget we would extend that program to include bees and horses, because in our area, we have a lot of PMU operations and horse breeders. Those are commercial farm operations.
When we talk about bees, we are not just talking about honeybees. We are also talking about leafcutter bees, which pollinate a lot of our crops, especially clover, alfalfa, and some of the other legumes that are so important to the overall production of western Canadian crops.
One thing my friend from Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette has been working on is having the recreational fisheries conservation partnership program. We ran it for the last two years as a pilot. It went over so well that it would be extended another two years and would be increased to $15 million. I see my friend from Wetaskiwin is here, who has also been a very big player in having this program. It enhances not only the commercial fishery but the recreational fishery for the sports fishers who go out there and angle and go after trophy walleye and catfish in the Red River in Manitoba and northern pike, which we call jackfish.
There are so many opportunities for working in partnership with local fish and wildlife organizations in our small communities to develop better fisheries, to enhance the habitat, and to protect and conserve those important natural areas. I am very excited to see that.
One thing that has been very positive, as well, in my area is the trails program, whether it is for snowmobiles or hiking. This $10 million for the National Trails Coalition would improve accessibility for people who love the outdoors and want to get out and see our natural spaces. It is one area that has great benefit for the riding of Selkirk—Interlake, not only for the snowmobilers and off-roaders but for people who like to go out on bikes or to hike and just enjoy the beautiful area of Selkirk—Interlake.
With that I am more than happy to take some questions from my colleagues. I encourage everyone in the House to support this great budget and get back to having a balanced budget and paying down our national debt again.
Mr. Speaker, I have several questions for the member, one in particular.
The Conservatives have a track record of breaking election rules. I will just remind the member of a few.
I have a whole book of election frauds by the Conservatives, for example, the member for Peterborough; the member for Saint Boniface; the member for Selkirk—Interlake; and there was Peter Penashue, remember him; and there were robocalls, and there was Mount Royal, and in-and-out scandals, and the list goes on.
I would like the hon. member for Hamilton Centre to tell the House if the Conservatives are changing the rules of the election law to make it easier for them to get away with this?
Mr. Speaker, I think what was alluded to earlier about putting it to committee quickly is a rather disingenuous argument, because what they are saying is to put it to committee before we have a vote at second reading and before we accept it in principle. I am sure the member knows this.
I have a great deal of respect for the gentleman, and he has been here a very long time. I think he knows that what was proposed as a way of broadening the debate of this bill would have allowed all sorts of amendments that would not be allowed if we voted at second reading.
I really do not think I have to repeat this for anybody who has been here in the House longer than I, and I have been here for close to ten years.
The member talked about the member for Selkirk—Interlake, who has the ability to prove himself. I appreciate that, but Helena Guergis, the member for Peterborough, and another member over here were each levied judgment to leave caucus before they had the chance to defend themselves. It is a little disingenuous.
It was unbelievable, as one of my colleagues pointed out, because he did nothing wrong. There was an accounting dispute between the member and Elections Canada, one that was finally resolved in favour of the member. The overarching argument was that Elections Canada claimed the member had overspent in the 2011 election by tens of thousands of dollars. When the final resolution came to pass, it was agreed upon by Elections Canada that overspending was less than $500. That is what the member for Selkirk—Interlake had claimed all along. In other words, the member was right and Elections Canada was wrong, but the egregious part of all of this is that Elections Canada sent a letter to the Speaker of the House stating that because, in its opinion, the member had overspent in the 2011 campaign, that the member should not be allowed to sit or vote in this place.
Elections Canada did not have to do that. First, it was inappropriate at the very least. Second, Elections Canada should have at least allowed a full examination of all evidence, and if the member wanted to go to court for a decision, Elections Canada should have allowed the resolution to take place through the courts. That was not the case, but with this bill now it would be. So it respects the will of Canadians; the tens of thousands of people who voted for the member would not then be subject to the type of fear that their duly elected member would be removed from this place and would not be able to represent their views.
The bill addresses that. It would allow that any disputes between Elections Canada and a sitting member would have to be resolved completely, even if that meant going to court, before the draconian measure of trying to impose the severe sanction of removing the member from a seat would take place. That is called fairness, and that is why the bill is presented to the House. It is to make elections fairer for all Canadians but, at the same time, to impose strong sanctions against those who may wish to abuse the rights of Canadians in an election.
I look forward to more debate on this matter, and I very much look forward to this being presented before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in short order, so we can begin to conduct an in-depth examination of this very, very fine piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place today and speak in favour of Bill C-23, the fair elections act, for a number of reasons. We finally have a governance model that would give Canadians even more confidence that elections are being run in a fair manner, but there are also provisions in Bill C-23 that would seriously impede those who wish to perpetrate election fraud by bringing down stricter penalties and even jail time in some cases for those fraudsters who want to try to unduly affect the outcome of an election.
Before I talk about specific elements within the bill, I do want to spend a few moments of my time dispelling some of the myths that have been propagated by members of the opposition, particularly the members of the NDP.
