October 3, 1996

LIB

Marcel Massé

Liberal

Hon. Marcel Massé (President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a report on official languages in federal institutions.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Official Languages
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LIB

Fred Mifflin

Liberal

Hon. Fred Mifflin (for the Minister for International Trade)

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-61, an act to implement the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   An Act To Implement The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement
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LIB

Fred Mifflin

Liberal

Hon. Fred Mifflin (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.)

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-62, an act respecting fisheries.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   An Act Respecting Fisheries
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REF

Keith Martin

Reform

Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, it gives me great honour today to bring forth to this House a petition with the signatures of over 20,000 Canadians.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to legislate the prohibition in Canada of the use, production, stockpiling, sale, trade and transfer of all anti-personnel land mines; to work for an international convention banning these activities; to substantially increase Canadian contributions to the UN fund for assistance in mine clearance for indigenous and other humanitarian mine clearing initiatives; and to increase Canadian funding and other types of assistance to rehabilitate mine victims.

It gives me great honour to introduce this petition today.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Jim Jordan

Liberal

Mr. Jim Jordan (Leeds-Grenville, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I have a petition from places like Prescott, Oxford Mills, Kemptville and Brockville, Ontario in my riding.

The petitioners are concerned about the unborn and the rights of the unborn. They would like to see legal protection for children both before and after birth.

The petitioners go further and ask for a national referendum to be held in conjunction with the next federal election to ask the people of Canada if they think that we should be spending our scarce health dollars these days to promote abortion on demand. The petitioners believe that legally and morally it should not be allowed and that funding for it should be very limited.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Paul Zed

Liberal

Mr. Paul Zed (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
Permalink

The House resumed from October 1, consideration of the motion that Bill C-41, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.


REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary North, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, the House will recall that on Tuesday when I spoke last on this bill I only had two minutes to speak on it. I am pleased to have a few more minutes to intervene and to add some considerations to my colleagues' interventions who will be voting on this bill.

Bill C-41 is an act to amend four other long acts. The intent of the bill is to strengthen the provisions and terms under which people who are responsible to pay child support are enforced and dealt with. There are four main provisions of this bill. I will speak to each one and outline how sufficient the legislation is in dealing with each of these areas.

The four main provisions are: to have a grid or some legislated guidelines for child support amounts; to open up Revenue Canada databases so that defaulting parents can be located; to allow for the garnishment of public service pension benefits and seamen's wages; and to mandate or allow for the withdrawal of federal licences. The term federal licence is defined in such a way as to include passports. There are other provisions in the bill but those are the four main areas in which the government is attempting to tighten up the whole area of child support and the enforcement of maintenance payments in support of children.

When we deal with issues relating to children and issues relating to family breakdowns, the allocation of responsibilities and the onus that is being placed on parents in a divided family situation, very strong feelings come forward. This is not at all surprising. Our families, our children and our own personal emotional difficulties, hurts and disappointments that necessitate the kind of legislation we are dealing with today call for some very strong feelings and emotions.

I know other members, like myself, have had calls from very concerned and upset custodial parents, mostly women, who are beside themselves that the father of their child, who is no longer part of the marriage picture, chooses to be derelict in his duty and responsibility to assist the mother as the custodial person. They find it very difficult to understand why a simple court order allowing them to provide the necessities for their children cannot be better enforced. They are demanding that there be a better enforcement mechanism. It is in response to those kinds of demands that this legislation has been brought forward and was needed to be brought forward.

It is also fair to point out that there have been calls from many parents who are paying child support, who are mostly men. They have been very concerned about the one-sidedness of this kind of legislation where only the monetary responsibilities they have been given are enforced, dealt with and seem to be important. The other rights and responsibilities they have as parents seem to be ignored and violated without any corresponding concern on the part of government and legislators.

One of the things we need to look at is whether the balance and thrust of this legislation, while it is necessary and clearly to the benefit of ensuring proper support for children, is as it ought to be.

There is a tendency sometimes in the debate on enforcement of child support, to talk about deadbeat parents, parents who abdicate, ignore and renege on their responsibilities to the children they have brought into this world and seem to have no care or concern as to whether these children have proper income so that they can be fed, clothed, educated and raised properly. There seems to be some concern about putting the emphasis on money and treating fathers, as one gentleman said to me, like a wallet, but ignoring other parental responsibilities and prerogatives.

I happened to pick up a copy of Psychology Today this summer. I read an interesting article about violence against women. In that same magazine was an interesting article about the roles of fathers in the lives of their children. The article cited studies that showed a father has a very complex role in the emotional and intellectual growth of his child. Although a father may interact with his child in more physical and less intimate way than a mother, he has a key impact on his child's development. The article also stated that a father with emotional problems will have a more dire effect on his child than a mother with similar problems.

