Mr. Speaker, last week, in response to a question from the member for Vancouver Quadra, I called the member a disgrace.
I am told that is unparliamentary, and I withdraw that. I did not appropriately make the distinction between the disgraceful question and the member, so I withdraw that.
Mr. Speaker, there is a little heckling on the other side. We were having a little discussion across the aisle, but it is a friendly discussion.
I really did not intend to speak on Bill C-2, because it will in fact go to the public safety committee, of which I am a member, and which I very seriously think that it is the wrong committee for the bill to go to. It should be going to the health committee.
However, what encouraged me to speak on the bill before it gets to committee was something I heard while driving in yesterday morning. There was quite an extensive interview on CBC's Ottawa Morning by Robyn Bresnahan with Dr. Gabor Maté, if I am pronouncing that name correctly. At some point in my remarks, I want to quote some of the information that Dr. Maté presented, because he works at InSite and presents some very good evidence that we should be considering as a committee and in the House in our discussion of this bill.
I might say as background, because it came up in earlier discussions and questions when people asked if they have ever been to InSite in Vancouver or to the Downtown Eastside or Hastings, that I have been there a number of times, some of those times as Solicitor General.
I have said a few times that my initial impression was what a loss of humanity, to a great extent. I can remember driving up a back alley one night in a marked police car when we saw a young woman—whose age I could not tell, but I suspect she was around 18 to 25—sitting on a step with a needle in her arm. It was not necessarily a clean needle. That shocked me. We stopped and talked to her. We were not there to arrest her at the time; I was doing an oversight of that particular area.
I will admit that when I first visited the safe injection site, I did have mixed opinions, because on the one hand, there we were, giving and injecting illegal drugs, and maybe that really does not click rightly with our psyche.
However,when we look at the results, we very quickly start to change our opinion. When we talk to some of those people and actually sit down and have a sensible discussion, rather than completely judging them for what they are doing and how they got into these illegal drugs and got addicted, and when we learn something of their backgrounds—whether they got into prostitution, were on the street, were in abusive families, or whatever it might have been—we can restrict our judgment somewhat and look at what InSite is doing for them in giving them their lives back to a great extent and, I think, providing much better public safety for the community.
That is important. There are fewer needles, and they are using safe needles. They are using proper sanitary conditions. It is proven that there is less HIV as a result. There are a whole lot of health benefits as a result of the injection sites, and we have to look at the evidence.
I will admit that when I went to InSite initially—and I was one of the ones involved in the decision to do it—one of my first questions was “Why would we do this?” I mean, it just goes against the grain to see illegal drugs injected. However, when we look right through to the end, we realize there are benefits to the individuals, benefits to the public, and benefits to health and safety as a whole.
That is what we should be looking at. This is more a health issue than a public safety issue, although I will admit it is both, but from both perspectives, whether we are talking about health or public safety, Bill C-2, as introduced by the Minister of Health, is a very bad and very dangerous bill. If passed, it will hurt public safety. It will injure health and will end up increasing crime.
The government has an agenda of being tough on crime, but I maintain that the net result of this particular bill 10 years down the road will show very clearly that it was a bad bill and the wrong direction to go.
As a party, we support evidence-based policies that reduce harm and protect public safety. That is what InSite was proven to do.
To give a little more background, the bill really flows from a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that declared the Minister of Health's 2008 decision not to grant an extension of the exemption of subsection 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which had allowed Vancouver's safe consumption site to operate since September 2003, had violated section 7 of charter rights.
That section says:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Determining whether there has been a breach of section 7 involves a two-part analysis for the courts. In considering potential section 7 violations, they must ask two questions: whether there is deprivation of the right to life, liberty, or security of the person, and if so, whether that deprivation is in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Supreme Court found that both conditions had been met. Therefore, the Supreme Court ordered that the minister grant an exemption to InSite under subsection 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That is partly why we are here today.
The Supreme Court further explained that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Acts has a dual purpose, public health and public safety, and that the minister should strike an appropriate balance between the two. Therefore, here we are with Bill C-2, and I submit that the bill does not strike the appropriate balance. In fact, Bill C-2 goes far beyond what the Supreme Court ruled in terms of factors to be considered when granting an exception. That is why we are somewhat faced with a dilemma.
