I thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for his supplementary intervention concerning the point of order. The Speaker will address this matter in the House in the coming days.
The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to present in the House a petition signed by nearly 100 residents from the constituency I represent, Burnaby—New Westminster, as well as residents from Delta and Surrey, British Columbia.
The petitioners call upon the government to address the deplorable fact that we do not have a national strategy for dementia. They call upon the House of Commons to pass Bill C-356, which was introduced by the NDP MP for Nickel Belt.
The strategy would require the Minister of Health to initiate discussions within 30 days of the bill coming into effect, develop national objectives, provide an annual report, and also ensure that there is greater investment in research, discovery and development of treatments for dementia and dementia-related diseases that would prevent, help or reverse all of those dementia-related diseases.
I believe the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster was making an appeal for relevance. He will know that the Chair does not usually intervene on relevance in the first seven or eight seconds of a question or comment, but I do think the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North will get to the substance of the private members' bill with which we are dealing.
The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North.
Mr. Speaker, on Friday, February 6, the House Leader of the Official Opposition raised a point of order against me. It can be found on page 11171 of Hansard.
In his intervention, the leader claims that during question period that very day I shouted disparaging and inappropriate remarks regarding the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry. He is right to say that I know what is appropriate and what is not.
I thank the hon. opposition leader for raising this matter. When he did, I was in the public gallery above him with the hard-working president of the Convent Glen—Orléans Wood Community Association. I was not aware of what I might have said to so offend the sensibilities of the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, so I looked in the blues and did not find my intervention.
Obviously, whatever I said caused so little fuss that the keepers of the official record ignored it.
However, I do recall reacting to the preamble to the question from the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry. She said that the Government of Canada, which is so capably led by the current Prime Minister, had cut billions of dollars in health transfers. Since we have increased these transfers by 68%, $14 billion, in nine years, I erupted, something I rarely do.
Since the opposition House leader drew my rare heckling to the Speaker's attention, it is now printed in the Debates of the House of Commons on page 11168.
I am unreservedly contrite for having used the Lord's name in vain. It was an unconsidered intervention. I had never done it before and I will not do it again. I seek your forgiveness, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House.
I have the deepest respect for the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry and for her professional training as a teacher. For that reason, I was surprised by the lack of rigour in the preamble to her question of February 6. She deserves the presumption of good faith. I have no doubt that when she asks her next question, she will—
Order, please. It sounded more like a question and not a point of order. Unfortunately, question period has just ended. There will be one tomorrow, so perhaps the member for Malpeque can ask that question at that point.
Now I see the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who looks like he is very eager to ask the Thursday question, so I do not think we should make him wait too much longer.
The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
Motion No. 1
That Bill C-518, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 12 to 16 on page 1 with the following:
“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a”
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-518, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing lines 20 to 25 on page 3 with the following:
“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection 19(4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a withdrawal”
Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you and all of the members here today a happy new year. We have a lot of work to do in the House of Commons over the coming months. Even though I was sad to leave my friends and family in Burnaby—New Westminster, I am pleased that we are all here to work for the people, for Canadians.
I think that this bill will be of great interest to Canadians. The Conservatives' amendments to this bill will also be of interest to people across the country. I am therefore pleased to rise in the House to deliver the first speech of 2015 and talk about Bill C-518.
As members know, the NDP was in favour of the bill in principle. In fact, when the bill was originally presented, we raised the fact that the former NDP government in Nova Scotia was a pioneer in this regard. It presented legislation in the Nova Scotia legislature that took away the ability of representatives who have been convicted to be able to fall back on a pension, coming out of that conviction. We supported it in principle, and we supported bringing it to committee.
Then, what I can only consider to be the centralized control of the Prime Minister's Office kicked in around this particular bill. That is why we are offering the amendments that have just been proposed by the Speaker. They are amendments that seek to close the loopholes that were opened up in committee. We certainly hope that the Conservative members of Parliament will support the amendments we are bringing forward. We believe that most Canadians support those amendments as well.
When this bill was brought forward, we raised the very clear concerns about loopholes around acts of Parliament that are violated. As we know, when an act of Parliament is violated, it is a serious breach of trust by any member of Parliament. We have seen it particularly in the Senate with Conservative and Liberal senators, but also here in the House of Commons. We can think of the former member Dean Del Mastro, who resigned just before Christmas.