This is only one article that looked at studies. There are many others that state it is very important for children that fathers continue to have a role in their lives. Many fathers are asking that their responsibility for support be looked at. They would also like ongoing access to their children to be part of the equation. That is not the case in this legislation.

Other speakers have raised the concern that if we are going to deal with the matter of ensuring the well-being of children, we should include in their need for monetary support their need for emotional and intellectual support in ongoing relationships and training.

I recommend that the government seriously consider this whole area. When it brings in legislation to deal with the well-being of children it should look at other aspects of their well-being, other needs. It should not suggest by the way it frames legislation that as long as money is coming to the custodial parent that is satisfactory. That is not the only thing needed to be looked at in relation to the best interests of children.

One of the main provisions in this legislation is that a grid or guidelines for the amount of child support payable will be put into place. According to some of the information that has been put forward by government, these guidelines were drawn up after a

broad consultation with people who were familiar with the area of child maintenance and child support, and I think that is good.

We can accept that the amounts on the grid and the guidelines represent a reasonable and honest effort to put in place amounts based on the income and circumstances of the parties. Generally speaking, that will be fair.

My concern is with what this legislation does not deal with. A one size fits all award of maintenance is not practical when one considers the wide variety of circumstances and employment realities that are factored into calculations of the need, the reasonableness and the propriety of a particular monetary award for child support.

There is concern that the discretion of the courts, which have many judges-most judges have a great deal of experience and background in calculating these awards for support-will be taken away in favour of a rigid one size fits all system. There must be more thought and debate before this happens.

There is a great deal of concern about rigid awards, particularly where circumstances change quickly and often. Parents who are paying child support simply cannot come back to court on a regular basis every time their circumstances shift. In this economy, for example, many people are under-employed. Many people are unemployed. Many people are concerned about job loss. Many people are self-employed on a consulting basis and have irregular income. These hard and fast awards, guidelines and grids, are not properly reflective of the economic realities of the citizens. They create hardship and frustration for the people who must adhere to them. I would ask the government to reconsider the rigidity of the rules which it is trying to implement.

Certain areas in the legislation provide for a variation of the awards handed down under the grid, however, the provision for a variation or for taking into account unusual or different circumstances is too narrow to be of much assistance to most parents who are paying child support.

Second, the legislation will allow Revenue Canada databases to be opened in order to locate parents who default on their child support payments. Most Canadians believe that parents have a strong obligation to their children. Children need to know that their needs are going to be met by both parents on an ongoing basis. That is a very important consideration for them.

Parents have the primary responsibility for the care and support of their children. This burden should not be placed on other members of society simply because parents decide to be irresponsible.

Any measures which will ensure that parents carry out their obligations should be applauded. However, we must ensure that the opening up of Revenue Canada databases does not unfairly or inappropriately breach the privacy rights of the parent who is under a maintenance order.

Substantial concerns have been raised about whether access to private financial information will be fairly administered. Will the databases be opened up when there are substantial arrears or when there is simply an allegation of arrears? Will private information, which is not necessary to locate the defaulting parent, be given to other parties? We need to look very closely at the issue of fairness. There can be a number of circumstances involved in a default situation. Perhaps a default has been alleged but has not taken place. The rights and privacy of all parties concerned need to be protected.

Sometimes there is a tendency to hammer everyone involved and, in doing so, violate the rights of everyone, rather than the minority who are at fault. Most parents who are under an agreement or a court order to support their children do so. They do so gladly, regularly and in a responsible manner. We have to be careful to ensure that the majority of parents are not unfairly treated simply to get at the minority. Caution must be taken because a lot of lives and rights will be affected. Third, the provisions being brought forward for the garnishment of public service pension benefits and a broader ability to ensure that every parent who is obligated to pay child support actually does pay are good. Again, we need to be careful of the fairness factor. Unfortunately, the regulations that will show how these measures will be implemented are absent. They will be introduced later. They will not be debated. They will simply be put into place.

We have a real responsibility to the people who are going to be affected by the legislation. It is important that their human rights and freedoms are not unduly impinged upon because of the way this legislation is constructed. The same principle holds true when we are withdrawing rights of citizens such as drivers' licences and passports.

It is fair to say that the sentiment behind this legislation is good, however, it is not as balanced as it needs to be. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how it will actually be administered at the end of the day.

On behalf of citizens who will be very seriously affected by this legislation, I would ask for a re-examination of it to see whether it can be better balanced and whether more fairness and certainty can be assured when it is finally implemented.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George-Peace River, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I was very interested to hear the comments of my hon. colleague from Calgary North on this very critical piece of legislation concerning families, especially children.

