The Senate met at 2 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck: Honourable senators, 2012 has been declared the International Year of Cooperatives. According to the United Nations, this commemorative year is intended to raise public awareness of the invaluable contributions of cooperative enterprises to poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. The year will also highlight the strengths of the cooperative business: They are owned and controlled by their members, and they have a distinct commitment to both economic development and social justice.
It is estimated that as many as 1 billion people are involved in the cooperative movement. The self-help principles on which the cooperative movement is based make an enormous contribution to the needs of the people of developing countries.
Here at home, cooperatives exist in virtually every sector of the Canadian economy. One can be born in a health care cooperative and be buried by a funeral co-op. In between, one can purchase a wide range of goods and services from groceries to insurance, find employment in a workers' co-op, live in a housing co-op, or engage in a broad range of economic, cultural and social activities carried out by cooperatives.
Cooperatives and credit unions have a huge impact on communities right across Canada. There are currently over 9,000 cooperatives and credit unions in this country, and 18 million Canadians are members of at least one of them. Some 70,000 people volunteer their time to become members of the boards of co-ops and credit unions. Co-ops and credit unions have combined assets of approximately $252 billion, and they employ over 155,000 people. For example, the Desjardins movement in Quebec is the largest employer in the whole province.
Honourable senators, the International Year of Cooperatives provides a great opportunity to recognize the tremendous contributions that cooperatives make to the economic and social well-being of the people of the world. These community-based organizations care not only about the financial health of their businesses but also about the quality of life and standard of living of the people in the communities they serve. In so doing, they make a vital contribution to the health of our economy and the well-being of our fellow Canadians.
I ask you to join with me to pay tribute to the outstanding contributions made by cooperatives and credit unions and to wish them continued success in the future.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I would like to draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of Lyse Ricard, the Interim Senate Ethics Officer.
Honourable senators, I also wish to draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of members from New Brunswick of the Canadian Police Association: Dean Secord, Leah Secord, and John Thomson.
On behalf of all honourable senators, welcome to the Senate of Canada.
Hon. Donald H. Oliver: Honourable senators, I rise today to draw your attention to Asian Heritage Month. Every May, we pay tribute to the many contributions that Asian-Canadians have made to the creation of our diverse country.
Prime Minister Harper once said:
Canada is a country where people from very different cultural backgrounds have bonded together to create a pluralistic and inclusive society. . . .
Asian Heritage Month provides an opportunity, not only to celebrates the rich heritage of Asian Canadians, but also to recognize the important role that they have played in building our great country. . . .
In 2002, the Government of Canada signed an official declaration to recognize May as Asian Heritage Month. It reads as follows:
Diversity represents one of Canada's greatest strengths, and we strive to ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to reach their full potential and participate in Canada's civic life.
Over the last two centuries, immigrants have journeyed to Canada from East, Southern, Western, and Southeast Asia, bringing our society a rich cultural heritage representing many languages, ethnicities and religious traditions. The people of this diverse, vibrant and growing community have contributed to every aspect of life in Canada, from the arts and science to sport, business and government.
Honourable senators, this month-long celebration gives Canadians a opportunity to learn more about the many contributions of Asian Canadians to create our diverse nation. I think, for instance, of such outstanding Canadians as Chinese-born fashion designer Alfred Sung; Quebecer Kim Thuy Ly, best-selling author of Vietnamese ancestry; Douglas Jung, Canada's first M.P. of Chinese extraction who helped thousands of Chinese regularize their status; and the Honourable Bal Gosal, Minister of State for Sport who was born in India.
Throughout the month, events and activities will be organized in cities across Canada to celebrate Asian-Canadian heritage.
In Ottawa, Asian Heritage Month festivities include a special event on May 16 at the Ottawa Public Library, where children of Asian immigrants will share their stories. Member of parliament Michael Chong will be a featured speaker.
Honourable senators, there are nearly four million Canadians of Asian ancestry in Canada today and there are dozens of Asian communities across the country. Each one contributes to Canada's diverse landscape through their fascinating cultures, traditions and histories. They are an integral part of Canada's diversity. Please join me in celebrating their legacy by recognizing Asian Heritage Month and honouring their countless contributions.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, for a number of years I have been working alongside M.P. Patrick Brown as the Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Malaria Caucus. In addition, I work closely with Buy-A-Net, an Ontario-based charitable organization, as well as a number of other organizations, to help eradicate malaria.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of two amazing Canadian women, Ms. Debra Lefebvre and Ms. Gail Fones, as well as an amazing Ugandan woman, Ms. Sarah Komugisha, all of whom are members of the Buy-A-Net organization. I would also like to acknowledge the work of Dr. Martin Nkundeki, who has been the resident volunteer in Uganda for over six years.
Last Wednesday, April 25, as the international community commemorated World Malaria Day, I returned to Katagoo, a village in Uganda, where I joined members of Buy-A-Net and distributed over 500 insecticide-treated mosquito nets. I first visited this village when Senator Stewart Olsen and I accompanied Prime Minister Harper to Uganda for the Commonwealth Conference. I visited this village on behalf of the Prime Minister and Canadians and, over the last six years, I have returned to this area a number of times.
Over the years I made several friends in Katagoo, one of whom is Irene. Irene and I are both grandmothers, and six years ago we bonded over the fact that we both had just become grandparents. We both have always had many stories to share about our precious grandchildren, Adam and Ayaan.
Last Wednesday, Irene was uncharacteristically quiet. As I observed her, I was disturbed by her silence, so I went over to her and asked why she was so quiet and unhappy. Tearfully, she explained to me that I had arrived with the nets too late as her grandson Adam had died of malaria. I hugged Irene and struggled to find words to console her.
Honourable senators, malaria is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of five and has claimed the lives of many children living in Sub-Saharan Africa, just like Adam. In fact, every 50 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. Sarah, Dr. Martin and I, along with many village volunteers who joined us in distributing the bed nets, had a rough day. Sarah, who had spent a number of hours making sure that all the arrangements had been made, was very disappointed that the weather would not cooperate.
However, as we ventured out into the villages last Wednesday, not even the torrential downpour was able to dampen the spirits of those who were anxiously waiting to receive bed nets.
These mosquito nets, which can cover up to four people at a time, act as a wall of defence and protect families from contracting malaria. Ownership of these nets has proven to reduce child mortality rates of children under the age of five by 23 per cent. Unfortunately, with heavy hearts, we had to turn away several families because we ran out of nets to distribute.
Honourable senators, the effect of malaria on developing countries is crippling. We, as Canadians, have the resources and the power to lead the fight against malaria; now, we just need the will.
Hon. Hugh Segal: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to a great Canadian, soldier, business and community leader, Jean Ostiguy, who passed away on March 31 in Quebec. This great Canadian served his country tirelessly and with both style and courage in peace and war.
In World War II, Mr. Ostiguy served in the Italian campaign as a captain in the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards and was wounded at Monte Cassino. He was a distinguished graduate of the Royal Military College in Kingston and a lifetime member of the RMC Club. He was honoured recently by being posted on the college's wall of honour.
In private life after the war, he rose to the top of Canadian and Quebec business, having been elected President of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada and having been the founding President and CEO of the Richardson investment bank in Quebec, which is a combination of other investment groups in Quebec. He served on numerous corporate boards, but also made time for his community, giving back always to the country and community whose freedom he defended in World War II. Centraide, Hôpital Jean-Talon, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. and Collège militaire royal all benefited immensely from his tireless donation of time and resources.
For 45 years Mr. Ostiguy was associated with the Maison des Étudiants Canadiens in Paris, an organization he started and helped sustain for decades, following in the footsteps of its founder, his grandfather, Senator Joseph-Marcelin Wilson, who began the roots of the project on the Cité Internationale site in Paris. His Legion of Honor of France, his Order of Canada, his Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel's post of the Régiment de Maisonneuve, and his Honorary Doctorate of Laws from RMC all underline how much he was loved, appreciated and how much he will be missed.
Jean Ostiguy lived a life of patriotism, community service, business leadership and love of family. He brought elegance, style and civility to everything he did, all he touched, and the country and province he called home. Canada and the world are far better places for the 90 years he lived, worked and served others among us.
Hon. Ghislain Maltais: Honourable senators, 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the City of Baie-Comeau. Colonel Robert McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune, founded Baie-Comeau in 1936, choosing the location because it was in a large forested area rich in water and mineral resources.
Baie-Comeau was founded a few years before Canada's entry into World War II. Dozens of workers left the construction site of the Quebec North Shore Paper Company and served our country. Many never returned. Those who did made an extraordinary contribution to the building of Baie-Comeau.
The City of Baie-Comeau is surrounded by priceless hydro-electric resources. Using its three great rivers, the town produces 10,000 kilowatts of electricity, which is a very large part of the electricity destined for New York City and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Of course, the city has attracted other businesses.
In 1956, Canadian British Aluminum built an aluminum plant that today belongs to Alcoa and is one of the largest aluminum plants in the world.
The quality of the city's workers and the determination of its municipal councils and managers have made Baie-Comeau one of the most dynamic cities in northern Quebec. Its seaport, which is accessible 12 months of the year, has attracted businesses from western Canada. Cargill Grain stores grain in Baie-Comeau destined for Europe and the Middle East.
Baie-Comeau is the gateway to northern Quebec and, with Quebec's Plan Nord, it has a promising future. This will always be true thanks to the great people who live there and who make Baie-Comeau a wonderful place to live.
The people of Baie-Comeau have good reason to celebrate their 75th anniversary this year. Some very well-known people have left Baie-Comeau to fill important positions in Canada, including the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, who raised Baie-Comeau's profile across Canada and around the world.
The emblem of the City of Baie-Comeau is the North Star. In the next 25 or 50 years, Baie-Comeau will continue to be a bright, shining star with citizens who are happy to participate in the economy's development.
The City of Baie-Comeau serves as a fine example because it was founded by anglophones and francophones who have always lived in perfect harmony and continue to do so today without any problems or conflict. The residents of Baie-Comeau have every reason to be proud and to celebrate. I will be there on May 20, to join in the festivities to celebrate this anniversary. We will attend a mass at the first cathedral in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Sainte Amélie Cathedral. This celebration will allow everyone on the North Shore to gather together and look to the future.