Without question, it is fair to say that the NDP has absolutely no credibility when it comes to presenting opposition to this bill. Let me give two examples.
The first example is that, the day the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) introduced Bill C-23 in Parliament, the member for Toronto—Danforth, who is also the democratic reform critic for the NDP, went outside this chamber and said that he and the entire NDP caucus would be opposing Bill C-23, but he had to admit that he had not read the bill.
The fair elections act is a comprehensive analysis, and it presents quite specific proposals on how to make the Elections Act stronger and fairer for all Canadians. However, the member for Toronto—Danforth, who is the point person on the NDP side to criticize any democratic reform initiatives, had not read the bill. He is a former law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. I wonder whether or not that member, when he was teaching law to his students, would advocate that type of approach: to disagree with testimony in a legal proceeding without reading the testimony, or oppose contracts without reading the contracts. Of course he would not. However, that is the approach the New Democrats always take. They are simply not credible.
There is even one more hypocritical example I will point out, which is laughable, and every time I think about this I have to break out in laughter. That is the position the NDP takes with respect to the time allocation on Bill C-23.
In debate, the NDP continually states that five days of debate is not long enough to debate this bill and that somehow our government is trying to suppress the democratic rights of parliamentarians to adequately debate legislation. That is the position it has taken. I heard the member for Newton—North Delta making that very argument at the start of this debate. On Friday afternoon, I heard the member for Vancouver East advance that same argument.
The hypocritical nature of that argument is that, the day after this bill was introduced in Parliament, the aforementioned member for Toronto—Danforth, the democratic reform critic for the NDP, stood in this place and presented a motion to limit debate to five hours and then send it to committee. How can the New Democrats argue that five hours of debate is proper and good but five days of debate is somehow suppressing democracy? It is so hypocritical and so over the top that it is laughable, yet every NDP speaker who has stood up in this place makes and advances that argument. The NDP has no credibility on this issue whatsoever.
If we may, let us turn our attention to a couple of elements within the bill that illustrate why this is a good bill and a governance model that we should have had long ago in this country.
The first provision I want to speak to is the fact that, when this bill is finally given royal assent and becomes law, the Commissioner of Elections will have the tools at his disposal and the independence to properly conduct investigations of election violations. For some reason, the members of the opposition seem to think this is a bad thing. However, here is the current situation. This is why it is untenable as it stands right now.
Currently, both the Commissioner of Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions answer to the Chief Electoral Officer. That is untenable as it, in effect, makes the Chief Electoral Officer the judge, jury, and prosecutor of all flagrant allegations of abuse, either real or imagined, and that simply cannot be allowed to continue. The Commissioner of Elections, by gaining total independence, then would have the ability to independently and impartially conduct investigations.
Frankly, any Canadian would be able to make or lodge complaints with the Commissioner of Elections, suggesting that investigations occur if they feel a violation has occurred, but they would be conducted independently of the Chief Electoral Officer. That is a good thing. One would think that the Chief Electoral Officer would welcome that because it demonstrates clearly to Canadians that his office is independent and the Commissioner of Elections, a separate arm, is independent as well. Unfortunately, it appears neither the Chief Electoral Officer nor members of the opposition feel that is an appropriate distinction. It is certainly one that I feel is appropriate.
Let me point out what the bill also would do. It would ensure that the democratic will of Canadians is respected. I point again to a recent example we have seen and talked about in the last few days, where the member for Selkirk—Interlake was subject to a lot of criticism by members of the opposition and in the media. Frankly, some accused the member of cheating in the 2011 election—
Mr. Speaker, we cannot forget the context in which we are debating Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, here in the House.
This bill comes after a long wait. It took the government two long years to introduce this bill, as though it cost the government a great deal to do so. This long wait was then followed by a suspicious haste to rush the bill through, to speed up the parliamentary process, as though the government had something to hide. It wants to rush through a 252-page bill that has to do with electoral democracy.
The current context also includes the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen a Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the minister sponsoring this bill, who just happens to be the member who has attacked Elections Canada, an honourable and essential institution, more than anyone else in the history of Canada. This is a member who has spent the past few years defending the indefensible every time the Conservative Party has been involved in shady schemes. This is a minister who, in just the last few days, has accused Elections Canada of bias, without any evidence whatsoever. This is a minister who falsely said that he had consulted the Chief Electoral Officer on this bill, forcing the Chief Electoral Officer to set the record straight.
This bill comes at a time when the ethics of this government and the Conservatives Party are being called into question by many troubling facts.
We remember the in-and-out scandal, when the Conservative Party, having finally admitted to election overspending and to submitting inflated election returns, had no choice but to pay the maximum fine under the Elections Act.
We remember the Peter Penashue scandal, when the former Conservative minister had to resign his seat due to wide-scale election overspending.
We know that Conservative MPs from Saint Boniface and Selkirk—Interlake both entered into a compliance agreement with Elections Canada.
We know that the MP for Peterborough was kicked out of the Conservative caucus and is facing charges under the Elections Act.