In light of some of the legislation that has been passed, particularly in California, Florida and Washington state, among others, which reflects those governments' policies of encouraging parenting by both parents after divorce, I wonder if my colleague could give us her views on what steps she might feel the government could take to encourage and develop that type of legislation and that thinking in Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Ablonczy

Madam Speaker, when we have legislation of this type, it should not just address one injustice, one problem or one difficulty that relates to the well-being of our children. It should be balanced and talk about the other needs of children as well.

A measure that could bring a greater involvement into children's lives by their father, which many studies show is vital to their well-being, would be addressing this whole matter of access.

As my colleagues are aware, orders relating to children in separation or divorce situations not only address monetary support for children but also the ongoing involvement through access and other areas where fathers particularly, or the non-custodial parent, continue to have as strong and healthy a relationship with their children as possible.

I would suggest that, if legislation of this type were as strong on ensuring that parents' involvements and responsibilities were equally upheld and enforced, it would be to the very great benefit of children.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Daphne Jennings

Reform

Mrs. Daphne Jennings (Mission-Coquitlam, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed listening to my colleague from Calgary North. She always brings a different perspective to this question when we debate it in the House because of her experience in law. I think she may be able to help me on this particular issue. I wonder if my colleague could comment on the prospect of mediation before access and custody is even decided or settled, usually prior to divorce. It would then be agreed by both parents and hopefully on the needs for the child and the ability of the non-custodial spouse to pay. Hopefully that would make for a better and lasting settlement and would probably result in payments being made on a regular basis.

Would my colleague also comment on the program called parenting after divorce? It became mandatory in Alberta after February 1, and Alberta justice minister Brian Evans said that the program is intended to help children and also to save the courts time and money since our courts are already overburdened. The program was basically brought in to minimize the impact of divorce on children. Would my colleague comment on whether she feels mediation would help and if so, should it be in the bill?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Ablonczy

Madam Speaker, it certainly has been my experience in my practice of law and some of the work I did in the area of divorce that the divorce proceedings and process are unnecessarily adversarial, particularly when it has to be considered that a good relationship with both parents on a continuing basis is absolutely vital to the well-being of children.

If there is an adversarial situation where someone is the bad guy and somebody is the good guy, a very difficult situation has been set up for children. Very often they are put in the position of judging who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Whereas, their real needs and what is best for them would be to sorrowfully accept that parents have differences that are not going to allow them to live together, but that these are both people they be proud of, respect and have good relationship with.

I think moving more toward a mediated approach or mediated settlement of the issues in a divorce situation would be much healthier for the children.

My colleague from Mission-Coquitlam also mentioned the training which is being implemented in Alberta which assists both parents in the kind of training, education and skills building that would be necessary for both parents to continue to play a very positive and very necessary role in the lives of their children. I would certainly recommend that the government look at those kinds of measures to make the legislation more balanced.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George-Peace River, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, before I get into my remarks today on Bill C-41, I would like to take a moment or two to reflect on what happened in this place yesterday. I feel it is very relevant to everything we as individual members of Parliament endeavour to do in the House of Commons.

Yesterday we witnessed not only the breaking of a Liberal red book promise, but I believe the powerlessness of individual MPs was truly revealed. The Prime Minister promised during the last election campaign to give individual MPs, those in opposition as well as his own backbenchers, a greater say in the running of government. Yesterday showed how seriously he took this commitment to the Canadian people.

Yesterday the government brought in time allocation to cut off debate on Bill C-45, a bill which we should never have debated in the first place. This in itself is not surprising, because the Liberals have closed debate about 24 times in this 35th Parliament, despite their howls of protest to the Tories in the last Parliament when the Tories took similar parliamentary action.

In this place we should have been debating the repeal of section 745 of the Criminal Code as outlined in the private member's bill of the member for York South-Weston, Bill C-234.

I believe it is obvious to all here and, more important, out in the real world just how hopeless it is for an individual MP to affect change in this place.

Canadians were and are demanding the repeal of section 745. A member responded by drafting and introducing a private member's bill in response. The majority of the members in the House of Commons supported it, sent it to the justice committee and it disappeared. Democracy. It is enough to make a grown man weep.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-41 which seeks to make some sense out of this country's system of child support payments. Here we have yet another example of the Liberal government's attempt at patchwork legislation. Canadians have been clamouring for change in how child support payments are determined and enforced. The Liberals pretend to be listening and respond with proposals that do not truly address the basic issues of child custody. While this bill does take some great strides in improving the enforcement of child support payments, or getting tough on so-called deadbeat dads, it entirely skips the issue of custody arrangements and mediation of disputes.

The federal government plans to involve itself in a strong arm approach to enforcement without looking at original access issues. This includes revoking or refusing to renew passports, the use of Revenue Canada's data banks in order to locate defaulting parents, the garnishment of public service pensions to pay child support as well as the wages of those working at sea.