Crimes were committed. In the case of Mr. Del Mastro, he was convicted in court. Crimes were brought about by this particular member of Parliament, and we felt it important that the legislation, Bill C-518, actually reference those criminal violations, which result from a violation of an act of Parliament.
To our surprise, in the heat of the scandal around Mr. Del Mastro, Conservative members at the committee that was given the task of studying Bill C-518 actually put in place an amendment that would simply subtract these types of criminal violations from the overall thrust of the bill. I do not fault the member who proposed the bill for this. I think he is very well meaning in this regard. I have a sense that he believes that the bill should cover every member of Parliament convicted of serious criminal violations including acts of Parliament.
However, at committee, the order came down, as we have seen with other pieces of legislation brought forward by Conservative members. The order came down from the Prime Minister's Office, I can only assume, and it basically subtracted any criminal violation of an act of Parliament from the overall thrust of the bill.
What does that mean? It means that there is the Del Mastro loophole, which is a sizeable loophole in this legislation. If this legislation were passed as is, it would allow the Conservative and Liberal senators the violations that they have committed, as well as violations that we have seen in the case of Dean Del Mastro. Even when it is a serious criminal conviction, the bill, as amended by the Conservatives in committee, would not allow for their retiring allowance to be withdrawn.
What we have is this curious cherry-picking of what offences would and would not be included. That is why we decided to bring forward the two motions, the amendments we have brought forward today. The idea is to assure that any serious violation or criminal conviction that includes violations of acts of Parliament, which are certainly breaches of trust by any member of Parliament as part of our duties to uphold the acts, be considered in withdrawing the retiring allowance.
That is why we are moving these two motions, and we hope the government members will support them.
The motion reads in part as follows:
...is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4)...
This covers offences already included in the bill, as amended by the members of the committee, which has a Conservative majority.
The motion continues:
...or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament....
We would then be able to strip these members of their pensions.
Currently, there is a list that includes certain offences and of course refers to provisions of the Criminal Code. Certain sections are mentioned; however, offences under acts of Parliament, which we are supposed to uphold as MPs, are not included.
Of course, that is why we want to repair the damage done by the Conservative majority on the committee, because some acts were eliminated, which changed the scope of the bill. These amendments would make the bill more just, especially when it comes to serious offences, including those that carry a sentence of five years or more in prison. Such offences should be included in the scope of this bill.
It is just common sense. This is hardly a radical idea. I think the vast majority of Canadians agree with us on this. We are here to support federal laws and the Criminal Code. In both cases, if a serious offence was committed, then it must be dealt with accordingly.
In this situation, that is not the case. The bill refers to a few Criminal Code offences, but not offences under acts of Parliament, such as a violation of the Canada Elections Act.
In the case of former Conservative MP Mr. Del Mastro, it was a serious offence. The bill came before the committee that very week, and it was certainly the time for the Conservative members to send a message. The Conservatives undermined their own bill. We are repairing the damage.
Under the leadership of our very experienced Leader of the Official Opposition, we are ready to take action. In the months to come and this fall, we will repair the damage caused by the Conservative government. That is our plan.
Today we will move motions and propose amendments that make sense, in order to repair the damage caused by the Conservative members of the committee when they removed offences under acts of Parliament and thereby changed the scope of Bill C-518.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to present a petition from about 100 residents of the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, everywhere from the north shore right through to White Rock and Surrey, and, of course, including my constituency of Burnaby—New Westminster.
These petitioners are calling on the government to support Bill C-356, an act respecting a national strategy for dementia, which was introduced by the member of Parliament for Nickel Belt. The bill calls upon the minister to put in place a national action plan to fight the incredible challenges that come with Alzheimer's and related diseases, to produce an annual report that shows Canadians how action is being taken to fight Alzheimer's disease, and to put in place research and development funding and resources to fight Alzheimer's and other diseases related to dementia.
These 100 Canadians are asking for the government to take action very soon on this public health issue, which is Alzheimer's disease and related dementia disorders.
Mr. Speaker, I repeat, we are deeply concerned about this situation. We are weighing our options and we will respond appropriately.
