Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise and speak here today. This is my first opportunity to participate in a debate in this new session.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming.
I read the throne speech with a great deal of interest. I think many people in this Chamber were waiting to hear what the government had to say. We found it quite interesting that the government dealt with justice. What is interesting is that the government says that it will immediately tackle violent crime and that it is the only party in the House that looks at getting tough on crime.
I have listened to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and to his parliamentary secretary talk about how the opposition parties obstructed the Conservative criminal justice agenda in the last Parliament. I find it quite amusing but I am dismayed to think that any Canadian listening to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice or any of those Conservatives elected to the House of Commons and some of the ones over in the Senate would actually believe that the opposition parties tried to obstruct the criminal justice agenda of the Conservative Party.
I would like to present a few facts before this House.
The Conservative government tabled 13 justice bills in the House of Commons from its first throne speech in 2006 following the 2006 election. When the Prime Minister prorogued the House this past summer, of those 13 bills, Her Majesty's official opposition, the Liberal Party of Canada, under the leadership of the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, supported, unconditionally, 10 of those 13 justice bills put forward by the Conservatives. It goes even further.
On October 26, 2006, the official opposition House leader, along with the then Liberal justice critic who is the member for London West and who is now the chair of the national Liberal caucus justice committee, made a formal public offer to the Conservative government to put our votes behind the Conservative votes in order to fast track the adoption at all stages of several of the government's bills. One of those bills included the age of consent legislation.
Had the Conservative government, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Conservative members of Parliament accepted the Liberal offer on October 26, 2006 to fast track Bill C-22, the age of protection would have been 16 years.
The Conservatives refused to take us up on it. Not only did they refuse to take us up on it, they allowed Bill C-22 to sit on the order paper for 130 days after they first tabled it in the House. When did they finally table their motion to move second reading debate? They tabled it on October 30, 2006, four days after the Liberals made an offer to fast track that bill. It finally put a fire under their bushel and they finally tabled a motion to move it for debate at second reading. Once the debate at second reading was finished, it took 142 days before that Conservative government moved the vote at second reading of Bill C-22.
I would like to know whether the Minister of Justice, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, or the Prime Minister of Canada have explained to Canadians why the age of consent today is still 14, when it could have been 16 as of October 26, 2006. But that is not enough. They wanted to use that bill as a hammer against the opposition parties to try and paint the opposition parties in the minds of Canadians as being soft on crime and not caring about our children, as being willing to have our children preyed upon. They continued to delay that bill, so much so that the Liberals in March 2007 offered again to fast track that bill. Did the Conservatives take us up on it? No, they did not.
We then in desperation tabled an opposition motion that would have had Bill C-22, which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16, adopted at all stages. What was the response of the Conservative government which claims that it is interested in the safety of Canadians, in the safety of our children? The Conservatives obstructed our opposition motion. They used an arcane procedure in order to deem it unreceivable. They blocked speedy passage of their own bill. It is unconscionable.
Let us look at Bill C-32, the impaired driving act. That bill was brought in originally by the member for Mount Royal when he was the minister of justice and attorney general of Canada under the previous Liberal government. We went to an election. Unfortunately, the NDP colluded with the Conservatives, defeated the Liberal government and now we have the NDP gift to Canadians, a Conservative government.
The government finally re-tabled Bill C-32. When did the Conservatives do it? Did they do it at their first opportunity after the election when Parliament came back at the beginning of February 2006? No, they only tabled it again in the House on November 21, 2006, some 10 months later. Then they let it sit on the order paper for 77 days. They did not move second reading until February 6, 2007.
That was another bill which the Liberals offered to fast track. We saw it just sitting on the order paper. Anyone who knows anything about the procedural rules of the House of Commons knows that only the government can move its legislation from one stage to another. The opposition cannot do it. If the government does not move debate at second reading, it does not happen.
When the government finally moved debate at second reading, it was debated for a very brief period in the House. All the opposition parties were in agreement to get the bill into committee quickly. The bill went into committee. It only sat in committee for 20 days, and during those 20 days there was the Easter vacation. The committee sent the bill back to the House. It spent one day in the House at report stage and third reading and that is it. That is the bill we wanted to see law.
For reverse onus, it is the same darn thing. We offered twice to fast track the bill. We tried to fast track it by way of an opposition day motion. The Conservatives blocked their own bill.
When the Conservatives appear on camera, when they hold press conferences, when they send out householders and when they target members of the opposition, in particular Liberal members, whether they be Liberals in Manitoba, in Nova Scotia or out in B.C., and say that the Liberals are soft on crime, it is nonsense.
The Conservatives blocked their own agenda, an agenda which was supported by the Liberals. If the age of consent is not 16 today, it is the fault of the Conservative government. It is the fault of every single Conservative member sitting there--
Mr. Anthony Rota (Nipissing—Timiskaming, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise today on behalf of the people of Nipissing--Timiskaming and offer my response to the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne.