This get tough attitude toward delinquent support payments is appropriate only after all circumstances surrounding the original custody arrangements have been thoroughly analysed and only after attempts at voluntary support have been exhausted.

This means that before taking such invasive measures it must be shown that the non-custodial parent is getting the entitled access to their children and that all other outstanding questions surrounding the custody arrangements have been resolved.

Automated steps to withhold someone's passport, crack open their private income tax information or garnish their wages are irresponsible if used without a thorough investigation of the individual case. This bill does not include proposals to do this.

There are two sides to every issue and while there is no doubt that children across this country are suffering because child support payments are going unpaid, Bill C-41 ignores that many children are also suffering because their right to see and enjoy the love of their non-custodial parent is being denied.

I join with most of the members of this House in getting tough with parents who do not meet support commitments, but let us not encourage the problem with unfair laws. There is a relationship between access to children and non-compliance in support payments. A non-custodial parent who sees his child more often is much more likely to make his payments. This bill does not even touch on this aspect. In many cases the denial of payment is rooted in the non-custodial parent's frustration at being denied access to their children.

According to a 1995 study by the U.S. bureau of statistics non-custodial parents with visitation and or joint custody were much more likely to pay support; 79 per cent of those with access paid support while only 59 per cent of those without access paid.

A May 1992 a study by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family found that almost 75 per cent of non-custodial parents reported problems in visiting their children. This shows that access and visitation rights in Canada are not working and this results in many problems, including non-compliance in child support.

On March 20 of this year I introduced a private member's bill in the House that would also amend the Divorce Act so that joint custody would be automatic. Right now custody automatically goes to one parent unless an application for joint custody is made. Bill C-242 says it should be the reverse. Kids need the love and security of both parents. Joint custody should be automatic except in cases of abuse, neglect or where it is not in the child's best interests.

We would no doubt see the number of delinquent support payments drop significantly once joint custody eliminated many of the access disputes that lead to non-payment in the first place. In many cases non-payment boils down to an issue of guaranteed access to both parents, not dollars and cents.

In 1992 Canadian courts awarded joint custody only 16 per cent of the time. Sole custody is awarded to mothers approximately 72 per cent of the time and to fathers in only 12 per cent of divorces.

This brings about another point to consider when looking at the non-payment of child support. How much potential child support money has been tied up or wasted in fighting over access rights in the courts? The separation and divorce industry drains parents of thousands of dollars. With automatic joint custody legislation that is money that could go to the children instead. It can be difficult for a parent to pay child support while they are doling out $10,000 in legal fees just to see their child.

If the custodial parent moves a child to another province or country, the non-custodial parent is suddenly left with no opportunity to see their child or faces great travel expenses to do so. Making certain that non-custodial parents are accountable for continued financial support even when they have chosen to move to a different provinces is a common goal of the courts and all levels of government. When it comes to ensuring that non-custodial

parents have reasonable access to their children, the governments and courts are strangely silent. This is a double standard.

In my riding of Prince George-Peace River in British Columbia and in other northern areas a divorce can often result in the custodial parent moving with the children to the lower mainland, severely limiting access for the non-custodial parent. It is little wonder that some parents withhold support payments in protest.

Under Bill C-41 the fact that the parent's right to access was arbitrarily taken away would not be considered and the federal government would simply start proceedings to enforce payment.

This would overlook even a supreme court ruling in May of this year concerning a Saskatchewan mother who choose to move with her daughter to Australia against the wishes of her ex-husband. The supreme court's decision took into account the effect of a custodial parent's geographic move on the access rights of the former spouse.

Did the Liberals consider this when they attempted to address the issue of child support payments? I do not believe so. The Liberals have spent a good part of their mandate reviewing child custody and taxation issues, yet they still did not get it right. The finance minister has said that the first obligation of a parent is financial. I could not disagree more. Yes, children need financial security, certainly, but the emotional security of access to both parents cannot be overlooked. Until such time as the federal government is willing to take a look at the entire issue of child custody, the complete picture, it is not qualified to proceed with enforcement.

At the very least in the absence of legislating automatic joint custody the federal government should be encouraging the provinces to be more vigilant in enforcing access problems before they agree to help with the enforcement of child support payments.

The Canadian Council for Co-Parenting, a custody and access support group for divorcing couples, agrees that the deadbeat scenario is not that simple. On its position paper on custody access and child support the CCC claims that many loving parents are deparented by a legal system content with the win-lose approach. It says that many non-custodial parents withdraw disgusted, dismayed and angered by the inequities and imbalance of many court decisions.