I will first go to what provoked me to speak on this issue. That was the interview I heard on the radio, which I think is very good documentation that should be on the record in the House.
To back up, the arguments made by Dr. Gabor Maté were as a result of an interview with Robyn Bresnahan yesterday morning on CBC. I will quote from the transcript. Dr. Maté, when asked a question about where we are at as a country on addictions, and our treatment of addictions, said:
It's better than some countries in the world, but in terms of science, in terms of human compassion, in terms of what we know about addiction, it's very backward.
He means our policy. He went on to say:
Because it [meaning Canada] sees addiction either as a matter of choice that needs to be punished, and so we have increasingly draconian laws against people that use substances despite all the international evidence that that approach simply does not work.
Or it sees addiction simply as a primary brain disease, as if there was some genetic reason why people become addicted. The reality is that people are becoming addicted because they were traumatized and hurt in childhood. And that early trauma and that early emotional loss in childhood shapes the personality in such a way as to create low self-esteem and shapes the brain's physiology in such ways as to make that person susceptible to substances.
And so neither our treatment, nor our legal approaches take into account the impact of trauma and emotional loss and their effect on brain physiology.
He makes the argument about why some people are addicted. When asked a question about the work he has done in lower eastside Vancouver, he was asked if he could give an example of what we are talking about here. He answered as follows:
Yes, and I worked for 12 years in Vancouver's downtown east side, including at the supervised injection site which our current government tried to shut down. In 12 years of work, I did not meet a single female patient who had not been sexually abused as a child.
He went on to make the argument of how some people turn to drugs to either overcome trauma or stress, or whatever. I am quoting him because we should be careful, in all instances, not to judge people and say they clearly had a choice. People say yes or no, but there are reasons that these things happen in some people's lives, and that is a sad thing.
Further on in the interview, and this is where he turns to evidence on the value of InSite, he talks to people about drug injection sites. He said:
I get emails, hundreds of them, thanking me for this perspective.
The only sense that I'm yelling into the wind is when it comes to policy. The people higher up seem not to understand these things. They don't want to seem to hear them. And one example of that of course is what's happening currently with the government's withdrawal of Health Canada's decision that would allow Vancouver physicians to prescribe heroin to a small number of patients.
What I'm saying is that there's tremendous appreciation...for this perspective.
He means that InSites are valuable, but not from the people who make the policies. He is saying that people on the ground, people who work with these individuals on a daily basis, know that it helps these individuals and that it is good for public safety. That is evidence. We need to be looking in this discussion at the evidence, not at the ideology. He went on to say:
Well, we do our best to articulate a scientific, evidence based perspective and my only wish is that as a physician, if I'm expected to practice evidence based medicine, so should the politicians be expected to practise evidence based politics.
The evidence internationally does not favour what is currently happening in this country by going against the InSites.
The last point I would make from that interview is what he said about the supervised injection site itself. He said:
But supervised injection sites don't promote addiction. They simply reduce the harm. It makes a lot more sense to use sterile water than puddle water from the back alleys. It makes a lot more sense to use clean needles rather than share them, dirty ones, and transmit HIV. So that the evidence from Vancouver, evidence in dozens of studies now is that there's less disease transmission, better health, more movement into treatment facilities, much less cost to society, every piece of evidence point to benefit and no evidence point to any kind of harm.
Listening to that interview yesterday morning, I thought it was the picture for Bill C-2. That person has spent more than a decade working in that environment and has seen the benefits of injection sites. Bill C-2 turns us away from the potential to give people the opportunity to get their lives back.
These sites protect others in the area, and society in general. They have controlled injections, and there are less dirty needles and less HIV.
My colleague from Vancouver Quadra made the argument the other day about less disease. She pointed out, as we all know in this House, that this site is supported by the province. It is supported by the police authority. Why, then, is the government in this Ottawa bubble, in this town of seeming ideology these days, looking to shut it down and move backward?
I firmly believe that this is an ideological bill, from a government that seems to oppose evidence-based harm reduction measures such as safe injection sites. We certainly believe that safe injection sites should not just be in isolation. They should be part of an evidence-based national drug policy that saves lives, reduces harm and promotes public health.
There is more that needs to be added. When I was in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, there were drug courts, I believe they were called at the time. They have a purpose too. Instead of being sentenced to prison, the addict agrees to certain conditions set down by the court, and if they meet those conditions, they do not end up in prison and they can regain their lives. We need a broader national strategy than just safe injection sites.
