The Senate met at 2 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.
Silent Tribute to Victims
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, before proceeding with today's business, I would ask senators to rise and observe one minute of silence in memory of the victims of the tsunami.
Honourable senators then stood in silent tribute.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of Her Excellency, Ene Ergma, of the Riigikogu of the Republic of Estonia.
On behalf of all senators, welcome to the Senate of Canada.
The Late Honourable Louis J. Robichaud, P.C., Q.C., C.C.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I have received a letter from the Leader of the Government in the Senate requesting time today for tributes to our former colleague, the Honourable Louis Robichaud, whose death occurred on January 6, 2005.
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, a tribute to our former colleague, Senator Louis Robichaud, is highly merited. Senator Robichaud, when he served as Premier of New Brunswick during the years from 1960 to 1970, led dramatic changes to the rights of Canadians, in particular the rights of Acadians in New Brunswick. What took place in New Brunswick in those years was a metaphor for a revolution in Canadian rights and was part of a process that led to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our Constitution.
When Senator Robichaud came to this chamber in 1973, he added greatly to the prestige of the institution. He was a diligent colleague; I served with him for many years. He was gentlemanly, in the old sense of the word — always courteous and helpful. Indeed, he was one of the most significant Canadians of our generation.
Hon. Noël A. Kinsella (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, the beautiful words of Ave Maris Stella filled the vaulted ceiling of the Acadian Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Moncton, New Brunswick, as we paid final farewell to our former colleague and friend, Senator Louis J. Robichaud. Together we celebrated the life of one of the greatest sons of l'Acadie and New Brunswick, a man for whom the words of the Acadian national hymn were virtually written:
Acadia my homeland
To your name I draw myself
My life, my faith belong to you
You will protect me
Elected in 1960 to govern the province, he was the first Acadian Premier of New Brunswick. Louis Robichaud would lead our province for 10 years. He made huge strides, achieved real reform and a renaissance, and his record has yet to be broken. This dynamic man was convinced that everyone deserved the same economic and social advantages. He was able to reconcile and minimize the differences between the rich and the not-so-rich, and between the anglophones and the francophones in our province because he wanted everyone to have equal opportunities and equal advantages.
Convinced of his vision for New Brunswick, he was able to fight social injustice and inequality while changing the course of provincial history with the adoption of the Equal Opportunity Program.
Under his leadership, the Legislative Assembly passed official languages legislation, making New Brunswick the first and only officially bilingual province. Furthermore, in 1967, under his guidance, the province passed the Human Rights Act and established the Human Rights Commission, on which I had the honour to serve as a member for 23 years.
A man with great vision, Senator Robichaud demonstrated, with his life, the perseverance and pride of the Acadian people, expressed in the words of the Ave Maris Stella.
Acadia, my homeland
My land and my challenge
From near, from far you hold onto me
My heart is Acadian
Acadia, my homeland
I live your history I owe you my pride I believe in your future
Adieu, my friend.
Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool: Honourable senators, it is with a great deal of sadness that I pay tribute to one of our former colleagues, the Honourable Louis Robichaud, who left us on January 6.
Acadian by birth, a politician from 1952, Premier of New Brunswick from 1960 to 1970, a member of the Canadian Senate from 1973 to 2000, Louis Robichaud gave to my province and to Acadia their full importance within the Canadian federation.
He launched the Université de Moncton, a French-language institution, in 1963. Four years later, his "Equal Opportunity for All" revolution finally gave all the residents of my province, without exception, the opportunity to contribute to the prosperity of New Brunswick.
The adoption of his Official Languages Act in 1969 made New Brunswick the only officially bilingual province in Canada, and gave equal status to both of our language communities.
He introduced a provincial health insurance plan. He humanized and standardized the tax system in New Brunswick. The scope of the reforms that Louis Robichaud carried out in New Brunswick is really enormous. All the important sectors were modernized: social assistance, the economy, education, taxation, the public service, youth programs, the law, languages, our municipalities, social services and health care.
It is said of Louis Robichaud that he was really the architect of New Brunswick. His convictions and the strength of character that motivated him during these sometimes difficult reforms are simply remarkable. Yes, he spoke well, but his actions spoke even louder.
Honourables senators, I know you must also admire the faith he had in our country. As Robert Pichette wrote in the newspaper, L'Acadie Nouvelle, this provincial politician "considered it his natural duty to have a fully Canadian vision, a national vision."
He has left his vision throughout New Brunswick. His name has been given to the comprehensive school at Shediac and to the physical education and sports centre at the Université de Moncton. His memory will remain in our hearts, our history books and our traditions.
Saint-Antoine has lost a great son. Acadia has lost a great patriot. New Brunswick has lost a great citizen, and Canada has lost a great man.
On behalf of the Senate, I offer my deepest condolences to the family of our former colleague and friend, and, for my part, I say, "Adieu, P'tit Louis."
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau: Honourable senators, I rise to add my tribute to Louis J. Robichaud.
The Honourable Louis Robichaud was affectionately known as "P'tit Louis," an acknowledgement of his short stature. Nevertheless, he was a giant, especially among the Acadians in the Atlantic provinces. He was a man of great courage, conviction and determination.
His achievements are well known. In addition to his accomplishments, Louis aroused and inspired generations of Acadians, beyond his native province of New Brunswick.
I remember very well the positive effect on the Acadians of Nova Scotia when they saw an Acadian become the premier of a Canadian province. It was amazing.
Let us not forget that this was at a time when Acadians were warned to "speak white" when they spoke French in a store, a restaurant or any other business place.
This was a time when people changed their family names from Leblanc to White or from Aucoin to Wedge, in order to be able to find a job.
When I was summoned to the Senate, Louis came to welcome me and, in my mind, I felt I was meeting a legend.
Throughout his exceptional life, Senator Robichaud never lost his burning passion for advancing the cause of the Canadian Francophonie.
In 1992, he organized a group of parliamentarians whose goal was to advance the interests of francophone and Acadian communities in Canada. Louis had persuaded members of both places and different political parties to join with him. In his honour, the group was called the "Louis J. Robichaud parliamentary group."
Yesterday, as I was travelling to Ottawa, I spoke with an Air Canada agent, a woman named Gisèle Allain-Stevens, originally from Darlington, near Dalhousie, in New Brunswick. At the start of our conversation, while we were talking about Louis, her first remark was: "He gave us a gift." She told me that when she was in Grade 10, she had to walk two miles, every morning and afternoon, to and from school. When Louis was elected, the students were given a school bus and French textbooks in class. What a wonderful gift!
To his family, to his widow Jacqueline, and to his many friends, I offer my most sincere condolences and the assurance that his memory will forever remain graven in my heart.
Hon. Fernand Robichaud: Honourable senators, at the beginning of 2005, all of Acadia was plunged into mourning by the news of the death of the Honourable Louis J. Robichaud. The man who had led the Government of New Brunswick during the 1960s had offered to the citizens of his province a vision of a society, and in bringing about that society, he worked a real social transformation.
He spoke like a visionary, and his actions were those of a passionate builder. Honourable senators, Louis J. Robichaud had a program that led to the creation of a society that was fairer and more equitable. He had a passionate desire to achieve that vision, and, above all, a fierce determination to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that lay in the path of his great work. Who can forget his great achievements, the "Equal Opportunity for All" program, the Official Languages Act and the founding of the Université de Moncton?
His unquenchable thirst for justice and fairness sprang from his devotion to improving the lot of those who were not well off. Poverty in New Brunswick had no language borders. Better than many others, he knew people's needs and he fully understood their deepest hopes.
Honourable senators, Louis J. Robichaud was a man who was close to his roots and a person who had time for everyone. A man of natural charm, he was easy to approach. No matter to whom he was speaking, he took the time to listen attentively.
He was called "P'tit Louis" in some parts of the province and "Ti-Louis" in other parts, always with great affection. People appreciated his sense of humour as well as his serious side. He found time to laugh and was also open to earnest discussion.
People could approach him with their problems, and, more important, they felt that he had listened to them and understood them. He knew just the right word to comfort someone. He had the intensity to be fully attentive to another person and a discreet smile to show that he understood.
He was sensitive to the suffering and pain of others. He had a great compassion for people, and by his presence alone he gave hope to others. His vision became an inspiration and his passionate devotion earned admiration.
His message of tolerance and mutual respect was a full reflection of his great humanity and made him well-loved.
Honourable senators, I firmly believe that Louis J. Robichaud is the most remarkable person in the modern history of Acadia.
I am especially happy that during his lifetime, and particularly in the past few years, his great contribution to the Acadian renaissance and to the building of our country was recognized by all Acadians and by many different institutions.
Honourable senators, Louis J. Robichaud should most deservedly rest in peace.
Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin: Honourable senators, I also want to add to these statements in tribute to our colleague Senator Robichaud. I am not Acadian and that is why I wanted to participate. I am a Quebecer. I am a Canadian whose language is French. Unfortunately, I do not have daily access to what goes on in French Canada outside Quebec.
When I came to the Senate, I discovered Louis Robichaud. I knew right away that he was a soulmate. Senator Robichaud symbolized what I think the Senate of Canada is all about: the defence of the minority rights of Canadians who, for reasons of language, race, or skin colour, are not part of the majority.
Senator Robichaud touched me deeply, and that is why I wanted to pay tribute to him. I truly felt the breadth of the great Ti-Louis' influence at the Summit of La Francophonie in Moncton. That is when I realized that Louis Robichaud had made a great contribution to the history of Acadia. I wanted to share this tribute with you.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I regret to advise that the time for tributes has expired. I have two senators on my list, whom I will call under Senators' Statements.
Hon. Pierrette Ringuette: Honourable senators, it is a sad honour and privilege for me to pay tribute to the late Louis Robichaud. I was five years old when Ti-Louis was elected Premier of New Brunswick. I was in my first year of school and the nuns were teaching us to read from Bébé Marie Jean as well as the mandatory Run, Baby, Run.
There I was, crammed with 45 others into the little elementary school. There was scarcely any heat in winter, and the nuns let us wear trousers under our skirts, as well as layers of sweaters, to ward off the cold.
At the same time, Ti-Louis was busily engaged in Fredericton in laying the foundations for our quiet revolution. "Quiet" may not be the right word, considering the vigour with which Ti-Louis defended his vision. My father even told me of one occasion when Ti-Louis was meeting with forestry workers in a hotel in St-Quentin, New Brunswick and got into a fist fight. Of course he won, thereby proving his determination.