The justice minister should be familiar with the Canadian Council for Co-Parenting. The CCC has formally stated its dissatisfaction with Bill C-41. I will quote from a letter which the CCC sent to the justice minister. These are words which is he obviously ignoring: "Our position on Bill C-41 guidelines released in June of 1996 is that they must be reworked. They are seriously flawed in their omission of shared parenting principles of treating both parents fairly. No loving parent, male or female, in a time of great turmoil or anger should be ostracized from the lives of their children for no good reason. C-41 aggravates and enhances the current inhumane imbalances in family law". Of course the CCC is just one of many organizations and individuals concerned with the ramifications of Bill C-41.

Another issue that this bill neglects involves spending accountability by the custodial parent. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that some custodial parents are not using child support payments to properly feed or clothe the child. That parent may be receiving substantial amounts of money from the non-custodial parent but they are not required to account for how the funds are spent. There is no mechanism in place that ensures the child support is used for example to buy a winter coat for a child instead of being spent by the custodial parent on alcohol, cigarettes or whatever.

I want to be perfectly clear that I am not saying this is a prevalent occurrence. However, before the federal government begins vigorous enforcement actions, it must recognize that non-payment of child support may be due to the non-custodial parent's awareness that their child is not the one benefiting from those support payments.

Once again there are many ambiguous questions surrounding child custody cases. A responsible enforcer must first scratch beneath the surface, investigate and then take action based upon complete knowledge of all the pertinent facts.

I would like to further clarify my position on child custody laws. It is not my intent or desire to take sides on this issue. I am neither an advocate for the mothers or the fathers. I am not siding with custodial parents or non-custodial parents. My goal for introducing Bill C-242 and opposing Bill C-41 as it is currently drafted is twofold.

First, the law should be administered as fairly as possible, treating both parents equally. When married and the relationship is intact, it is assumed that both people are good parents. Why assume otherwise just because they are divorced?

Second and most important, I believe in supporting the children. When a relationship ends, they are the innocent victims. I believe very strongly that their emotional and psychological welfare is best supported by maintaining physical contact with both parents and there are studies that bear this out. In other words, I am an advocate for the kids.

If we remove the issue of who will have sole custody from the equation, parents will obviously no longer be able to use custody as a bargaining chip. Fathers would not be able to threaten to seek sole custody unless the mother agrees to unreasonably low maintenance. Mothers likewise would be prevented from holding restricted access over the father's head to obtain a better divorce

settlement. If both parents knew ahead of time with reasonable certainty that custody would be awarded jointly and therefore was not going to be an issue, there would be one less issue to fight about.

As a loving parent, I cannot imagine anything worse than being prevented from seeing my kids. The mere thought of not having access to them on a continual basis provokes angry, protective emotions.

When a marriage ends it is natural for the spouses to blame each other, to have lost respect for each other as a spouse, a lover and a friend. However, if the separating couple can be assisted and encouraged to still respect each other as loving and caring parents, it will provide as positive an environment as possible for the children.

The awarding of joint custody in the vast majority of cases will nurture this respect for each other as parents and will remove the greatest fear every parent faces: the loss of a child. It will also reduce the chances of partners remaining in a potentially abusive relationship because they know that if they walk out without the children, it will be currently held against them at the custody hearing.

Bill C-41 is an inadequate piece of legislation. It is inadequate because it does not responsibly and fairly address child custody laws in their entirety. This is yet another example of quick fix legislation. The government knows there are problems with the child support system and that Canadians are demanding change. However, instead of looking for the root of the problem, the government is proposing superficial and brash changes which it believes will appease voters in the next election.

In its current form Bill C-41 will bring little satisfaction to anyone. It will only result in further emotional suffering for the children who are caught up in these tragic child custody laws.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
Permalink
REF

Jim Silye

Reform

Mr. Jim Silye (Calgary Centre, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, before the Liberal government became involved in the issue of child support payments, the system was that the payer deducted the amount of child support payments and the recipient paid the tax on it. The logic for that was that usually the person who received the child support payments was in a lower income bracket and consequently would be taxed less and would therefore have more money available. Also, the person who was making the payments would be more willing to give the maximum because the payments would be deductible.

The justice minister has changed that system and now child support is non-deductible and non-taxable. The non-deductibility aspect of child support payments will mean that the government will receive an additional $300 million in revenue. The government claims it will put the money into some form of child support subsidy or child care benefit for the Canadian public. We will have to wait and see.

My concern is, with the government having made these changes, eliminating deductibility will encourage those people who have to pay to give less. Ultimately the children will suffer. They will receive less in benefits because less money will be given to them.

I recognize that my colleague does not wish to pick sides on the issue between mother and father, but let us pick on the government a bit. Let us see if in its wisdom the government has actually done a great service or whether it has made it worse with its half measures and tinkering.

I wonder if my colleague has a comment on the effect of the impact of what appears to be another tax grab by the government to generate $300 million in revenue at the expense of children.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
Permalink
REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Hill (Prince George-Peace River)

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my hon. colleague from Calgary Centre.

