Mr. Speaker, I have been here for a good part of the day, listening to this debate, and I want to congratulate colleagues on their largely non-partisan debate. It is actually quite encouraging. I think that, for those who are watching, it is encouraging to see parliamentarians actually engage in an issue that is of deep significance to each and every one of us. I think that, frankly, over the course the day, we have done that in largely quite a respectful manner.
What brings us to this point, though, is the Supreme Court decision, which as my colleague just said, is only 18 days old and does put us under the gun, and the gun will explode one way or another on February 6, 2016. In my judgment, it is a carefully crafted judgment; it is also unanimous, it has a date, and it is also an exercise in deference to Parliament because the Supreme Court rightly thinks that Parliament is the appropriate place to craft a legislative response to its decision.
In that light, we have basically three alternatives before us.
We can do nothing. That is an alternative. The do-nothing alternative means that, in 12 months, we will have legal chaos, and I would extend that even to emotional chaos. I really do not think that Canadians would be very encouraged by their parliamentarians if in fact we did nothing over the next 12 months.
The next alternative is to ask for an extension. That is a perfectly legitimate response and has been raised by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, has been raised by the parliamentary secretary speaking on behalf of the government, and has been alluded to by the member from Winnipeg. That is, again, a second alternative and possibly an alternative that we might land on. However, I would not want to be the government lawyer on February 5, 2016, standing before the Supreme Court of Canada, asking for an extension. The first question out of the mouth of the Chief Justice would be to ask what we have done in the last 12 months. If in fact we have done nothing, then I would say that the Supreme Court would be very reluctant to grant the extension.
That basically drives us to the third conclusion, which is that we have to start doing something.
We have put forward to this chamber a motion to create a special committee to do something, because doing nothing or hoping like heck that somehow or another the Supreme Court would grant us an extension, in another year, are not reasonable alternatives in my judgment.
I think, because this is a decision that so uniquely affects 100% of the Canadian population, it behooves us to listen to what Canadians have to say, and so I adopt the reasoning of a former colleague and a good friend for many of us, Preston Manning, who outlined a nine-point process in The Globe and Mail just recently.
I will start where he ends. He says:
Let the people speak: The courts, the interest groups, the academics and the commentators have had a great deal to say on the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide.
He is absolutely right.
Now it is especially important that our elected officials and legislators hear from rank-and-file Canadians.
Mr. Manning has put before us a challenge, as has the Supreme Court. I know Mr. Manning a bit, and I know his great respect for listening to what Canadians have to say.
In his article, he goes on to talk about when he was a member for Calgary Southwest and he actually convened a number of meetings with his own constituents.
His own constituents, by and large, were in favour of legislation involving physician-assisted dying. That was, frankly, contrary to his personal beliefs, so it was interesting for Mr. Manning to be in a situation in which his own constituents were asking him to promote legislation that was not consistent with his own views.
In the process, he outlined a number of areas where we need to be concerned.
His first point was that we need to be compassionate. I have heard various members over the course of the day talking about various personal situations. Those personal situations are deeply held views and range across the entire gamut of the human experience. The first point, if and when such a committee is composed, is that it be a committee that expresses itself in compassion.
The second point that Mr. Manning raises has to do with palliative care. I think it is a relevant point, and it has been raised as well by the member for Timmins—James Bay. I think we are a bit agnostic as to whether the motion needs to be amended to include reference to palliative care, but I know the Liberal Party would be open to such a suggestion.
However, our motion was drafted in response to what the Supreme Court said. I think a lot of air would go out of the balloon, for want of a better term, if the Government of Canada and all of the other legislatures in Canada responded to the committee report that the member for Guelph, the member for Timmins—James Bay, and the member for Kitchener—Conestoga put forward. If that response was there, then maybe there would not be as much animus in this debate.
The next point has to do with provincial legislation. I and quite a number of colleagues in the House have practised law. We have dealt, from time to time, with situations in which relatives are telling us one thing and the client is telling us something else. Even absent an impending death, or even outside of an impending death, there is conflict within families. I am not telling the House anything new. There is conflict within families, and the conflict frequently spills over into conflicts involving professionals. A clarification of living wills or in some other form through provincial legislation would be very helpful.
The next point has to do with the number of letters a lot of us are receiving with respect to doctors and where they find themselves in these difficult situations. A lot of doctors got into being doctors because they are very interested in preserving life and enhancing life, et cetera. They see physician-assisted dying as inconsistent with their own understanding of why they are doctors.
That needs to be clarified sooner rather than later, because a lot of doctors, if my correspondence is similar to anyone else's in this chamber, are very conflicted about where they stand without real legislation. If this Parliament does not act by February 6, 2016, to provide some clarification of the law, there will be a very difficult situation for our physician colleagues, who will not know where they stand in the administration of this whole matter.