On Tuesday evening I listened intently to the Speech from the Throne, eager to hear what the Conservative government planned on doing to address issues of importance to the people of my riding.
Unlike members of the Bloc and the NDP, I felt that I owed it to my constituency to take the time necessary to assess the speech's impact on my constituents and indeed all Canadians before deciding how to proceed.
In the end, like most Canadians, I was extremely disappointed that the speech included very little to address climate change, provide social justice or enhance economic prosperity and competitiveness. Furthermore, I was deeply troubled by the fact that the speech contains little or no mention of priorities such as health care, research and development, or education. I had also hoped to see a commitment to infrastructure programs for our cities and communities as well as regional development programs such as FedNor. Once again these were conspicuously absent from the Conservative agenda. In short, the Conservative throne speech lacked vision and failed to address the issues that matter most to Canadians.
In the interest of making Parliament work and doing the job that we have been elected to do, my Liberal colleagues and I have proposed a series of amendments to find solutions to correct the shortcomings of the Conservatives' vague agenda. We are calling on the Conservative government to take greater action on climate change, to announce now the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar will end in February 2009--that is the combat mission--to fight against poverty in Canada, and to bring forth proposals to help build a stronger economy.
When the Conservatives took office in January 2006, they acquired the strongest economy in Canadian history. They had campaigned on a platform of fiscal discipline. Since that time the Conservative government has raised federal government spending by over $25 billion. However, the average Canadian yet has to benefit from these expenditures.
Furthermore, the Conservatives recently announced a generous fiscal surplus. Yet they continue to make cuts to programs that have been proven effective and necessary tools in helping individuals and communities. The Conservatives have failed to address the five main priorities that they set out in 2006 in the Speech from the Throne. Now they have outlined five new priorities in the hopes that Canadians will not focus on the abysmal Conservative record over the past 21 months. Simply put, the current government is especially adept at being big on rhetoric and small on action.
The Prime Minister has demonstrated time and time again that he would much rather put good politics in front of good policy. For instance, let us take a closer look at the Conservatives' proposal to forge ahead with an additional cut to the GST. The cut is being made despite the fact that every serious economist in the country agrees that it is poor public policy and a misuse of about $4.5 billion in federal fiscal flexibility every year.
The Conservatives would like to have us believe that the cut to the GST is beneficial to all Canadians. However, there is wide consensus that the Conservatives' tax cut plan would largely benefit higher income families over those who need it most: low and middle income families, that is, low and middle income Canadians.
To improve disposable income and help build greater productivity, the first target of tax reduction should be income taxes, not consumption taxes, but the Prime Minister has chosen instead to raise income taxes for low and middle income Canadians to help pay for this regressive and expensive GST cut.
Tax cuts like these set the stage for more pressure for spending cuts. Low income Canadians benefit relatively little from these tax cuts, yet the Prime Minister and his Conservative government continue to window dress for a possible election.
Another example that the Conservative government cannot be trusted to implement substantial and long-lasting solutions to critical problems is its appalling approach to child care. During the last election the Conservatives pledged to make up the shortfall through a plan to use tax incentives to create 125,000 new child care spaces. Last month the human resources minister admitted that the Conservatives cannot and will not deliver on this commitment.
Since coming to power, the Conservative government has made the biggest child care cut in Canadian history, slashing $1 billion in funding from child care services in 2007 alone. The Conservative government's policy of handing over small amounts of money to individual parents instead of investing in a child care system is simply not delivering the support that young Canadian families require. This piecemeal approach to governance has become a trademark of the current Conservative regime. Canadians simply cannot trust the Prime Minister to produce a comprehensive effective solution to priority issues.
Further evidence of this exists in the Conservative environmental policy.
The Conservatives have an obligation to reduce their weak approach to combatting climate change crisis with real action. Canada will likely not meet Kyoto targets because the Prime Minister scrapped all climate change programs upon coming into office and then implemented weak substitutes. Basically, they ignored our obligations.
The Conservatives have admitted that their so-called plan would result in absolutely no reduction in Canada's total greenhouse gas pollution during the first phase of Kyoto and would not even be in place until 2010.
According to the C.D. Howe Institute, something that our Conservative friends can relate to, the Deutsche Bank, the Pembina Institute and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Conservatives will not meet their own far too modest targets and will allow the country's carbon emissions to increase until 2050 or beyond.
Under two consecutive environment ministers, there has been no attempt to move forward seriously and not even an honest and full effort to curb greenhouse gas pollution. In fact, one of the Prime Minister's first acts in office was to scrap a fully funded plan to meet Canada's Kyoto obligations and then do nothing.
This is simply unacceptable to Canadians who are looking for action and leadership in the fight against climate change and are being presented, instead, with a Prime Minister, and a government, who would much rather deny that climate change even exists.
My constituents are also looking for clarity on Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan.
The Liberal opposition is committed to staying in Afghanistan to complete a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission. However, we must be clear and unambiguous in our signal to NATO that Canada's participation in the combat mission in Kandahar ends in February 2009. Only through such clarity can Canada truly be a valuable service.