He is quite right. I do not see the logic behind the changes which the government has made. I recognize there is a problem in the area of taxation of child support and the government moved on that. The reality is that the children will be poorer for it. As he correctly pointed out, the money will now flow into government coffers rather than staying in the hands of the children.

While I recognize that Bill C-41 is moving toward setting some base rates for child support so that we will not see it diminish in cases of real need, I believe that the changes which have been made by the government have actually created more of an adversarial approach. That is unfortunate because there is already enough adversary surrounding divorce. It is one of the reasons in many cases that these things drag on for so long. They get tied up in the courts and people get more and more angry with the whole process.

I believe quite strongly that we have to move toward more mediation in these matters. The issue of who would get the tax credit could be decided between the parents and in the best interests of the children. As I said earlier, I am involved in this issue because I feel very strongly in being an advocate for the children, which is why I am speaking against this legislation.

I will quote an expert in the field, Professor Ross Finnie of Carleton University School of Public Administration, on Bill C-41. He calls for Bill C-41 to be revisited by the justice department. He is not a Reformer criticizing the government. I heard an hon. colleague from the other side say a minute ago that nothing is new in that we should be criticizing the government. Part of our role is to criticize the government when we see there are things wrong with what it brings forward. In this case it is not a Reformer making this observation but an acknowledged expert in the field.

In his review, "Good Idea, Bad Execution: The Government's Child Support Package", Professor Finnie comments: "In short, the basic unfairness incorporated in the current guideline proposals might undermine the basic goal of the whole guideline exercise". He argues that overall the package is likely to worsen the child support situation in Canada.

This is an expert in the field making his comments on Bill C-41. It is important to remember that it is not just a few Reformers, people like myself and my colleagues, who are being critical of the government; there are also people with a lot of background knowledge who are calling into question this legislation.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
Permalink
LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry (Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women), Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I am proud to stand in my place today to support Bill C-41 which amends various existing legislation to ensure that child support reforms become law.

I am proud to do so because the Department of the Status of Women Canada and my predecessor, the hon. member for Mount Royal, played a major role in bringing this legislation to the fore. The hon. member did so by going around this country with a three person task force to meet with women, with custodial and non-custodial parents and the public in general. They listened to some of the problems and ideas that came from women, men and children with regard to child support. As a result, some of this legislation was brought into the fore.

This was also brought about by working with the Law Reform Commission of Canada which again has the body of expertise that can understand and deal with the law. The family law committee of federal, provincial and territorial representatives brought understanding and expertise on what happens when people divorce, on what happens to the child.

This piece of legislation speaks clearly to and in support of one person in this problem: the child. It speaks to one group of people who have had no one to advocate for them very strongly. This government has decided that we will advocate for the child.

Above all, this reform is a tribute to the hundreds of people across Canada who contributed to the dialogue. We heard from men and women, advocates for children, for mothers and fathers. We heard from accountants, lawyers and social service providers to name only a few.

The result before us is a law that will create a system of child support that is fair, equitable and beneficial to all Canadians. But above all, this legislation represents a balanced approach that is fair for children. It puts children first.

If I could summarize this bill in one phrase, it would be that child support is not a discretionary payment. Both parents must assume responsibility for their children, whether they live together or not. This is a duty, a responsibility. It is not something that a non-custodial parent can choose to ignore because the non-custodial parent has suddenly assumed a new life and wants to undertake a new lifestyle. The child is a responsibility of both parents.

We have seen clearly that children live in the same socioeconomic status of the custodial parent. I am using the term custodial parent, but we know that the majority of custodial parents in the country are women and that the majority of single women with children are living in poverty. These children must be supported first and foremost by both parents. They must, if possible, be assisted in support by the state wherever it can be done. This is where the working income supplement will apply.

When families break up it is generally the children who suffer. As a physician who has spent 25 years in practice, I can say that children suffer greatly. Many children of divorce who live with the mother do not have the same access to post-secondary education that other children have. We know many of these children are living pretty close to the poverty line. They are a shared responsibility. It is the right of the child to be financially supported by both parents.

We would then create a system where families would still be united. But there are divorced parents and the children, therefore, live in different status purely because they happen through no fault of their own to be living in a divorced situation. Children should not have to bear the brunt of that. There should not be two classes of children in this country.

The government applied gender based analyses to these reforms to ensure that neither women nor men are unfairly disadvantaged by the legislation. We have ensured that the outcome of the changes are fair and equitable to both men and women.