Happy anniversary Baie-Comeau!
Regulations Amending the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations Tabled
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Acting Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, pursuant to section 7 of the Special Economic Measures Act, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations and the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Permit Authorization Order, announced on April 24, 2012.
Bill to Amend—First Reading
The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that a message had been received from the House of Commons with Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
(Bill read first time.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?
(On motion of Senator Comeau, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.)
Bill to Amend—First Reading
The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that a message had been received from the House of Commons with Bill C-310, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons).
(Bill read first time.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?
(On motion of Senator Comeau, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.)
Bureau Meeting, Conference of Branch Chairs of the Americas, Steering Committee of the Network of Women Parliamentarians, Education, Communication and Cultural Affairs Committee, and Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, January 30 to February 3, 2011—Report Tabled
Hon. Andrée Champagne: Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Parliamentary Delegation of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF) respecting its participation at the Bureau Meeting, the Conference of Branch Chairs of the America, the Steering Committee of the Network of Women Parliamentarians, the Education, Communication and Cultural Affairs Committee, and the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CIDEC) held in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, from January 30 to February 3, 2011.
Meeting of the Political Committee, March 14-16, 2012—Report Tabled
Hon. Andrée Champagne: Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Parliamentary Delegation of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF) respecting its participation at the Political Committee of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, held in Lomé, Togo, from March 14 to 16, 2012.
Notice of Inquiry
Hon. Percy Mockler: Honourable senators, I give notice that, two days hence:
I will call the attention of the Senate to Hunger Awareness Week, an initiative of the Food Banks of Canada from May 7-11, 2012 and the challenge calling on Parliamentarians to fast on May 9, 2012 in order to experience what hunger feels like for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
F-35 Aircraft Purchase
Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has stated that the government has been keeping two sets books on the F-35 procurement costs. The Minister of National Defence has said that he and the cabinet were aware of the discrepancy between the $16 billion quoted to the media and the $25 billion stated by the Department of National Defence to cabinet versus the actual $29 billion reported by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Why did the government not come clean with Parliament and Canadians on the actual cost of the F-35 program?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, with regard to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, there are not two sets of books. The Auditor General clearly reported on this file and, of course, did not say there were two sets of books. I believe also that the newspaper accounts of the appearance of Minister of National Defence before the Senate committee last night were not accurate.
I believe that DND did release the acquisition cost for the F-35. The Auditor General said that we should have additionally provided operating costs such as fuel and pilot salaries that are currently also incurred with the CF-18s and would exist with any aircraft purchased by Canada.
The Auditor General said in his report that we should have released all the operating costs and the government has, of course, agreed with that recommendation. We will not proceed with a purchase until the seven points that we outlined in response to the Auditor General's report are completed and developmental work is sufficiently advanced. This includes freezing funding and establishing a secretariat to lead this process moving forward.
Senator Moore: Honourable senators, Al Capone also had accounting issues.
I am most interested to hear the explanation of the leader of how DND and the Department of Public Works have somehow managed to provide a dissenting opinion to the Auditor General's report on the F-35 procurement. In fact, today in the Public Accounts Committee in the other place, DND officials rejected the estimated cost of $29 billion for the F-35 program that has been put forward by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They argued that the Auditor General was wrong when he said key financial figures were kept hidden from Canadians.
Could the leader explain to this chamber how it is possible that, after the scathing report by the Auditor General, these departments could find reason to disagree with his findings? Does the government agree with him or with the two departments?
Senator LeBreton: I just heard about the appearance this morning before a committee in the other place. Obviously, the government accepts the recommendations of the Auditor General. That is why we are establishing a new secretariat to play a lead coordinating role in replacing the CF-18 fleet. As indicated when we announced this a couple of weeks ago, we will be providing regular updates to Parliament.
Senator Moore: I am pleased to hear that the leader is accepting the report of the Auditor General as opposed to the opinions of the two departments in question.
On Wednesday, April 4 of this year, Senator Cowan asked this question of the leader:
The fact of the matter is — to use the leader's term — that he was right and you were wrong. His estimate has now been validated by the Auditor General.
I think he was speaking about the Parliamentary Budget Officer. He went on to say:
Did it ever occur to the leader that she might not be getting the straight goods here and that the information that the Parliamentary Budget Officer had provided — and he had no axe to grind and no particular skin in the game on this situation; he was doing the best job he could with the information he had — might be right, as he has been proven to be right this time, that time and all the other times?
In reply, the leader said:
I answered that a few moments ago. When I saw what the Parliamentary Budget Officer had to say, I tended to discount it because he has a record of being wrong more often than he has been right.
Yesterday before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, the Minister of Defence stated that cabinet knew the full cost of the F-35 procurement before the last election. I would like to know: Why did the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and as a member of cabinet, tell this chamber that the Parliamentary Budget Officer's numbers were discounted by her when she knew full well his numbers were accurate?
Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator quoted me correctly, and I will repeat again that — and do not take my word for it; take the word of The Globe and Mail, which did a comparative analysis of the reports of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and those of the Department of Finance — the Department of Finance was correct more often than the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer is flat out wrong in saying there were two sets of books. The Auditor General very clearly pointed out that in addition to the purchasing cost of the aircraft — which was well known and reported by National Defence and the government — the operating costs should also have been added to it. I think the Department of National Defence was using 20 years and I think the Auditor General thought it should it be over 36 years. However, the fact of the matter is that the government had a base amount of money we were prepared to spend on the F-35s, and obviously the acquisition cost of the F-35s has not changed for quite some time.
The question here was that the Auditor General felt, and we now agree and we have accepted his recommendation, that the operating costs, maintenance, the costs of the pilots, the costs of the acquisition and the costs of operating the F-35s should have been in the figure. This is what the Auditor General wants and this is what the government will do.
I will point out there is a freeze on the file. We have a secretariat looking at the matter, and the government has expended no costs. We have not signed a contract, and no taxpayer dollars have been used to purchase these aircraft.
Senator Moore: Is the leader telling the chamber and Canadians that when the costs of this program were presented to them the costs of operating and maintaining the fleet of airplanes were not included?
Senator LeBreton: I think if the honourable senators look at my answers in the past, the estimated unit cost of the F-35s has been well known. In his report, the Auditor General said that in addition to the acquisition costs for the F-35s, we should have provided operating costs such as jet fuel and pilots' salaries — which are costs that are incurred in the operation of any aircraft — and we should have included all the operating costs. I think he wanted 36 years and the Department of National Defence had originally done an estimate of 20 years.
The Auditor General wanted the full costs of the full lifespan of the F-35. The government agreed. That was the one recommendation the Auditor General made. The government agrees with the Auditor General; we have frozen the funds and set up the secretariat, and no aircraft have been purchased. The secretariat is taking a lead role in coordinating the procedure followed to replace the CF-18 fleet, and as I indicated the government will provide updates to Parliament on the cost estimates.
Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire: I do not think the Auditor General is the Pope, so he is not infallible. Nor do I think that overreaction is also a smart government decision. Let me give just one example from that report, which the government should have given far more thought to in its reaction rather than starting to create a whole bunch of other means, which will slow down the actual acquisition.
The CF-18 has gone through two major upgrades and refits in its lifespan. These were never computed in the life costs of the aircraft. If we are going to keep that aircraft for 36 years, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a major refit sometime in there because the technology and the usage will require that.
Now, that is not in the Auditor General's report. In my opinion if he is that competent and that capable, then the figures that he is presenting are lacking significantly in depth in comprehending the procurement system, but also really looking at the full costs of it.
Does the leader still say that his report is worthy of the government's making all these changes in the procurement process in order to achieve a responsible acquisition of the F-35s?
Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that question because he makes the point that is part of the problem. The Auditor General made some recommendations. We accept the Auditor General's recommendations. Senator Dallaire makes the point that a lot of people have argued that it is impossible to properly estimate the actual price. We know the purchase price of the F-35s, but the Auditor General has suggested that we build in all of the maintenance and operating costs of the F-35s. That is what the secretariat is now setting out to do.
The honourable senator is quite right, and many people in the military have made the same argument. Five years down the road we do not know what the requirements will be. It might require additional maintenance or it might require — who knows? I use the analogy of my little 2002 Ford Focus. It is a great little car, the best car I ever owned. I paid $23,000 for it, but if I look at that car and factor in my salary when I am driving — maintenance, two sets of tires for winter and summer, insurance, gas, the cost of the roads that I drive on, I figure my little Ford Focus is worth $150,000. That is the mug's game we are into here, so I totally agree with Senator Dallaire.
We were dealing with the acquisition costs of the F-35. The Auditor General made a recommendation that we should factor in all the operating costs. Whether people agree with the Auditor General or not, we accept his recommendations and the government is now setting out to respond. We set up the secretariat and we are dealing with the recommendations of the Auditor General as he has instructed the government.
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, the leader has said in response both to Honourable Senators Moore and Dallaire that the acquisition cost is known. What is the acquisition cost of the 65 F-35 aircraft?
Senator LeBreton: We have set aside — I think the budget was $9 billion, but I do not have the figure for the unit costs in front of me. I will take that question as notice. I did put that on the record, but there are so many figures flying around here.
The fact is that the government always talked about having this envelope of money to replace the aircraft. We were aware of the estimated unit costs of the aircraft. Of course, we know that this is a development aircraft and that the project was started some considerable time ago under the previous government. We had an envelope of money that we were prepared to use for the replacement of the CF-18s.
The Auditor General looked at this file. We all know what the Auditor General's report said about the roles of Industry, National Defence and Public Works in this. We have set up the secretariat to oversee this. We have frozen the program and indicated we will report to Parliament. There is nothing more I can add at the moment.
Senator Cowan: A lot has been said and there is a lot of confusion. The leader said twice here today that the acquisition cost of these aircraft is known. Leaving aside the issues about other costs — ongoing maintenance costs — I am simply asking the leader to give us what the government currently believes is the acquisition costs of 65 F-35 aircraft.