Let me wind up there. Again I commend my colleagues for what I believe to be largely a respectful debate. I do think it is important that the people speak. I do think it is important that we get going on this. If we could start tomorrow morning, I would be happy about that. I am agnostic about whether it has to be a special committee, but my views are that it does have to be a special committee because all of the other committees' agendas are already filled.
I am conscious that we have essentially 12 weeks to get through this. It is possible. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I hope that tonight we will get that way.
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal caucus, I am pleased to rise in the House to support one of the commitments made by my leader, the member for Papineau. This is a very simple and obvious commitment completely removed from partisanship. I invite all members of all parties to get behind this commitment by voting for the following motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
As I said, I am pleased to speak in favour of this motion because it is very clear to me that it has become necessary; however, I am not pleased that it has become necessary. It should not be necessary. It was not necessary under any of the prime ministers before this one.
Since Laurier, all prime ministers of Canada have felt the need to meet with their provincial and territorial counterparts regularly. They met as a group and also held bilateral meetings. It just made sense. It makes sense for any civilized federation. It makes sense to everyone but the Prime Minister.
In 1906, Prime Minister Laurier called the first joint meeting of premiers and the prime minister. As time went by, these meetings became a regular occurrence. In 2003, the premiers formed the Council of the Federation. The council generally meets twice a year. Unlike traditional first ministers conferences, where the prime minister invites the premiers, the provinces play the lead role in council meetings, which are coordinated by a provincially funded secretariat.
The Council of the Federation has met 23 times since the member of Parliament for Calgary Southwest became Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has not met his colleagues as a group since January 2009. It is the longest such gap between first ministers meetings in 97 years.
The provincial and territorial premiers are criticizing this affront to the smooth operation of our federation, and rightly so. Meetings between the federal and provincial governments in Canada are almost always complicated. They have caused a lot of headaches for many politicians. They have not always led to successful outcomes. However, they often do, and I am confident in saying that, overall, these meetings have been positive for Canadians.
The Kelowna accord, which was signed with first nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples in 2006, was one of the great success stories of these federal-provincial-territorial negotiations. The current government refused to honour that agreement. One can only imagine the progress that could have been made had the Kelowna accord become a reality.
Another success story was the 2004 health accord, a joint action plan with a 10-year funding commitment. Unfortunately, the current government ignored the joint plan and unilaterally refused to extend the funding agreement.
Those are the results of the current Prime Minister's unwillingness to collaborate on a joint project. Much of the blame for the problems with the health care system and the poor living conditions of aboriginal people in Canada can be attributed to the current Prime Minister's unwillingness to work with the provinces and territories.
The provincial and territorial premiers are not the only ones the Prime Minister is ignoring. He does not appear to be any more inclined to meet with his NAFTA counterparts. The entire country is suffering because this Prime Minister does not know how to work collegially with others.
If the Prime Minister had a greater sense of collegiality, he would understand what a federation is. He would therefore avoid wasting so much of Canadians' time, money and energy on ventures that undermine the very foundation of our country's federative nature. A sad example of such waste is the pointless and botched Senate reform saga.
The Prime Minister has spent eight years attempting to achieve fundamental Senate reform, despite the Liberal opposition and literally every expert telling him that he needed to work with the provinces to change the nature of our Senate. In April 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the Liberals and the experts were correct. Shamefully, the Prime Minister blamed the Chief Justice for this predictable fiasco, when he had only himself to blame for that monumental waste of time and money.
Is he that ignorant of our institutions, or is it plain contempt? A simple, frank, face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and his constitutional colleagues could have avoided that debacle.
This is not just about a constitutional principle or a principle of federalism. The absence of first ministers' meetings is having tangible negative consequences for Canadians. Let us look at what is happening right now.
As oil prices and the dollar fall, as our economy faces uncertainty, it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with the premiers and develop a united plan. Under such circumstances, a Liberal government would hold a first ministers conference.
Because they know how important it is to work together, the premiers will meet tomorrow, a few blocks away from Parliament Hill. Regrettably, they have no scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister in the foreseeable future.
This is not a symbolic issue. Our federation faces real and significant challenges, from infrastructure renewal to retirement income security and climate change. These challenges can only be tackled successfully if all levels of government are sitting around the same table.
By refusing to meet his constitutional partners around the same table, the Prime Minister shirks his constitutional responsibility. By refusing to pull together the strengths of our federation, he fails all Canadians.
Why does the Prime Minister refuse to live up to his responsibility? Considering the huge challenges we are facing, why does he refuse to bring together the premiers of Canada's provinces and territories in order to work toward solutions that benefit all Canadians?