My dad was no bigger than Ti-Louis, so he was pretty proud that Louis Robichaud could defend himself well with his fists and not just win with his words.
A few years later, though of course I did not know why, a new school was built in our village. A lot of new teachers were hired. We were taught physics, biology, chemistry and, my friends, we were taught in French. Our less-well-off families could get help.
No longer did they have to depend on the goodness of neighbours no better off than themselves.
No longer were we called "petits colons" for speaking French.
No more discriminatory taxes.
No more did New Brunswick francophones feel they were second-class citizens with no education, no power, no future. His Equality of Opportunity Program may not hold much meaning for some people, but for the people of New Brunswick those words define a liberal philosophy that identifies who we are, where we come from, and, most particularly, where we are headed.
The vision, strength of character and determination of the Honourable Louis Robichaud are sorely lacking in our political arenas today. Too many debates are devoid of vision and justice; too many politicians practise government by polls.
The Hon. the Speaker: I regret to inform Senator Ringuette that her time has expired. We have a long list and a strict rule.
Hon. Viola Léger: Honourable senators, with great emotion, I add my voice to the swelling hymn of recognition honouring our great Acadian, our great Premier of New Brunswick, our Honourable Senator Louis J. Robichaud.
Vision, passion, courage: the very definition of a giant among us.
Vision: equality of opportunity for everyone, especially through education, in order to enable the Acadian community to emerge from its isolation, to develop and grow, and to participate fully in the program of equal opportunity for all. The founding of the Université de Moncton was a very important step in the history of the Acadian renaissance.
His passion was politics, the only way to fully realize his vision. He was the architect of his program and he made sure that it was adopted by the legislature. His great leadership qualities led to the successful implementation of many new policies when he was Premier of New Brunswick.
As Dr. Robert Pichette so clearly expressed in his eulogy:
As a true man of vision, Louis Robichaud was neither narrowly parochial, nor exclusively provincial. He was, on the contrary, a stalwart pillar of the Canadian Confederation believing to the end that Canada is very much a work in progress. He could be, and frequently was passionate in this respect. To him, New Brunswick and, indeed, the other provinces of Atlantic Canada have a significant role to play in the shaping of the Nation's present and future, no matter their size or their populations. On this subject, he sounded at times like a gifted and fiery preacher on a mission! His was a well reasoned commitment to Canada from the heart as much as from his superior intellect.
Dear Louis, what a joy it is to have known you, what pride we feel in trying to follow in your giant footsteps. We cannot fill your shoes, but, together, little by little, we will make progress.
I offer my sincere condolences to Jacqueline, Paul, René, Monique, and all of his extended family and friends.
In closing, let me wish you paradise as seen by La Sagouine:
Ain't use' to fancy things. Ain't askin' fer castles, or Californias, or plastic flowers. But if the angels could whip up a wild-duck stew 'n' a store-bought coconut pie, 'n if our Father-in-Heaven in person could come around 'n' call the dance on Saturday nights, we wouldn' mind it. Fer a Paradise like that one, we wouldn' whine so much about death ... wouldn' be afraid any more ... we'd croak happy, My God, yes! ...
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein: Honourable senators, Louis Robichaud was a legendary figure who I came to know as I sat behind him here in the Senate chamber. He and his Liberal colleague Charlie McElman ran New Brunswick on a "small l" liberal agenda for over a decade. One of my greatest pleasures in the Senate was to watch and listen to Louis when he spoke in debate. He was, by legend and by fact, one of Canada's greatest "stump" speakers, in both English and French, in all of Canadian history.
When you sat and watched him, you could see the sparks of that brilliance. His spirit, his words, his energy, his mesmerizing talent to persuade his fellow Canadians is one of his lasting legacies. He set such a high standard for public rhetoric that we poor speakers today can only hope to approach the high standards he set. He will be missed, but he will never be forgotten.
Hon. John G. Bryden: Honourable senators, when Louis Robichaud retired, I spoke at length. Today, I will speak briefly about the man and his passing. Louis Robichaud followed Jean Lesage in what was referred to as the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.
New Brunswick's revolution was called the Program of Equal Opportunity by Louis Robichaud. However, it was anything but quiet. As a matter of fact, the man faced relentless, daily attacks. He lived through that. Indeed, his life was threatened, and the police were so concerned about it, they set up surveillance in his house.
Senator Louis Robichaud had a huge impact on Acadians. As has been said repeatedly, he was a proud Acadian. His program and his persona had a huge impact on New Brunswick, on all New Brunswickers and, in particular, on the rural poor in New Brunswick. I happen to be one — and there were lots of us — who did not have the good fortune to be born Acadian. However, he gave our province a tremendous opportunity. As was mentioned, he had some support from certain stalwart anglophones in the community. Without them, as Louis would say, it might not have been possible for him to have seen it through.
I believe that, when the history of our province and of our country is written, no political leader will be found to have had a greater impact on his province or on the citizens of his province than my friend Louis J. Robichaud.
Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Honourable senators, next Tuesday, February 8, our Speaker, the Honourable Dan Hays, and Speaker Milliken of the other place will be co-hosting a morning coffee reception in the Senate foyer on behalf of the Alzheimer Society of Canada's awareness month. I should like to take a moment of your time today to encourage you to attend this reception.
Dale Goldhawk, whom I am sure many of you know from his many years of television reporting and his work on behalf of Canadian consumers, will be master of ceremonies for this reception. Mr. Goldhawk is the president-elect of the Alzheimer Society of Canada and he will be speaking about the national priorities of that society.
As our colleague Senator Phalen reminded us on October 7 last in this chamber, the statistics on the number of Canadians affected by Alzheimer disease and related dementias are more than alarming. As part of Canada's aging population, we in this chamber need to understand not only the statistics but also the personal reality of living with dementia. That is why this reception is so important. We will also have the opportunity to hear from Marilyn Truscott, who is not only a member of the Board of Directors of the Alzheimer Society of Canada but also a Canadian who has been diagnosed and is living with dementia.
Honourable senators, next Tuesday morning we will have this unique opportunity to learn and understand a little more about living with Alzheimer disease. I hope you will all find time in your busy schedules to attend this important event.
Hon. Consiglio Di Nino: Honourable senators, on December 26, 2004, Asia was struck by a nearly incomprehensible tragedy. A magnitude-nine earthquake just off the coast of Sumatra triggered one of the greatest natural disasters in human history. The tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean that day has, to date, cost more than 200,000 lives. In Indonesia, in India, even in Africa, 3,000 miles from the epicentre, men, women and too many children lost their lives. Most of them had already been burdened by life's long indignities of underdevelopment, war and poverty. For people who had suffered more than their share for generations, you would think that would have been enough. That is why an event like the Asian tsunami defies belief. Such an event is beyond comprehension. We who live in the safe and cozy confines of our communities are left to thank God for our blessings and to pour out our hearts to the families of those who lost their lives.
However, in tragedies of this size, our condolences and sympathies are not enough, and Canadians recognize that. Thousands of Canadians spontaneously donated millions upon millions of dollars to assist the victims. Benefit concerts were organized, relief organizations were mobilized and the Canadian military was deployed. I am thankful that the Canadian people, of their own accord, were quick to react with generous deeds of overwhelming proportions.
Honourable senators, I do not wish to be negative, but I hope our government will learn from the example set by Canadians and their timely response. I am proud of our reaction to this tragedy, I am proud of the work of our aid organizations, and I am proud of our military.
Honourable senators, the Asian tsunami has taught us some harsh lessons. When this tragedy fades from the headlines, as it certainly will, let us not forget this: Every day, in too many countries all over the world, the slow rolling tsunamis of war, disease, despotism and underdevelopment continue to harvest their victims. The death toll may not be so quickly realized as the death toll resulting from the tsunami of December 26, but the body count, I can assure you, is equally certain and, in time, will be vastly greater.
I hope Canadians, and particularly senators in this chamber, keep this in mind when we measure our response to the human tragedies faced in this world every day.
Bill to Amend—First Reading
Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin presented Bill S-23, to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act (modernization of employment and labour relations).
Bill read first time.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?
On motion of Senator Nolin, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.
Notice of Motion
Hon. Pierre Claude Nolin: Honourable senators, I give notice that on Thursday, February 3, 2005, I will move:
That the Senate of Canada hereby calls upon the government to maintain the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities for as long as necessary to establish the facts and discern the truth, and the Senate of Canada further urges the government to defend the Commission rigorously and reject attempts to impugn the integrity of the Commissioner, Mr. Justice John Howard Gomery.
Visit to China—Comments of Leader of the Government
Hon. Noël A. Kinsella (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, whom we welcome back from China and other points.
Senator St. Germain: Libya.
Senator Kinsella: I would like the minister to comment on a report of an interview that he gave whilst in China. The Leader of the Government in the Senate was quoted in the National Post as saying:
We have to realize that China is a very big country. It is a very strong administration and it is influenced by the outside world but it needs to be influenced by a calm and developing manner and not in a way that gives deliberate offence.
I could not determine whether it was the National Post or the honourable minister who used the word "hector" — which appears earlier in the article. Would Senator Austin tell us what he, as was reported, at least, and as we read it here in Canada, meant when he said that Canadians ought not to be hectoring the Chinese?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I thank Senator Kinsella for the welcome back and issue the same welcome to him and to all of our colleagues here in the Senate. I think we will have a busy and, I hope, productive winter and spring session.
With respect to the question, I have no quarrel with the words in quotation in the National Post story. I take no responsibility for the editorial comment that preceded my quotation.
The situation in dealing with China is one in which we pursue the relationship on two clear tracks. One is to support and encourage political change in China, based on its evolutionary process. We support change in China through joint university programs and through exchanges of academics who discuss human rights issues, who understand and discuss our concept of rule of law, who discuss our Charter of Rights, and who discuss the undertakings we have made in the international system with respect to individual rights, human rights. We discuss these issues with Chinese government officials and with non-government people at the academic level and in the research centres.
This is an ongoing process, one that takes place every day. We have joint committees with China that deal with these particular subjects.
The second track, of course, is our economic development track. It has been the purpose of governments since Mr. Trudeau — and those include Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Chrétien and, of course, the present government led by Prime Minister Martin — to expand our trade relationship and to bring China into the multilateral trade system. We worked very hard to facilitate an agreement by which China could join the World Trade Organization. Canada was a successful player in the conditions in which those circumstances were set.