However, it is odd to hear that question come from the NDP. It was the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster who, in 2009, called Buy America a perfectly logical policy. I repeat, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster said that Buy America was a a perfectly logical policy.
On this side of the floor, we believe that Buy America is an illogical policy. We will continue to stand up for Canadians.
Order, please. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster has more than exceeded his time for reply to that question.
The hon. member for Alfred—Pellan.
We will now have a 30-minute question period.
The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for his question. I used to work with him on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I am glad to have the opportunity today to rise in the House to answer his questions and make some progress on a bill that is, frankly, very straightforward.
I have the bill here, and it is just four pages long. It is really very simple. We have already spent more than six hours debating it in the House, and basically, its purpose is to clarify the scope of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's mandate so that it can protect Canadians.
Of course I will be happy to answer my colleagues' questions for the next few minutes, but the best place for that is at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which can study the bill and bring in witnesses.
At the outset, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues from the official opposition and the other opposition party for supporting this bill in principle. I hope that we will be able to move it forward quickly because the service needs this clarification right now so that it can protect Canadians.
Before I go to questions and comments, the chair is presuming the minister is speaking rhetorically. If in fact he wishes to move a motion, he is familiar with that procedure.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for St. John's East had completed his remarks, but had not yet taken questions and comments.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion tabled by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. As my colleague, the member for York South—Weston, has clarified, the intent of this motion presently being debated is to empower the Speaker to address the breakdown in question period, and consequently, the continued erosion of respect for this place.
Our concern about the lack of serious, informative answers to questions is but one of a litany of concerns we have about the erosion of respectful debate in this place. For example, we have an increasing number of omnibus bills, allowing for very limited debate. Second is the tabling of significant bills, including amendments to criminal law, by private government members, with the consequence of there being limited debate.
Also, as the member clarified, question period is in fact intended to be a one-way street. It is the time in this place when the opposition is provided specific time on the agenda to ask questions of the government of the day, and there is a reasonable expectation that the government will provide timely, informed responses.
How have government members responded to this motion? They have responded by alleging that our motion is one-sided, because it only talks about responses to questions and not the questions themselves. Incredibly, they have proffered that the opposition members merely seek to change question period to their own advantage. If the Conservatives cannot recall similar frustrations they faced while in opposition, perhaps they might give a care to a time in the future when even they are no longer the governing party.
Government members have also proferred that the Speaker has the current power to rule on the content of questions but not on answers. Indeed, the Speaker confirmed this view in his ruling on January 28, 2014, yet added his support for the principles laid down by previous Speakers, including, “But the Speaker must adhere to the longstanding principle that question period is intended to hold the government to account”.
The Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification has argued that granting a power of scrutiny to the Speaker to command relevant responses to questions is unnecessary, as the standing rules were previously amended to allow for late shows. With all due respect to the minister, Mr. Speaker, I can attest from personal experience that this opportunity has been reduced to a hollow right. The ministers choose not to attend to respond, and in my experience, the responses have tended to be uninformative, despite the clear opportunity for the minister to become better informed and respond at this later opportunity.
Incredibly, the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre objected to addressing “one-off” amendments to the Standing Orders, this from a member who has repeatedly defended the tabling by his party of one-off reforms to important statutes. He then went on to advise that he is working on comprehensive changes to the standing rules.
As the member for Toronto—Danforth has pointed out, our party is more than enthusiastic about participating in an all-party, thorough review of the Standing Orders. Will the government undertake any or all such reforms, and will they be by unanimous consent and not imposed through government majority, as has been its practice? As the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has suggested, will his substantive review of the Standing Orders proceed with all parties and be agreed upon by unanimous consent? That is what is important.
It is important to consider that when the OGGO committee tabled a close to unanimous list of recommendations for the government to reform the estimates and spending reviews in this place, the minister rebuffed a good number of the recommendations that could have ushered in a more thorough, inclusive review process.
Finally, a number of government members objected to the practice of opposition members posing questions repeatedly on the same subject. Would it not be terrific if more ministers provided a full response at the outset?
My colleagues and I take very seriously our duty to both our constituents and all Canadians to raise questions to the ministers of the crown on critical matters, matters of great importance to Canadians. Far too often members of Parliament have raised questions in the House, on behalf of constituents, regarding the failure of the government to respond to inquiries.