One has to wonder why the Prime Minister would choose to postpone tabling his budget unilaterally with no consultation with his constitutional colleagues. Most provinces and territories typically table their budgets in April or May of each year, having had the opportunity to see what the federal budget has in store and fine-tune their own budgets accordingly. By delaying the budget until April at the earliest, the federal government has deprived the provinces of that opportunity at a very critical time for all of them.
Regrettably, the Prime Minister's lack of collegiality and understanding of what the federation means does not stop there. Here are a few more ways in which the Prime Minister is hurting Canadians in all provinces and territories.
On infrastructure, the 10-year new building Canada fund, announced in budget 2013, is heavily back-end loaded; until after 2019, very little money will be available to the provinces and municipalities to help them tackle their urgent infrastructure challenges, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. This is wrong. A first ministers conference would help clarify the needs and establish priorities.
On pensions, the Government of Ontario is currently creating its own version of the Canada pension plan. It is expected to phase in on January 1, 2017.
Other provinces are considering following along. The lack of federal leadership is leading to a patchwork of public pension systems that will act as a barrier to labour mobility in Canada. This should not be allowed to happen. There are much better options, which the Prime Minister might discover should he agree to sit down with his colleagues.
For instance, the Prince Edward Island finance minister, Wes Sheridan, has proposed an expansion of the Canada pension plan that would target the segment of the middle class that Jim Flaherty himself said was not saving enough for retirement.
With respect to old age security, while in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister announced by surprise that the qualifying age for old age security would be raised from 65 to 67. Not only will that unnecessary measure penalize Canadian seniors, particularly the less well off, but it will also have a big impact on the provinces, since many Canadians between 65 and 67 years old will be left to rely on provincially funded social assistance in the absence of old age security.
With respect to refugees, in April 2012, the federal government announced it would no longer provide money to the provinces for the cost of refugee claimants' health care, a cruel measure, as the Federal Court said. Some provinces have decided to deliver this essential service on their own.
With respect to manpower training, in budget 2013 the federal government announced it would cut the transfers to provinces under labour market development agreements. It simply expected the provinces to contribute their own money to its new unilateral Canada job grant. It took years to sort out a half-baked solution to this mess, which a good first ministers conference, held at the outset, would have avoided.
With respect to climate change, in the absence of federal leadership, some provinces have taken the lead on Canada's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While this has led to some positive results, the absence of federal leadership has prevented much better results from happening for Canada.
The comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, is particularly outrageous. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador gave its approval to CETA after the federal government agreed to provide $270 million toward a $400 million transition fund for its seafood canning industry. Once the agreement was signed, the federal government changed its mind. It is now telling the province that the money was for demonstrable losses in that industry after the agreement was in force. This has resulted in the province signalling a willingness to rescind its support for the agreement, thus breaking our federation's united front on this needed agreement.
In the 18 years I have been actively following federal-provincial relations in this House, never have I witnessed such blatant betrayal of a federal government's commitment toward a province. The letter exchange makes it crystal clear that the federal trade minister did concede that there would be a transition fund to help not only the displaced workers but the whole industry. The expression “demonstrated loss” is nowhere to be seen in the trade minister's letters. This is a pure invention.
The good functioning of a federation requires negotiating in good faith and living up to commitments. The federal government should not retroactively invent conditions that were not in the written agreement between ministers. Premiers, like all Canadians, need a prime minister they can trust.
It is because the Prime Minister is so often unable to live up to his commitments and stick to his words that he does not want to meet his colleagues all together? A lack of trust may be the real issue here.
However esoteric federal-provincial relationships might appear to many Canadians, all Canadians want their leaders, especially their Prime Minister, to be trustworthy. Sure, a first ministers' conference agenda might include many other items, such as interprovincial trade barriers, energy policy, pipelines and so on, but I think I have made my point clear.
The leader of the Liberal Party has committed to inviting all of the provincial premiers to an annual first ministers' meeting. Today more than ever, that is the right thing to do. This is why I invite all my colleagues to support the following motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, the Conservatives' first bill to implement budget 2014. Yet again, it is another massive omnibus budget bill of over 350 pages and 500 separate clauses.
I will not be supporting this bill, because it fails to address the very real challenges faced by the middle class. Moreover, it does little to help Canadian youth find jobs at a time when there is persistently high youth unemployment and underemployment. Today, there are still 264,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than before the economic downturn.
The bill does little to help middle class parents and grandparents make ends meet and tackle record high levels of personal debt. Today, the average household owes a record $1.66 for every dollar of disposable income.
A few weeks ago, we had two weeks in our constituency offices, and 80% of my meetings were with people who are unemployed and looking for work. These were skilled people, engineers, lawyers, and Ph.D.s. There was one young man who had just graduated in nursing. Unfortunately, he could not afford the $500 for the exam. As a result, he could not work in the field for which he had studied so hard.