Senator LeBreton: I have indicated that we have set aside a budget for the acquisition of the F-35s. We always said we would stay within that budget. The Auditor General has asked us to factor in other costs, which we are doing. We set up the secretariat. Again, we have expended no taxpayers' dollars on these aircraft.
I will take the question as notice.
Senator Cowan: I am not interested in the fact that the secretariat has been set up and it will look at all these other things. The leader said twice today that she knew the acquisition costs of 65 F-35 aircraft. I just need a number.
Senator LeBreton: I was referring to the testimony of the minister last night before the Senate committee. The question seems to be, and this is what seems to be confusing the public, about the unit cost of the aircraft. There was an estimated figure — I will have to get back to Senator Cowan — and then the operating costs were added in.
As Senator Dallaire points out, many people believe that it is very hard to estimate the operating costs of any particular piece of equipment. We do not know what we will be facing over 36 years.
Having said that, the government did have a set budget for the acquisition of the aircraft. All of this now is on hold; the funds have all been frozen. There is a secretariat looking at the whole program, and the government will report to Parliament.
Hon. Jane Cordy: The Auditor General, as the leader said, recommended that these operating costs and maintenance costs be included when determining the unit costs. She has said that the government is accepting these recommendations, but it has been my understanding that in the past it was standard practice that these operating and maintenance costs be included. Why did this government not include them? Why did it make a change? To say that the Auditor General is recommending this is like saying it is something new that has come out of the sky. This is not new; this has been standard practice in the past. Why was it not included when the government was giving these costs to us?
Senator LeBreton: The Department of National Defence did release the acquisition costs for the F-35. I was not privy to the testimony at the committee this morning, but the Department of National Defence seemed to indicate that they had the acquisition costs and then they had the operating costs. This is why the secretariat has been put in place. The Auditor General pointed out that among the Department of National Defence, the Department of Industry and the Department of Public Works there was obviously some — I do not know whether it was misunderstanding or what the procedure was. The fact of the matter is that in addition to the acquisition costs for the F-35, the Auditor General asked that all of the costs — operating, maintenance, fuel, salaries of pilots — be factored into each aircraft so that each one would not only have the acquisition costs but all the costs associated with that aircraft through its lifetime. That is what the government has now agreed to do at the request of the Auditor General. That is why we have set up a secretariat. That is why we have frozen the funds, and that is why there will be a procedure in place to go through the various steps. As I indicated, we will report to Parliament.
Senator Cordy: For the Auditor General to recommend that all costs be factored in is not brand new. This has been standard practice and policy for years and years. The change was in the government not including them. I ask the leader again, why did her government not factor in all costs?
In fact, I remember Minister MacKay saying, "Well, when someone buys a new car, they will not factor in the cost of insurance and gas to determine whether they can afford it." I would say that it would be a very poor planner who would not include whether they could afford the cost of insurance and gas before buying a car.
In the same vein, I say again, why did this government not factor in all costs? Why did it have to wait for the Auditor General to come out and suggest that the government should be doing something that had been done in the past?
Senator LeBreton: I think I have been clear, honourable senators. With Senator Dallaire's question, there are different points of view between the acquisition costs and the operating costs. The Auditor General pointed out to the government, to DND and Industry Canada — and senators can read his report — the processes followed. The Auditor General made one recommendation in the report, and that one recommendation was that for each aircraft it should have been not only the acquisition costs but the total operating costs, all the maintenance and everything for the life of the aircraft. I believe the Auditor General indicated it was for 36 years, although, as Senator Dallaire indicated, there is some question as to what the practice was in the past.
The fact is that there was something seriously wrong in the process among DND, Industry and Public Works. That is why the government froze the project and is setting up this secretariat. We have a seven-point plan now that we are following, all of which reported to Parliament. There is nothing more I can add.
Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette: Honourable senators, let us continue with financial matters. We might wonder if the government should take remedial Math 101.
This morning, as I was studying a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, I read the following:
The Conservative government secretly lent more than $114 billion to Canadian banks, although the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance boasted around the world that the federal government did not have to bail out Canadian banks at the beginning of the financial crisis.
I have raised the issue a number of times but without mentioning the amount of $114 billion, which includes amounts from the United States and various other sources. This secret loan represents almost $3,400 per Canadian, which amounts to more money per taxpayer than the U.S. provided to American banks.
In the U.S., the figures were made available to journalists and the public whereas in Canada many documents had to be closely examined and studied in detail in order to arrive at this conclusion.
How can the government expect Canadians to believe that the financial system does not need reform and oversight when it secretly lends money to banks to prevent their bankruptcy? How can this government continue to pay millions of dollars annually to the CEOs of Canadian banks?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I am aware of the report and the organization that prepared it. I look at reports like that and consider the source. I did see that.
I have no knowledge whatsoever as to what the basis of that report is, so I will take the honourable senator's question as notice.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: The minister has access to all the data. She should go through the same exercise and seek information from several sources. All these people with doctorates in economics can at least give us the figures that the government is not providing. I will continue with the following:
The Bank of Canada has stated that Canadian homes are overvalued by 35 per cent. The Canadian debt-to-income ratio is close to 153 per cent. I raise that regularly because it is going up. The Canadian job market is far from being in good shape.
The Conservative government even went so far as to allow the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to purchase $69 billion of mortgage policies from Canadian banks, effectively transferring the risks banks took with unsustainable mortgages onto the backs of Canadian taxpayers. I was dumbfounded to read that the Minister of Finance was tasking the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions last week to oversee CMHC to prevent it from insuring risky mortgages and putting the organization at risk as well as the government. However, the Minister of Finance and his department have promoted this risky behaviour and changed the rules in order for CMHC to do that.
Why is the Conservative government trying to shift the responsibility onto OSFI when it is the Minister of Finance and his own department who are responsible for putting the Canadian housing market at risk?
Senator LeBreton: Actually, that is not true. Just as in the honourable senator's previous question, she accepts the word of a left-wing policy institution, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, that claims that there have been bailouts of our banks. There is no basis for those claims at all. With the honourable senator's financial background, she would certainly have known if that were the case.
With regard to the new code of conduct on mortgage prepayment information, the Minister of Finance has stepped quite regularly into the housing market. We have previously strengthened mortgage rules to protect Canadians buying homes, reduced the maximum mortgage period to 30 years, significantly reduced interest payments that families can make on their mortgages, and are lowering to 85 per cent the maximum amount lenders can provide when refinancing mortgages.
We have introduced Bill C-28 to provide for the appointment of a financial literacy leader; we have introduced credit card reforms to ensure Canadians have the information they need; our code of conduct is welcomed by consumer groups and especially small businesses; and we continue to monitor compliance, with any possible violations being investigated. With regard to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the minister has now taken additional steps.
All of this is intended to continue to secure Canada's leading role in the world with regard to the financial health of our country. The Minister of Finance is to be commended because he and Canada are recognized around the world, with all leading economies, as being a leader on the whole issue of financial management.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: The Leader of the Government in the Senate was the one who introduced bills about accountability and also talked about transparency. I want her to be transparent and look into the figures she has with the Minister of Finance. CIBC received a government bailout of $21 billion representing 148 per cent support of the bank's value; in fact, we could have bought the shares and owned the bank. At least we would not have paid the president millions of dollars. BMO received a bailout worth $17 billion representing 118 per cent and Scotiabank a bailout worth $25 billion representing 100 per cent of its value. That means that these banks were almost bankrupt, if not bankrupt, technically.
Find the figures and contradict them rather than criticizing this organization that did excellent work. I encourage honourable senators on both sides of the Senate to read the report and see where Canada is in terms of financial difficulty and what we can expect in the future if we have a recession.
Senator LeBreton: First, the honourable senator would know that the government did take timely and effective actions supporting lending to Canadian households and businesses through the Extraordinary Financing Framework, which was publicly and repeatedly laid out from the very start. There is no big secret here. That most recently includes the last budget.
To suggest, honourable senator, that this has not been clear to Canadians is incorrect. As publicly noted, the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program will have generated an estimated $2.5 billion in net revenue for taxpayers. The government has taken the proper steps in securing our housing market and ensuring that we are and continue to be concerned about Canadian household debt. We believe we are on the right track in addressing these issues.
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Acting Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the answers to oral questions raised by Senator Chaput on February 29, 2012, concerning electoral boundaries, and by Senator Jaffer on March 7, 2012, concerning the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.
(Response to question raised by Hon. Maria Chaput on February 29, 2012)
How were the names of members of electoral boundaries commissions obtained? What was the process? Were there any interviews conducted, recommendations made, or CVs obtained? How did the Government ensure that these 20 members are a diverse group? Were there directives in this regard and, if so, by whom were they issued?
Pursuant to section 4 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, electoral boundaries commissions consist of three members, a chairperson and two other members.
- Section 5 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides that the chairperson of each commission is appointed by the chief justice of the province from among the judges of the court over which the chief justice presides.
- Section 6 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides that the other two members of each commission are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons "from among such persons resident in that province as the Speaker deems suitable".
Electoral boundaries are drawn by independent, non-partisan boundary commissions. The Government has no role to play in the appointment of commission members or the drawing of electoral boundaries.
Will the Government ensure that these commissions take official language minority communities into account during this process?
Pursuant to subsection 15(1) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, electoral boundaries commissions must draw boundaries so that the population of each electoral district in the province "shall, as closely as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quota for the province".
However, commissions may depart from this rule where "the commission considers it necessary or desirable" in order to "respect the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province" or to "maintain a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province".
For the purposes of the Official Languages Act, electoral boundaries commissions are federal entities. Each electoral boundaries commission is therefore subject to the requirements of the Official Languages Act.
Are the existing commissions going to hold only one public hearing or several? Will those public hearings be announced in a manner that gives the communities time to prepare their response?
Subsection 19(1) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act requires electoral boundaries commissions to hold "at least one" public hearing to hear representations by interested persons. However, commissions typically hold several public hearings in the course of their deliberations.
- Commissions must give notice of the time and place for public hearings by advertisement in the Canada Gazette and in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the province at least 30 days before the day on which the hearings commence.