There are a number of other ways in which we work with China. In particular, I might mention the cultural area, where we have a number of two-way cultural exchanges. These cultural exchanges all lead to dialogue with the Chinese at many levels, from the highest level — heads of government — right through the entire structure of Canadian and Chinese society.
China, I need hardly say, is a major factor in world affairs. Canada has a very good standing with China, thanks to what has been a non-partisan policy with respect to Canada-China relations. There have been bumps in the road. The Tiananmen Square demonstration in 1989 created a reaction by the Mulroney government that ceased interaction with China in a number of ways. That was a policy that was followed by the American administration headed by President George Bush at that time. Mr. Chrétien helped restore the commercial relationship and began the dialogue on human rights and other issues in 1994, which, so far as I know, had the support of all parts of Parliament and of the provinces; indeed, premiers of nine provinces accompanied Prime Minister Chrétien to China in November 1994. The absent premier was Premier Parizeau, who made it clear that it was not a question of relations with China that caused his absence.
Finally, honourable senators, I would say that the approach that I favour is to not to hector the Chinese — that is, being rude, being confrontational, lecturing, being moralistic. The best way to proceed with any relationship, whether it be with China or my relationship with anyone in this chamber, is to engage on all levels that can advance a relationship, and to circle and define those differences and come to them as confidence and trust are built in the engagement of the relationship.
Senator Kinsella: I thank the Leader of the Government for that concise answer.
Senator Stratton: It was not succinct, Senator Austin.
Senator Kinsella: I do recognize that the term "hectoring" is somewhat novel in this town, but it is important that Canada maintain a robust pressure on countries such as China in the promotion of our Canadian value of human rights.
To the extent that "hectoring" means the maintenance of robust pressure, I should hope that the government is not changing its policy.
Senator Austin: Honourable senators, "robust pressure" is a good phrase. We put Canadian values very clearly in the minds and awareness of Chinese authorities and Chinese citizens. Indeed, as I have said, there are ongoing studies at senior levels in the Chinese policy system of our parliamentary process. We are quite familiar with the Canada-China Legislative Association. Members on both sides of this house have been to China under its auspices. Meetings take place at all levels dealing with our judicial process and with our administrative process. Therefore, the Chinese are growing aware.
"Hectoring," in my definition, means something different from robust engagement or robust dialogue. It means, basically, a continuous process of nagging. I do not think that is productive in any relationship.
Kyoto Protocol Commitments
Hon. W. David Angus: Honourable senators, we have heard much from Canada's Commissioner of the Environment about this government's environmental deficit. She has repeated many times that we have the tools but we are not acting, or, as Jeffrey Simpson wrote last weekend in an opinion piece in the The Globe and Mail, "The emperor really, really has no clothes." We have heard similar reports from the OECD and numerous respectable environmental organizations concerned about climate change induced by global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, honourable senators, we are hearing that Canada has no credible or viable plan in place to ensure we meet our target commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 6 per cent by 2012. Despite the expenditure of more than $3 billion of taxpayers' money over the past several years, Canada will, in all likelihood, fall far short of meeting its Kyoto targets.
What new and realistic initiatives does this government have to help rectify Canada's environmental deficit and to help it meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I should like to answer the question of Senator Angus in two ways. The first is to acknowledge the commitment made by Canada, which, as he says, is to reduce to 6 per cent below 1990 levels greenhouse gas emissions emanating from Canada by the first commitment period of 2008-12. As honourable senators know, the Kyoto Protocol comes into official force on February 16 of this month.
A great deal is being done to address the undertakings that were made on behalf of Canada by the Mulroney government. We are committed to developing a market-based system of greenhouse gas reduction requirements for Canada's largest industries. Much remains, as Senator Angus well knows, in the dialogue between those industries and the Government of Canada with respect to appropriate performance requirements.
If those large industries cannot address the commitments made by the Mulroney government on behalf of Canada, there will be a deficiency which other Canadians will have to make up, including the possibility that taxpayers may have to make it up in acquiring credits from foreign countries.
We are holding extensive consultations with industry generally and with the provinces and other stakeholders, and we are committed to producing a plan of action. I am sure Senator Angus is also aware that the climate change plan for Canada calls for a regulated system that would deliver a 55-megaton reduction from emissions forecast for 2010. That is equal to a 15 per cent reduction across the board.
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources has been dealing with this issue in terms of what individual Canadians can do. I know that Senator Angus is completely familiar with the one-tonne challenge report of the committee.
The other part of the answer is that the Government of Canada has taken steps between 1998 and 2003 by spending a total of $3.7 billion to support climate change activities. Half that sum has already been spent, and the balance is budgeted and largely committed. Activities supported by that spending include improving climate science, increasing public awareness, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing new technology for longer-term solutions and creating packages of dialogue strategies.
Kyoto Protocol Commitments—Recommendations of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Hon. W. David Angus: I thank the Leader of the Government for that answer. Without in any way wanting to hector him — on the contrary, in an attempt to engage in a serious dialogue about this serious global problem — I am glad he mentioned the report that the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources tabled in this chamber before Christmas.
I was listening carefully to the minister's answer. A number of recommendations, guidelines and signposts on how the government might meet these commitments are in the report. Many of them have to do with tax incentives as opposed to credit buying and selling.
Could the minister tell us whether the government will be addressing in the forthcoming budget or in its planning for this new session of Parliament the clear and succinct recommendations unanimously adopted by the senators on the standing committee?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, Senator Angus knows I am not in a position to provide any information about what may be in a forthcoming budget. I do want to repeat that a great deal of work is being done, negotiations are being held with stakeholders, and it is the government's desire to produce a viable plan to meet the Kyoto targets which are Canada's obligation.
Senator Angus: As I drove from Montreal this morning, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a headline saying that the government is planning a green budget. Can the minister comment on that?
Senator Austin: I do not know what the cover of the budget will look like.
Senator Rompkey: St. Patrick's Day.
Airport Security—Hiring Policy for Personnel
Hon. Sharon Carstairs: Honourable senators, I would like to know if the Leader of the Government in the Senate can inform the house why a Canadian citizen cannot obtain a position at a Canadian airport for security reasons if that citizen has been out of the country for six months in the previous five years, no matter where the citizen may have been.
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, Senator Carstairs gave me notice of this question, and, of course, I have been seeking an answer from the minister responsible for airport security.
I can confirm that it is the policy in recruiting airport staff to require people to document their whereabouts and activities when out of the country for a period which I understand to be six months or more.
I do not have the underlying reason for it, apart from the general answer that someone thinks that there is a security problem if there has been an absence of a longer period. I will seek the answer and provide it to Senator Carstairs.
Senator Carstairs: I thank the honourable leader for trying to seek the answer, as I know he has.
I would ask the leader to also determine why persons who have left the country, perhaps on a Fulbright scholarship or on a Rhodes scholarship, or for a Commonwealth or other country where their security clearance could easily be obtained by local officials for the time spent outside the country, are denied employment opportunities in this country.
Senator Austin: I will continue to seek a realistic and convincing answer.
Avian Influenza—Outbreaks in Southeast Asia—Monitoring and Screening Processes
Hon. Wilbert J. Keon: Honourable senators, my question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate concerns Canada's defence against the introduction of avian flu into our country.
Since November, 33 people in Thailand and Vietnam have died of this virus. Avian flu has killed 10 people in Thailand in the last three weeks and 12 people in Vietnam in the last month. Scientists are also now studying two separate incidents of suspected human-to-human transmission of avian flu in Vietnam.
Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate make inquiries and report back to us on how Health Canada is monitoring the influence of avian flu in Southeast Asia?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I thank the honourable senator for his question, which relates to a process of monitoring. I will seek information on the precise events that are underway in Canada.
As Senator Keon knows, we have established a public health centre in Winnipeg headed by Dr. Butler-Jones. I will make inquiries.
Senator Keon: Honourable senators, last week the World Health Organization warned that a mutation in the most virulent strain of avian flu could lead to an influenza pandemic. Indeed, public health officials and virologists are, I believe, more frightened of this than they have ever been before.
Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate also find out whether screening processes are already in place at airports in the affected region to help keep people infected with avian flu from getting into the country?
Senator Austin: Honourable senators, I will make inquiries in this regard. This situation deserves the very closest public attention. The warnings are given by serious people and hopefully in time to prevent an influenza pandemic from taking place.
I travelled in Japan, China and Hong Kong in January and saw no evidence of any screening process.
Same-Sex Marriage—Involvement of Church—Comments by Minister
Hon. Gerry St. Germain: Honourable senators, my question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. To paraphrase recent news releases, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pettigrew has said that the church should butt out of any debate on same-sex marriage. I gather Minister Pettigrew is speaking for the government. Would the Leader of the Government in the Senate please explain exactly what this means to Canadians?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I am in the fortunate position of not having seen the statement. I will consider it, and perhaps we could continue this line of questioning tomorrow.
Senator St. Germain: The statement was widely reported in newspapers. If the honourable senator has not seen it, I am sure he will do whatever research is required.
Numerous churches, including the Catholic Church, the Jewish Orthodox Church and various others, feel that their institutions and the freedom of their religion is clearly under attack.
I will continue this line of questioning tomorrow, if I may.
Kyoto Protocol Commitments—Cost Analysis
Hon. Ethel Cochrane: Honourable senators, the costs of meeting this country's Kyoto commitments have been the source of much debate. In 2002, estimates tossed around by numerous authorities pegged the cost at between $16.5 billion and $30 billion. Those costs may now have to be revised.
According to a recent leaked federal government document, it appears that Canada will have to do more work than previously thought to meet its targets of reducing greenhouse gases by around 6 per cent of 1990 levels by 2012. Apparently because of Canada's rapidly growing energy-intensive economy, meeting our Kyoto commitments will entail the reduction of 300 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions rather than the previously forecast 240 megatonnes.
Between 1990 and 2002, any improvements in energy efficiency in Canada have been offset by gross domestic product growth of 40 per cent.
In view of this new reality, could the Leader of the Government in the Senate seek to find out whether his government has prepared a revised cost analysis for meeting Canada's Kyoto commitments? Is the government doing a cost analysis that would factor in the cost to the public sector, the private sector and Canada's economy as a whole? If the government is not doing this, could the leader please tell us why that is the case?
