moved that Bill C-474, an act respecting the promotion of financial transparency, improved accountability and long-term economic sustainability through the public reporting of payments made by mining, oil and gas corporations to foreign governments, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North for being the seconder to this bill.
It appears we are at the end of a parliamentary week and this has indeed been a week about corruption, I am afraid. I wish it were not so, but it is.
Ironically, today, the government introduced Bill S-14, which is a bill about corruption and we had quite a number of interventions on that bill. Then question period followed and that, too, was, regrettably, about carryings-on about corruption, bribery and things of that nature. Then we were supposed to proceed with Bill S-14 after question period, but the government switched off that bill.
However, my colleague from the NDP raised the issue of the report of the foreign affairs committee where, in fact, it was also a discussion in some manner or other about the use and abuse of aid money in the extractive sectors.
Here we are, at the end of our parliamentary week, talking about bill C-474, which I have suggested be called the “sunshine bill”. The reason we call it the sunshine bill is that sunshine is light on, how shall we say, murky practices. It is light on goings-on that people only suspect.
However, it also has another aspect. Sunshine also has the aspect of killing bacteria. In some respects when we have legislation such as the sunshine bill, I would suggest it would not only shed light on somewhat murky and dubious practices, but it would also kill off some of those murky and dubious practices.
The bill is, as far as I have been able to make it within our legislative framework, a mirror image of the Cardin-Lugar amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill.
Members will recall that in 2008-09 the world went through a pretty significant financial crisis. The major legislative response by the United States was the Dodd-Frank bill. In the Dodd-Frank bill was an amendment made by Senators Cardin and Lugar which said, in effect, that an extractive company operating in a foreign jurisdiction must, within 180 days of its fiscal year end, produce an audited statement to be filed with the Securities Exchange Commission, which discloses all payments it has made in the course of its previous fiscal year, those payments being taxes, royalties, dividends, licence fees, production entitlements, bonuses, provision of infrastructure and other in-kind payments and a variety of other payments that would be appropriate to disclosure.
Insofar as I have been able to make this bill as mirror image as our American friends have done, I have done so.
In the United States, the sanction for failing to file will be delisting from U.S. stock exchanges. Therefore, we can imagine that the Americans are very serious about corruption. Failure to comply means that a company will be delisted from, primarily, the New York Exchange. Its stock will be worth zero. The company will be functus. That is how serious the Americans are about corruption in companies in which it has administrative jurisdiction.
We do not have a national securities regulator. That case was decided about a year ago. I actually applaud the government's efforts to try to create a national securities regulator. Our securities regulation in the country is a joke. There are all kinds of little silos doing various different things. Therefore, I applaud the government's efforts, but those efforts failed. As a consequence, we had to rejig the sanction to be a fine sanction.
Failure to file with the government in a similar fashion as the Cardin-Lugar amendment would, in this instance, attract a fine rather than a delisting from a U.S. stock exchange.
I know the Americans are extremely keen on this legislation. In 2011 or 2012, I am not quite sure in which was the meeting, President Obama raised this matter with his G7 partners. All the partners at the G7 wanted each nation to commit to legislation similar to the Cardin-Lugar amendment. The only nation that resisted was Canada, which is quite regrettable because we are the world centre for the extractive industry. More transactions take place on the TSX than pretty well anywhere else in the world. This is the centre of the world for mine financing, law firms, accounting and geology. We are the best in the world in mining. That is an extremely important industry to us and our nation's well-being. Therefore, we should also be the leaders in an international regulatory environment for the benefit of our nation and the companies that call Canada home. It is good for Canada, for the industry and it is good for our national reputation.
Unfortunately, Canadians are fed up of reading in their national newspapers and other media about various companies that find themselves on the wrong side of bribery allegations, the latest example being SNC-Lavalin, which is by anyone's standard a world-class engineering firm. However, because of bribery convictions in Bangladesh, it has been barred from competing in world bank contracts for the next 10 years. That basically takes SNC-Lavalin, and essentially Canada, out from competing for engineering projects. Officials have been fired and the stock has been hammered.
One can go through quite a number of Canadian and Canadian-based companies such as: the Calgary-based Griffiths engineering company, which recently paid a $10 million fine for an inappropriate financial relationship with the wife of the Chad's former ambassador; Niko Resources another $9 million fine in 2011 for again an inappropriate relationship with a former energy minister in Bangladesh; and Blackfire Exploration Ltd. is having its offices raided by the RCMP.
This is serious stuff. The common pattern is the conviction gets registered, the officials get fired, the stock gets hammered, so there is a bunch of unhappy people and the most unhappy of all are the shareholders. All of us are shareholders in many of these companies because they are all on the TSX and our Canada pension plan has large holdings on many of these companies.
It gets worse than that. Members may or may not have caught an article in the Globe and Mail last year entitled “Canada ranked worst of G7 nations in fighting bribery, corruption”. In the second paragraph it states:
Transparency International, a group that monitors global corruption, put Canada in the lowest category of countries with “little or no enforcement” when it comes to applying bribery standards set out by the [OECD].
Mr. Dent further states that:
—the United States has prosecuted more than 200 companies and individuals, many of them “a veritable who’s who of the corporate world”...
The United States is serious about this kind of corruption and is very serious not only in a legislative fashion but also in a prosecutorial fashion in trying to deal with these allegations and concerns.
The United States, in a comparable period of time, has conducted 227 prosecutions. In a similar period of time, we have conducted two. We are the world centre for mining. Maybe when things go north of the border, we suddenly become a whole lot better than the rest of the world. I suppose we are entitled to believe in our fantasies.
However, the Americans, the British treat and the Europeans treat this very seriously. Unfortunately, the big hole in the legislative fence is right here. This has reputational damage, and it is not only reputation.
I hear my friends chirping over there because they are a little nervous that they have been caught with no legislative response going into the G8 next month.
If Conservatives do not think this is serious to shareholders, if they do not think it is serious to management, if they do not think it is serious to our corporations or our corporate brand, they should think about it in terms of our national reputation.
Positive views of Canada fell most steeply in the United States, Britain and China, according to the BBC World News survey of 20,000 people in 20 countries who were asked if Canada had a mainly positive or negative influence on the world. It is the first time Canada's popularity among its major trading partners has declined since polling from GlobeScan began tracking international sentiment in 2005.