To that end, Canada must finally say our friends in NATO and the Afghan government that the February 2009 deadline to withdraw our troops from the combat mission in Kandahar is firm and they have 17 months to plan our replacement. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have approached this debate with considerably more ambiguity. Their statements on this issue have been confusing and often contradictory.
Again and again the House of Commons we heard the Conservative mantra that the mission in Kandahar would not be extended beyond 2009 without consulting Parliament. Then, while in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister changed his tune. The mission could be extended. His government would not be bound by arbitrary deadlines.
Finally, we heard there was no urgency to make a decision about extending the mission because NATO had not asked for an extension. However, NATO's Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, obliterated that argument when he requested that Canada extend its combat mission in Kandahar, forcing the Prime Minister to change his position and claim the mission would not be extended without some degree of consensus.
In Tuesday's Speech from the Throne, Canadians learned for the first time that the Conservatives would prefer to see the combat mission in Afghanistan extended to 2011. This is in addition to the fact that an independent panel has been created to advise Canadians on how best to proceed in the given circumstances.
What exactly are Canadians and their allies to make of that latest position? This ambiguity has put our allies in an unfair position. Instead of being strung along, they deserve an honest answer about Canada's desire to rotate out of Kandahar. This indecisiveness can only be harmful to our troops and the people and the values that they are working to protect.
Constituents in my riding and throughout northern Ontario were looking for some substantial investment in infrastructure and with so little included in the Speech from the Throne to address the growing concern, it has become painfully apparent that the Conservatives continue to ignore the people of that region.
The people of northern Ontario want to know why the Prime Minister and his Conservative government continue to abandon them, and I believe that it is time for the Prime Minister to start providing some answers.
I have said it before and I will say it again. The Conservative throne speech lacks vision and fails to address the issues that matter most to Canadians.
Over the coming weeks, my Liberal colleagues and I will be working very hard to ensure the gaps in the Conservative agenda are replaced by policies that have a positive and long-lasting effect on all Canadians. We must remain committed to build a richer, fairer and greener Canada.
Mr. Rob Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in this debate today in the reply to the Speech from the Throne.
I want to address what was mentioned previously by one of the members opposite. The member wondered why our government has introduced 13 bills related to justice since we came to office. Perhaps it would be because for 13 years the Liberals neglected our justice system. For 13 years Canadians had to put up with a revolving door justice system, a soft on crime justice system and a system that put the victim somewhere at the very bottom on the list of priorities.
There remains a lot of work to be done.
The member mentioned some of the bills. Bill C-10 would have brought in mandatory minimum penalties for serious gun crimes and was stalled in committee for 252 days. Bill C-35 was stalled in committee for 64 days and 211 days between the House and the Senate. That would have provided a reverse onus on people who commit gun crimes. Bill C-27 dealt with the worst of the worst: dangerous offenders. It was 105 days in committee and 246 days in the House. Bill C-22 was to protect the young from adult sexual predators. It was 365 days in the House and the Senate.
Those members wonder why we have to work so hard. They wonder why we have to do so much.
Because they left us so much work to be done.
The government's first Speech from the Throne set clear goals and we stayed on course to achieve them. The results are evident in the improved quality of life Canadians share and the higher confidence they have in government leadership.
The new Speech from the Throne, as we heard this week, offers Canadians the same clarity and framework to build on our achievements made to date. As the Speech from the Throne notes, the government is committed to continuing to build a better Canada. We are going to do this by strengthening Canada's sovereignty and place in the world, building a stronger federation, providing effective economic leadership, continuing to tackle crime, and improving our environment.
I am pleased to stand to speak in support of our government's unwavering commitment to a balanced justice agenda, to a law-abiding society, to tackling crime, and to building safer communities, streets and neighbourhoods. I might add that in the last election this is what our constituents from coast to coast elected us to do. It is exactly what they asked us to do.
As all of us in the House know, or should know, Canadians value a law-abiding society and safe communities. The rule of law and Canada's strong justice system are defining characteristics of what it is to be Canadian.
Canadians express strong support for the law. In fact, the vast majority of Canadians responding to a set of questions on the world values survey, repeated several times between 1990 and 2006, consistently expressed a strong willingness to abide by the law. Compared to citizens in most other countries in the world, Canadians have one of the highest levels of support for law-abiding behaviour.
We know where Canadians' values lie and we share those values. As parliamentarians, we must reflect these values in all that we do.
Canadians' perceptions of crime reflect their community experience and are supported by long term and local crime statistics and news. I am sure that every member in the House, from no matter which party, could bring forward stories from his or her own riding about how Canadians have been victimized or how someone has been a repeat offender but is allowed back into the community to re-victimize innocent Canadians. Every one of us gets those phone calls and emails. Every one of us can somehow relate to that experience.