Hon. Jack Austin (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, the government is actively engaged in canvassing the Kyoto performance issues that are required under the Kyoto Protocol, and an analysis of the economic costs and benefits of Kyoto is a part of that process. These are not documents that are in the public domain at this time. They are part of the ongoing process of policy development.
Senator Cochrane: Honourable senators, some groups and individuals have asserted that any costs of reducing greenhouse gases would be offset by increased energy efficiencies or savings in reduced energy inputs that would be brought about by the implementation of new technologies, new systems and new standards. As examples, British Petroleum and Dow Chemical have reportedly had considerable success in significantly reducing greenhouse gas output and saving money at the same time.
Could the leader find out whether the government has done any studies of scenarios in which the public sector, the private sector and Canada's economy might enjoy long-term savings through measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? If so, could they be made available in the public domain? If no studies of this nature have been done by the federal government, I wonder why not.
Senator Austin: Honourable senators, there are studies available of the kind to which Senator Cochrane refers. On the Environment Canada website there is an inventory of all the studies that have been published. There are also studies that are part of the ongoing development of the plan of action of the Government of Canada with respect to Kyoto which, of course, has not been announced, is under development, and hopefully will be announced within a reasonably short time frame.
Hon. Bill Rompkey (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have the honour to present eight delayed answers in response to oral questions posed in the Senate. The first is in response to an oral question raised on December 15, by Senator Spivak, regarding ill effects of the contraceptive Depo-Provera, parliamentary review, aid to users. The second is in response to an oral question raised in the Senate on December 14, by Senator St. Germain, concerning bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aid to the cattle industry. The third is in response to Senator Stratton's question of December 14, regarding maintenance of the Tutor aircraft. The fourth is in response to an oral question posed in the Senate by Senator Di Nino, concerning military assignments in foreign theatres. The fifth is in response to an oral question posed in the Senate on November 23, by Senator Forrestall, relating to Arctic sovereignty. The sixth is in response to an oral question posed by Senator Forrestall on the subject of purchasing land in Gatineau for a new National Defence Headquarters building. The seventh is in response to an oral question raised on December 14 by Senator Keon regarding monitoring of inhibitor drugs. The eighth is in response to a question raised on December 14 by Senator Meighen regarding search and rescue capability at CFB Moose Jaw.
Ill Effects of Contraceptive Depo-Provera—Parliamentary Review—Aid to Users
(Response to question raised by Hon. Mira Spivak on December 15, 2004)
All marketed therapeutic health products have benefits and risks associated with their use. The benefit of a health product must always be considered against the potential risk to that patient.
Many women who are estrogen-intolerant or unable to comply with a daily contraceptive regimen benefit from taking Depo-Provera1.
The current prescribing information (Product Monograph) for Depo-Provera1 contains warnings for bone mineral density changes, indicating that Depo-provera1 may be a risk factor for osteoporosis. The prescribing information also addresses other adverse effects that may occur with the use of this injectable contraceptive method.
Depo-Provera1 should only be used as a long term birth control method (longer than 2 years) if other methods are inadequate. Other birth control methods should be considered in the risk/benefit analysis for the use of Depo-Provera1 contraceptive injection in women with osteoporosis risk factors.
On November 18, 2004, Pfizer Canada issued a Dear Healthcare Professional Letter (DHPL) to healthcare professionals, informing them about the updated safety information, which suggested that women who use Depo-provera1 contraceptive injection may lose significant bone mineral density (BMD). Bone loss was seen to be greater with increasing duration of use and may not be completely reversible. This information is currently available on Health Canada's website.
Health Canada is presently reviewing recent studies and upon finalizing the review of this new data, may adopt additional risk management measures such as (but not limited to) updating prescribing information as well as instructions to patient information regarding Depo-Provera's effects on bone mineral density.
If a decision is made to proceed with parliamentary hearings on the approval and post-marketing review processes for Depo-Provera, the post-approval surveillance program from Health Canada will provide full disclosure of the information at hand.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy—Aid to Cattle Industry
(Response to question raised by Hon. Gerry St. Germain on December 14, 2004)
The Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) announced on December 10th that, effective February 1, 2005, the support price for skim milk powder will increase from $5.3928 to $5.7282 per kilogram, and the support price for butter, from $6.2968 to $6.8695 per kilogram. Support prices are the prices at which the CDC buys and sells butter and skim milk powder to balance seasonal supply and demand changes on the domestic market. Support prices are also used as references by provincial marketing boards to price milk sold to processors who manufacture dairy products such as butter, skim milk powder, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
For dairy producers, the higher support prices should translate into a price increase of 3.34 ¢ per litre for industrial milk, or 5.2 percent. Also included in the new support prices is an add-on of 1.66 ¢ per litre to offset some of the negative impacts of the BSE crisis on farms. Dairy farmers should therefore receive an increase of 5 ¢ per litre, or 7.8 percent.
With this announcement, the CDC reaches a compromise between the representations of the various stakeholders of the industry and at the same time, fulfills two important commitments.
The first commitment was made in 2002, when the CDC said that, by 2006, the support prices would cover the cost of production of 50 percent of Canadian dairy farmers. The second commitment was made last July, when the CDC reviewed support prices in light of the mad cow crisis. At that time, Commissioners of the CDC decided not to adjust support prices on September 1, 2004, thereby following the recommendations made by restaurants, grocery stores and consumer groups. However, Commissioners indicated at the time that the impact of BSE would be taken into account during the December 2004 price review.
During the December 2004 pricing consultations, some groups advised the Commission that, if a BSE compensation was included in the industrial milk price increase, this compensation should be clearly identified as such. The Commission has clearly indicated in its announcement which part of the increase was a BSE add-on and also stated that the need for this add-on would be reviewed in December 2005. At that point and depending on the BSE situation, this add-on could increase, decrease or be removed entirely.
Snowbirds—Maintenance of Aircraft
(Response to question raised by Hon. Terry Stratton on December 14, 2004)
The Tutor aircraft are impeccably maintained. Anyone who has seen the Snowbirds perform knows that both the pilots and technicians are extremely proud of these aircraft.
The Snowbirds Crew Chief has said that the jets undergo regular inspection from top to bottom before take-off, in between flights and at the end of a day of flying.
The most recent five-year average shows that the Tutor aircraft requires 8.4 hours of maintenance for every hour of flying.
(Response to question raised by Hon. Consiglio Di Nino on December 8, 2004)
As of the week of 6 December 2004, the Canadian Forces had the following personnel deployed in Haiti, Africa and Afghanistan:
- There are two personnel with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
- There are currently eight personnel with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). There are five personnel with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). There are eight personnel with the International Military Assistance Training Team (MATT) in Sierra Leone. There are two personnel in Ethiopia advising the African Union military leadership. There are two personnel in Khartoum, Sudan, with the UN Multinational Standing High Readiness Brigade.
- There are currently 1018 personnel deployed in support of Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan.
Overall, the Canadian Forces are participating in 18 international missions, with approximately 1430 personnel deployed abroad.
Canada has also agreed to establish a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.
The Government is committed to playing an important role in Afghanistan and our contribution of a Provincial Reconstruction Team reflects this promise.
With respect to a Provincial Reconstruction Team, following discussions with our Allies, our current preference is Kandahar, where we believe Canada could make the most effective contribution.
We are talking with our Allies to work out the details for our participation. Further planning will be required before we can determine exactly how many troops will be required to meet this commitment.
(Response to question raised by Hon. J. Michael Forrestall on November 23, 2004)
The Government of Canada introduced in August 1977 a voluntary offshore traffic regulation service provided by the Marine Communications and Traffic Service (MCTS) of the Canadian Coast Guard. The service operates under the acronym NORDREG. The service was to screen vessels on behalf of Transport Canada as the marine safety regulator for compliance with Canadian legislated safety and pollution prevention standards.
The fundamental objective of NORDREG is to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of marine traffic, to safeguard the environment and to strengthen Canadian sovereignty in Arctic waters. NORDREG is located at Iqaluit (NT) and operates on a 24-hour basis from mid-June to approximately the end of November. NORDREG is the only one of the three Canadian vessel traffic zones that is not compulsory. It promotes voluntary compliance to marine ship safety and pollution prevention standards. Further, NORDREG is the only tool currently available to provide users with a complete picture of marine traffic in Arctic Canada.
During the 2004 Arctic shipping season, a total of 61 Canadian and non-domestic vessels reported to NORDREG, generating a total of 107 voyages in Northern waters. Annex A provides a breakdown of foreign and Canadian shipping during the season. However, this data excludes local community traffic (mostly small vessels), the Davis Strait fishing fleet, fishing vessels and, of course, vessels not complying with the voluntary reporting requirements. While there is no regulatory means to force compliance, vessels generally comply with the reporting requirements. In addition, it should be noted that all vessels serving the Port of Churchill are required by the Port of Churchill Assurance Clause to participate in NORDREG in order to qualify for insurance coverage.
Further to these Coast Guard activities, National Defence monitors Arctic activities and have their own capacity. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is the lead government department for sovereignty.
(Response to question raised by Hon. J. Michael Forrestall on December 14, 2004)
Moving National Defence Headquarters is not a priority at the moment. However, over the medium to long-term, we could consider that option.
National Defence is currently focused on the Defence Policy Review and the acquisition of new equipment for the Canadian Forces. These are our priorities.
National Defence will continue to work with PWGSC to address our long-term accommodation needs.
Monitoring of Inhibitor Drugs
(Response to question raised by Hon. Wilbert J. Keon on December 14, 2004)
Health Canada has received a publicly available summary of the clinical trial data that led to the withdrawal of Vioxx from the market, and is pursuing more detailed information at this time.
Health Canada has also received data from recent clinical trials using Bextra following heart and other surgeries from the manufacturer, Pfizer. A preliminary review of these trials has been completed and Health Canada is analyzing them in further detail.
Health Canada issued an advisory on December 22, 2004, recommending that "[u]ntil further information from long-term clinical trials becomes available, one should consider that there is a strong possibility of an increased risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke, when using selective COX-2 inhibitor NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs]." Patients are advised to discuss the benefits and risks of treatment options with their physician.
Moose Jaw—Availability of Search and Rescue Helicopters
(Response to question raised by Hon. Michael A. Meighen on December 14, 2004)
The training area in Moose Jaw is in a region that has good road access and other civilian infrastructure, unlike other more remote training areas, such as Cold Lake and Bagotville.