GlobeScan chairman, Doug Miller, said, “the deterioration could hurt Canadian business interests”. He said, “If the conditions persist, it can start to set in more cognitively and become an anchor that weighs down [Canada's] reputation. What countries have found is that it's extremely hard work to regain trust”.
The industry is actually cognizant of this. The industry gets it. Over the last couple of years, I have been meeting quite regularly with industry groups. In many instances they have signed up for EITI, the extractive industries transparency initiative. In many instances they understand that not only is it important that their company have a good reputation, but it is important that their industry have a good reputation and it is important that our nation have a good reputation.
They have conducted on their own, at their own expense, all kinds of seminars, education things and the government has in some respects facilitated some of that discussion with the Vancouver-based organization which is on EITI.
Interestingly, Canada as a nation, unlike other nations like the United States, has not signed on for EITI. We actually cannot hold our own companies to account, even though some of our own companies have voluntarily joined the EITI initiative themselves.
Joe Ringwald, Transparency International Canada representative and an industry representative, said, “It is become important to become a leader in order to gain this reputational advantage”. He also stated that Canada had become a laggard on this industry, that industry in general was taking a favourable tone to this legislation and that there had been a number of industry players who wanted transparency.
The industry, the various other actors, the NGOs and others are stepping up to the plate, but what is really worrisome is that, internationally, we are about to get one more black eye.
At the G8 meeting in June, Prime Minister Cameron wants transparency to be one of the takeaways from that meeting. He wants the rest of the G8 partners to adopt the legislation similar to the Cardin-Lugar amendment. Thus far we are going in with fig leaves.
Bill S-14 is a fig leaf. It is wonderful in so far as getting prosecution, but it is not much good in terms of generating evidence.
I would encourage my colleagues, particularly my colleagues opposite, to support this legislation. This is extremely important to the industry and extremely important for our nation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate, although at times it can seem rather obtuse and obscure. There are all kinds of adjectives, I suppose, to describe it from the perspective of even parliamentarians who may not be as well versed as my colleague from Hamilton Mountain around the idea of regulatory change and what those regulatory statutes actually mean.
As someone who used to be a municipal councillor, I know all too well that when we pass things like a safe water act, for instance, in the province of Ontario, when the act comes to municipalities, it is not the act that scares us but the regulations. When the act comes down, it is about two and a half to three pages, and then the book comes, and it is sometimes really quite thick with the regulations that one now has to put into force or enact or find a way to do. It is those pieces that ultimately make that piece of legislation work and that form the backbone of the legislation, if you will. In fact, it would be the nuts and bolts. That is how it makes all of these things work.
Many of us in this place, I would suggest, know that we pass legislation and debate it in this place, but then off it goes somewhere else where the regulations that go behind the legislation to give it teeth or put meat on the bones are put in place, so it can go forward and actually mean something.
The regulations get drafted in different ways and it all becomes part of that bigger piece that the general public would see as that maze of government bureaucracy they say they deal with. They do not actually necessarily deal with the act specifically; they deal with the specific regulations, nine times out of ten. When they come to our office to complain about something, it is the regulation of the particular act they are complaining about, not the act that may have been passed in this House.
What I found quite astounding was the number of regulations. We are literally talking about thousands. At the moment there are at the federal level approximately 3,000 regulations comprising 30,000 pages of text.
For folks to wade through that material to find out what the regulations are that might impact them in whatever sphere of life they are in, whether it be business or other things they are partaking in as a general part of their lives, is quite a daunting task when they come up against something and they try to figure it out.
We find, to give it some sense of context, there are about 450 statutes of 13,000 pages. Again, the acts themselves that we pass here are such minor pieces of the overall legislation when the regulations are finally written and enacted and put behind it. That speaks to the volume of material that folks would have to navigate to try to figure out what they need to know, what they do not need to know and what their obligations and their rights are, because obviously regulations give us certain rights as well as obligations.
What if some folks breached one of the regulations? They need to understand the regulation because, as a traffic officer explained to me when I used to sit on a municipal police association board, going through a stop sign and saying we did not see it is not a defence. Ignorance of the law is no defence. If we did not see the traffic signal and just kept driving, that is not a defence. The same thing happens with regulations. The fact that we do not know about them is not a defence, because there is an obligation for us to know and understand them. It also gives us the right under the regulations to do certain things, whatever that happens to be, based on the regulations.
Ultimately it is a dual piece of rights and obligations. One needs to find a way to understand them, but to understand them, we have to be able to find them. When we talk about this incorporation, whether it be a static piece or an ambulatory piece, and lots of folks have gone through definitions of what are they, what they are not, and how they would change, how do those folks who actually look at them know that they have changed and say that they will act accordingly?
I know that I need to put x number of green books on a table, as they are in front of me here in the House, followed by three white books at the end. That is the regulation. Then somebody changes them, because it is an ambulatory piece of regulation. It is not static. We can take the three white books off the table and add two orange ones. New Democrats like orange, so we are going to put two orange ones down. Then we test everybody by asking them if they know how many green books are on the table and whether the three white ones are at the end. They would say yes, but they would fail, because we put two orange ones there. That means that they are out of office now, because they voted wrong, and the orange ones are going on the other side, which will probably happen in 2015, quite frankly. There was a change that nobody really knew about, and it was as simple as moving three books and putting two orange ones there.
What if we were to do that to food safety regulations? We have reciprocal agreements with our largest trading partner, the United States, and we have them with other countries around the world. They stand us well in a lot of different ways. We understand that we have a robust safety system in the agriculture sector at the producer level and when it comes to food processing and food handling. We accept that the United States also has a robust system. We accept as quid pro quo that what they do and what we do is good. We accept their standards and they accepts ours.
We get into this idea that we can change the regulations. Canada has regulations on our side and the United States has regulations on their side. We have similar regulations with our other trading partners. What if folks start changing food safety regulations? Most folks would say that they trust our American trading partner. They say that we do not have to worry about it. That country makes some changes that are probably okay and we will be fine. What happens if it is a country that is less trustworthy? I will not point the finger at any one country, but lots of us could identify a country where some of its food products have been less than safe, whether that be melamine in milk or other things that have happened.