Community leaders, victims' groups and law enforcement know their particular challenges and for once they have a government that is listening to them. Every province, territory and major city has street corners and neighbourhoods where people do not want to go any more, and if ordinary Canadians do not want to live there, then neither will they shop there or play there. Businesses will leave and schools will deteriorate.
There are too many of those street corners in Canada now. It is not consistent with Canadians' expectations and hopes for their communities. And they deserve better. All Canadians should be able to walk our streets and travel to and from our homes, schools and workplaces in safety.
This is why we are standing up to protect our communities and to work with Canadians to ensure a safer and more secure Canada.
Let me give the House an example of the kind of tragedy people are reading and talking about in my part of the world. The Nunn commission arose out of a tragedy in Nova Scotia. A 16 year old boy went from no prior record to a nine month crime spree involving 38 separate charges and 11 court appearances and ended when, two days after his release, high on drugs, he killed an innocent mother of three by speeding through a residential intersection.
Commissioner Nunn, who headed the inquiry into this tragedy, stated:
|| We should be able to halt the spiral [into crime], through prevention, through quick action, through creative thinking, through collaboration, through clear strategies, and through programs that address clearly identified needs.
I agree with Commissioner Nunn. We should be able to do better and to stop such behaviour before it gets out of control. Canadians expect and deserve no less.
These are the kinds of real life tragedies that our communities want us to address. They are the tragedies that I know my constituents expect us to address. They are the tragedies that motivate many of us on this side of the House to do something to protect innocent Canadians.
I know that Canadians across the country and in every community have similar stories of kids who are in serious trouble and causing serious harm, stories of binge drinking, using illicit drugs, committing auto theft, property crime and other crimes, all of which are elements of this tragedy I just mentioned.
Canadians are particularly concerned about crimes victimizing the most vulnerable community members, such as seniors and children. Families worry about how to keep their children and grandchildren from becoming victims of youth crime. They also worry about their young family members being drawn into the wrong crowd and beginning a life of crime.
In the face of such tragedies, Canadians look to us for a way forward, for a way out of despair for their youth and worry about the safety of their streets. They look to us for solutions. They look to us to restore their confidence in the justice system. That is what members on this side of the House intend to do. We intend to restore their confidence in the justice system.
I want to mention a few statistics.
We know that Canadians are not always confident that the criminal justice system is doing enough to protect them. That is a major theme. We have heard about this time and time again. They know that violent crime is too common. They dread hearing statistics like those released this week by Statistics Canada.
These are just a few statistics, but they tell us that four out of 10 victims of violent crime sustain injuries and that almost half of violent crimes occurred at private residences. By the way, private residences, and I am sure all members would agree, are where we should feel most safe. These are our homes. Half of violent crimes occurred at home.
The statistics also tell us that firearms were involved in 30% of homicides, 31% of attempted murders and 13% of robberies. We are all deeply saddened to hear that one out of every sixth victim of violent crime was a youth aged 12 to 17 years old. What is worse is that children under 12 years of age accounted for 23% of victims of sexual assaults and 5% of victims of violent crimes.
Of course we know that most crime is never reported. Statistics Canada's victimization survey found that only about 34% of criminal incidents committed in 2004 came to the attention of police. When we think about it, that is really an alarming statistic. For all the crime that is reported there is that much more out there that goes unreported.
There is a reason why. I hear this in my own riding and I am sure many of my colleagues do as well. Victims do not report crime because they think it will not make a difference, because our system will not treat it seriously. It is going to take a lot of work to change that impression, but we are a government that is set on changing it.
Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians, or one in four persons, reported being victimized in 2004. When I speak with my constituents and people across this country about crime, they often tell me that the justice system does more for offenders than for victims. Our government is listening to victims, increasing their voice in the justice system and helping them play a more active role. Addressing the needs of victims of crime in Canada is a shared responsibility between federal and provincial and territorial governments. It is an issue that we are already addressing in collaboration with these partners.
New programs and services are being implemented in the Department of Justice. The victim fund is being enhanced to provide more resources to provinces and territories to deliver services where they are needed.
We have appointed for the first time ever a Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Mr. Steve Sullivan, who is a well known advocate for victims. The ombudsman will ensure that the federal government lives up to its commitments and obligations to victims of crime. I think I hear the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe applauding the appointment of Mr. Sullivan. I thank him for that. Victims expect and deserve no less.
As mentioned, we remain committed to the goal of ensuring that all Canadians live in a safe and secure community. That is why we are introducing Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
The measures in this legislation represent a clear and sustained commitment on the part of our government to deal with the crimes that weigh heavily on the minds of Canadians as they go about their daily lives. Through this bill we will address the crime of the sexual exploitation of youth by adult predators. We also are tackling the crime that takes the highest toll in death and injury: impaired driving.
We know that Canadians want us to protect them from these crimes. We know also that to do so we need the support of all hon. members as well as Canadians and our partners in the provinces and territories, in law enforcement and in community groups.