For this reason, it was decided in 1993 that search and rescue could be adequately provided by a ground-based team. This decision was validated in a 1994 Air Force study that confirmed that a fully equipped and well-trained ground search and rescue team is sufficient to meet the requirements of CFB Moose Jaw.
Indeed, the swift response of the civilian ambulance to the 10 December 2004 training accident demonstrated the validity of this decision.
The military was satisfied with the search and rescue response to this incident. It has said that the site was accessible by road and that the rescue team acted immediately. In fact, the Commanding Officer of the Snowbirds said the response was entirely appropriate and that he was "extremely impressed with the reaction time."
Further, an air search and rescue capability is not always useful, even if it is available. For example, in severe weather conditions, a helicopter would not be able to fly, while a ground vehicle would still be able to reach a crash site.
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Elizabeth Hubley moved second reading of Bill C-15, to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-15 to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. This bill will strengthen the Government of Canada's hand in dealing with the serious problem of birds being killed by oil discharged at sea by ships that do not respect Canadian pollution control standards, which are based on standards contained in international agreements signed and implemented by Canada through its domestic laws.
Canada is not alone in its struggle to keep deadly oil out of waters inhabited by birds. Many nations of the world face the unhappy spectacle of birds being killed by marine oil pollution.
I recently visited the Falklands, an isolated group of islands in the South Atlantic. Five species of penguin are known to breed on those islands. I am sorry to say that all five species are in decline. One of the most serious threats to the world's penguins is contamination by oil. Just as in the case of birds killed in Canada, it is not only the spectacular and famous spills that are causing the long-term declines of penguins but also the many smaller spills of oil from chronic, illegal discharges by passing ships.
Oil destroys the waterproofing provided by a penguin's feathers, and cold sea water seeps in to the lower layers of insulation. One of the Falkland Islands penguin species is the Magellanic penguin, which is found on those islands during the breeding season. Their population is declining by about 10 per cent per year, a serious rate of loss that cannot continue indefinitely.
Probably the greatest threat to this species is chronic oil pollution, the subject dealt with in Bill C-15. Although the measurement of losses is difficult, a study quoted by Falklands Conservation indicated the death of 44,000 birds annually off the coast of Argentina, where some ships ignore international rules by releasing dirty water contaminated with oil.
Let us turn our attention north to Canadian waters. We do not have penguins here, but we do have ecologically similar birds called alcids. In fact, our alcids look and behave a lot like penguins. An important difference is that they can fly. One type of alcid is the thick-billed murre which breeds in large, cliff-side, Canadian Arctic colonies. Thick-billed murres migrate to winter in Canada's Atlantic waters, just as the Magellanic penguin migrates to Patagonia. However, the situation in Canada is even worse than what I described in relation to the Falkland penguins. The combination of rich biological resources and dense shipping traffic in places such as our Grand Banks, combined with the numbing cold of the North Atlantic, makes this area of Canada one of the most deadly places in the world for the contamination and death of wintering sea birds due to oily discharge from ships.
Hundreds of thousands of birds are killed every year off our Atlantic coast alone. In an average year, perhaps 300,000 die. All of this loss occurs because a small contingent of ships — probably less than 5 per cent — insists on trying to save time and money by illegally discharging their oily wastes at sea. It sickens me that illegal and unnecessary oil pollution kills so many birds. Canada must be able to carry out effective enforcement of its environmental legislation. It must be able to stop the wasteful and unnecessary killing of masses of sea birds. That is the rationale behind Bill C-15.
Honourable senators, the major conservation organizations in this country, all federal political parties, our Atlantic provincial governments and many citizens from coastal areas have voiced support for this bill. Nevertheless, there are some in the shipping business who do not join in that support. The fishing industry aired certain points of concern during hearings on this bill before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, and those have been reported in the media since then. Among those concerns were claims that there was insufficient opportunity for consultation, that the bill runs counter to international treaties, and that it will create new criminal penalties for trivial offences.
My response is that the bill is not in conflict with Canada's international obligations. As for the claim that new criminal penalties will be created by passage of the bill for trivial offences, much of the industry position is based on the incorrect premise that the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 do not currently apply to cases of oil pollution. Honourable senators, the regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 that prohibit the deposit of oil in water inhabited by migratory birds have been in place since 1948. The disposal-at-sea provisions in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 currently prohibit the disposal of waste at sea except in relation to disposal incidental to the normal operations of a ship.
The rules regarding pollution in Bill C-15 are not new. The bill does not create a new compliance regime. It updates existing law and recognizes established standards. Bill C-15 does not introduce a new policy approach. We cannot consider the bill in isolation from the acts it amends. Without Bill C-15, Environment Canada would continue to enforce these acts in cases of oil pollution, but under a less clear legal framework.
To determine what Bill C-15 offers in substance, we must consider its details and assess how it will improve upon the current legislation. I will give you one example. While the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 already applies in Canada's exclusive economic zone, and although the deposit of oil there is prohibited by regulations under that act, federal officers who enforce the legislation do not have clear protection in law from crimes such as assault, murder or bribery while they are carrying out their duties.
The Migratory Birds Convention Ac, 1994 provides for the laying of charges against individuals and corporations. In the case of an offence on board a ship, it can be very difficult to determine culpability as many individuals are involved in the ship's activities, from its crew members and officers to the captains, owners and operators.
Bill C-15 makes it possible to charge the vessel in cases where the appropriate person in charge can be identified. It makes it incumbent on those in charge of a vessel to take reasonable care to ensure that the vessel and the persons on board comply with the prohibition against pollution. It also provides protection for whistleblowing crew members. Bill C-15 was also amended in the other place to address this issue, and it fixes that. It is good legislation.
Bill C-15 was improved by the other place through an amendment at second reading. The amendment will now provide minimum fines for the largest ships, those over 5,000 tons, and directs Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 fines to the Environmental Damages Fund. Indeed, the vote to approve this bill in the other place was unanimous.
Has there been enough consultation on this bill? While parts of the shipping industry remain concerned, I believe that the Government of Canada has made good efforts on consultations to this point. In fact, we have been encouraging action on the issue of ship-source pollution for several years now.
I will review some of the consultation that has taken place with concerned people who were all the while conscious that hundreds of thousands of seabirds were dying every winter. Since 1998, Environment Canada has been a regular participant at the Canadian Marine Advisory Council, working to educate the shipping industry and industry regulators about the killing of seabirds from bilge oil.
Environment Canada, together with Transport Canada, also presented the marine protection committee of the International Marine Organization with two papers on the problem in the late 1990s. There has been advance notice of its legislation. In fact, Bill C-15 is not new; it is simply a refinement of Bill C-34, which passed third reading in the other place with all-party support in the last Parliament. A thorough briefing on the reintroduced Bill C-15 for shipping representatives took place at the Canadian Marine Advisory Council last November.
Honourable senators, we could discuss the reaction of the fishing industry at length. We know that industry generally supports initiatives designed to sanction those who fail to respect environmental rules and regulations. We know that they do not want the few bad ships that pollute to escape while good ships spend time and money to comply with the rules. However, some shipping industry representatives have expressed concerns about Bill C-15 that I believe come from a misunderstanding of the bill and of the existing laws.
As I have already said, honourable senators, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 already apply to oil in marine waters. The proposed revised acts do not add any new prohibitions for companies already acting lawfully. The bill is aimed entirely at those whose actions are already against the law.
Let us remember that the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 are mainstays of Canadian legislation for the protection of the environment and biological diversity. Bill C-15 clarifies the ability to enforce these acts for the protection of birds from oiling at sea; however, it also improves the acts in more general ways. For example, Bill C-15 adds sentencing guidelines to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 to help guide the courts in imposing sentences that are commensurate and proportional to offences under the migratory birds legislation.
In passing this legislation, we will be acting on behalf of clean oceans, healthy marine life, sustainable populations of migratory birds across the country, and a sound and competitive Canadian economy.
In full observance of our commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, we will be managing our natural resources in a way that other countries will emulate. Canada is currently known as a country where polluting ships can "get away with it."
We do not want Canada to be known as one of the worst places for the killing of birds by oil. Instead, it should be leading in the international effort to curtail this scourge. By approving Bill C-15, we will be sending a message to international shipping businesses that, while ship traffic is welcome here, ships that dump their oil and kill birds are not. It is a message that will ring true with other jurisdictions, from the Falkland Islands, where penguins are dying, to Alaska, to Northern Europe and to every other place where people are fighting the slaughter of birds by oil at sea.
I believe that honourable senators will see and understand the merits of Bill C-15 as we move forward with the consideration of the proposed legislation.
On motion of Senator Cochrane, debate adjourned.
Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool moved second reading of Bill C-36, to change the boundaries of the Acadie—Bathurst and Miramichi electoral districts.
She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to launch the debate at second reading of Bill C-36, to change the boundaries of the Acadie—Bathurst and Miramichi electoral districts.
Those of you who are familiar with the process of revising the electoral map will, no doubt, be surprised to see such a bill. This bill is unusual and is the result of a Federal Court of Canada decision, handed down last May, accepting the recommendations of an independent commission, which tabled its final report on December 9 in the other House.
Before describing the bill, which is very brief, allow me to explain the background in more detail. The usual process for adjusting the boundaries of electoral ridings is set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The process has been in use since 1965. Following each decennial census, the act provides for the creation of ten electoral boundaries commissions to determine the electoral map for each of the provinces.
Once the commissions have completed their work, the Chief Electoral Officer prepares a draft representation order and forwards the order to the minister responsible. The Governor-in-Council then has five days to give the order force of law by proclamation with no possibility of amending the order.
The process is also designed to ensure that the readjustment of electoral boundaries is free from partisan interests. The most recent readjustment following the 2001 census resulted in the adoption of a representation order in 2003, which came into effect with the dissolution of Parliament on May 23, 2004.
However, in September 2003, residents and organizations of the Bathurst region of New Brunswick took their case to the Federal Court of Canada to challenge the validity of the 2003 order for two ridings in that province: Acadie—Bathurst and Miramichi. These people were opposed to the transfer of certain francophone areas, specifically parts of the parishes of Bathurst and Allardville, from the mainly francophone riding of Acadie—Bathurst and the largely anglophone riding of Miramichi. The Federal Court accepted their argument on May 11, 2004, and ruled that the electoral boundaries commission for New Brunswick had made an error in transferring those parishes.