What happens if those countries change a regulation and we change our regulation as well? Have we done our consumers justice by ensuring that the system is safe? We said that it was safe, and we changed the regulation, because it was an ambulatory regulation. We allowed it to be changed, because someone else changed it. We initially accepted a system that accepts other country's regulations. They changed one and we just accepted it, because we can do that now. No checks and balances are in place to make sure that we do not do that.
My colleague from Hamilton Mountain asked a question of my colleague from York South—Weston. We already know that a number of regulatory changes have been made, even though there was no authority to make them. I think she said that there were 170. It was not once or twice. My colleagues on the other side who sit with her on that committee also know that this is the case. They heard the testimony. It was not an issue of somebody slipping up and forgetting. One hundred and seventy times is a pattern. That is not a mistake. That is not a matter of somebody forgetting and forgetting to call the minister. The House should have looked at the information. It should have gone through the process and it should have had its due course. It does not seem as if that is right.
If we are now, as my colleague has said, changing legislation to cover off that period, and those 170 plus go forward, how do we ensure the rights of this House and of parliamentarians to do the job people want us to do? Our role is not just overseeing the public purse to hold government to account. If regulatory changes are coming down from different boards or agencies within the federal government's domain, then surely we should have the right to ensure that we have input.
My colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla spoke quite eloquently about the idea that this is a non-partisan committee. It is made up of all kinds of folks who do not actually vote. It has a sense of building consensus. I am not too sure that the legislation says that. What happens if it becomes the executive that takes on that role and the rest of us do not have an oversight role? We are looking for answers to some of those questions.
That is why we want to send it to committee and look at amendments. Even though my friends across the way may not be happy about it, we want to send it to committee to try to make it better. They would be pleased with that rather than upset by the fact that we may not be saying the nicest of things about it. One would think that it is what they would want us to do, even though we are pointing out what we do not think works well. We will help them out, unlike my friends down at the end who do not want to vote to send it to committee and do not want to study it. That is their choice. Earlier I heard something about an open mind. I guess it is a closed mind on this particular issue, but that is the way it goes. They have decided against it, and that is okay. That is the great choice with democracy. One gets to decide whether to say yes or no. In this case, we will vote to send it to committee and study it. Ultimately, it is about democracy. It is about our right to have a say and have input with respect to legislation and its regulations.
As I said at the beginning, the regulations are quite often more important to people than the bill. Ironically, quite often, we get tied up looking at the bill. It is very important, no question. I would never want to suggest to the drafters of the legislation that somehow it is not important. There might be some parts of the legislation that the other side drafts that we would not find important or would vote against, and have. Budgets come to mind. However, regulations clearly have an impact on people's lives and that is what they run up against quite often, not the specifics of an act. That is where folks have difficulty.
I recognize that the other place exists, at least for now. If Canadians were allowed to vote probably over 70% would vote. We know that there is a constitutional requirement to have seven provinces and 50% of the population and so forth. We all know that. However, if we asked Canadians tomorrow if they wanted that place, they would want to get rid of it. My friends down at the far end still want to defend it in some sort of beleaguered way, since their leader said just two weeks ago that they just need better guys in there, not better people, which would include women. I can see where he is coming from when it comes to that. I certainly can tell him that I know a lot of women who were not pleased when he said that.
Bill S-12 started in the other place. One of my colleagues earlier talked about bills starting there or here, but they always have to come here. In my view, they all ought to start right here. There should be no bills starting with an “S”. They should all start with a “C”, and we should deal with them. This is the people's House. We will pass them if indeed that is the will of the people's House. We do not need the Senate to either rubber-stamp bills or throw them out. That is what they did to my good friend and leader Jack Layton. It did not even take the time to look at the bill. It tossed it aside. That is not democracy when the Senate tosses aside a bill that this House has passed twice.
If that is their attitude, not to mention the latest shenanigans that have gone on over their expenses, then it is time for them to go. It is long overdue. The time is long since past.
I said something months ago in the debate on what was the Senate reform bill, which seems to have disappeared. It has gone off to the Senate now, it seems. At the time I said this to my colleagues across the way, it just happened that one of Canada's favourite coffee houses, Tim Hortons, was having its roll up the rim contest at the same time as we were debating. I was standing right here, as a matter of fact, and I said, “Mr. Speaker, it is time to roll up the red carpet”, just like we roll up the rim.
Canadians will be the winners when we roll up the red carpet. Every single Canadian would not have to worry about rolling up the rim and maybe winning a donut or a coffee or a car. Not everybody gets one; I have rolled up many a rim and not gotten too many winning roll-ups, I must admit. However, without a doubt every Canadian would win if we rolled up the red carpet.
We would roll up that red carpet and wish them all well. I would be the first to stand in line, shake all their hands and wish them well. I would not have a problem doing that and I would do it with a smile on my face and a sincere thanks to many of them.
There are many good folks down there. Hugh Segal is a prime example. I think Senator Hugh Segal is a remarkable individual, a remarkable Canadian who does remarkable work. Unfortunately, it is time for Senator Segal to go.
Senator Kirby was a remarkable man down there as well, and he did remarkable work. He left on his own. Romeo Dallaire is also in the Senate. There are a great number of them. We have identified three, but over the years there have been a good number of them. We have given three examples; finding three is not bad for New Democrats.
However, we cannot find a New Democrat down there, probably because they do not want to go there.
I see my friends down at the end are a little restless. Clearly they are worried about the appointment that is never going to come, so the hour must be getting late. It truly must.
I would invite my colleagues down the way to come with me. In fact I invited my colleague from Winnipeg North last fall. He probably does not remember, but I invited him to come with me. Let me try to quote myself again. I invited my colleague to come arm in arm with me to walk down the hall together, roll up the red carpet, wish them a Merry Christmas and send them on their way, never to return. It is not Christmastime, but we could wish them happy holidays and ask them to not ever come back.
Oddly enough, if we had had regulations and had done it the way that this government suggested and that place was regulated, we could just have changed the regulations and gotten rid of them all. Unfortunately, we do not.
I have less than two minutes left. I really want to thank my colleague on the other side. I say this with great sincerity, because he has been the person who is really keen on this legislation. He has been up asking questions and he debated earlier. I give credit to the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla. He actually answers.
He and I also have an affinity for wine. We have the two greatest wine regions in the country, Niagara being the finest and his being after that.