I want to speak briefly about each component. Alcohol and drug impaired driving have devastating effects on victims, families and communities. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries each year, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage. With this legislation, impaired drivers will face tough punishment whatever intoxicant they choose. Police and prosecutors will have more tools to use to stop them.
Statistics Canada reports that there were an alarming 75,000 impaired driving incidents in 2006 and approximately 1,200 caused bodily harm or death. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, alcohol and/or drugs lead to more fatalities and injuries than any other single crime. The total financial and social costs are immeasurable and these impacts are felt in all of our communities. Research by Ontario's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health shows that Ontario drunk driver fatalities decreased when the driving licences of impaired drivers were suspended for 90 days.
So there are good approaches that the police and courts can use once there is a conviction for impaired driving. Part of our job as custodians of the Criminal Code is to help them get those convictions. Then more impaired drivers can be kept off our roads and streets.
One reason that impaired driving remains common is that drug impairment is now a frequent factor. Until now, police have not had the same tools available to them to stop those who drive while impaired from drugs as they did to address alcohol impaired driving. With this bill, now they will.
If passed, this legislation will strengthen the abilities of our police and prosecutors to investigate, prosecute and penalize those who endanger the safety of their fellow Canadians through alcohol or drug impaired driving.
The bill will also ensure that the punishment fits the crime and the damage it causes. Chronic offenders, or what are called hard core offenders, will be targeted with appropriate measures. These chronic offenders are disproportionately a cause of death and injury on our roads. All of these provisions will help police, crown prosecutors and the courts deal with these offenders.
Impaired driving is hurting so many families and communities that there are calls on Parliament to take action. For example, earlier this month MADD urged that these reforms be passed as soon as possible. We are certainly listening.
I know that many members here recognize the pressing need to ensure the safety of our communities by providing our police the tools necessary to address drug impaired driving. It is time they had those tools in their hands and it is time for us to act.
On the issue of the age of protection, this is something that is very timely and is in the news all the time. It strikes at the core of our society's values in protecting the most vulnerable, in protecting the young. For the same reason, parents, teachers, police and communities share this government's commitment to protecting young people from sexual predation. One of the most disturbing thoughts for any parent is the thought of a sexual predator preying on their child.
I should mention that members from this side of the House have been advocating for this for years and we welcome having a government that takes the protection of children seriously enough to take this step.
The tackling violent crime act reintroduces our proposals to raise the age at which young people can consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators. In short, it will take away the ability of adult sexual predators to rely on claims that their young victims consented.
The Speech from the Throne provides Canadians with a clear and achievable blueprint for criminal law and policy reforms. It will provide Canadians with safer streets and healthier communities, communities and cities where people want to live and raise their families. Community by community we will build a better Canada.
I addressed some of the bills. There is a question as to why we have introduced this bill in a comprehensive format. We did it because there is a lot of work to be done and many of the measures that were introduced in the last Parliament that are substantively contained in this bill were delayed. They were delayed by the opposition. They were delayed in the House. They were delayed in committee.
In the day and age we live in members should know that many households in Canada have the Internet. Anyone can log on to the House of Commons website and read Hansard, as we all do. Any Canadian can read from the House of Commons committee transcripts. Canadians can judge for themselves whether there was a delay.
I sat in the justice committee while those bills were being debated. I listened to the victims of crime who came forward and begged us, as they have over the years. There are many colleagues on this side of the House who have been here a lot longer than I have been here.
In the past, the member from Calgary introduced legislation to raise the age of consent. At the time, the Liberal government did not want anything to do with it. The Liberals would not take action. Now they claim that we should not be proceeding in this format. We are going to proceed because Canadians have demanded that we act to protect children, that we get serious with repeat violent offenders, that we get serious with individuals who use firearms in the commission of a crime, and that we get serious regarding drug impaired driving, a scourge on our streets.
We are taking those concerns seriously. That is why we have brought Bill C-2 forward. I look forward to support from members on all sides of the House as we move forward to make our Canadian streets, communities and homes safer for all Canadians.
Mrs. Vivian Barbot (Papineau, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
In the wake of the throne speech, I would like to bring to your attention the following considerations regarding federal spending power.
First of all, I would like to remind this House that:
||—for more than half a century, Quebec has challenged the existence of federal spending power. Regardless of their political stripe, all the governments of Quebec, without exception, have expressed the desire to defend the integrity of Quebec's legislative authority as well as Quebec's ability to make its own policies in areas such as education, health and social services.
The Séguin report, which received the support of all the parties in the National Assembly, recommended:
|| That Quebec reaffirm vigorously, as it has done traditionally, that there is no constitutional basis for federal spending power, because this “power” undermines the division of powers, as established by the Constitution;
|| that Quebec maintain its demand for the unconditional right to opt out, with full financial compensation, of any program put in place by the federal government in provincial jurisdictions.
In addition, the Allaire report, which forms the constitutional basis of the Action démocratique du Québec, provided for the elimination of federal spending power:
|| This proposal presupposes political autonomy for Quebec. It assumes that Quebec will exercise full sovereignty in its exclusive areas of jurisdiction...and that the central government's spending power in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction will be eliminated.