I submit that the results of the bill would increase crime, not lessen it. It would damage health care to others in society, take away the opportunity for the people who use those injection sites to be better citizens and contributors to the economy of the country, and lead them to more crime.
I believe the bill would lead to more dangerous streets, greater costs in hospitals, and a tremendous increase in the loss of human dignity. The bill is clearly the wrong way to go.
Mr. Speaker, during question period, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, in response a question from my colleague from Vancouver Quadra, began his answer with a personal attack, using language which in the past you have ruled unparliamentary.
I would ask if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister might wish to withdraw those first words of his answer. If he does not, Mr. Speaker, maybe you could review the record and come back to the House with some clarification as to what an appropriate answer would be.
Mr. Speaker, what really resonated with me after what the member for Vancouver Quadra said is the issue of personal accountability.
Like her, I am a small business person. If I do well, I love to take the credit and reap the benefits and profits, but if I screw up and make mistakes, or even if my staff make mistakes because I provided inadequate management, it is not appropriate and really not professional to try to shift the blame to my employees or others. That resonates with me.
I would like to reread a line that I quoted earlier today, something the Prime Minister said in 1996. He stated, “Many of Canada’s problems stem from a winner-take-all style of politics...” I would like to personally end that quote by adding “where we are always right, they are always wrong, in the mindless tribalism that happens on all sides of the House”.
When we get past this horrible mess that is interfering with the function of Parliament, I hope that we deal appropriately with the procedures of the House to make it more democratic, more balanced, more fair, and more effective.
I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is the Chair who decides who gets to ask questions. The member for Vancouver Quadra currently has the floor, if she wishes to respond to the comments.
Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with that program. The program struggled for years without government support. I appreciate that the government has now picked up the program and is expanding it. For many years it was supported by the Legions, which had to go out talking about their successes in speech after speech, including one at a breakfast policy event where the leaders of that program spoke to constituents in Vancouver Quadra.
However, I want to touch upon the parliamentary secretary's comments about reductions in support for the military. In the decade in which cuts were applied, a number of those years were under Conservative governments, and the cuts occurred because of the deficits that Conservatives had gotten Canadians and Canada into. It was under the Paul Martin government that funding began to be restored for the Canadian Armed Forces.
We are now closing on a decade of deceit by the current Conservative government, which does photo opportunities about supposed increases in funding with troops and equipment in the backdrop, yet has done virtually nothing and is now scrambling to figure out where to put all the hidden cuts that are in its budgets.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-4. Unfortunately, this is another grab bag omnibus bill that has had its time for debate cut off, so some important issues in it will not be adequately aired. I will touch on several aspects of the bill and how they reflect some of the challenges and failures of the government.
I am going to start by pointing out that this budget implementation bill would do very little to address the key challenges being faced by middle-class Canadians as a result of rising costs and stagnant incomes. Bill C-4 would do little to create jobs.
The bill would increase taxes with respect to mining exploration. That is not very helpful. If taxes are increased on mining exploration, then much of the good work to encourage mining exploration and mining development would be undermined.
Vancouver is at the centre of the mining industry globally. Many people who live in the province of British Columbia and many people in my riding of Vancouver Quadra work in the mining industry. The British Columbia government has spent the last 10 or 12 years rebuilding that industry in our province.
In 2001, when the B.C. Liberal government was first elected, investment in mining exploration was down to about $25 million from the hundreds of millions of dollars of annual investment in the 1990s. Slowly and surely the provincial government built up the confidence of the mining industry until over $250 million a year was invested in British Columbia's mining exploration.
Our province spent so much effort in rebuilding this industry by respecting the industry and not adding to its tax burden. Did the Prime Minister consult with the British Columbia premier or the minister of energy and mines when he slapped a tax on this industry?
This is a failure by management, and it shows that the federal government does not understand that for jobs to be created and business opportunities to be provided, the business community needs to have certainty and transparency.
We have seen this kind of management failure in spades in the Conservative government in the area of military procurement. All of us would agree that the Canadian navy, air force and army need to replace billions of dollars worth of aging trucks, helicopters, ships, et cetera so our armed forces personnel have safe and effective equipment. Barely a week has past without yet another story of the Conservative government's incompetence with respect to military procurement.