- Persons interested in participating in the public hearings are required to give notice in writing within 23 days of the advertisement of the public hearing, although commissions may waive this requirement if they decide it is in the public interest to do so.
- Commissions also accept written submissions from interested parties.
Third Optional Protocol on Convention of the Rights of the Child
(Response to question raised by Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer on March 7, 2012)
Children's rights are of priority concern within Canada's foreign policy and development assistance. Canada is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its first two Optional Protocols. Canada is an active co-sponsor and supporter of the resolutions relating to child rights presented at the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
As with all international treaties, Canada will conduct a careful examination of the third Optional Protocol before it makes a decision.
The Government of Canada continues to work collaboratively with the provinces, territories and Canadians to promote and protect children's rights.
The rights of children in Canada are protected by domestic laws and policies at the federal and the provincial / territorial levels. In addition, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees many rights that protect children. Domestic remedies for violations of children's rights are available in Canadian courts. Children are also able to bring complaints under human rights legislation, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The rights of children at both the domestic and international levels remain a priority for our government and we continue to work hard to advance this issue.
Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis moved second reading of Bill S-10, An Act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
She said: Honourable senators, Canada has recognized for a long time that explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions, cause humanitarian consequences for civilians. Throughout the world, these weapons cause serious harm to social and economic development; threaten access to essential infrastructure; and injure, mutilate or, too often, kill innocent people.
Cluster munitions can be dropped from the air or launched from the ground. They disperse dozens or even hundreds of explosive submunitions, which can cover a large area in a short time, causing widespread damage and indiscriminate harm, particularly when they are used in or near populated areas. What is more, many of these submunitions do not detonate as anticipated and remain on the ground, which makes them a serious threat. They have the same effect as mines and may injure or kill civilians long after a conflict has ended. To date, it is estimated that these weapons have been used in approximately 34 countries and territories, often with devastating consequences. Nearly 98 per cent of all recorded cluster munitions casualties have been civilian.
For a long time, Canada has played a prominent role on the international stage in protecting civilians from explosive remnants of war. Honourable senators will no doubt remember that, in the 1990s, Canada led the way through the development, implementation and universal ratification — which is ongoing — of the Ottawa Convention on Landmines.
Today, we continue to fulfill this long-term commitment. That is why we are proud to present the bill prohibiting cluster munitions, which will make it possible to fully implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions in anticipation of Canada's ratification of this important treaty.
Canada was an active participant in the development of the convention, which was adopted in Dublin in May 2008 and came into effect in April 2010. Canada was among the first 94 countries to sign the convention in December 2008, and our country's key contribution throughout the negotiation process is widely recognized. Right now, 71 countries are party to the convention and 40 others have signed but not yet ratified it.
The government is determined to achieve the objective of banning cluster munitions, and it is convinced that the convention strikes a fair balance between humanitarian and security considerations. In addition to setting high humanitarian standards where cluster munitions are concerned, this document also allows the signatories, under section 21, to continue to engage in combined security operations with allies that have not signed — operations considered to be essential to international security — without breaching their duties under the convention.
This balance is important for Canada. Our country and a number of other allies have made that balance a top priority from day one of the negotiations of the convention. A number of major allies and signatories to the convention continue to subscribe to the importance of this balance. It allows us to solidify our objective to rid the world of cluster munitions while ensuring that the Canadian Forces can continue to participate in multinational operations with allies that are important to Canada but have not signed the convention, such as the United States.
The proposed Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act is the expression of this balance. First, it allows Canada to apply its humanitarian standards and fulfill its obligations by unequivocally prohibiting the offences listed in the convention. More specifically, the act prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, possession, transfer, import or export of cluster munitions. It also prohibits the stockpiling of cluster munitions on Canadian soil, since it prohibits any form of possession.
What is more, under the bill it is prohibited to assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any prohibited activity including knowingly and directly investing in the production of cluster munitions.
Second, the act allows Canada to continue to participate effectively in joint military operations with allies who are not party to the Convention. It provides for exceptions that give our military personnel the legal protection required to participate in operations with armed forces of countries that are not party to the Convention.
In this regard, it should be noted that multinational operations are of crucial importance for our national security interests and they permit us to make an international contribution. It is important that our men and women in uniform not have to accept unnecessary responsibility when carrying out their duties in such operations. These exceptions also apply to personnel on secondment to allied forces. Such exchanges contribute to the preservation of the unique military cooperation of Canada and the United States, which has incomparable benefits in terms of security, defence and industrial operations.
Having said that, members of the Canadian Forces are still prohibited from using cluster bombs in Canadian Forces operations and their use is strictly prohibited when they are solely responsible for choosing which munitions to use. In addition, the Canadian Forces will prohibit their members, through official policies, from using cluster munitions, training themselves or others in their use when they participate in exchanges with the armed forces of another country. Moreover, the transport of cluster munitions by means of transportation belonging to or controlled by Canadian Forces shall be prohibited.
Canada has never manufactured cluster munitions and has never used them in its operations, and the Canadian Forces have already implemented important measures to ensure Canada's compliance with the convention. The Canadian Forces do have such munitions; however, they have been withdrawn from active service and the last stocks will be destroyed in the next few years, a process that is already well under way. We are convinced that their destruction will be completed within eight years of the convention entering into force for Canada, as prescribed.
Canada is already committed to actively promoting the implementation and universalization of the convention. Our country attended both meetings of the states parties as an observer and oversaw the development of a work plan and an informal implementation structure for the convention, both of which received approval.
I would add that Canada has always been an international leader in funding efforts to eliminate the explosive remnants of war.
As the fifth-largest international donor to this effort, our country contributed over $30 million to such programs in 2010-11. Since 1999, we have contributed over $370 million. Recently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable John Baird, announced that our government will contribute $10 million to help Libya secure a number of weapons in the wake of the recent conflict, including explosive remnants of war.
In closing, Canada is determined to pursue its efforts to minimize human suffering caused by conventional weapons, including cluster munitions, and to promote the adoption, implementation and universalization of strict international standards, such as those set out in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Once again, this government is proud to ratify the convention and to implement all of its provisions by passing a federal law. The government will continue to address Canada's security and defence imperatives while we wait for the universalization of the convention.
(On motion of Senator Hubley, debate adjourned.)
Private Bill—Third Reading
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Acting Deputy Leader of the Government) moved that Bill S-1003, An Act to authorize Industrial Alliance Pacific Insurance and Financial Services Inc. to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of Quebec, be read the third time.
(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.)
Third Report of Committee Adopted
The Senate proceeded to consideration of the third report of the Standing Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators, (amendment to the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators), presented in the Senate on March 29, 2012.
Hon. Terry Stratton moved the adoption of the report.
He said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak to the third report of the Standing Committee on the Conflict of Interest for Senators and recommend its adoption.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Senators was adopted in May 2005. At the time, it was emphasized that the code was a work-in-progress and that only time and experience would tell if the choices made at the time were the best possible.
As an evolving document, the code may at any time be amended to adapt its provisions to contemporary realities and to enhance public confidence and trust in the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators. In that regard, your committee was granted authority to exercise general and constant oversight over the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators.
As part of this mandate, the committee ensures that the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators are clear and current. Your committee held numerous meetings since last fall to consider current issues relating to the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators. It met with the Senate Ethics Officer on two occasions. After thoughtful consideration, your committee is now proposing six amendments to the code. The objectives of these six amendments are: to adapt the provisions of the code to contemporary realities and practices; to avoid any misunderstanding about the outside activities of senators; to increase the transparency of the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators; and to enhance the public confidence and trust in the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators.
The first amendment that your committee is proposing is with respect to senators' employment, profession or business. There is currently some confusion regarding the disclosure of employment, profession or business. In section 28, the code provides a comprehensive list of the confidential disclosures senators must make to the Senate Ethics Officer. There is no express provision with respect to the disclosure of employment, profession or business. These are, however, often disclosed indirectly through the disclosure of sources of income.
Therefore, the committee proposes that a senator's employment, profession or business be disclosed to the Senate Ethics Officer, regardless of annual income. This disclosure requirement would be in addition to the existing disclosure requirements under section 28 of the code. This amendment would increase the transparency, accountability and public confidence in the conflict of interest regime applicable to senators. It would also avoid any misunderstanding about the outside activities of senators.
Second, your committee proposes public disclosure of income over $2,000 annually and of assets and liabilities over $10,000. Currently the code requires public disclosure of this information only for matters which could relate to the parliamentary duties and functions of the senator or could lead to a conflict of interest. This amendment would avoid any misunderstanding about the outside activities of senators. It would also increase the transparency of the conflict of interest regime applicable to the senators. Similarly, and for the same reason, information about the senator's employment, profession or business would also be included in the senator's public disclosure summary.
Third, the committee proposes that the senator's public disclosure summary be posted on the Senate Ethics Officer's website. Every year the Senate Ethics Officer prepares a public disclosure summary for each senator based on the information provided in our annual disclosure statements. While public disclosure summaries are public, they are made available to the public only in the office of the Senate Ethics Officer during business hours or by fax upon request. Your committee considers that these measures to provide access to our public disclosure summaries are not adapted to contemporary realities. It recommends that the public disclosure summaries be made available by utilizing more modern means of communication, as is the case in other jurisdictions, in addition to the existing measures through which they are made available to the public. This amendment would ensure that people from Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver or Dawson City would have the same access to information about public officials as people living in Ottawa.
The fourth amendment we are proposing pertains to the confidential disclosure relating to spouses and common-law partners. Currently our disclosure obligations with respect to family members are limited to contracts with the Government of Canada and gifts and other benefits when these are acceptable and in accordance with the code. This information is disclosed confidentially to the Senate Ethics Officer and is also included in the senators' public disclosure summaries.
It was suggested that providing information relating to spouses and common-law partners would enable the Senate Ethics Officer to give meaningful advice about the real and potential conflict of interest involving senators' spouses or common-law partners.
Therefore the committee proposes that with respect to his or her spouse or common-law partner only, and not other family members, the senator should disclose confidentially to the Senate Ethics Officer the same type of information about his or her spouse that he or she discloses confidentially to the Senate Ethics Officer about himself or herself.