We can see that there is a consensus in Quebec on eliminating federal spending power.
For his part, on December 19, 2005, in Quebec City, the Prime Minister created expectations by stating that he would work to eliminate the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces. Eliminating the fiscal imbalance implies eliminating federal spending power in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
He was even more specific when he subsequently said:
|| I have said many times, even since the election of this new government, that I am opposed and our party is opposed to federal spending power in provincial jurisdictions. In my opinion, such spending power in the provinces' exclusive jurisdictions goes against the very spirit of federalism. Our government is clear that we do not intend to act in that way.
I repeat that it was the Prime Minister who said this.
In the last throne speech, the Prime Minister said that his:
||— Government will introduce legislation to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This legislation will allow provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
What the Bloc was asking for was that Ottawa promise to stop all spending in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, through the pure and simple elimination of the federal spending pseudo-power—the legitimacy of which Quebec has always disputed—or by granting Quebec the unconditional right to opt out with full compensation from any federal program in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
What is espoused in the throne speech is obviously not what we were asking for.
It is as if Jean Chrétien wrote the latest throne speech. In the February 28, 1996, Speech from the Throne, he stated:
|| The Government will not use its spending power to create new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction without the consent of a majority of the provinces. Any new program will be designed so that non-participating provinces will be compensated, provided they establish equivalent or comparable initiatives.
We know what this type of framework for federal spending power means. The Leader of the Opposition, the father of the social union, could not disown such a text. The current Liberal leader was behind the social union framework agreement—signed by Ottawa and nine English-speaking provinces—which states:
|| With respect to any new Canada-wide initiatives in health care, post-secondary education, social assistance and social services that are funded through intergovernmental transfers, whether block-funded or cost-shared, the Government of Canada will:
|| Not introduce such new initiatives without the agreement of a majority of provincial governments
|| A provincial/territorial government which, because of its existing programming, does not require the total transfer to fulfill the agreed objectives would be able to reinvest any funds not required for those objectives in the same or a related priority area.
Quebec obviously refused to sign such an agreement and demanded that:
||the Social Union Framework Agreement recognize its historic position by providing for the right of unconditional withdrawal with full financial compensation from any new federal initiative or program, whether or not the cost is shared, in the sector of social programs that fall within provincial responsibility.
The government says in the Speech from the Throne that it will confine itself to shared-cost programs. However, most of the federal spending in areas of Quebec jurisdiction is not for shared-cost programs but for interference pure and simple.
In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the federal spending in areas of Quebec jurisdiction was for shared-cost programs. There was hospitalization insurance, income security, and so forth. But now there are fewer and fewer shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
What we have now are, first, conditional transfers through which Ottawa gives the provinces money so that they will implement federal priorities and, second, interference pure and simple, such as the new Mental Health Commission of Canada or the cervical cancer vaccination program, both of which were announced by the Conservatives in 2007.
The government is limiting itself, therefore, to new programs and doing nothing about 100 years of federal interference in areas of Quebec jurisdiction.
We should realize that in the 2005-06 fiscal year, the federal government spent no less than $55 billion in areas outside its own jurisdiction.
The Conservative government apparently thinks that this is perfectly acceptable and should continue indefinitely. The only conclusion we can draw is that the open federalism extolled by the Conservatives is nothing but a con game.
What the government is offering is fair compensation for new instances of shared-cost interference. There are no assurances of full compensation. Ottawa is actually reserving the right to punish any provinces that refuse to embark on these new programs.
In addition, the government is reserving the right to impose Canada-wide standards even in areas outside its own jurisdiction. Only those provinces that “offer compatible programs” will be allowed to partly opt out of these new instances of federal interference.
In conclusion, this amounts to saying that if the nation of Quebec makes choices that are different from those of the nation of Canada, its right to opt out will be eliminated—something that we will never accept.
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in this House. I am doing so from a new seat, a little closer, in the front row next to my colleague. I am sure this will allow me to better comment on this government's initiatives which, as we can see today in the Speech from the Throne, far from meet the needs and interests of Quebeckers in terms of the five conditions the Bloc Québécois set for supporting the speech.
This Speech from the Throne is very disappointing. It is especially disappointing when it comes to fighting climate change. When I came to this House 10 years ago, there was a Reform Party and a Canadian Alliance Party on this side of the House and they did not believe that climate change existed. They did everything they could to undermine the opposition parties who at the time believed that the Kyoto protocol was the best tool for fighting climate change. Those hon. members at the time preferred to believe in the analyses and studies from the oil industry, which said that climate change was strictly a natural phenomenon that had nothing to do with human activity. Even though the world's leading academics showed that there was a direct link between human activity, industrial activity and global warming, those hon. members, who are now in government, weakened and killed the best tool we had and that was the Kyoto protocol.