That is regrettably the situation that has arisen in this place that has required the official opposition to bring forward a formal motion explicitly proposing a change to the House procedural rules to explicitly empower the Speaker to require relevant responses to questions.
The Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification has today expressed her preference for self-governance of behaviour by the ministers in tailoring their responses to questions. At least this is consistent with the government's policy on self-governance in all other ways.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice complained that members of Parliament too often repeat the same question. Why is that? It is because of the failure to respond to the prior questions.
As my colleague has clarified, this motion we are debating relates specifically to question period, when the Prime Minister and his executive, the cabinet, has the responsibility to provide constructive responses to questions presented about matters impacting Canadians.
It is important to consider that this motion for expanded powers for the Speaker to intervene during question period is not so untoward. The Speaker already has the recognized power to intervene during question period, such as in response to a point of order made following question period that raises an issue about the nature of the question or response, including the use of unparliamentary language.
Second, in practice, the Speaker from time to time intervenes immediately during the course of questions, or even answers, to seek clarified or better use of language.
As laid out in the second edition, 2009, of O'Brien and Bosc, Speaker Bosley, in 1986, when addressing this very issue of guidelines for question period, called for recognition of four principles. I would like to reiterate one of those four principles, the third:
While there may be other purposes and ambitions involved in Question Period, its primary purpose must be the seeking of information from the government and calling the government to account for its actions.
It is pretty clear.
I have long suggested to my constituents, who have expressed frustration to me about the lack of credible, cogent responses during question period, that I may need to table a motion calling for a name change from “question period” to “answer period”. I used to think that this was an amusing concept, but it has become the reality, and I am pleased that this motion is exactly addressing that issue.
I am hopeful that all members in this place will recognize the seriousness of our motion and will vote to restore the credibility of this place in the minds of Canadians and those elected to represent them.
I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised earlier today by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.
I also want to thank the hon. members for Winnipeg North, Burnaby—New Westminster, Westmount—Ville-Marie, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their comments.
The denial of access by members to the precinct is a serious matter, particularly on a day when votes are taking place. There are many precedents to be found regarding incidents of this kind, including my own ruling of March 15, 2012.
In view of that strong body of jurisprudence and given the information shared with the House by the numerous members who have made interventions, I am satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie matter of privilege in this case. I would like to invite the member for Acadie—Bathurst to move his motion.
I thank the hon. members for Acadie—Bathurst, Winnipeg North, Burnaby—New Westminster, and Westmount—Ville-Marie.
I note the hon. government House leader reserves the opportunity to perhaps get back to the House once greater facts are known, and for the intervention of the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
As is customary in these cases, we will take these interventions under advisement and get back to the House in due course.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, for putting in for an emergency debate today on this very important and concerning issue of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I would also like to thank the Speaker for granting that request. This is something that can happen in our Parliament.
It does not happen very often, but clearly this is an emergent issue. Therefore, I am very glad that on our first day back in Parliament we are debating this very important issue. I think it is very good that the NDP has brought this forward.
I have listened very carefully to what my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie has had to say as our deputy foreign affairs critic, and as a person who, in her professional life, is very knowledgeable about West Africa and other countries she has lived in.
As parliamentarians, as human beings, we have a sense of responsibility about the human condition. We are thousands of miles away from what is taking place. We may have some connections, as my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster said, through constituents and families, but we are very far away from what has been taking place, other than what we see on the nightly news. It is heartbreaking, and one feels a sense of powerlessness that such a deadly virus can take hold of communities and spread fear. Therefore, I think it is very important that as parliamentarians we stop and think about what is going on there, what we can do, and how we can share responsibility.
This is a transcontinental and a global issue, and there is no way that we should see ourselves as somehow separate from it or that it does not affect us. Obviously, we are not affected as directly as people are in those communities, but there is a connection. I think that tonight's debate is about those connections and what we as Canadian parliamentarians need to do.
As the health critic for the NDP, there are a couple of points that I would like to focus on.