I cannot be clearer: people in my community have education, are skilled, and are desperate to work, but they cannot find jobs. Instead of the government putting new programs in place, support services are being cut in my Etobicoke North community. I have gone to the minister several times on this issue, for both settlement programs and job programs.
During those past two constituency weeks, we needed to get weekly food programs for five families. They did not ask for the help, but I realized the need when I reviewed their resumés and saw the last time they had worked and the number of family members they needed to feed.
Four individuals asked for counselling to deal with their depression as a result of not having a job, and one talked of suicide.
I will bring up one more case. A refugee woman, 18 weeks pregnant, bled through the night. She was afraid to go to the hospital because she could not afford the health care. Now she is afraid of getting an ultrasound because she cannot afford to pay for it.
The Conservatives' changes to Canadian society do not happen in a vacuum. They impact real Canadians who are hurting. The government needs to learn to see the hurt and to respond.
Our community is seeing real economic challenges. The government seems out of touch when it talks about this recovery as if it were a uniform recovery that is affecting and helping people in all regions of the country. The reality is that there are groups that are simply being left behind. A lot of families are struggling just to get by.
University graduates have come in to get help after being out of school and out of work for two years. Grandparents have come on behalf of their grandchildren—the first in the family to graduate from university and college—asking why they had fled their country of origin to come to Canada, the land of promise, so their children could have an education, but now that they have an education, they still do not have a job.
The people in my constituency need jobs. I have worked hard to get them jobs. In fact, I obtained funding for a completing the circle program, a $500,000 job program in our community. I personally review and edit resumés late into the night, sometimes doing two and three drafts. We get our people into jobs programs. We follow up with them to make sure their job searches are going in the right direction.
While they search, we help them with food, clothing, and whatever other supports they might need. We should all remember that we have seen a 31% increase in food bank usage since 2008.
At critical times, I have personally bought bedding, food, furniture, and medicine to help hurting Etobicoke North families. We had one lady come looking for help. She was in agony due to an ear infection that had raged for three weeks. She had pus and blood running down her face. The sad reality is that she could not afford antibiotics because she could not find a job.
I have MS patients who cannot take their drugs because they cannot work. How many more stories are there like theirs?
What I was looking for in the budget implementation bill, first and foremost, was real help for the people of Etobicoke North for jobs. Instead, we have over 350 pages with 500 separate clauses. Once again, my constituents are saddened by the fact that this is an omnibus bill with multiple sections that deserve full and proper hearings in committee and full parliamentary scrutiny.
Bill C-31 includes numerous measures that do not belong in a budget implementation bill; for example, rules about food safety, hazardous products, rail safety, and even the number of federal judges. The bill continues the Conservatives' battle against openness and transparency by weakening requirements to consult and inform Canadians about safety regulations and user fees. These changes have nothing to do with the implementation bill and are meant only to limit debate on important issues to Canadians. The Conservatives chose this anti-democratic route in order to adopt the bill's measures quickly and to avoid having them reviewed by Parliament.
The Conservatives have repeatedly abused Parliament by ramming through outrageous omnibus bills. For example, a few years ago the government introduced an 880-page omnibus bill, a grab bag of bills the government wanted to pass quickly. In fact, it was half the entire workload of Parliament from the previous year. As a result, the government was severely condemned for turning the legislative process into a farce.
More recently, the government introduced Bill C-38, the 400-plus page omnibus budget implementation bill. Through the bill, the government sprung sweeping changes on our country, affecting everything from employment insurance, to environmental protection, to immigration, to old age security. None of these changes were in the Conservative platform. They were rushed into law by “an arrogant majority government that’s in a hurry to impose its agenda on the country”.
The government's actions reek of hypocrisy. In the 1990s, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles and that dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each part of the bill. The right hon. member is now using the very tactics he once denounced. It is a shame that he changed his tune when he was elected to the highest office in the land.
One newspaper previously stated that omnibus bills are:
...political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can’t absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government.
In this omnibus budget implementation bill, Bill C-31, parliamentarians are being asked to consider measures including compassionate leave, expansion of the adoption expense tax credit, medical expense tax credits, and sickness benefits. We would actually be supportive of these measures as individual measures, but unfortunately these positive measures are being lumped together with some very unreasonable, harmful, and regressive measures that we cannot support.
Like the omnibus bills before it, Bill C-31 includes corrections to mistakes in previous budget bills.
For the people of Etobicoke North and for young people across Canada, Bill C-31 offers very little. My constituents and Canadians need better and deserve better.
The electoral district of Calgary Southwest (Alberta) has a population of 120,750 with 90,756 registered voters and 238 polling divisions.
This action requires you to be logged into Politwitter. No regisrtation is required, just authenticate using your Twitter account.