This disclosure would remain confidential and not be made public. This disclosure would be to the best of the senator's knowledge, information and belief, ascertained by the senator's reasonable inquiry. As I have said, this disclosure obligation would fall upon senators and not their spouses and common-law partners. A senator would have to make reasonable inquiries and report what he or she believes to be true.
The proposed fifth amendment would require that inquiry reports of the Senate Ethics Officer be made public upon completion. Under the current provisions of the code, the Senate Ethics Officer reports confidentially to the committee upon the completion of an inquiry. The committee may then conduct an investigation and report to the Senate. The report of the committee and the report of the Senate Ethics Officer become public only when the committee reports to the Senate.
The committee proposes that an inquiry report from the Senate Ethics Officer should become public as soon as it is received by the committee and in the same form as it is received. The chair of the committee would table the inquiry report in this chamber at the first opportunity. If the Senate is prorogued or dissolved at the time, the report would be filed with the Clerk of the Senate.
I would like to underline that the name of the senator who was the subject of an inquiry would be kept confidential, as is the case at present if no breach of the code was found or if he or she requests that his or her name be kept confidential. This amendment would reinforce the independence of the Senate Ethics Officer, would ensure the integrity and public disclosure of his or her inquiry reports and would increase the transparency of the code.
The sixth and last amendment that the committee is proposing would facilitate senators' declarations of private interest. As all honourable senators know, each of us must make a declaration of private interest when we or members of our family have private interests that may be affected by a matter before the Senate or before a committee of which we are a member. The code currently requires that senators be present at the consideration of the matter in order to make a declaration of private interest. The committee proposes to allow written declarations of private interest without the requirement for the senator to be present at the consideration of the matter by the Senate or the committee.
As I have said, the purpose of this amendment would be to facilitate the declaration of private interest by senators.
The committee recommends that these six amendments to the code come into force on October 1, 2012. This would provide sufficient time for the committee and the Senate Ethics Officer to take any measures necessary to implement the new provisions of the code.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Senators is based on the power of the Senate to govern its internal affairs and discipline its members. This authority was entrusted to the Senate at the time of Confederation and has been part of its uncontested parliamentary privileges ever since. As a conflict of interest regime represents an exercise of its privileges by the Senate, the duties and functions accomplished and the information gathered in accordance with the code are, as a result, protected by parliamentary privilege and may be used only for the purpose for which they were gathered.
Conflict of interest rules for public officials have to meet a double threshold. They must be sufficiently open and transparent as regards the legitimate expectations of the public, and they must protect the legitimate expectancy of privacy of senators and their families. The committee believes that its six proposed amendments constitute an appropriate balance between these two criteria.
Honourable senators, it is without any hesitation that I recommend the adoption of the third report of the committee.
Senator Joyal: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: It has been moved by Senator Stratton and seconded by Senator Andreychuk that the third report of the Standing Senate Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators, amendment to the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, presented in the Senate on March 29, 2012, be now adopted.
Is it your pleasure, honourable senators to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Stratton: I want to thank everyone in the chamber for this. A lot of work was done by the committee. The second in command is Senator Joyal, and he and Senator Andreychuk are long-serving members of the committee, along with Senator Angus. Senator Cordy — and I wish to thank her as well — and I are recent additions to the committee. I want to thank all the committee members for their work and thank honourable senators for their cooperation in this chamber.
While I am up, I would like to introduce Ms. Ricard, our new Interim Senate Ethics Officer. Hopefully, if we treat her appropriately, she may become our permanent Senate Ethics Officer. Welcome to you, madam.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Stratton: His Honour was kind enough to send us all resumés of Ms. Ricard, which I suggest honourable senators read because it is a long, detailed and, I think, substantial resumé of her dedication to public service. Thank you.
(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)
Budget and Authorization to Engage Services and Travel—Study on the Evolving Legal and Political Recognition of the Collective Identity and Rights of the Métis—Fifth Report of Committee Adopted
Leave having been given to revert to Other Business, Reports of Committees, Order No. 1:
The Senate proceeded to consideration of the fifth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (budget—study on the evolving legal and political recognition of the collective identity and rights of Métis in Canada—power to hire staff and to travel), presented in the Senate on April 26, 2012.
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson moved the adoption of the report.
He said: Honourable senators, this is the fifth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We propose to study the evolving legal and political recognition of the collective identity and rights of Metis in Canada.
This is a subject that, we are informed by our venerable chair, Senator St. Germain, has not been studied before by our committee, a study of the Metis.
The report authorizes the committee to travel on fact-finding missions to hear from representatives of Metis in their communities in various locations in Canada — Western Canada, Northern Canada, northern Ontario and possibly the Maritimes.
Honourable senators, I would like to move the adoption of this report.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Some Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)
Seventh Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee and Request for Government Response Adopted
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Ogilvie, seconded by the Honourable Senator Patterson, that the seventh report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology entitled: Time for Transformative Change: A Review of the 2004 Health Accord, tabled in the Senate on March 27, 2012, be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 131(2), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the Minister of Health being identified as minister responsible for responding to the report.
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck: Honourable senators, I am pleased today to rise to speak to the report Time for Transformative Change: A Review of the 2004 Health Accord.
First, I want to thank all members of the committee, the researchers, the clerk and all others who worked so hard on this report. I especially want to thank the committee's chair, Senator Ogilvie, and our deputy chair, Senator Eggleton, for their leadership during this study.
I would like to thank all the witnesses who took the time to share their views with us. We heard from a wide variety of people: the Health Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Information, which are both responsible for monitoring progress in the implementation of the 10-Year Plan; federal and provincial government officials; health-professional organizations and service providers; and academics and research organizations. We also accepted written submissions from almost 30 organizations and individuals who wanted to share their thoughts with the committee.
There are both negative and positive comments about the health care system from people across the country. In polls, Canadians consistently name health as one of their most important issues. Overall, while the committee found that some progress had been made, there is still a great deal of work to do.
Senator Ogilvie and Senator Eggleton have already spoken extensively about the committee's findings and its recommendations, so I do not plan to repeat that information. However, I wish to comment on three areas of the report.
The first is the National Pharmaceutical Strategy. Back in 2004, the First Ministers agreed to establish a National Pharmaceutical Strategy. They set up a Ministerial Task Force, which included all the health ministers and was co-chaired by the federal minister. The task force would be responsible for the development and implementation of the strategy, which involved design and cost options for catastrophic pharmaceutical coverage.
The first progress report on the National Pharmaceutical Strategy was issued in September 2006, and it listed four significant accomplishments. First, federal-provincial-territorial representatives agreed on principles to guide development of a catastrophic drug coverage plan. These principles call for a plan that is universal, equitable, transparent, evidence based, integrated, and sustainable. Second, the task force developed and calculated costs for two plan designs based on either fixed or variable percentages of family income. Third, they agreed to expand the federal Common Drug Review as a basis for a national formulary. Fourth, the task force agreed to establish a national framework for a program that would cover expensive drugs for very rare diseases.
However, after the progress report in September 2006, work on the strategy stalled. A number of jurisdictions brought in their own programs, like catastrophic drug coverage, but as the committee noted in its report, access to and coverage of pharmaceuticals differ from province to province.
That is why the committee recommended that the federal government work with the provinces and territories to develop a national pharmacare program based on the principles of universal and equitable access for all Canadians, which would include a national catastrophic drug coverage program and a national formulary.
I am pleased with this recommendation. Though many Canadians receive some help with their drug costs through a patchwork of public and private insurance plans, this patchwork leads to inequities. Each province and territory has its own programs, with its own eligibility requirements and benefits levels. Depending on a person's province of residence, the assistance available can vary greatly.
According to a survey by Statistics Canada from 2009, about one quarter of Canadians are not covered by public drug plans through their provinces or territories. All in all, about 2 per cent of our population do not have prescription drug coverage at all. In the Maritimes and Alberta, the number of those who do not have drug coverage is between 20 to 30 per cent.
Canadians across the country are falling through the cracks. About 8 per cent of Canadians admit they did not fill a prescription in the previous 12 months because of financial costs. That should be unacceptable to us. Equal access to health care should never be based on where a person lives in Canada.
The second topic in the report that I wish to talk about today is home care. During the course of our study, the committee found that there has been some progress in improving access to services but that reporting by responsible jurisdictions was lacking. We also heard about the increased cost of drugs and supplies experienced by patients and families as a result of being treated out of hospital.
The committee made a number of recommendations on the issue of home care, including the development of indicators to measure the quality and consistency of home care, end-of-life care, and other continuing care services; the creation and implementation of an awareness campaign about the importance of planning end-of-life care; the expansion of public pharmaceutical coverage to drugs and supplies used by home care recipients; and the development and implementation of a strategy for continuing care that would integrate home, facility-based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems.
I am pleased with those recommendations. Certainly, we are seeing a lot of disparities between jurisdictions. For example, in my own province of P.E.I., coverage for medications, supplies, equipment and oxygen remains the responsibility of the individual if they are receiving their care at home. Due to the high costs in my province, patients want to stay in the hospital in order to ensure that their medications and equipment are covered. Being at home is now far more costly for the person and their family.
So we should be doing more to ensure that people can stay at home, as research shows that patients prefer to remain in their home and that the cost of providing care is less than in an acute-care setting.
As governments struggle to bring soaring health care costs under control, we must be looking at the long-term savings that can come from helping people to stay at home, rather than taking up beds in hospitals.
The third area I would like to address is prevention, promotion and public health. The committee heard that it was important not only to address issues like chronic disease or obesity but also to address health disparities and the social determinants of health that contribute to those disparities. When the Subcommittee on Population Health, under the leadership of Senator Keon, did its study into the impact of these social determinants, we noted they can greatly affect relative health status. I am glad the committee recommended the following:
That the federal government work with provincial and territorial, and municipal governments to develop a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy that prioritizes healthy living, obesity, injury prevention, mental health, and the reduction of health inequities among Canadians, with a particular focus on children, through the adoption of a population-health approach that centres on addressing the underlying social determinants of health.