I want to remind the House that the acquisition of F-35 joint strike fighters was restarted after reports by the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed that the government knowingly misled Canadians on the program's cost. It was, in fact, keeping two sets of books. In 2010 the Prime Minister claimed the cost would be $9 billion for 65 fighters, but by 2012 the full cost was pegged at more than $46 billion.
That is just one example and there are many others, such as helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings. In some cases, these Sea Kings are 30 years older than the very pilots who are flying them, so this is a safety issue. There have only been delays and uncertainty with respect to that project.
The acquisition of new army trucks has been ongoing since 2004. That has been restarted numerous times, but nothing is expected there.
The purchase of a new fleet of search and rescue aircraft has taken more than nine years. The government is still not ready to even accept bids.
There is also the issue around the Arctic offshore patrol ships. An independent reviewer said the cost was extraordinarily high for the design phase alone, but the government just plowed ahead, ignoring that point. There were plans to replace the outdated 50-year-old Lee-Enfield .303 rifles used by our Canadian Rangers in the Arctic; that procurement project has been cancelled with no reason given. It is a very flawed procurement process, unfortunately, potentially impacting the safety of our Canadian Armed Forces, and that is a management failure on the government's part.
I want to touch on another area in the bill, the employment insurance premiums. We support this aspect of the bill and we appreciate that after years of Liberal requests, the government has stopped increasing the tax on jobs, which is increasing the EI premiums, as they have been increased over the years, costing billions of dollars to businesses. We support that aspect, but the very fact that the government has been adding taxes to businesses and small businesses is a level of fiscal incompetence, because it shows the Conservatives are not understanding the impact of these taxes on jobs.
Under the current government, that kind of incompetence has been happening in the military budget as well. Under the Canada First defence strategy, a promised cornerstone was stable increases in funding. However, almost immediately, successive budgets were quietly reduced by billions of dollars, allowing up to $8 billion in funds to lapse or stay unspent. There has been essentially no new investment in national defence under the Conservative government, with two small exceptions, and since 2011, successive major budget cuts have been sending departments scrambling to protect the essential capacity and morale required for effective national defence. This is another case of saying one thing and doing another.
Canadians and Liberals are proud of the Canadian Forces, who serve Canada on her behalf without reservation. However, to do their jobs they need to be able to depend on what they are being told, and in fact the government has decreased armed forces personnel in the navy by 11% from its strength in 2004, yet it increased the number of civilian naval employees by 30% over that period. This is managerial incompetence.
The army has fared no better under the current government. Between 2011 and 2013 its budget has been slashed by 22%, yet its headquarters received an extra half a billion dollars in budget increases. We hear one thing, but we see another happening.
Most unfortunately, in this bill we have the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, a backlogged board that will see its number of members slashed so that there will be a further backlog. That ties in to the undermining of the armed forces that we have seen under the government whereby military members and their families are falling through the cracks of government bureaucracy.
As these national defence budgets that supposedly were to be increased have been slashed, the very programs that support military personnel affected by mental illness and injury have been cut. Thousands of Canadian Forces members are affected by mental health issues. They need help through the joint personnel support unit and through mental health professionals to help them get strong again and find alternatives within the armed forces where they can be successful, yet those very supports are not there.
The government must do so much better for our men and women in uniform, just as it must do much better for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I was deeply saddened by the news this Saturday that former chief Ernie Campbell of the Musqueam First Nation passed away.
Over the years I was fortunate to have known Chief Campbell, a thoughtful, determined leader who helped build bridges and foster understanding among all cultures.
Ernie Campbell was first elected chief of the Musqueam in 1998 and served for 14 years. He was a former residential school student and graduated from Magee Secondary School in Vancouver Quadra. He was also a former boxing champion, so it is not surprising he had a reputation as a fighter for his community. Chief Campbell was a tireless promoter of aboriginal land and fishing rights, and last year led a protest resulting in a negotiated settlement to protect an ancient burial ground known as the Marpole Midden.
On behalf of my Liberal colleagues and all colleagues in Parliament, I would like to express our deep condolences to Chief Campbell's family and community. I have no doubt that he will be greatly missed by all who had the honour of knowing him.
The electoral district of Vancouver Quadra (British Columbia) has a population of 119,627 with 88,146 registered voters and 216 polling divisions.
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