However, what I would like to say is that there are a whole pile of others on the other side who really have not been bothering with the legislation. They do not seem to want to bother with the legislation, so let me just say this to them: I would love to give them the opportunity to discuss their own bill. Therefore, I move:
That the House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill S-12, from that other place.
It is interesting, and it needs to be said, that the bill is here because the Senate, of course, has the power to generate bills itself. A lot of people are looking at the scandal that is going on right now and are thinking that we have to get rid of all of that so we can go back to the way we were when the Senate did not really get involved in things. However, the reality is that for any bill, this one or any other, to become law, it has to pass this place and it also has to pass through that place.
Given there are fewer seats in that place than there are in this place, the relative weight of a vote is worth more in the unelected, unaccountable Senate than it is in the elected, accountable House of Commons. Therefore, this is serious. The crisis is not just the scandal, it is the state of our democracy where we give equal if not greater authority under our Constitution to a body that has no moral, ethical or democratic legitimacy. That needs to be said every time we are dealing with the Senate of Canada.
It is not just the horrific headlines and scandals that we are seeing. It is the scandal that unelected people can vote on our laws, have to vote on our laws, and their weight is worth more than those of us on both sides of the House who are going to have to go back to our constituents and knock on doors to say, “I'm here to be accountable”. We will never hear a senator say, “I'm here to be accountable”. However, we have to live where we are now,
I recognize that my colleague for Winnipeg North took a different approach. It would have been nice to hear him say that he wished the Senate was abolished too so at least we would all be on the same starting page rather than just finding a nice way to avoid taking a position. Yes, the NDP is the only party that has taken a clear position to abolish the Senate. Of course, it is easier for us because we do not have the baggage of appointed senators leaning on our shoulders and whispering in our ears “don't hurt me”.
Our position remains clear. I think a growing number of Canadians are beginning to believe and understand that, as not a single province has a Senate left, we do not have to have a Senate. It is a choice of whether we want one or not. For 35 million people, give or take, there is a good argument that we do not need to duplicate the House of Commons.
When I was at Queen's Park in the legislative assembly, if there was a mistake made, just like when I was on city council, we brought in another bill to correct the mistake. It happens. The Senate is no guarantee that there are no mistakes or we would have a perfect country.
However, we are dealing with this bill now, which is actually very detailed and complex in terms of some of the references, especially for those of us who are not lawyers. We are all lawmakers, but we are not all lawyers, and we do not need to be.
One of the most important things that happens at the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations is that there are elected people as well as very professional well-trained staff there to give advice, and so one does not have to be a lawyer. Sometimes, every now and then we get lawyers, and because they are lawyers, they then believe that their opinion, of course, is as good as any other lawyer and they engage in that debate. Whereas us mere mortals who are not lawyers will want to hear all the legal arguments as we do not have a vested interest in the outcome other than the best law that we can have. Having said that, there is certainly nothing strange about having lawyers become lawmakers, but a good mix is best.
My other experience with regulations is in two areas.
First, as a former provincial minister, I dealt with regulations. In the briefings with the legal department and policy people, I dealt with the essence of what was there. One does not debate as a minister, unless one is a lawyer. I certainly did not engage in a debate about what language should be in the bill when it came to a technical term, especially for a legal process. However, I would always pay attention if there were other learned people who felt differently, because it is my judgment my constituents elected me to bring here, not my skills as someone who necessarily can sit down with a blank piece of paper and write a law.
The other experience I had is that I am one of those lucky MPs in this place who was not only able to sit on the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations but was a vice-chair. Yes, people do not hear me reference it a lot. There is not much I can pull from that experience in speeches. I think that is the first time in 10 years I have been able to use it.
It was a fascinating committee. Again, if someone is a lawyer who is excited by lawyer things, the more that person will be excited at these meetings. It is great to see the professionalism when people care that much about where a comma goes or whether something should be a subclause of this or that. It is great, because it shows a part of law-making that Canadians do not see when they turn on the TV. Yet it is crucial, particularly when there is an opportunity to travel to other countries that are not as strong as we are economically or democratically. Believe me, many of them would give their right arms to have a committee anything like this so that the kind of detail they want in their law-making and regulations is there. They envy us. I did not always feel that I was in an enviable position when I was sitting on the committee, but when we look at it in a bigger context, we are indeed very fortunate.
As my other colleagues have mentioned, much of its work is to ensure, from a legal point of view, that the English and French texts say the same thing. All of us here, unilingual or bilingual, know that there can be huge differences in meaning with just one or two words or a phrase. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how amplified that is when we are talking about legal documents such as regulations.
Of course, in recent times, we have had other languages brought into play because of the issue of incorporation by reference. There are languages other than French and English that will find a way into our laws. There needs to be translation. It is hard to believe that there would not be some confusion and problems going from another language to French and English such as we have going from French to English and back and forth. Therefore, there are some serious issues here to be dealt with.
There were matters that came before that committee that were decades old in their lack of resolution. Mr. Speaker, I see you nodding your head. I assume that you have been on the committee. You know that sometimes there will be an issue that in 10 years has not been resolved. However, by the end of the meeting, the committee will have dealt with something that is 22 years old. It is amazing. From a practical point of view, we wonder how on earth it could be so important that we are still dealing with it but not so important that it had to be resolved 22 years ago. That is part of the excitement for those who are in the law. I see the Speaker, who is a lawyer, smiling but shaking his head no, so I am not sure what trouble I am in. I will plough ahead nonetheless.
The work is not exactly headline-making, but it really is important. I will go so far as to say that since we have to live with that other place, it allows us the ability, through a joint committee, to bring out any synergies that are there. That deserves to be said.
There is one more thing I want to mention before I get to the specifics of the bill. There is another area where regulations, in my opinion, should be on the radar of most Canadians in terms of understanding how this place works and how laws are really made.
I watched for many years how former Ontario premier Mike Harris would take many things that were already in legislation.
As members know, legislation can only be amended by Parliament. Regulations, on the other hand, do not require Parliament. That is at the core of what we are dealing with here. It is these automatic changes that come from referencing other agreements outside of Canada, such as international agreements or national agreements from other countries, where there is a reference in our regulations. As they make changes, those changes come in and are automatically updated. At least that is my understanding of one of the key issues in Bill S-12.