We remember the worst of these scandals, the fraudulent election robocalls scandal, where Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley noted that electoral fraud did occur during the 41st general election. Justice Mosley stated:
I am satisfied, however, that the most likely source of the information used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the [Conservative Party of Canada].
Let us look at that scandal for a moment. According to the Federal Court, the Conservative Party database was the most likely source of the fraudulent calls that were made to mislead voters and keep them from voting in the 2011 election.
What should an honest political party do under such circumstances? It should alert the police so that it can be determined who, in the party or otherwise, used the database for fraudulent purposes.
If the party does not do that, if the Conservatives do not do that, is it because someone in the party already knows the truth and does not want it to come to light?
The Conservative Party has stood in the way of the search for the truth in this sordid affair. Under the pretext that the judge had not determined with 100% certainty that the Conservative Party database had indeed been misused, the party declared itself innocent and refused to launch any kind of investigation. The party does not really seem to want to find out what happened.
What is worse, the Conservatives' election workers completely refused to speak with investigators about the mystery fraudulent telephone calls in Guelph. Too bad if the guilty parties, the fraudsters, are still at large. Too bad, or all the better, if the Conservative war room's real goal is to protect those who are guilty. The party clearly wanted to protect them or it would have acted differently.
That is why we are legitimately suspicious about the government and the Conservative Party, which is finally coming forward with a bill that set outs the rules that this government would like to see govern the next federal election in the fall of 2015.
If the government wants to dispel the suspicion surrounding its electoral honesty, why does the minister's bill ignore the main recommendation made by the Chief Electoral Officer, which received strong support from the Commissioner of Canada Elections, namely to facilitate investigations and the ability to uncover election fraud?
This is what that recommendation says:
In order to make the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act more effective, it is recommended that the Commissioner of Canada Elections be given the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any person to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. ...the inability to compel testimony is one of the most significant obstacles to effective enforcement of the Act. The Chief Electoral Officer strongly recommends that this power be given to the Commissioner to facilitate and accelerate the manner in which allegations are investigated. [...]
The Commissioner of Canada Elections strongly supports this recommendation.
The minister rejected this recommendation and is refusing to give the commissioner the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any persons to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. Why? Is the minister satisfied with the current situation? Is he trying to protect reluctant witnesses? Is he pleased or reassured that proper investigations are being impeded today, as was described in the 2012-13 annual report of the Commissioner of Canada Elections? The following is a quote from the report:
...investigators often face reluctant witnesses. Frequently, key individuals will simply refuse to be interviewed or they will initially accept, only to later decline. In some cases, they will participate in interviews but will provide only partial information and incomplete answers, often citing a faulty recollection of events or the inability to retrieve key documents. In other cases, a potential witness will profess a complete willingness to cooperate, but the process will take time – resulting in information being provided slowly and in an incomplete fashion. Under the legislative regime as it currently exists, potential witnesses (e.g. candidates, official agents, representatives of political parties) do not have any obligation to cooperate with or assist investigators.
In a CBC interview on February 8, this past weekend, the Chief Electoral Officer said that the investigation into fraudulent calls was impeded by the fact that it was difficult to obtain witnesses' co-operation:
Many people [in that investigation] refused to talk to the commissioner even if they were not suspects. I'm afraid to say this is happening more and more in files investigated by the commissioner.
He is constantly confronted with this obstacle.
Can the minister confirm that his bill protects witnesses who refuse to co-operate with the justice system? Why is there this protection? Is this related to the robocall scandal?
Indeed, the bill would eliminate the limitation period for offences that require intent. That means that the commissioner can go back in time to catch deliberate lawbreakers. However, the Conservatives refuse to give the Commissioner of Canada Elections the authority to go to a judge to compel testimony from witnesses to election crimes. Is it because it would blow open the robocalls investigations?
The minister argues that witnesses are already required to testify in court once formal allegations have been made, but everybody can see the problem with this argument. If the Commissioner of Canada Elections cannot get witnesses to co-operate during the investigation phase, the crucial step during which evidence is sought, how can the commissioner obtain the evidence required to make such formal allegations? The minister points out that the commissioner can already seek a warrant to obtain documents from a judge, but what the commissioner needs, as much or more than documents, is witness co-operation.
The minister says that his bill introduces a new penalty for those who obstruct an investigation or provide inaccurate information to investigators. However, obstructing is not the same thing as refusing to speak or co-operate. The minister very craftily straddles that line.
Furthermore, the minister states that the elections commissioner currently has all of the same investigatory powers as police officers. However, what the Chief Electoral Officer or the Commissioner of Canada Elections are asking for is a power that the police do not have but the Commissioner of Competition already has, and that is the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any person to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. The question the minister must answer is, why does his bill not provide the Commissioner of Canada Elections with the power already held by the Commissioner of Competition under section 11 of the Competition Act? Will the minister answer this simple question?
The electoral district of Selkirk--Interlake (Manitoba) has a population of 90,807 with 66,937 registered voters and 218 polling divisions.
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