First, I think it is important to recognize that the basic conditions in some of these countries are precarious and severe. If there were an outbreak like this in Canada, one would hope that the response would be immediate. I am sure there would be challenges and barriers, and we saw that with SARS, for example, which was minuscule compared to what we are seeing with Ebola.
We have a high-functioning health care system. We have community health centres, doctors, public health agencies, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. In fact, we learned from SARS what we need to do in terms of a public response when something like this happens. However, I think it is very important to recognize the very precarious nature of the health care systems in the countries we are speaking about.
For example, in Liberia, there is one doctor to treat nearly 100,000 people, so already the health condition of the population is very precarious. If you add on to that an outbreak and epidemic of Ebola, there are health care workers who themselves are getting sick. In fact, the WHO reports that over 240 health care workers have contracted Ebola in the affected countries and at least 150 have died. If you add on that health care workers then feel very fearful about going to work, we can begin to see that whatever fragile system was in place begins to break down and makes the pandemic even more difficult to cope with.
We have a responsibility in the short term to think about what needs to be done, but we also have to think about this in the longer term, in terms of the north and the south and the needs of developing countries, the global inequities, income inequality, where resources go, and basic infrastructure for health care. This point has been made by the WHO, over many decades, in terms of accessibility of health care and how incredibly important it is to life and well-being. Of course, this now is magnified a thousand times or more when we look at a deadly epidemic.
I liken this to the HIV/AIDS outbreak in a way. When we think about the early stage of HIV/AIDS, there was fear and stigmatization. That still actually exists today. There was very little treatment available. Even today, research is being done to look for a vaccine. Over the decades, the scientific community and the research community did come up with accessible treatment options. In fact, some of that work was done here in Canada by amazing doctors, like Dr. Julio Montaner, from Vancouver.
Looking at HIV/AIDS and how the globe responded, it took a global effort. The Global Fund is the largest funder of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. It took that kind of effort to get into those communities, to build the infrastructure for basic health care.
We need to pay attention to that and not lose sight of it. We cannot say that a short-term effort is needed to get on top of this. It is not. It is about changing the way that the global community works. It is about dealing with those inequities between the north and the south. It is about ensuring that the human right and dignity for health care, for basic medicine and access to medicine, is upheld.
Then it would not be the daunting challenge that it looks to be when we read that the WHO is saying that over the next three months we could be looking at 20,000 infected people. The exponential growth of this epidemic is quite frightening. That is my first point.
The other point I would like to make is in terms of what Canada can do. My colleague, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, has already given some suggestions about what Canada can do. One thing we could do is to make sure that our own public health agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, is in good shape. We actually do need to have a response here in Canada as well as assisting internationally.
It is very disturbing when I read information from the Canadian Public Health Association, which is a sort of non-governmental association of public health advocates and practitioners across the country. It points out, for example, that PHAC, the Public Health Agency of Canada, has seen a budget allocation decrease, from $677 million in 2010-11, to $579 million in 2013-14. That is a reduction of over 14%.
That has to be concerning, because the Public Health Agency of Canada is the agency responsible for public health overall, and for infectious diseases. PHAC's budget for health promotion, disease prevention, and public health infrastructure has decreased by $152 million, or 26%, between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
I want the government to take note of that. What is our own capacity to assist here in Canada, when we have a Public Health Agency of Canada that is being depleted and its capacity is being diminished?
Further, in terms of what Canada can do, my colleague has spoken about DART, the Disaster Assistance Response Team, which Canada has become very well-known for. That is a very important initiative. We do want to hear from the government as to whether they are planning to consider sending in DART.
As well, there are other measures that we need to be following up on: supporting the scaling up of isolation centres in the country, deploying mobile laboratories to improve diagnostic capabilities, establishing dedicated air bridges to move personnel and equipment to and from West Africa, and building a regional network of field hospitals to treat suspected or infected medical personnel.
Those are a few concrete suggestions. At the end of the day, we want our government to step up. We want Canada to be leading the way, not following. We want to show a sense of solidarity with those communities that are so horribly affected by this virus. We want Canada to play its part.
Hopefully, through this debate tonight, the government will step up to the plate and will make it clear to Canadians that we will do our part.
The electoral district of Burnaby--New Westminster (British Columbia) has a population of 118,713 with 80,110 registered voters and 190 polling divisions.
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