The child support strategy rests on four very important pillars. One is the tax treatment of support payments for children. I want to stress the tax treatment of support payments for children, not of spousal support. We are talking only of child support. We have set up guidelines that will make it clear across the country that we are no longer going to have to depend on the discretion of lawyers, judges or courts. It will be a fair system of guidelines, based on the income of the non-custodial parent. It takes into consideration whether the non-custodial parent can afford to pay or not. It also makes very clear that afford to pay does not mean that child support for a non-custodial parent comes after the car, the holidays and the investments, but that child support is considered as one of the first and foremost duties of the non-custodial parent and not as a second thought.

These guidelines are clear, equitable and they will be the same no matter where those people pay live in this country. It takes into consideration the cost of living, the standard of living and the tax treatments of each province. Different provinces will have clear guidelines for what the non-custodial parent must pay, based on the number of children, as a percentage of the income of the non-custodial parent.

The third pillar on which this rests is enforcement of child support guidelines and child support, period. We know that many children do not get child support. This is a major problem. I do not think hon. members across in the third party would disagree that enforcement is extremely important.

The fourth pillar is the working income supplement. This is the so-called tax grab that the hon. member just spoke about. We know that by changing the tax treatment of child support the federal government will receive a windfall of money. That money is not going back into federal government coffers. After $50 million of that money has been taken to set up the data bases and to assist provinces to get this going, the rest will go into a working income supplement which will assist 700,000 children.

As a state we need to ensure that our children are clearly supported and that our children are treated equally whether their parents can afford to or not. Children are the future of this country.

The first pillar of change is the way in which the child support system is taxed. This system has been place for 54 years. It has become outdated. It was an inequitable system which said parents who live together and who are bringing up a family do not get to tax deduct the money they spend on their children, but if they become divorced all of a sudden their child because a tax deductible expense. This did not make any sense at all because it was creating an uneven playing field.

It was saying that if you were divorced it was better for you to be able to support your child because you got the tax deduction. If you live together as a family you were in fact being discriminated against in terms of caring for your children because caring for your children is not a tax deductible expense. It is not an expense of business. It is not a discretionary expense. It is a duty and a responsibility for parents.

Under the new system the full amount of the support payments can be used to care for the child so that when a custodial parent is given a sum of money that custodial parent knows that all of that money is going to the child and that some of it does not have to go back to Revenue Canada so that the child only gets part of the money.

Child support payment under a written agreement or court order made on after May 1 will therefore not be deductible to the payer or included in the income of the recipient for tax purposes. This has finally given us an equitable system and not a system that is based on the fact that if the custodial parent can afford a good lawyer, then the custodial parent gets a better amount of money for the child.

We know that many custodial parents did have the money and it really rested on who could afford the better lawyer. This has been taken away now. The system is going to be fair and equitable and that is the second component of the pillars of this legislation. The guidelines are clearly set and clearly written down so that there is no more trying to see who could argue their way out of the paper bag that we have had in the past in terms of how child support has been accepted.

The tax rules, however, will not automatically apply to existing orders. Governments cannot unilaterally change support agreements between parents negotiated on the basis of another set of rules. This is not going to be grandfathered. We know that if parents are not happy with the way their child support has been structured they can go back and seek to change it and bring it under the new rules if they work together to do that and if they work together in the best interests of the child.

Implementation of the new rules will not take effect until the spring for two very important reasons. First, we expect there will be a large increase in applications to change existing orders to conform to the new child support rules because in many cases much of the child support that is today given is not being enforced and is not enough. It would cause chaos if the federal government did not have the provinces to establish a more efficient way to deal with the sudden influx of support orders.

For that reason we have established a $50 million fund that will be used in partnership with the provincial government to develop, pilot and implement efficient and cost-effective mechanisms to help parents obtain, vary and update their awards.

The second reason for leaving the implementation until May 1997 brings me to the second pillar of child support. The implementation date allows us time to enact federal child support guidelines. These guidelines are going to make the system equitable.

If I could sum up this bill in one phrase it would be that child support is the single most important thing that we can do for our children tomorrow. This legislation introduces a number of measures that the provinces and the territories can draw on in partnership with the federal government to enforce support payments.

Federal pensions can be diverted so that we can garnishee from a federal employee who is not paying child support. We can garnishee out of that federal employee packages, whether it be pension funds or some sort of benefit funds, in order to ensure the child gets the support.

Revenue Canada's data base will now be used for the federal information network so that we can track defaulters. In other words, they can move from province to province and they can run but they cannot hide.

Passports and even certain federal licences can be suspended if a debtor is in persistent arrears. We will develop finally a standardized data base across this country so that there will be compliance with the support orders in Canada.

This will help both levels of government to design more effective mechanisms for support enforcement. In addition, the legislation provides for measures to help the provinces streamline the collection of out of province orders. In these ways the federal government will help the provinces to pursue what is really their jurisdiction which is to support enforcement programs.