Ten years later, we are proud that, in a Speech from the Throne, this government recognizes for the first time that climate change does exist. However, we would have preferred that those parties and those members of Parliament had recognized that fact at the time. We probably would have been able to progress more quickly and been able to present the international community with a record of greenhouse gas reductions that was more impressive than the Minister of the Environment reported to the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Nairobi.
In the Speech from the Throne, in particular on page 14, we read that the government believes strongly in an effective global approach to greenhouse gas emissions. It believes that must include binding targets that apply to all major emitters, including Canada. However, in fact, those binding targets proposed by the government are nothing more than targets based on an increase of our production and not on a real, absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. That means that the more barrels of oil we produce, the more we will continue to pollute.
With this Speech from the Throne, the government is trying to make the public believe that there are binding targets that will help us to improve our performance on greenhouse gas emissions. We say again: the intensity targets favoured by the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are nothing more than window dressing and serve only to benefit the petroleum industry which makes exorbitant profits and which continues to ignore a worldwide social consensus that should enable us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This international leadership to which the government supposedly wants to commit us is clearly spelled out within the Speech from the Throne. It refers to meetings of APEC and the G-8. One could even add the meetings between the Prime Minister and George W. Bush in Washington and the meetings in Australia with Prime Minister Howard, whose purpose was nothing less than ensuring that there were no real targets for reducing greenhouse gases in the short or medium term and no timetable.
What the government decided to do in this Speech from the Throne, is clearly drop its support for the Kyoto protocol. It is our duty to denounce that decision.
We have to remember that the government lied to the public. We have to remember that in Nairobi, where I was part of a delegation of parliamentarians, the then Minister of the Environment made a solemn promise in front of the international community that Canada would respect its obligations under the Kyoto protocol. More than a year later, we learn that the government has decided to toss the protocol out with the trash.
We cannot accept that in Quebec. Why? Simply because 90% of Quebeckers want to respect the Kyoto protocol. The Government of Quebec has implemented a plan that allows our province to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Quebec's industrial sectors have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 7%, in an absolute manner, not on an intensity basis, as the government is proposing.
We were the first province in Canada to come up with a plan to fight climate change. That is why we want the government to respect the Kyoto protocol.
We are also disappointed that the government has not said anything about where the carbon exchange announced in the Speech from the Throne will be located. The Montreal Exchange has already achieved an enviable degree of expertise that gives it an advantage over all other stock exchanges in Canada except for Toronto, of course. Now Toronto wants control over derivatives. The Montreal Exchange developed the derivatives market and has significant expertise in this area. It signed an agreement with Chicago. Why is it that now, 10 years later, just as the agreement between Montreal and Toronto is about to come to an end, Toronto wants control over the derivatives market that strengthened the Montreal Exchange's role at a time when none of the other Canadian stock markets believed in it?
Today we are telling the government that if it sides with Bay Street, we will side with Saint-Jacques Street because these businesses operating in various industrial and manufacturing sectors—I met with their representatives again yesterday—have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% to 30%. They decided to invest in changing their industrial processes. They have accumulated credits by making structural changes in their industries, and they are ready to participate in an emissions credits trading system now.
Now these businesses are being told that they should pay for the failure of other provinces to reduce emissions. That is completely unacceptable.
Today, I was very disappointed to see the Liberal Party of Canada support this Speech from the Throne. I am disappointed because I thought that the opposition parties in this House had built a strong consensus concerning our Kyoto commitments. Quebec and the Bloc Québécois still support the Kyoto accord, but elsewhere in Canada, support is dwindling. For years, the Liberals supported Kyoto, but now, the Conservatives have told the international community that they want to toss it out with the trash.
In closing, I would like to assure Quebeckers that as long as we are here in this House—and there will be more of us than ever before in the coming years—we will continue to support the Kyoto accord because we believe that fighting climate change is both an environmental imperative and an economic one.
Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you on your reappointment. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for West Nova.
On Tuesday evening we had the opportunity to listen to the government's vision for Canada. It was a Speech from the Throne that was vague, offering little new hope for Canadians and indeed, offering little new, claiming success of failed programs and often the rebranding of old policies and programs.
However, I want to speak tonight about a number of things in the very short time I have. I want to touch on some of the issues that impact on my community, and I want to talk on matters that are related to first nations, Inuit and Métis.
What can Manitobans really take away from the throne speech? The government said it has given real choice for families through the taxable child care benefit, but has forgotten to speak on the reality of child care in Canada. On September 27, the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press read, “Tories say they made a child care boo boo”.
The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development admitted his government could not live up to its commitment to deliver 125,000 child care spaces. Millions of dollars were cut from child care in Manitoba, from $176 million under the previous Liberal government to only a $9 million annual direct payment to the province. In Winnipeg there are more children's names on wait lists than there are children who receive child care in the city.
How can the government say that a taxable monthly $100 allowance gives parents a real choice when indeed there is really no choice for them: no places for children; no opportunities for their mothers to go back to school, to enter the workforce; or often, indeed, to remain in the workforce?