The Federal Court concluded that the commission had not taken sufficient consideration of the community of interests in particular, the language profile of the two parishes.
However, the court suspended its decision for a period of one year, until May 11, 2005, to allow time for corrective measures to be taken. The government decided not to appeal the decision.
It was because of all these events that last autumn the government created the Miramichi and Acadie—Bathurst Electoral Boundaries Commission.
The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act does not provide any mechanism other than the usual decennial census for establishing an electoral boundaries commission or for amending the electoral map.
However, the government decided that it was essential that an independent commission should review the delineation of the boundaries between the two ridings. The Federal Court, quite properly, refused to set the boundaries.
The government put two questions. First, must both the francophone parishes of Bathurst and Allardville be returned to the riding of Acadie—Bathurst or just one of the two? Second, should certain parts of the parishes remain in the riding of Miramichi, and if so, which parts?
In addition to the matter of the boundary, it was important to preserve the principle of having recourse to an independent commission without parliamentary membership. There could be no question of elected persons themselves deciding the boundary as had been the case.
Since it could not use the provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the government looked to the Inquiries Act as the basis for establishing an independent commission.
That commission was established in October 2004. Its membership and its mandate were designed to reflect as closely as possible the usual process under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
To reflect the usual process, Judge Joseph Daigle, who was named on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of New Brunswick, served as chair of the commission. The other members were Lorio Roy and Pierre Foucher.
The commission's mandate was limited to reviewing the invalidated part of the boundary between the two ridings. It was not a matter of questioning the entire electoral map of New Brunswick.
The commission considered the issues and, on November 6, 2004, it published a notice proposing the transfer of the parishes of Bathurst and Allardville from the riding of Miramichi to the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, where they had previously been located.
In other words, it proposed a return to the situation as it had been prior to the last electoral distribution, in accordance with the wishes of the applicants to the Federal Court.
The commission held public hearings on November 17 and 18 at which there was general support for the proposed changes. There were no objections.
After the public hearings, the commission tabled an interim report on December 2, 2004. The following day, it was tabled in the other place for study in parliamentary committee. Once again, the purpose of this was to reflect the usual process.
The Procedure and House Affairs Committee of the House of Commons studied the interim report on December 7. In its nineteenth report to the other place, the committee reported that there was no objection to the changes proposed by the commission.
In this context, given the unanimous support for the proposals and the preliminary commission report, the commission repeated its conclusions in the final report, dated December 8, 2004.
Honourable senators, moving on to Bill C-36, this is a bill intended to simply apply the conclusions by the independent commission and to comply with the Federal Court ruling.
The bill would restore to the electoral district of Acadie—Bathurst the parishes of Bathurst and Allardville, which had been transferred to the Miramichi electoral district.
The MPs for the two electoral districts concerned approve of the change. I, too, believe that the proposed amendment is a good thing for the communities concerned. That, however, is not what we need to ask ourselves now, as senators.
It is no longer a matter of asking ourselves whether the line between electoral districts ought to be here or there. That was up to the commission to decide, not us parliamentarians.
The standard process, according to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, is that the boundaries are the responsibility of the commissions. The commissions consult the population and the parliamentarians, but once these commissions have finished their work, the Governor-in-Council must follow up on their conclusions without further delay.
We, too, must demonstrate the same spirit of non-interference. On this topic, I am pleased to see the speed with which the other place dealt with this bill, unanimously, without seeking to question the commission's work. There is not yet any mechanism in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act which could remedy the exceptional situation that has occurred in Acadie—Bathurst. I am speaking here of the dispute in the Federal Court.
Without such a mechanism in the act, the government has done the right thing by creating an independent commission and introducing a bill to implement its conclusions.
The parties in the other place recognized this unanimously. Now it is our turn to allow the commission's conclusions to take effect.
Let me provide some details about when the proposed changes in electoral boundaries would take effect. The bill provides that the changes in the representation order of 2003 will not come into force until the next dissolution of Parliament, in order to avoid a by-election. At the urging of the Chief Electoral Officer, an implementation period of three months will be necessary after Royal Assent.
If an election were called within those three months, the current boundaries of both electoral districts would be applied, unless the Chief Electoral Officer were to publish a notice in the Canada Gazette indicating that the necessary preparations for bringing them into operation had been completed.
In conclusion, this bill is simple but absolutely necessary, and will correct a flaw, which has been recognized by the Federal Court, regarding the boundaries between two ridings.
As we consider this bill, we must keep two essential elements in mind: First, the importance of respecting the independence of the special commission created to study the issue; second, the importance of respecting the May 11, 2005 deadline set by the Federal Court.
For these two reasons, we must pass Bill C-36.
Hon. Noël A. Kinsella (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of the principle of Bill C-36. The bill will fix that which was broken. However, a lesson must be learned from the fact that something was broken in the process and Parliament must now present this bill to remedy the problem. Had the proper steps been followed in the first instance, it would be unnecessary to revisit this issue which was brought to light as a result of a court judgment.
Senator Losier-Cool has outlined succinctly the history of the matter which led to the introduction of this bill. However, there is a larger question that I might canvass for a moment. Honourable senators will recall that both chambers dealt with electoral readjustments last year.
The then Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister Responsible for Democratic Reform, as it was called, the Honourable Mr. Saada, reinstated Bill C-5, respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003. The purpose of the bill, honourable senators will recall, was to accelerate the coming into force of new electoral boundaries.
When that bill was before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, my colleague Senator Lynch-Staunton questioned Minister Saada on the rationale for the bill. There was a concern that the implementation of the representation order was being accelerated for partisan purposes.
The government wanted to go to the polls sooner rather than later. It did not want to have to wait until August 2004 and preferred April 1, 2004 as the operative date for the implementation of the boundaries.
As we all know, an election was called on May 23, 2004, and a vote was held on June 28, 2004. Given the results, maybe the government, with hindsight, should have followed the recommendation from the opposition at the time.
However, I want to quote from Minister Saada's testimony before our own Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on February 25, 2004, where he stated the following:
The choice of April 1, 2004, as the operative date stipulated in Bill C-5 would ensure that if an election is called this spring or summer, it will be held under the new electoral boundaries.
From the outset, honourable senators, we see problems with the approach of the government to this process.
The issue of electoral readjustment was politicized. Concerned individuals and organizations in the Bathurst region of New Brunswick complained and questioned the validity of the 2003 representation order. They were against the transferring of certain francophone regions from the riding of Acadie—Bathurst to the neighbouring riding of Miramichi. Their concerns were ultimately found to be valid.
Two years ago, in February 2003, you will recall that the Commissioner of Official Languages received three complaints by individuals who disagreed with the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission decision to alter the constituencies of Miramichi and Acadie—Bathurst. At issue was the recommendation to move the parish of Allardville and part of the parishes of Saumarez and Bathurst from the riding of Acadie—Bathurst to the riding of Miramichi. The Commissioner of Official Languages agreed with the complainants. The commissioner said:
The Commission's report has not persuaded me that it fully examined the impact of its recommendations on the development and vitality of the official language minority community in the electoral district of Acadie—Bathurst, and I cannot conclude from it that the Commission has discharged its responsibilities in that respect under section 41 of the Official Languages Act.
To remind honourable senators, section 41 of the Official Languages Act provides that:
The Government of Canada is committed to
(a) enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and
(b) fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.
On May 11, 2004, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of the individuals who had launched the complaint. I should note some of the issues that are considered when a commission is studying electoral district formation. They include community of interest, identity, the historical distinctiveness of the province, its geographic considerations, and the population.
"Community of interest" can be interpreted in a variety of ways and it is a concept that has been studied and analyzed over many years.
Honourable senators, I should like to address these issues in greater detail, but I am sensitive to the time, and perhaps in committee there will be an opportunity to do that.
I do, however, want to cite one of the passages in the judgment by the Federal Court that spoke to the need of independence of the commissions. Senator Losier-Cool has also drawn our attention to this issue. The federal court writes:
A non-partisan and independent commission is established to examine existing electoral boundaries and make appropriate changes...
In this instance, even when the original process for electoral readjustment was underway in 2002, individuals who lived in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst asked that the parishes of Allardville, Saumarez and others be left in Acadie—Bathurst. They were of the belief that the community of interest was best served by these parishes remaining in Acadie—Bathurst.
I would also note that a petition signed by 2,656 people was presented to the commission. Nonetheless, the commission recommended that those parishes be moved to the electoral district of Miramichi. The individuals affected by these decisions continued to express their grievances and finally their voices were heard.
Those citizens endured through the court process, the decision of the court and then the drafting of this legislation. They deserve credit for their fortitude and for sticking with it to bring us to this stage. Consequently, I would support the motion of Senator Losier-Cool that this bill be adopted at second reading.
Hon. Eymard G. Corbin: Honourable senators, I am quite familiar with the situation which existed and which resulted in a decision that seemed to satisfy the people concerned.
I would have liked Senator Kinsella to talk more about the "community of interest" factor as something the commissioners must take into consideration in maintaining electoral boundaries or establishing new ones.
It has been a while since I read the Elections Act. I do not think I will need to, since I left elected politics a long time ago and have no intention of returning there. If memory serves me correctly, during my early years in the Senate there was a referral to committee on amendments to the Elections Act. Among the factors that needed to be taken into account was the issue of "community of interest," which can involve religion, certainly language, culture, traditional practices in terms of trade, commerce, hospital services and many other things.
In my region, in northwest New Brunswick, the commission changed the electoral boundaries. I would not say they do not make sense, but they do not give enough weight to the "community of interest" factor broadly speaking.
The parish of Saint-André is a predominantly French-speaking parish in northwest New Brunswick, which is predominantly French speaking. Saint-André is now grouped with Grand Sault which, together with the riding of Victoria, make up the riding of Tobique-Mactaquac up to the outskirts of Fredericton. This new riding is represented by someone I really like, Andy Savoy. Mr. Savoy is bilingual and does excellent work. He won by a strong majority in the last election.
The fact is that, traditionally, almost since the electoral district of Madawaska was created, Saint-André had always been included within the boundaries of Madawaska—Madawaska-Restigouche or Madawaska-Victoria—because the northwestern part of the riding of Victoria is mostly French speaking. That is where the language border lies, then running south of Grand-Sault down to Fredericton. An established historical tradition has been broken, one that has been recognized by one boundary commission after another over the years.