Public policy should focus on and strive to narrow the health inequities between Canadians of different socio-economic backgrounds. We would all benefit from it. A healthy population requires less government spending on health care, income support and social services. It will also encourage economic growth and productivity. Being healthy allows people to be more productive, and higher productivity brings about economic growth. The benefits from preventing heart disease alone are estimated to be about $20 billion per year by the year 2020. The rewards are not only economic; healthy citizens participate more actively and make greater contributions in their own communities.
Healthy living is also important to overall health. Right now, the obesity problem in this country just gets worse. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 13 million adult Canadians are considered overweight or obese. For children, 26 per cent are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity in Canada has tripled over the past 30 years, but a focus on healthy living could change that.
For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada notes that people who are physically active live longer, healthier lives. Active people are more productive and more likely to avoid illness and injury. According to a 2005 study by the Public Health Agency, the economic burden of physical inactivity is more than $5 billion, both in direct health care expenditures and in indirect costs such as loss of productivity and premature death. The cost of physical inactivity to the health care system alone was estimated to be almost $2 billion per year.
Honourable senators, there is much to be done to transform the health care system. The committee believes that the implementation of the recommendations in our report would go a long way to making that happen. I hope the federal government and the provincial and territorial partners take these recommendations and use them as a base for further collaboration and innovation. I urge the quick adoption of this report so that the government can begin its work.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, is there further debate or questions? Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Some Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Cowan calling the attention of the Senate to the 30th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has done so much to build pride in our country and our national identity.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I did speak to Senator Andreychuk, and I know that the inquiry is adjourned in her name, so I ask that when speakers today finish speaking it be adjourned again in the name of Senator Andreychuk.
Honourable senators, as we all know, April 17 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The thirty years have gone by quickly, and I am sure many can remember clearly the signing of the document by Prime Minister Trudeau and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Parliament Hill.
Unfortunately, the Harper government refused to mark this milestone in a significant way, so I am thankful to Senator Cowan for initiating this inquiry to provide the opportunity for senators to recognize the anniversary of the signing of this important document.
The Charter helped entrench Canadian shared values, and it reflects our beliefs that Canadians have a fundamental right to live free from discrimination based on race, religion, gender or disabilities. Canadian are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. They have freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.
I feel a great sense of pride when I travel around the world as a representative of Canada when attending NATO meetings. Canada garners much respect and is held in high esteem around the globe. I am always deeply honoured to represent our country. It is this same sense of pride all Canadians should feel and indeed do feel with respect to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document that is admired the world over.
This admiration is evident as many countries have looked to Canada's Constitution and Charter for guidance when it comes to the drafting of their own constitutions. A forthcoming study by two law professors in the United States analyzed the content of 729 constitutions drafted between 1946 and 2006 and found that the U.S. Constitution no longer serves as the main source of inspiration for constitution-making around the world. Rather, it is Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms that now leads the way in providing that inspiration.
The Canadian Charter most appropriately addresses the values and concerns shared by most common-law nations today in a way the American Constitution does not. It is worth noting that the American Constitution is the oldest national constitution in force and, as such, is not as attractive a blueprint to address today's values and modern problems. An example of that can be found in the ways the two documents address equality, a value that has become a fundamental right underpinning multicultural, multiracial and multi-religious nations of today. The U.S. Constitution does not protect rights of freedom from discrimination based on race or sex, whereas those rights are distinctly protected in Canada's Charter.
The protection of these equality rights was also a major reason officials in South Africa looked to Canada's Charter when drafting their laws regarding the rights of their citizens in the 1990s.
The Charter has also been an influence in Israel's basic laws on human rights, as well as the drafting of the bill of rights in Hong Kong, South Africa and New Zealand.
It is encouraging to discover that Canadian values are shared not just by us but are values that many the world over wish to enshrine in law. We should be proud to celebrate the fact that we are a beacon of light for the peoples of other nations wanting to develop and entrench in their own societies the rights and freedoms that provide for a free and just society.
Bob Rae spoke in favour of the Charter in the other place 30 years ago, and he voted for the patriation of the Constitution 30 years ago. On the thirtieth anniversary on April 17 of this year, Mr. Rae stated:
The Charter enshrines our most cherished Canadian values. It reflects our belief that Canadians have a fundamental right to live free from discrimination, to assemble peacefully and express our opinions, to vote in elections unimpeded, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and fundamentally, that our individual rights take precedence over the rights of government.
Honourable senators, the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be celebrated by all Canadians, regardless of what political party they may support. It makes Canadians who we are. It is our Charter, a Charter for all Canadians, helping to shape our collective identity. It should not be ignored.
Thank you, honourable senators.
Hon. Vivienne Poy: Honourable senators, I rise today to take part in this inquiry on the thirtieth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As an immigrant to Canada and a visible minority, I consider the Charter to be one of the unique determining factors that defines me as a Canadian. The core values as expressed through the Charter bind me to other Canadians in a shared sense of citizenship.
I am aware of the political scenario that existed when the Charter was brought into being, initially without the support of the Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, as well as of the British High Commissioner to Canada, John Ford, because they believed that the House of Commons should be supreme in the interpretation of the rights of its citizens. There was also a lack of the desired backing from all the provinces.
I do recognize that the Charter is not perfect. However, time has proven that our Canadian model works well in our multicultural society, and whether one likes the term "multiculturalism" or not, diversity is a fact of life in Canada.
After the Second World War, due to our declining birth rate and our aging population, the Canadian government had to turn to immigration for population growth and economic prosperity. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 was timely because the 1980s were the years when the immigration of visible minorities increased dramatically. Since then, the Canadian population has become increasingly diverse and, while our pluralistic groups cultivate common ground in Canadian society, the Charter became the instrument with which to interpret and articulate our national values while simultaneously preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
The Charter is not just a legal document. It is expressed in our thinking and in our way of life. It is expressed in our language rights and it has advanced the equality of women. It can be seen in the multicultural curriculum in our schools, in our celebration of many religions, and in our recognition of Black History Month, as well as Asian Heritage Month, which happens to begin today.
It is reflected in our horror at the bullying of gays and others who may be perceived as different from ourselves.
The Charter reflects Canada's struggle with the challenges of a modern, multicultural, multilingual society, and it confirms that we are a participant in a global world. It is a document that entails compromise and dialogue. It protects religious freedoms and multiculturalism and simultaneously safeguards gender rights and the rights of gays and lesbians. It recognizes collective rights while acknowledging the paramount importance of individual rights. It has a unique structure for balancing what may appear to be opposing interests. It is a distinctly Canadian document in that, just as Canada was founded on the basis of dialogue and engagement, the Charter balances the rights and freedoms of many groups that make up our society. As a result of Charter jurisprudence, Canada has become a moral leader in the world.
Today, I want to focus on the Charter's effects on the multiculturalism policy adopted in 1971 and on our broader approach to our very diverse population.
It was the Charter that gave weight to the policy, through article 2, that guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief and expression, peaceful assembly and association. Article 15 extends the effects of article 2 by promising equality before the law to enjoy these freedoms without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disabilities. Article 27 is an explicit statement of Canada's commitment to "the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians."
In 1985, just three years after the passage of the Charter, one of the most pivotal cases in terms of the rights of immigrants to Canada occurred in the case of Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration, where refugees were found to have the same rights as Canadian citizens. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Immigration Act was unconstitutional because it effectively denied refugee claimants the right to a fair hearing and, as a result, they could be deprived of the security of the person in a manner that is not in keeping with principles of fundamental justice, a violation of section 7 of the Charter which states that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person."
The court also ruled that, according to section 2 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, persons had a right to a full and fair hearing of their case. Since then, April 4 has been recognized as Refugee Rights Day. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, "This decision significantly changed Canada's refugee determination process and helped lead to the creation of the IRB as we know it."
Shortly after this, Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh, applied to the RCMP for acceptance into the force. He met the entrance requirements, but was initially told that he would have to give up wearing the turban in favour of the force's traditional hat. He was allowed to train with no guarantee that he could wear the turban after graduation. The RCMP Commissioner, Norman Inkster, sided with Dhillon in April 1989 and proposed a change to the RCMP rules. A petition to retain the traditional dress went to Parliament and, in March 1990, Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux, responsible for the RCMP, gave his ruling allowing the wearing of the turban in the RCMP. The decision marked another victory for Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The fact that Dhillon could wear his turban as an RCMP officer established a precedent that opened the door for all Sikh Canadians to enter the RCMP.
Over 10 years later, Gurbaj Singh Multani's ceremonial kirpan fell out of its cloth holder in school. The mother of another student saw it and complained, and the principal sent Gurbaj home. Over the course of many years and many court decisions, the issue of whether Gurbaj could carry his kirpan, as required by the Sikh religion, found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada where, in an eight-to-zero decision on March 2, 2006, the court ruled that a total ban on the kirpan in schools violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms' section on religious freedom.
Most recently, the Supreme Court of Canada is considering whether a sexual assault complainant may testify in court while wearing a niqab for religious reasons. One of the defendants in a sexual assault case claimed that his right to full answer and defence was infringed by the complainant, N.S., testifying while wearing her niqab. He argued that, in order to effectively cross-examine the complainant, it is essential to be able to observe her demeanor. No doubt, this case will have a far-reaching impact on many Canadians.
The Charter does not prioritize the courts over Parliament, even though it may challenge legislation that may have been drafted without consideration of the broader implications for all groups.
Currently, there is legislation in the other place that impacts refugee rights and some groups have indicated that this may be subjected to Charter challenges. The Charter recognizes that the best outcome occurs when there is dialogue and engagement between Parliament and the courts.
The Charter is an uniquely Canadian achievement, and it is recognized as a great accomplishment worldwide. In addition to our public health care, Canada's reputation in the world is largely based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the artful way it weighs competing interests. While recognizing that there are norms that all citizens must follow and that these norms are continuously changing, the Charter is the means by which the courts can respond to reflect society's attitudes. It engages both the minority and the majority in negotiation and dialogue.