What we went through in Ontario is worth mentioning, because it was very scary. Many times, but not every time, when that Conservative government was amending legislation, it would often take things out of the legislation and put them in the regulations.
For instance, if there is a law that says that the Government of Ontario, or any province, has the right to set speed limits on highways, those speed limits will be set by regulation so that the law itself does not list every single highway in the province. The government would not have to go back and make a legislative change, with first reading, second reading, third reading, and in this case, all the way over to the Senate. In Queen's Park we did not have that problem. We dealt with it, as elected people, ourselves.
The regulations would then go to cabinet. They could modify or set a speed limit on a highway. That is how legislation and regulations are used in a healthy, democratic way. The principles are set out, and then on some of the details that are going to be different all over, regulations deal with them. There is still a procedure. It still involves the cabinet and the government, but it is a lot quicker and the whole House is not tied up changing one area of Highway 401 to lower the speed limit by 10 kilometres per hour. That makes sense.
However, and I am using this hypothetically, the government would then state that all laws pertaining to the highway that are under the constitutional jurisdiction of the province shall be dealt with by regulation. That sounds like a small change, but it is huge. It goes from having the right to change speeds without debate and to inform cabinet afterwards to doing anything on those highways, as long as there is constitutional jurisdiction. It never has to come to the House. That is not healthy. That is not a strong democracy.
Again, we are into areas here that sound very dry, but they matter. It is our job, of course, as the elected people, to roll up our sleeves and do this work.
We in the official opposition are comfortable enough with some of the goals set out to allow this to go to committee. However, at committee, there needs to be a great deal more scrutiny of this bill. We are hoping that this is exactly what will happen.
If I might, I would just mention this quote. It can never be said enough. It comes from the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. They dealt with this issue in 2007.
Of course, incorporation by reference also gives rise to concerns relating to accessibility to the law, in that although incorporated material becomes part of the regulations, the actual text of that material must be found elsewhere. Such concerns are heightened where material is incorporated “as amended from time to time”, in that members of the public may have difficulty ascertaining precisely what the current version is at a particular point in time. Where open incorporation by reference is to be permitted, provisions should also be put in place to require the regulation-maker to ensure that the current version of an incorporated document is readily available to the public, as are all previous versions that were previously incorporated.
I believe it was a colleague from my caucus who made this point. Given the fact there are going to be these changes to other pieces of legislation, how would one who looks at the regulations know that they are not in the midst of being changed? How much guarantee would they have that the language they are looking at is the law that would be applied to them? In Canada, ignorance of the law is no defence.
Again, this is not something I likely would have thought of, because I would not necessarily, as a rule, be the one to research the original documentation. If we were at committee, there would be staff doing it. Even if we were in our offices, we would ask our staff if we needed that level of detail. It is also not something I would raise as an issue, because I do not use it every day in this way.
Once it is spelled out and brought to the attention of any reasonable Canadian, we would understand that this committee not only had members of the government and opposition but had members from both places. I am assuming that it was unanimous and was supported by the entire committee. That is an assumption on my part. It had to matter, otherwise the politics of the day would have kicked in and there would not have been agreement.
I will tell members that there are a lot of very professional staff there. It is amazing to see the calibre of people who are in the room at these meetings. It is truly impressive. We are all very fortunate to have public servants with this capacity. It is obviously the staff who are usually the ones to recommend this kind of language. This matters. This matters from a practical point of view, which is what I can apply from my experience as a law-maker. What I am hearing loud and clear from people who understand this from a legal point of view and from a detailed policy point of view is that this matters.
I heard some reference to international business investment. Contrary to what the government likes to pretend, we care about those things. I believe that everyone in this House does, because it means jobs for our citizens, our constituents. These things need to be looked at.
We cannot really go into that level of detail here in the House. That is why we have a committee system.
Our position today as the official opposition is that we are prepared to give enough support to send it to committee. However, we will reserve judgment on that point, because we never know how it is going to go.
I would wrap up by saying that this is one of those times when things that seem not to be important, because they do not make headlines, really are. I am hopeful that we will see it sent to committee so that the kind of work that needs to be done on this important bill can be done and it can be brought back here for our final debate and determination as to whether we want to make it a law.
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great intent to my colleague from Winnipeg North, especially in response to my colleague about the Senate. Perhaps there is an argument to be made for incorporation by reference if we incorporated rules by reference to absolutely abolish the Senate. We could simply incorporate the reference and off it goes. That would probably be the best example if we wanted to incorporate by reference. It would absolutely work.
The majority of polls across this country in the last few months said that close to 70% of Canadians say it is time to roll up the red carpet, wish them all a happy new year or the best of the summer season and send them home to never return. Since my colleague talked about this being a constitutional piece, it is Canadians who are saying enough is enough. I suggest that Canadians across this country from coast to coast to coast who are saying it is time to roll up the red carpet tell their politicians, provinces and territories that it is time for them to get on board and simply say sayonara to the senators. Does he not agree?
The hon. member for Winnipeg North asked the Chair for an opinion. I would just remind the hon. member not to speak directly to his colleagues but to direct all comments through the Chair.
The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to rise and add to this debate on the third reading of Bill C-52.
Today is an important day in history, as it turns out, because this date in 1887 was the first day a train actually arrived in Vancouver. That train had a picture of Queen Victoria on the front of it, which I am sure the members opposite will be very glad of.
Our rail system has some problems, and those problems have been caused by years of neglect by governments with respect to the monopolistic position the rail companies are in vis-à-vis the rail shippers, the people who actually use the rail system. I will not go into the problems we have with the rail passenger system, which has suffered untold neglect by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
In 1995, the Liberal government decided to sell CN, which was at the time one of Canada's biggest rail shipping companies. I am not going to answer a question from the members to my left about whether we are going to re-nationalize CN. That is not the point. The point is that when a public entity is given to the private sector, one must look at the consequences of that decision. If one of the consequences is to have created a virtual monopoly, then one needs to have put in regulatory controls to balance the playing field. That the Liberals did not do. I have heard from the member for Winnipeg North that the member for Wascana is a champion for the shippers, but from 1995 to 2006, his government was in power, and the Liberals did nothing to protect the rail shippers from their decision to privatize one of Canada's two large rail-freight operations. The shippers finally complained loudly and long enough that this Conservative government said that it would do something about it. That was in 2007.