Decisions of this kind can have an impact on the homogeneity of cultural and linguistic communities. When I say this with respect to Andy Savoy's riding, I am not criticizing, but the fact is that the people of Saint-André have lost their traditional ties to the greater Madawaska. That, to me, reflects the fact that the commission at the time that first established this new electoral district did not take sufficient note of such factors as the community of interest. I think this is regrettable because it will have long-term effects. Obviously we cannot predict what they will be, but they are like groundwater; ever present, sometimes disappearing, sometimes rising to the surface. That is one way of saying that if we do not pay critical attention to people's homogeneity, their interests, be they linguistic, cultural, commercial or other, we destroy the very soul of the community. The commissioners have an obligation to take this into account. This change has been recognized in the case that Senator Losier-Cool has illustrated so well for us, and I thank her for all the technical points she mentioned.
The next time electoral boundaries are revised, even though I do not want to very much, I will get involved to satisfy myself that this community of interest factor is more fully recognized and respected by the commissions. Otherwise, our minorities are at risk of being slowly swallowed up.
Senator Kinsella: I agree entirely with what Senator Corbin just said.
The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question!
The Hon. the Speaker: It was moved by the Honourable Senator Losier-Cool, seconded by the Honourable Senator Pépin, that this bill be read the second time now. Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Motion agreed to and bill read second time.
Referred to Committee
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?
On motion of Senator Losier-Cool, bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Hubley calling the attention of the Senate to the merits of establishing a universal publicly-funded system of post-secondary education in Canada as a national social and economic program, and to the adoption of federal legislation setting out the mission, role, and responsibilities of the government with respect to post-secondary education.—(Honourable Senator Stratton)
Hon. Terry Stratton (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I had taken adjournment of this inquiry in my name to survey our caucus to see if anyone would be interested in speaking to this item. I did that this morning, and no one is interested in speaking. As far as our side is concerned, we are finished with the debate on this matter.
Hon. Bill Rompkey (Deputy Leader of the Government): Perhaps that concludes the debate on this particular item.
The Hon. the Speaker: If no other senator wishes to speak, the inquiry shall be considered debated.
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Callbeck calling the attention of the Senate to the present inequities of the Veterans Independence Program.—(Honourable Senator Stratton)
Hon. Terry Stratton (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, this inquiry deals with the inequities of the Veterans Independence Program. As senators may be aware, our Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs is travelling this week. As a result, I have been unable to survey my colleagues. I therefore wish to leave this item standing in my name.
Hon. Peter A. Stollery rose pursuant to notice of October 27, 2004:
That he will call the attention of the Senate to the World Trade Organization negotiations on the Doha Round.
He said: Honourable senators, I am almost ready to speak on this subject, but —
Senator Murray: Almost.
Senator Stollery: The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs has been busy and I have not had time to complete my speech. I am nearly there, so I would move adjournment of the debate.
Senator Murray: We are almost ready to hear you.
On motion of Senator Stollery, debate adjourned.
Motion to Urge Government to Reduce Certain Revenues and Target Portion of Goods and Services Tax Revenue for Debt Reduction—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Noël A. Kinsella (Leader of the Opposition), pursuant to notice of December 7, 2004, moved:
That the Senate urge the government to reduce personal income taxes for low and modest income earners;
That the Senate urge the government to stop overcharging Canadian employees and reduce Employment Insurance rates so that annual program revenues will no longer substantially exceed annual program expenditures;
That the Senate urge the government in each budget henceforth to target an amount for debt reduction of not less than 2/7 of the net revenue expected to be raised by the federal Goods and Services Tax; and
That a message be sent to the House of Commons requesting that House to unite with the Senate for the above purpose.
He said: Honourable senators, the Canadian economy has done well in recent years, thanks in no small part to the economic groundwork and the political capital expended by the Conservative government more than a decade ago. Free trade, the dismantling of the National Energy Program, the transformation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency into Investment Canada, patent law reform, a dramatic drop in the growth of program spending, and reform of a sales tax that was actually taxing Canadian-made goods more harshly than imports have all played a major role in making Canada a more dynamic place to invest and to do business.
Honourable senators, not to be partisan, but the Liberals opposed many of these reforms. In the past decade, however, since they have been in government, the Liberals have been embracing these very reforms.
Honourable senators, no doubt we will have a robust debate on this motion. We look forward to getting the truth as to why, after an election promise to get rid of the GST, the Liberals failed to do so. However, honourable senators, my speech today is not about all the unfulfilled Liberal promises.
Honourable senators have heard the three points that I will be touching on.
Senator Bryden: It is a little sparse for an election platform.
Senator Kinsella: The Leader of the Government in the Senate himself had a few things to say during the free trade debate — back when he was in opposition. Of course, Senator Bryden was not in this chamber at that time. Had he been here — alternatively, he can go to the Debates of the Senate of the time — he would know that his leader today, then an opposition member, tried to hold up the free trade legislation, not wanting it to get through the Senate. If Senator Bryden does the research, he will also no doubt discover how his leader and his other colleagues who were here at the time tabled petition after petition to stall the proposed GST. Indeed, the new chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce may himself remember saying in the debate on October 9, 1990: "I cannot agree with the evidence presented in support of the GST."
Well, honourable senators, the GST is still here, even though our colleagues said that they would get rid of it. At the time, those who were here were vigorously opposed to it, and somewhat noisily in those days.
The fact of the matter, the happy news, is that Canada has been able to develop a strong economy.
Senator Bryden: Since 1994.
Senator Kinsella: However, a strong economy has led to a sharp rise in tax revenues.
Senator Bryden: It started in 1994.
Senator Kinsella: That sharp rise in revenues, which the Liberals have used to fund a sharp rise in government spending, raises a great deal of concern for many Canadians.
Senator Bryden: You can do that when you have a surplus instead of a deficit.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I am sorry to interrupt, Senator Kinsella. Honourable senators, I am having some trouble hearing Senator Kinsella. I would remind honourable senators that there will be ample time for debate. Those who wish to intervene will have ample opportunity to do so. In the meantime, I would like to hear Senator Kinsella.
Senator Kinsella: I am looking forward to hearing from my good friend, who knows that the revenue tap is wide open, but the government seems to be incapable of making any sensible decision as to how to deal with the flow of revenue. Maybe our honourable colleague will attend to that when he participates in this debate. It seems that the government either does not know what to do or is not willing to take the appropriate steps.
The economic and fiscal update projects that total federal revenues will rise by some $48 billion over the next five years, to hit $242 billion by 2009, a figure that is more than double what was collected when this government took office in 1993.
Does the federal government really need that extra $48 billion per year, equivalent to more than $5,000 for a family of four? Almost three quarters of this growth, about $35 billion, will come from personal income taxes while most of the balance will come from the GST.
In 1993, the federal government collected just under $50 billion in personal income taxes. Do honourable senators know what that figure is today? Today, $90 billion annually is collected in income tax, in spite of what the government claims was a $100-billion tax cut. By 2006, if matters continue unchecked, the federal government will be collecting twice as much personal income tax revenue as it did when this government was first elected.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, taxes levied by Canadian governments at all levels — federal, provincial and municipal — represent about one third of our gross domestic product, compared to the United States, where taxes represent only one quarter of GDP. Canada must become more competitive, honourable senators, and taxes have a key role to play in making this a more attractive place to live and to do business.
We should not be debating whether to cut personal income taxes; we should be debating how to cut them.
Some may prefer to raise the amount that Canadians can earn before they start paying taxes. When we tax Canadians earning only $8,000 a year, we are taxing the poor. The government has a wonderful tax policy: Collect money from people earning $8,000 a year — from students, from working single mothers, from seniors on fixed incomes — and give a fraction of it back through various tax credits.
Some would argue that there ought to be targeted tax cuts. For example, there is a case to be made for further reducing capital gains taxes as a way to boost private-sector investment. This in turn would lead to higher levels of employment and a higher standard of living for all Canadians. There is also a case to be made for greater support through the tax system for families with children, for those saving for retirement and for those with special needs. For example, a further increase in the caregiver credit would encourage more families to take on the challenge of caring for an aging parent in their homes.
Finally, there is a strong case for a cut in tax rates so that Canadians will keep more of what they earn and be able to make their own decisions as to how to spend or save their money.
The high marginal tax rates faced by Canadians represent a serious disincentive to earn income in Canada. If honourable senators have a hard time believing that high taxes drive people to earn income elsewhere, ask where the CSL registers its ships. That is but one example.
Regardless of what mechanism is chosen, whether it is through a change in the tax brackets, through targeted tax relief or through lower tax rates, it is time for the Government of Canada to give Canadians a break and let them keep more of what they earn. Lower personal income taxes would provide a direct lift to our standard of living and provide greater financial security for individual Canadians.
Interesting data is available, honourable senators, to show the spread between the increased levels of the standard of living in Canada as compared to those in other countries. The comparison is not favourable to the standard of living in Canada.
Honourable senators, there is a surplus because the government is taking too much money from Canadians. It belongs to the taxpayers of Canada, not to the Prime Minister, not to the Minister of Finance, not to the government. Honourable senators, we must cut taxes.
The second part of this motion deals with Employment Insurance premiums — payroll taxes or a tax on jobs. Employment Insurance premiums are paid by working Canadians and by those who employ them to fund a program that is supposed to provide a cushion during periods of temporary unemployment and for special circumstances such as childbirth. Those premiums drive up the cost of working. They drive up the cost of meeting a payroll and, until Paul Martin became finance minister, no government had ever dreamed of treating them as anything other than a dedicated source of revenue, program specific.
There was a time many years ago when the program was called the Unemployment Insurance Program and premiums only covered the cost of providing income replacement benefits. At one time, the government picked up the overhead expenses such as the cost of processing applications. Along the way, premiums also began to cover registration, the cost of training programs and other labour market initiatives. There was a law that banned the UI Program from running up any cumulative surplus or deficit. Premiums had to be set with a view to wiping out any surplus or deficit over a three-year period. Responsibility for setting premiums rested not with the cabinet, but with the independent Unemployment Insurance Commission which included representatives of business, labour and government. They set premiums with a view, as the law then required, to balancing the UI account.
It was in 1996 that the government decided to put Employment Insurance premiums to a different use. Not content to use premiums to cover every conceivable cost of the program, including benefits, the cost of processing and delivering cheques and contributions to training programs, the government decided to treat EI premiums just as another tax.