Over the past 30 years, Canada has become a freer and fairer country. Honourable senators, it was not the norm to have women in policing, in law, in medicine or in the Armed Forces 30 years ago, but all of this has changed and so have society's attitudes.
The same can be said about our support for gay marriage. Only a few years after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, with much debate, the rights of gays to marry have become a non-issue. This shows the importance of the positive influence of the Charter on Canadian society.
The same is true for the many other groups who have been impacted by the Charter. It would be interesting for honourable senators to know that the legal protection for minority rights under the Charter is of utmost importance among well-educated immigrants I have spoken to. It was the deciding factor for them to come to Canada instead of the United States. These are the immigrants Canada needs.
I am very proud that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has shaped Canada as a progressive country among nations over the last three decades. The Americans call Canada "the new constitutional superpower," and the Canadian model has been studied, emulated and adopted abroad. On the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter, I celebrate with all Canadians the document that unites us as citizens of this great country.
(On motion of Senator Poy, for Senator Andreychuk, debate adjourned.)
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I wish to draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of two distinguished members of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick: the Honourable Madeleine Dubé, Minister of Health; and Mr. Jack Carr, MLA, New Maryland—Sunbury West.
Welcome to the Senate of Canada.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Robichaud, P.C., calling the attention of the Senate to the 2009 poverty reduction strategy of New Brunswick.
Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool: Honourable senators, today I wish to follow up on the inquiry made by my colleague from New Brunswick, Senator Robichaud, on February 7, 2012, regarding poverty in our province and the provincial government's strategy to reduce or eliminate it.
Today I wish to talk to you about one particular aspect of poverty, that is, poverty among seniors, and even more specifically, among older women. As a woman myself, I know I will one day be a senior, and perhaps older, but I will never be old.
In February, the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation sent the government a submission summarizing the factors that contribute to poverty among seniors. Some of them are a lack of pension, a low level of education, being a non-integrated immigrant, illness or the onset of chronic illness, wage inequities and disability.
The federation also confirmed that single women, single mothers and older women carry a higher burden of poverty. According to the federation, half of seniors' income depends on transfer payments and these payments are four times greater for seniors than they are for other recipients in our society.
In its recommendations, the federation suggests increasing Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments. The federation also recommends that the federal government increase its contribution to the Canada Pension Plan so the plan can pay out twice as much in payments to beneficiaries. Seniors would then have enough income to rise above the poverty line. According to Statistics Canada, this threshold is calculated based on three variables: the pre-tax low income cut-off, the post-tax low income measure and the market basket measure.
In New Brunswick, for a family of two adults and two children, this combined poverty line corresponds roughly to an annual income of $24,300 in rural areas, $23,900 in the capital, Fredericton, and $22,900 in Moncton.
According to the 2006 census, 13.8 per cent of people in New Brunswick live below the poverty line. That represents a bit more than 100,000 people. Out of the nearly 119,000 people over 65 living in my province, more than 11 per cent — or 11,700 people — live below the poverty line. The current percentage of seniors in the province is 15.8 per cent, which is higher than the national average of 14 per cent. In 25 years, it is predicted that a quarter of the population of my province will be over 65.
The statistics from the 2006 census also show us that more than 45 per cent of the 29,000 single mothers in my province live in poverty. Others who are potentially living in poverty: half of the 93,000 single people who earn a maximum annual salary of $20,000. When you consider that the average life expectancy of women is 81, compared to 74 for men, you realize that poverty among seniors is a women's issue.
These annual incomes are inadequate, honourable senators. On average in my province, it costs $6,100 a year for food and $9,100 a year for housing. Add those sums together and you have minimum annual expenses of $15,200. For clothing, fuel, licensing fees and some recreational activities, there remains only $4,800 a year on average for a single person and less than $9,000 for a single mother. Now think about single seniors or older single mothers and you will see that the situation for our seniors, our female seniors, is far from rosy.
Only 122,000 New Brunswickers contribute to a registered pension plan, which means that most of the seniors in my province are left to the mercy of their savings and government contributions, whether they be in the form of provincial social assistance or the federal Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement programs. This is a difficult situation, honourable senators, and it will only become more difficult now that the current federal government has decided to increase the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement to 67 by 2025. This measure in the most recent federal budget is going to cause a lot of harm to my province.
What can be done to help seniors escape from poverty? The Association acadienne et francophone des aînées et aînés du Nouveau Brunswick has made a number of recommendations.
During the most recent provincial election campaign in New Brunswick, in the fall of 2010, the AAFANB raised the following issues that contribute to poverty among seniors in New Brunswick:
- Property taxes that increase each year and force some seniors to abandon their homes;
- The high cost of ambulance services, which compromise seniors' health;
- The fact that women have less access to workplace retirement plans and receive fewer benefits than men;
- The need to increase the contributions of workers and employers from 5.33 per cent to 7 per cent; and
- The need to increase the basic welfare rate to help the most vulnerable members of society.
The AAFANB recommended that the provincial government:
- Impose higher taxes on people who earn over $150,000 a year;
- Raise corporate tax rates to 13 per cent;
- Invest more in home care;
- Invest in volunteerism by people aged 50 and over;
- Achieve pay equity for child care workers;
- Initiate a generic drug policy;
- Increase provincial income by creating highway tolls for motorists entering the province; and
- Keep the HST at its current level so as not to penalize the poor of the province.
Unfortunately, in its budget tabled March 27, the Government of New Brunswick did not respond to any of these recommendations, except to allocate the small amount of $6.4 million to address pay equity; fortunately, the government did not increase the HST.
I know that my province, like others in Canada, is facing financial difficulties. However, I find it regrettable that seniors continue to be ignored when planning the future of New Brunswick.
Premier David Alward recently established a panel on seniors, which will be submitting its report to the government this summer. I hope that this expert panel will recommend useful solutions and that these solutions will be implemented as quickly as possible.
(On motion of Senator Losier-Cool, for Senator Tardif, debate adjourned.)
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Champagne, P.C., calling the attention of the Senate to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Hon. Terry Stratton: Honourable senators, I would like to speak briefly today to Senator Champagne's inquiry on euthanasia and assisted suicide.
I would first like to pay tribute to Senator Champagne for her courage in what she went through a couple of years ago. It was an incredible story of the spark of life that resides in us all as she fought against all odds, with the help of a brilliant young doctor, to survive an otherwise deadly disease. My hat is off to her for that courage and her struggle and desire for life. I commend her for that incredible journey.
I also want to commend her today for another battle that she is fighting of a personal nature in her family. I know that it is indeed tough.
There are others in this room as well who are facing difficult times and have survived severe battles with cancer and other things. We have to take our hats off to them for those struggles and admire them for their courage. Senator Fred Dickson passed away after a four-year battle with cancer, but he turned up, whenever he was able to, with a smile and quiet dedication, and with quiet courage in the battle that he ultimately lost.
Others in this room are looking after people who require care as a result of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, dementia and others. These individuals show dedication beyond what I would call the norm because of their love and caring for people. We have to take our hats off to them for that. They do it not only in the short term but struggle with these people in their final days. It is amazing that they have the courage to continue because it is not a walk in the park.
My hat is off to all people and in particular senators in this room who are dedicating their lives to looking after others.
I had intended to speak about euthanasia, but I feel that is inappropriate because this is Senator Champagne's inquiry. It is an inquiry into life, the spark and vitality in all of us, and the drive to protect life and help those in need. That is how I interpret her dedication. I would like to leave it at that rather than going on with what I really want to say.
I will put a motion on the Order Paper in the next couple of weeks on the end-of-life issue that we all ultimately have to face. I think it is appropriate that we talk about that at this time. Who better to do that than this chamber?
The Hon. the Speaker: If there are no other senators wishing to speak to this inquiry, the inquiry is considered debated.
Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Powers and Responsibilities of the Officers of Parliament and Their Reporting Relationships to the Two Houses—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Acting Deputy Leader of the Government), pursuant to notice of March 27, 2012, moved:
That the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration be authorized to examine and report on the powers and responsibilities of the officers of parliament, and their reporting relationships to the two houses; and
That the committee present is final report no later than March 31, 2013.
He said: I would like to bring the attention of honourable senators to a letter dated February 16 of last year entitled "The Accountability of Agents of Parliament" signed by the seven officers of Parliament: the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages; the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the Commissioner of Lobbying.
With leave, I would like to table copies of the letter in both official languages.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is that agreed, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Hon. the Speaker: So ordered.
Senator Comeau: The letter, honourable senators, was addressed to the Speaker of the House of Commons; the Chair of the Advisory Panel on the Funding and Oversight of Officers of Parliament; the Standing Committee on Public Accounts; the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of the House of Commons; the Standing Committee on Official Languages; the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics; and the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Copies were sent to the clerk of each of these committees.
Copies were also sent to the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Treasury Board Secretariat. The Speaker of the Senate was also copied. However, as you know, he does not chair a committee and, therefore, he cannot follow up the letter and no instructions were given regarding this letter.
I believe that the exclusion of senators from the list of recipients raises a number of serious questions about our duties and responsibilities as members of Canada's Parliament. Although the senders call themselves agents of Parliament, the fact that they excluded the Senate suggests that these agents do not believe senators have a role to play in this issue.
Exclusion of senators seems to indicate that we are not part of Parliament.
Unlike the Commons, no Senate committee chair or clerk received a copy of the letter. Given that the Senate is one of the two Houses of Parliament and that the senders call themselves agents of Parliament, why did they exclude the chairs of Senate committees? Did the agents of Parliament simply forget the Senate?
Is it possible that they consider the Senate to be unimportant and undeserving of their attention? Do they consider themselves agents of the House of Commons, not of Parliament?
Incidentally, I learned of this letter by way of an article that appeared in The Hill Times. I recently read in the Ottawa Citizen dated December 23, 2011, that the officers of Parliament wrote a follow-up letter in September. As far as I know, the Senate was again excluded.
The value of our institution may well be questioned by the media and the official opposition in the other place, but it is my view that the officers of Parliament have no business defining our roles and responsibilities. Otherwise, we would be remiss in our duties toward this institution.