Here we are in 2013, and I hear the parliamentary secretary and others saying to hurry up and pass this bill. We have been talking about this for seven years. Let us hurry up and have a bill to talk about. Finally we do, and it is flawed. That is one of the reasons I am here to talk about this bill today. It is not that we are not supporting it. We do sometimes have to hold our noses and support flawed legislation, because it is at least one step forward. However, we could have gone six or seven steps forward, and the Conservative government chose not to.
In 2008, as a result of a lot of pressure from the shippers, who said that they were being held hostage by the rail companies, there was a rail service review. That service review came up with a report in early 2011, before the current government was elected. In its platform, the Conservatives pledged to do something about it, but interestingly, even though the rail service review was in, it was not in the Speech from the Throne. There was no indication that this bill would be part of the legislative agenda of the current government. In fact, the Conservatives did not actually propose legislation. When the rail service review report was put in place, the Conservatives then tried mediation. They tried to talk it out between the parties and see if they could work it out. The problem is that talking does not work if one of the parties is so enormous that it absolutely controls the other.
Then the member for Trinity—Spadina put forward a private member's bill, Bill C-441, that would deal with all the steps of the problem. It would deal with the service level agreements, the price and a whole bunch of the issues the rail shippers had determined were their problems in dealing with this David and Goliath situation. All of a sudden, the Conservatives said, “Whoops, we forgot. We had better put a bill forward”, and Bill C-52 magically appeared.
The trouble is that Bill C-52 does not actually deal with some of the shippers' problems. It deals with one in particular, and really, that is all that has happened in this bill. It would deal with one of the shippers' problems, which is that they do not have the right to a service level agreement in their negotiations with the rail companies.That means that they do not have the right to negotiate, to firmly fix in their contracts with the rail companies, that, yes, a train will arrive on Saturday when their grain is ready to be shipped; yes, there will be 12 boxcars; yes, those boxcars will make it to Vancouver by two weeks from Saturday. Those are the kinds of things the shippers said they just cannot get.
Finally, we have a piece of legislation that would actually deal with that, in a roundabout way, by saying that if the shippers cannot work it out with the rail companies, then they would have the right to an arbitrated process. Therefore, the shippers would now have a right to an arbitrated process that would give them that service level review.
I am being reminded, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.
Therefore, one piece of the puzzle would be solved. As a result, this party will be supporting the bill at third reading but wishes that it had gone further.
The shippers would now have the right, as a result of the bill, to an arbitrated service level agreement. However, that arbitration would come at a cost. The shippers themselves would have to pay for half the cost of that arbitration process.
The railroads have deep pockets. Paying for an arbitration process, for them, would be like a small flea on the back of an elephant. It would mean nothing to them. However, to the shippers, it may mean something. There would be no assistance from the government in the cost of this arbitration process. That is one problem.
The railways have a monopoly on price, as well, and price is not part of what could be arbitrated. The price is something that would be subject to negotiations only between the shippers themselves and the railroad. The railroads would not have to do anything about the price in this arbitration process. All they would have the right to talk about and all that could be arbitrated would be the service level agreements.
Railways have a habit of charging extra fees. Airlines have extra fees now. Passengers are charged for bags. Apparently some airlines charge passengers to use the overhead bins. There is one airline in Europe that is going to charge passengers to use the bathroom.
The railways do the same thing.The railways have the ability, as a part of the service level agreement, to set up fees, which the shippers will pay if their product is not ready on the day they suggest or if there is any other problem the railways might consider the fault of the shippers. The shippers do not have any reciprocal rights.
That is something else that is missing from the bill. The shippers cannot charge the railways a fee if they are late. In fact, the government has said that if the railways break these agreements, the shippers' only recourse is to go to the courts for recompense from the railway companies.
Again, we are dealing with a David and Goliath in the courts. We now have the situation where small wheat farmers in central Alberta, who are barely making ends meet with their wheat farms because of the demise of the Wheat Board, are actually going to have to sue the rail companies, at their own expense, because the rail companies failed to meet their arbitrated service level agreements. That is yet another penalty for these poor shippers.
The shippers have told the government, and we in the NDP agree, that a mechanism by which the shippers could arbitrate a penalty regimen back to the shippers would be appreciated so that if the railways break the service level agreement, the shippers would know what they were going to get and would not have to go to court. That is done all the time in labour arbitrations and labour negotiations.
The government claims that it is not going to do it here. It is saying that the shippers should speak to the courts.
In closing, I would like to say that we in the NDP will, in fact, be supporting the bill. However, there is a lot more the bill could have done, but every single one of the amendments we proposed was rejected by the government at committee without, really, a whole lot of thought.
Perhaps you would hold your seat until we finish this round.
The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak this evening to Motion No. 17, which everyone on our side of the House knows is simply a motion that will extend sitting hours for the next few weeks to allow increased debate and participation by all members, dealing with a series of what we consider to be very serious and important legislative bills that the government wishes to bring forward.
I should point out at the outset that there is nothing new here. This is not unusual. In fact, as all members know, when they look at their parliamentary calendars, those little plastic calendars that we all put in our wallets to see when the session is on and when we adjourn, they will notice that the last two weeks in June always have asterisks attached to the last two sitting weeks. It is interesting, because every year even the most experienced parliamentarians continue to ask the same questions. They look at those little stars and come to me, or others on our side of the House, and ask if that means they can get out two weeks early. We have to point out that, no, it does not mean we can rise two weeks early. It means the government has the ability to extend the sitting hours for those last two weeks to allow for enhanced and increased debate.
This is quite a common occurrence that occurs every session and every sitting of a Parliament. All we are suggesting this time, hence the motion we brought forward, is to extend sitting hours for a few more weeks than the last two weeks of the scheduled session.
Why are we asking for that to be done? It is simply because we feel we have a very busy legislative agenda. We believe we have a number of pieces of important legislation that have yet to be passed in Parliament. We would like to see many of these, if not all of them, debated, voted upon and hopefully, from our perspective, passed before we rise for the summer. That is all. There is no other ulterior motive, as members opposite seem to be suggesting. We are not trying to engage in increased sitting hours now so we can rise earlier. Not at all, we are simply stating a fact, that our government has many pieces of legislation that have yet to be debated fully in this place and yet to be put to a vote.