That is not what they told us. They said that the program would be allowed to build up a cushion so that premiums would not have to rise during a recession. The surpluses began to grow. They grew and they grew. The tale of Jack and the Beanstalk comes to mind, but in this real-life story, the hoard of the treasurer at the top is more vast by far than anything the giant accumulated.
The program's actuary told the government it did not need a cushion of more than $15 billion to keep premiums from rising during a downturn. The government, afraid that the EI Commission might actually take this information into account when setting premiums, temporarily took away the commission's ability to set premiums. That was four years ago. That was supposed to be temporary, and it seems to be on its way to becoming permanent, notwithstanding rumours to the contrary.
Meanwhile, as I noted, the EI surplus is continuing to grow and is expected to hit $47 billion at the end of the year. The Auditor General has repeatedly told the government to stop doing this. In her most recent report tabled on November 23, she said:
We have drawn Parliament's attention to the concerns about the size and the growth of the accumulated surplus in the Employment Insurance Account since our 1999 Report. The accumulated surplus has increased by $2 billion, to reach $46 billion in 2003-04. In our view, Parliament did not intend for the Account to accumulate a surplus beyond what could reasonably be spent for employment insurance purposes, given the existing benefit structure and allowing for an economic downturn. In our opinion, the government has not observed the intent of the Employment Insurance Act. In 2003, the government announced that it would conduct consultations on a new rate-setting process and would introduce legislation to implement a new process for 2005. In the 2004 Budget, the government noted that it was reviewing the results of the consultations and still planned to introduce legislation for 2005. However, the government has yet to address the concerns about the accumulated surplus in the Employment Insurance Account.
Honourable senators, if the government were to revert to the legislation as it existed prior to the year 2000, premiums would have to take into account the fact that a $15 billion surplus is more than enough. On paper, there is enough money in the EI account to declare a two-year premium holiday and still have a sufficient cushion to keep future rates stable. We have enough money that there is no need for Canadian workers to pay any EI premiums for two years.
A worker's share of that $47 billion EI surplus is the equivalent of three weeks' wages. For an employer, it is the equivalent of meeting the payroll for more than a month. However, the reality is that there is no surplus to liquidate, for it is nothing but a book entry. The money has already been spent, and that is the scandal.
The government has talked about setting premiums with a view to balancing the cost of the program, looking forward. If that is what the government plans to do, then, at least on the surface, it is within the spirit of this motion. However, when premiums are set, assumptions will have to be made about future revenues and future program costs. This government has a history of using overly prudent assumptions to make its fiscal situation look worse than it is. If the government assumes that over the next few years the unemployment rate will be 8 per cent, and it turns out to be 7 per cent, then it will set premiums on the basis of costs that will not materialize. If the government assumes that employment will grow by 2 per cent, and it grows by 2.5 per cent, it will, again, continue to collect too much money. The result would be the status quo. The EI Program will continue to be milked as a cash cow, but without the messy problem of having to revise or suspend the law because of a bloated annual surplus.
Honourable senators will remember the recent debate on the surplus air charge. That serves as a warning to those who think this government would never think of such a fiscal manoeuvre.
Honourable senators, the third part of this motion urges the government, in each and every budget, to devote to debt reduction not less than two sevenths or, if you prefer, two percentage points of net funds collected by the federal GST.
This would essentially mean that the government would be required to conduct budgetary policy with a view to debt reduction and not simply with a view to breaking even. Much of the debt reduction that we have seen to date either has been by accident or has been disingenuous, as the government's true financial picture has been carefully concealed from taxpayers until the books are closed at the end of the year. The government's policy is one of balanced budgets or better. Indeed, each year the government's budgets project a string of zeros for the surplus. Then, magically, the year is over and there are large surpluses.
The government's $7 billion forecasting error this past March is but the most recent example. The government denied having that kind of money all through the last election, painting the Conservative Party as irresponsible for daring to suggest that the books were in far better shape than the government was saying.
Debt reduction ought to be planned. It ought to be built into the government's fiscal forecast. The government boasts that it will reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio to 25 per cent within the next 10 years from the current level of about 40 per cent. That sounds impressive unless you realize that normal GDP growth would bring that ratio down to 25 per cent in about 10 years anyway, even with no change in the level of debt. The bigger the denominator, the smaller the fraction. That is basic math.
When the former Progressive Conservative government replaced the hidden 13 per cent federal sales tax with the goods and services tax, it promised Canadians that the GST would only be used to service and to repay the federal debt. To show Canadians that the Conservatives were serious, we set up the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account.
Senator LeBreton: And it worked.
Senator Kinsella: And the Liberals promised to get rid of the GST.
Paul Martin put the promise this way to delegates to the Liberal leadership convention in a publication called De Novo: "There is some possibility that when we take power in 1992, the provinces will have entrenched the GST in their sales tax regimes. It would be extremely difficult to undo that in that instance, but I would consider removing it nonetheless, and in all other scenarios I am committed to scrapping the GST and replacing it with an alternative."
Senator LeBreton: At least they are consistent with the truth.
Senator Kinsella: What a curious shift in logic.
Once upon a time, Paul Martin thought that harmonization would make the GST extremely difficult to undo. A few years later, as Minister of Finance, the GST was his to kill. What did he do? He proceeded to harmonize the GST with the sales taxes in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. This made sense, as it simplified tax administration, but it is the opposite of what the Liberals promised.
The party that came into office promising to scrap the GST instead ended up scrapping the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account — scandalous.
The GST is expected to bring in $31 billion next year alone. Two of the seven percentage points would equal just under $9 billion. We are not suggesting anything terribly radical here, as this is roughly in line with last year's surplus and what is projected for this year. It is in line with the projected growth of the GST revenues between now and the end of the decade.
Honourable senators, the net debt is basically what is left over after subtracting what the government owns and what it owes. The government's fiscal policy is focused on the accumulated deficit, currently some $501 billion. However, we do not pay interest on the accumulated deficit; we pay it on the interest-bearing debt of $621 billion that we owe to bondholders and other creditors.
Last year, in spite of a $9 billion accounting surplus and in spite of a corresponding reduction in the accumulated deficit and net debt, Ottawa's interest-bearing debt annually rose by $400 million. The government's total liabilities, after adding other items such as accounts payable, actually climbed by $1 billion last year. Think about it. The government runs up a $9 billion surplus and still ends up owing more money to its creditors than it did at the start of the year. It does not make much sense. The previous year, a $7 billion surplus translated into a mere $2 billion reduction in the level of interest-bearing debt. A very harsh reality is that given the magic of accrual accounting the federal government could find itself owing even more money to bond holders in the years ahead if its own accomplishment is to balance the books. Yes, this is because there are assets such as new buildings and military equipment, and associated with that is an increase in interest-bearing debt, virtually none of which can be liquidated.
Honourable senators, if you have ever borrowed money to buy a car, you may have found yourself owing $20,000 on a car that has a resale value of $15,000. That reduction in value occurs around the time that you drive it off the dealer's lot or around the time someone bangs into your fender. On paper your net debt is $5,000 since that is what would be left of your debt if you sold the car tomorrow. However, you will not sell your car tomorrow because you need to go to work or to get the kids to hockey practice. In any event, the bank is charging you interest on the $20,000, not on the $5,000 that you owe net.
Honourable senators, the government must pay down its debt if it is to have sufficient fiscal flexibility to meet the challenges of an aging population. This means that we have to make significant progress in reducing what we owe our creditors. A policy that simply focuses on reducing the ratio of the accumulated deficit-to-GDP will not get us there. The commitment to devote two percentage points of the GST to debt reduction is also quite attainable when one considers that within five years the GST's annual take is expected to climb by a further $8 billion.
Honourable senators, the government must stop looking for new ways to spend the GST. Even without new program initiatives, the cost of government is rising dramatically. For example, the cost of meeting the government's payroll has jumped by a third over the past four years. With $621 billion in interest-bearing debt at the present time, it would not take more than a few years for an interest rate spike to again cripple federal finances.
I point out as well that at the present time interest rates are low by historical standards, and we have nowhere to go but up. Many of us remember the double-digit interest rates of the early 1980s, one of the factors that served to drive up the federal deficit in the following years. Even as late as early September 1984, as the public service prepared its briefing books for the incoming Conservative government, the Bank of Canada rate was 12.38 per cent and the charter bank prime was 13 per cent, with longer-term rates even higher. Some of us recall the outgoing Liberal government boasting that those double-digit lending rates, while scandalous by today's standards, were down substantially from their 21 per cent peak in August 1981.
Senator LeBreton: Who was the Prime Minister then?
Senator Kinsella: Honourable senators, we are still paying today for the high interest rates of the early 1980s and for the program spending growth that averaged in excess of 13 per cent per year during the Trudeau years. Indeed, the growth of the debt that followed the 1984 election was essentially the result of servicing the debt that had been run up in previous years. A strict policy of debt repayment will ensure lower interest payments on that debt. It will protect taxpayers from future interest rate hikes. It will ultimately increase the government's capacity for future tax relief and focussed spending.
Honourable senators, this motion also requests that a message be sent to the House of Commons requesting that House to unite with the Senate on this matter.
In closing, I would remind honourable senators that the throne speech motion passed unanimously by the other place included the following advice:
That Your Excellency's advisors consider the advisability of the following:
1. An order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities instructing the committee to recommend measures that would ensure that all future uses of the employment insurance program would only be for the benefit of workers and not for any other purpose.
2. Opportunities to further reduce the tax burden on low and modest income families consistent with the government's overall commitment to balanced budgets and sound fiscal management.
Honourable senators, two of the points raised in this motion, those concerning tax reductions and the use of EI premiums, are not out of line with the throne speech motion unanimously adopted. I would suggest that the adoption of the recommendation that the government target debt reduction of not less than two sevenths of net GST revenue would strengthen the call in the throne speech motion for sound fiscal management.
Over the past several years, the government has consistently low-balled its surplus projections, often leading to year-end spending sprees. Unless there is a greater emphasis on tax reduction and a specific dollar target for debt reduction built right into the budget plan, this government will continue to look for new ways to spend money, either on new programs or by going on a spending binge in the dying days of the fiscal year.
A forward-looking government would not hesitate to adopt measures such as these and, hopefully, others that I trust that honourable senators will bring forward as we proceed with this debate.
On motion of Senator Rompkey, for Senator Austin, debate adjourned.
The Senate adjourned until Wednesday, February 2, 2005 at 1:30 p.m.