Another concern in the letter is their self-designation as agents of Parliament." The letter claims that "Agents of Parliament" is the term used by government because the term "Officers of Parliament" is confusing.
Apart from the legal issues raised by the agent-principal relationship, I would suggest that the officers have added to the confusion even more by using the term agent in French, rather than the more precise term mandataire.
I did find, when I was reviewing some of these old documents, where an agent of Parliament — the Auditor General — referred to that position as a mandataire. They used the words interchangeably. I am quoting from a document where the Auditor General said:
As Officers, or Agents, of Parliament, we report directly to Parliament on matters covered by our mandates . . .
Be that as it may, it seems interchangeable between agent and mandataire.
It would be important to confirm if they are truly agents of parliamentarians in the legal sense of the word. If not, what does the designation "Agent of Parliament" mean? Where did this assignment of agency originate? When and who in government has assigned and authorized this designation? Was Parliament consulted? Does this agent designation assume that we have delegated our responsibilities to agents and that they are speaking and acting on our behalf as our agents? What are the legal, political and constitutional implications of this agency assignment or designation?
In fact, can parliamentarians legally and constitutionally delegate authority, responsibility and accountability to agents? Exactly what are we delegating? What is the extent or the limits of the delegated authority to the agents? Should we not at least take the cautious step of getting a legal opinion on the implications of this agent-principal assignment? If we do not object, is there an implicit agreement that we accept and thereby entrench the agent-principal contract? Have Commons parliamentarians authorized this agent designation in a formal way?
Given that the Parliament consists of the Commons, the Senate and the Governor General, are the officers of Parliament therefore also agents of the Governor General? Can they be agents of the head of state? If not, are they truly officers or agents of Parliament?
I started checking in various dictionaries what the definition of "agent" is, and I will go through a few of them here. The references are quite similar. Basically it says that the principal assigns powers and responsibilities.
Merriam-Webster describes an agent thus:
One who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.
In regards to agency. An act done by one agent within the scope of his authority binds the principal in the same manner as if the principal himself had done it. A universal agent is one appointed to act for the principal in all matters.
Another definition states:
Those who do an act and those who consent to it being done are visited with the same penalty.
In other words, if an agent does something on our behalf we are responsible; we have given that assignment.
Interestingly, Jowitt also says:
An agent who represents himself to have an authority when in fact he has none is liable for a breach of implied warranty of authority.
The agents of Parliament are calling themselves our agents when they may not have the authority to pass that on. However, if we do not act on it, are we in fact implicitly saying that they do have it?
Wikipedia says an agent in commercial law is:
. . . a person who is authorized to act on behalf of another (called the principal) to create a legal relationship with a third party.
I presume we are not talking about commercial law here, but it is still the same.
I would like to refer to testimony from the Senate Committee of the Whole of December 12, 2011, which we held regarding the nomination of Mario Dion for Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. I will quote the comments as they appear in Hansard.
Senator Comeau asked a question:
You are saying that we have given you, through the act, part of our constitutional responsibility to act as our agent, rather than to act as an officer?
The response from Mr. Dion:
If my appointment is approved.
He was basically saying, "Yes, if you approve my appointment, I will be acting as your agent."
Senator Comeau said:
You are saying that you will become an agent. I think you are equating the word "agent" with "mandataire," "mandated."
Mr. Dion's response was:
Yes, to act on someone's behalf.
There is little doubt there that he is talking about our behalf. There seems to be no ambiguity in his mind whatsoever that he is acting and speaking on our behalf as our agent.
We should all exercise great caution in assigning agency to the officers of Parliament. From time to time, some of us might disagree with the government policies of certain officers of Parliament, and we reserve the right to express that disagreement. But if the officer is our agent, can we disagree with him or her? Moreover, do we really want to hand over the little bit of power we hold as members of Canada's Parliament to others?
Other concerns are raised in the letter, and you will have a chance to read it. It refers to "guardians of Canadian values," on page 3. It is in one of the paragraphs there. They say in that paragraph that officers of Parliament describe themselves as "guardians of values that transcend the political objectives and partisan debates of the day."
I may have misinterpreted the meaning, but the statement leaves me very uncomfortable in that we would have them as the guardians of values that transcend the political objectives in partisan debates of the day. What does that mean? Are officers of Parliament in fact mandated to transcend or be above parliamentarians? Are they truly mandated to guard or protect Canadians from the political and partisan debates of parliamentarians? We should seek clarification on what this means.
On page 3, point 3, the section on departmental audit committees seems to suggest that parliamentary officers requested an exemption from Treasury Board policy and are therefore allowed to appoint their own "independent" departmental audit committee members.
I ask the question: Is this appropriate? How can independent departmental audit committee members be independent if they are appointed by the officer of Parliament that they are mandated to audit? How can the audit committee members provide objective, independent advice if their position is indebted to the very officer of Parliament who makes their appointment?
At page 4, point four, agents are auditing one another. Officers audit one another. Does this not create a weakness because one officer may not wish to be too harsh on the officer who may be auditing the first officer in the next few weeks?
The Senate was excluded from the discussion, but I wonder if consideration was given to appointing independent auditors who do not audit one another.
On page 5, in the second paragraph, point 5 is the formalization of the oversight role of the parliamentary advisory panel on funding and oversight. It would be important for us to review the 2005 framework agreement on which we were again not consulted or invited.
What is the composition of this panel, which has been operational since 2005 and chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons? This is a House of Commons panel. Why was consideration not given to forming a joint committee, similar to the one on the Library of Parliament and others?
Who are the panel members? Who appoints the panel members? It is not us.
Does the committee operate in public? If not, why is it not transparent and open?
Turning to pages 5, 6 and 7, it refers to the Corbett report. Honourable senators will be reading this in the letter. We should get copies and review the terms of reference and the report.
Who commissioned the study? Was it the government, the Commons or the Senate? Was the Senate involved in any way? Was the Senate copied? What was Corbett's mandate? Is the Senate mentioned at all in the report? I have not seen the report, but it is supposedly out there as handed over to the House of Commons.
On page 6, under "The Agents of Parliament support the formalization of the Advisory Panel in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons," again, the Senate is excluded. Is it appropriate for the officers of Parliament to exclude and ignore the Senate from this public policy decision? Would it not be reasonable for the Senate to at least be informed, if not consulted on this decision? Is it acceptable for the Senate to be ignored in these public policy decisions?
I would like to propose some suggested issues to examine as we proceed with this, if the motion is adopted eventually.
We should critically examine the substance of the letter; prepare a timeline of decisions on the funding and oversight initiatives; and review and summarize the Commons' meetings on the subject and follow-up actions as a result of the letter.
May I seek five more minutes?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Comeau: We should review the panel deliberations and decisions. What messages are the officers trying to convey?
We should consider the merits of the criticisms of the Commons parliamentarians to whom the officers addressed the letter. In the letter they criticize the Commons. Are we also subject to this criticism? We do not know, because we were excluded. Would the same criticism apply to Senate parliamentarians if they had been sent the letter?
Is it fair for officers of Parliament to conclude that Commons committees and, possibly, Senate committees are not doing their job? Are the officers now independent of parliamentary oversight? In fact, who do the officers ultimately report to: directly to Canadians, to each other, to the media or to Parliament?
Who oversees the officers or agents of Parliament? Does the presentation of an annual report to Parliament meet the oversight criteria? What mechanisms are already in place to oversee the activities of officers of Parliament? Have the officers correctly determined that "the current accountability framework governing officers of Parliament is sound"?
What are their mandates? Are their mandates significantly different? What are the scope and limitations of the ombudsmen's mandates? How far does their power to participate directly and publicly in political activities and partisan debates extend?
Are the officers or agents of Parliament free to disregard public instructions from Parliament and to lobby for new government policies? How do their mandates and powers compare with those in other parliamentary jurisdictions?
To guide us, we should invite experts such as Donald Savoie and many others who have published on this subject. We should also invite the government's representatives to answer our questions.
I have a motion for committee to study the issues raised by the letter: Given the numerous questions raised by the letter, I propose the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration be authorized to consider the contents of the letter. This is not a government issue; this is a parliamentary issue. It is a reasonable study to learn why the Senate was excluded from the letter and to seek clarification of a number of issues raised by the letter.
It is reasonable to evaluate the extent of the powers, limitations, responsibilities, authority and relationship of officers of Parliament with both Commons and Senate parliamentarians.
I appeal to our collective duty to protect and uphold the honour of our institution and for all senators to join with me in a non-partisan effort to get answers to the serious questions raised by this letter and to make it clear that we take our responsibilities seriously.
Hon. Anne C. Cools: Honourable senators, I note that Senator Comeau in his brilliant speech made reference to particular documents. Could he table those documents? It would be so much easier for us to get access to them if he would table them.
Senator Comeau: Yes. I did make reference to the letters. In fact, I did ask for permission to table them in both official languages. There was just one mention of a line from a report, but I can have that available to anyone who wants it.
Hon. Serge Joyal: Would the honourable senator accept some questions?
Senator Comeau: Yes, of course.
Senator Joyal: The text of the motion indicates that Senator Comeau would like to refer the letter he mentioned to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. After listening attentively, I came to the conclusion that many of the questions that Senator Comeau raised are constitutional in nature.
In fact, his argument is essentially based on the defence of the institution of the Senate, its powers and its role as defined in the Constitution. Should this question not be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, where most of the members have already addressed the status of the Senate, its role, its duties and its privileges during previous work that I do not need to get into?
Accordingly, that committee appears to be better equipped, not that I do not sympathize with the formidable work that the members of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy do, but in terms of substance, I believe that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs would be better equipped to thoroughly examine the implications of the letter the senator read.
Senator Comeau: The senator indicated that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was very busy. That is one of the reasons why I did not consider it to examine this matter.
However, generally speaking, the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration regularly meets with a certain number of officers of Parliament and several matters could be researched by this committee, which has more time. It would certainly be interesting to look at the whole constitutional aspect of this matter.
(On motion of Senator Tardif, debate adjourned.)
(The Senate adjourned until Wednesday, May 2, 2012, at 1:30 p.m.)