We want to see that happen as quickly as possible. Hence, we are recommending that we sit, starting tonight, for an extended period of time. It would be a number of hours every evening, Monday through Thursday so we would be able to engage all parliamentarians in a proper debate of some of these legislative agenda items.
I have also heard some commentary from members opposite who seem to engage in these ongoing conspiracy theories. They suggest, for example, that one of the things the motion would do, in addition to extending the sitting hours, is impair the opposition members' ability to bring forward concurrence motions. I want to speak to that for just a moment.
If one is to adhere to the arguments brought forward by members opposite, one would get the impression that these concurrence motions, in other words debate on reports, are the most important thing that Parliament has to consider. Mr. Speaker, as you would well know, and I think all members know, that is the furthest thing from the truth. Concurrence motions, when brought forward by members of the opposition, are nothing more than dilatory tactics to try and prevent our government from engaging in its legislative agenda.
Mr. Speaker, as you well know, and all members should know, once a concurrence motion is brought forward, it allows for three hours of debate on that motion. In other words, if a concurrence motion was brought forward on a Wednesday, which as we all know is a short day, three hours of government time would be used in debate of an opposition motion. The government then would be unable to bring forward its own legislative agenda and would be unable to debate the bills that we wanted to see debated in the House. Instead, we would be engaging in a debate on a concurrence motion brought forward by the opposition, which means opposition members would simply be trying to delay legislation from being passed.
On one hand, we hear consistently from members opposite the argument that they need more time to debate, that the government is preventing real and fruitful debate in the House. That again is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, just the opposite is occurring on a regular basis.
Opposition members are using procedural tactics, like concurrence motions, to prevent our government from introducing legislation. Why? Because they are not merely trying to oppose our legislative agenda; they are trying to prevent it from even making it to the floor of the House for reasonable debate.
That is what concurrence motions are and that is what the opposition is arguing that Motion No. 17 would prevent, but that is not true. The reality is, if we adopt Motion No. 17, concurrence motions would still be allowed, even though we all know they are dilatory in nature.
Members of the official opposition and third party would still be able to bring forward concurrence motions. There would only be one slight change, which is that after the first speaker completed his or her remarks, usually 20 minutes, and after the customary 10 minutes of questions and comments, we would then revert to orders of the day. This does not mean the remainder of the three hours would be washed away. The government would be obliged, in fact compelled, within two weeks to resume debate on that concurrence motion.
We are not preventing debate on any motion for concurrence that the opposition members bring forward. We are merely allowing for proper debate on government legislation to be held, without being impaired and delayed unnecessarily. When a concurrence motion is brought forward, normally our government, to try to get back to orders of the day, would move a motion to do just that, to return to orders of the day. However, that precipitates then a 30-minute bell. Committees are interrupted because members have to return to the House to vote on that motion.
There is important work being done in committees. We do not want that unnecessary delay to committees, particularly as we get closer to the end of this legislative session. The committees are seized with very important bills that have been passed through second reading and are at committee stage. We want the committees to engage in an examination of the bills, but if we are continually interrupted by having dilatory tactics brought forward by members of the opposition, that prevents true legislative examination of bills at committee.
Our intent is quite simple. Motion No. 17 merely suggests that we sit a few hours longer each and every day for the last few weeks before the scheduled adjournment on June 21 to allow meaningful debate on many bills that our government has introduced. The opposition members should embrace and welcome this. After all, it is they who continually state that we are preventing them from debating legislation.
This gives them an opportunity, four more hours each and every day, Monday to Thursday, 20 more hours per week of debate. Yet we hear this hue and cry from members opposite that they do not want to support Motion No. 17. Somehow they are trying to argue that by adding 20 hours of debate per week, it prevents them from speaking effectively on issues that they feel are important. How can that be? How can adding time for debate each and every day be a bad thing? In other words, we cannot have it both ways.
If members of the opposition are trying to make an argument that they need more time for debate on bills, if members of the opposition argue that time allocation prevents them from speaking on bills, how can they then oppose our attempt to add more hours to the day to give them the ability to debate the very bills they are complaining about now, saying that they do not have proper time for thorough examination? It makes no sense. Their argument does not seem to make any sense whatsoever.
Let me give one small example of a bill we want to debate and hopefully pass before we rise for the summer. This is only one of many. Bill S-2, on matrimonial property rights for aboriginal women on reserves, is a bill that has been criticized and opposed by members opposite, both of the official opposition and the third party, for reasons that I can only think about. Again, it defies any rational or logical thought, in my opinion.
What is Bill S-2? Bill S-2 proposes to enact legislation that would allow women living on reserves to have the same basic rights that every other woman in Canada enjoys now. Canadians may be quite appalled to learn that currently, on reserve, if a woman is married and living in a house, but then becomes divorced, she has no right to 50% of the property that she and her husband co-own.
Let me repeat that. An aboriginal woman living on a reserve, living in a house with her husband, who gets divorced, cannot claim 50% of the property that she and her spouse previously owned. That is abominable. That defies any logical thinking by any fair-minded Canadian.
However, both opposition parties in this place oppose our attempts to give aboriginal women the same rights every other woman in Canada currently enjoys. Why? I have asked them. We have yet to hear a logical answer. We have yet to hear an answer that makes any sense.
Members opposite continually seem to criticize our government, saying that we really do not have the best interests of Canadian woman at heart, yet this very bill, which they should be embracing, they oppose, for no good reason. I asked the member for Winnipeg North earlier tonight to give me one reason the Liberal Party of Canada opposes our bill. He could not do so. Why? I can think of several reasons, but none of them make any sense.
The basic point is that we want to debate that bill. We want Canadians to understand what this bill would mean to aboriginal women. We are asking for additional time in this place over the course of the next few weeks to debate this bill, and many others like it, that we believe are important to Canadians.
We have bills that deal with the economy of our country. We have bills dealing with the safety and security of Canadians. We have bills that I know Canadians want to see debated and passed.
However, members opposite are opposing our attempts to do just that. Again, how can it possibly make sense to, on one hand, criticize our government for restricting debate and on the other hand oppose our attempt to add hours to the sitting of this legislature for the purpose of debate? It makes no sense.