Yesterday, in a speech in Winnipeg, Dr. Fraser Mustard linked the outcomes of early childhood education to the reduction of criminal activities and positive mental health during adolescence. He said that the annual cost to individuals and Canadian society of poor early childhood development is estimated at $120 billion for crime and $100 billion annually in mental health and behaviour.
What will this also mean for the federal spending power? We know that great national cost shared programs brought us together as citizens, regardless of where we lived: medicare, Canada pension plan. The list is long; the list goes on.
In the last session of Parliament the members opposite introduced 13 crime and justice bills. The official opposition supported a majority of these bills and offered to fast track eight of them. Despite their mantra that their government is getting tough on crime, the Conservatives decided to delay their own legislation. There was no obstruction by the opposition. Indeed, on March 21, an opposition day motion would have immediately resulted in the passage of all stages of four of the bills. Again, there was no cooperation.
The government has also failed to act on its campaign commitment to hire more police officers. Now we see this commitment reannounced once more. This time we hope the government will follow through.
Over the past months I have met with many community groups to discuss community safety. Over and over again we have heard the need for more community policing, but a lack of resources and not enough policemen to assign there.
Also, from the young people at Macdonald Youth Services, I heard about the importance of programs: programs to rehabilitate, programs to support, and programs to keep young people out of the justice system.
Last month I attended here in Ottawa when a Manitoba delegation, led by the Premier, met to discuss issues of crime and safety. I want to assure them that I want to see their concerns met, most particularly making auto theft an indictable offence.
The throne speech said a new water strategy will be implemented to help clean up our major lakes and oceans. What about Devils Lake? Between June and August, North Dakota turned the Devils Lake outlet on and off three times, breaching the agreement the previous government negotiated with the White House. Again, there was silence from this government. Where is a realistic plan and where are realistic resources to act on the clean up of Lake Winnipeg?
There was nothing about education in the throne speech, nothing about the alleviation of the debt load for post-secondary students, and nothing about increasing access to post-secondary education for students who have less. There is a $13 billion surplus and no investment in young people.
We know the Conservatives have silenced the court challenges program. The government has silenced those who cannot speak for themselves. Yesterday we celebrated the accomplishments of six women who received the Governor General's award for the commemoration of Persons Day. These women made a difference in their communities by working for the advancement of women in significant ways.
The government has taken away the tools for advocacy dollars for women. Equality seeking is not acceptable.
In my riding individuals and organizations are calling on the government to take action on Darfur. In my own riding, not far from where I live, the Shaarey Zedek synagogue is next week having a large gathering calling on the congregation to mobilize and speak out on the genocide in Darfur, and from this government there is not a word. It is not in its neighbourhood.
I want to touch on the issues of aboriginal peoples. We know that with aboriginal peoples relations were at an all time high under the previous Liberal government with the signing of the Kelowna accord and then they reached an all time low on June 29 of this year with the national day of action provoked by the inaction of the current government.
I acknowledge the Prime Minister's indication that he will apologize on behalf of Canadians for the legacy of residential schools. I support that. I salute that. As the Leader of the Opposition said, we all support the decision but it is long overdue. Members on this side have been asking for this apology for over a year. There is still much to do to repair the damage that has been put upon the aboriginal peoples.
It is imperative that the government treat aboriginal peoples with respect, that members of the government speak about aboriginal peoples with respect today and in the future, and that they treat their concerns about legislation and the legislative process with respect.
The government brought shame to Canada with its actions on the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Not only was it one of four countries voting against the declaration but its active lobbying against it, against the advice of the officials of three departments, was a blemish on Canada's international reputation.
The declaration fortunately was adopted by 144 countries. Indeed, it was an embarrassment for Canada. Aboriginal people want respect.
The throne speech indicated that it would be reintroducing legislation that would repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I have said it many times in the House, and in committee, and I will put it on the record once more, the official opposition supports the intent of Bill C-44, but what we do not support is the process, the lack of consultation, the lack of consideration, and the lack of respect shown to aboriginal peoples.
I want to add that human rights also means clean water, safe communities, a house to live in and an opportunity for education. We look forward to the introduction of legislation to deal with the outstanding specific claims. We look forward to it with optimism and are hopeful that in this case with consultation and cooperation there will be a positive result. We acknowledge the intent to take action on behalf of the Inuit, but the throne speech was silent on the Métis and there was no mention of an urban aboriginal strategy.
Closing the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians remains a number one priority for Canadians. First nations people face a horrible injustice when the level of poverty in their communities is staggering. The future for aboriginal Canadians is Canada's future. More than half of first nations people in this country are under the age of 23.
Education is critical for aboriginal people, the first nations aboriginal children in the cities and Métis children. It is the government's responsibility to act now to stop first nations poverty from perpetuating into future generations.
As I said, the throne speech offered little new for Canadians. It continues to bring forward old news. I will continue to speak up for the interests of my constituents and for aboriginal, Métis and Inuit Canadians.