I know that I have more time available to me, but I also understand that members opposite wish to make some presentations this evening and that by eight o'clock, this debate will be concluded, so I will conclude my remarks, allowing the opposition members their 10 minutes for questions and comments.
Let me just conclude with this statement, once again. All our government is attempting is to allow more fulsome debate on government legislative agenda items. If members opposite do not want to be sitting extended hours, because they do not want to put in the time for meaningful debate, they should simply say so.
Our government believes that increasing the hours to allow for more debate is something Canadians would embrace.
It is a very simple situation. They either agree that more debate is a good thing, or they say that more debate is something they do not want to engage in. I think one answer is the answer Canadians would embrace; the other answer shows the sheer hypocrisy of the arguments being presented by members opposite.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share with the House that I will be splitting my time with my good friend and colleague from Winnipeg North. I want to thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for bringing this forward at this time this afternoon to speak to this very important issue.
Before we get into the meat of the issue, I will just take two minutes up front here and maybe vent a little frustration that is on the minds of many Canadians currently, especially those who follow the NHL playoffs. It sort of ties in with the whole thing about job creation and what the government is doing, but also what it is not doing with regard to job creation and opportunities to fill some of the skills shortages that are in this country. It is neglecting some of the areas where we are seeing mass out-migration and hurting rural and remote communities.
The one that really has Canadians rankled is that the Conservatives continue to waste money. They did it every night of the NHL playoffs, and of course during the Juno Awards and the Super Bowl, with the action plan advertisements. We know that it costs $32,000 a minute for these particular ads. We know the number of summer students that could support, that every time we see an ad that is 32 summer students who could probably be supported through this money. Often, these are young people's first opportunities to get into the workforce, to garner and develop those work skills and those good work habits. Then they could go further and continue their education and become strong and productive citizens. That is what we all want here. However, there is this perverse attempt by the Conservatives to paint themselves as a caring party when we know that they are squandering important, precious money on these particular advertising programs.
The latest one is the job grants. If it was not bad enough before with the action plan ads, in the job grants ads the Conservatives are actually advertising for a program that is not even set up yet. They have not spoken to the provinces yet. It is supposed to be coming in 2015 and they have not even had consultations with the provinces and they are advertising this program. It is unbelievable. It would be like me going to my wife and saying, “Honey, if you want to congratulate me now I just finished the Cabot Trail relay road race. I haven't bought my pair of runners yet, I haven't gone for a jog in six years but I'm going to finish it next year and this is my advertisement here.” It is unbelievable.
That money that the Conservatives are wasting is on a program that might or might not happen. And they have bailed out of training. Let us pick a number, say $200 million, that would have gone to the Province of New Brunswick to help with training in the labour market development agreement. Now the Conservatives are saying that they will come in with a third of the dollars if New Brunswick will come in with a third, and then the private sector will come in with a third. So if the Province of New Brunswick, which is running a significant deficit under its Conservative provincial government, cannot afford to match that $200 million, we know those federal dollars will not be going into those training opportunities for the young people in New Brunswick for them to pursue an education or apprenticeship and develop some kind of skill to be productive citizens. However, now they have the advertising. Therefore, I am with the lion's share of Canadians who are really upset with this thing.
There is a proviso at the bottom that this is subject to parliamentary approval. It has more disclaimers than a Viagra commercial. My suggestion is that they pull out of this program.
That is enough ranting about the waste we are seeing. I want to talk about support for apprentices and where the Conservatives have fallen short. Regarding the inaction, suggestions have come forward. Testimony has been presented by very credible witnesses, people who are impacted by the changes the government has made over the last number of months. For example, on the apprenticeship program we had testimony just recently from Polytechnics Canada. Witnesses pointed out during committee meetings that the level of financial support provided through the system is just simply inadequate.
We asked a number of apprentices about their level of support because if people take a trade, when they go to school they are supported by employment insurance. They talked about the attrition rate for young apprentices. People are older when they start apprenticeship programs. Maybe they take a job and get some life experience and then move to the trades when they are about 27 or 28 years old, on average. By that time, some may have a family. Certainly they have bills, if they are coming out of the workforce and are trying to upgrade into a trade. That is a reality.
When they go to school, typically they make application for employment insurance and there is a two-week waiting period. Because the Conservative government has gutted EI processing centres, cut 600 jobs in the EI processing centres, the backlog of EI claims now just goes on and on. In 2004, 80% of the time first-time claims were being turned around in 21 days. At that time we thought that was a long time for a person to go without any household income. Now, and what we heard from witnesses, that is taking 28 days. That is the new target. Conservatives have extended the target, so they have a better chance of hitting the target if they make the target a little broader, but they are only hitting that 30% of the time.
We are seeing young apprentices having to go five, six or seven weeks without any income. If they do not have family support, if they do not have someone helping them out by putting food in the fridge and paying their bills, then they are dropping out of the courses and are letting the apprenticeships go. We have testimony to that effect. There is no sign of that in the report. We are not seeing the testimony line up with the recommendations as presented.
The government heralds how well it is doing with apprenticeship grants. Through the department's own findings in 2009, it published in the apprenticeship grant review that almost all apprentices who completed their apprenticeship would have done so without the grants. I question what impact this is having on skills development and addressing the problem of skills shortages. There are many other initiatives. Certainly we have put those initiatives forward in the minority report. I would hope that the government would seriously consider and try to move on these.
Mr. Speaker, as always, I am happy to see my friend from Winnipeg North standing up. Unfortunately the Jets are not in the playoffs this year, so he has a little more time to spend here than he would otherwise. As he likes to trade quotes, and he is always prepared, I would like to read him a quote, as well.
From Mr. John Lounds, president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in committee last week:
You will no doubt hear many witnesses tell you where government hasn't got it right. We'd like to tell you about something where the government has got it right in our view, which is the natural areas conservation program. In 2007 the Government of Canada made a bold investment of $225 million in this unique public-private partnership led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
I am proud of the fact that we are part of a government that has helped establish important habitat conservation for over 875,000 acres of land across 10 provinces of this country, including saving habitat for 148 species at risk. I think that is a record of success.
Questions and comments. The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
I can assure the hon. member my boots are full.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
The electoral district of Winnipeg North (Manitoba) has a population of 79,366 with 51,198 registered voters and 143 polling divisions.
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