Although it is not covered in this legislation it will be noted that the fourth pillar of our child support strategy is the doubling of the working income supplement of the federal child tax benefit. This is the tax grab the hon. member across spoke about and conveniently ignored, that the money is to be going over the next five years, half a billion dollars, to support approximately 700,000 low income working families. About one-third of these families are single parents. These single parent families are predominantly led by women and they predominantly live in poverty.

We as a government are making a very strong statement. We are saying that we as Canadians, all of us, whether we have children or not, whether we are living together with our children or not, owe it to all Canadian children to prepare them for the future, to prepare them for tomorrow, to give them equal opportunity so they can realize their fullest potential, so we do not continue to foster two sets of levels of children, those who have and those who do not have and who will be the people we look to carry this country forward in the next century. If we do not give them the tools and the skills, if we do not give all our children the opportunity and value our children, we are not truly looking to our future for tomorrow.

The four pillars in our child support strategy reinforce one another. These changes have long been overdue. The government has studied these issues carefully and we have worked closely with all the stakeholders, not only the public but accountants, men and women, and lawyers to talk about this issue and to find the right answers. This is not a thrown together piece of legislation, as hon. members across the floor would have us believe. This was discussed in public hearings. I do not know if the hon. members even went to the public hearings or even listened to some of the information we heard from men and women who spoke on behalf of the children of this country.

More important, our children deserve the right to be treated fairly. They deserve the right not to have to be forced to live with

the consequences of what their parents have done and with the power struggles between parents as we have seen in the past. Our children deserve to be given every opportunity. This bill does exactly that for all our children.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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REF

Jim Silye

Reform

Mr. Jim Silye (Calgary Centre, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I would like to summarize this bill in one word for the hon. parliamentary secretary who spoke with such glowing words. It is a mistake.

It is a mistake in a lot of ways. There were some misconceptions within her statements that I would like to clarify. The parliamentary secretary is concerned about child support and how children are important and I agree 150 per cent. However, the way the government is going about will hurt the children more than help them.

In that tax grab that we talk about, which she has now identified, in the neighbourhood of $.5 billion, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of that goes, as she admitted herself, into overhead, into a federal bureaucracy, into a federal administration. She said initially it will take $50 million of that. That is not helping children. That is creating jobs in government. That is what it is doing. It is hurting the children, at the expense of children.

The parliamentary secretary talks about how the person who pays used it as a tax deduction and a person might as well get a divorce because they got a tax deduction if they have children. The adjudicator determined between the couple divorcing in the case of children the amount of money paid based on need and ability to pay and an amount was set. Yes, it was deductible and taxable. What that really is, if the parliamentary secretary considers this for a moment, is if the amount is $10,000 and the individual makes $50,000 to $60,000 in income, it is a deferral of $10,000 of income to the person who is looking after the children.

The principle of taxation is that we tax income. That deferral from the $50,000, $60,000, $25,000 or $100,000 is a deferral to the custodial parent. That parent paid the tax. Do you know what? In that system, that is a tight system. There is no leakage there. There is no government bureaucracy taking 30 or 40 per cent of that money. All the money is going to the children. The taxes paid on that are paid at a lower rate.

I submit that the single biggest mistake in this bill is doing away with deductibility and taxability of child support. Arbitrarily setting amounts across the country no matter where a person lives-this is the amount-is a good principle. It should be applied to UI as well.

Why should somebody in Alberta paying $1 get 75 cents in benefits and somebody in Newfoundland paying $1 getting $3.75

in benefits? If the parliamentary secretary would apply that same principle to UI, then the government might be making some sense.

This bill is a mistake. It is a mistake to intrude into the lives of people in a way that will just support more government bureaucracy. It is a mistake to intrude into the lives of people and say that government will now look after the children, not the parents. Government is taking money away from the parents' ability to look after the children.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Ms. Fry

Madam Speaker, I find the hon. member's question to be so absolutely typical of someone who does not really understand. He has never been there and does not even understand the reality of the lives of divorced families and of children of divorce.

This is the kind of statement that you would hear from an upper middle class male who does not have a clue. The hon. member talks about child support and that the adjudicator takes into consideration the real need and ability of the parent to pay. That is absolute rubbish.

Child support has, in the past, been dictated by who had the better lawyer. Invariably the custodial parent did not have the money to have the better lawyer and was at the wrong end of the stick. The point here is that it is the children who suffer.

The hon. member talked about income tax and child support. The interesting thing is that we get this kind of information coming across the floor because when you try to answer the question, you are not even given the courtesy of their listening to the answer. Misinformation continues to be fostered. They really do not want to hear the answer. The answer is that child support is not spousal support. Spousal support is income in the hands of the custodial parent. Child support is income in the hands of the child.

Parents who live together do not deduct the support for their child. They do not get to deduct it. Why should it be that we have this uneven system of parents who are not living together with their family get to deduct child support? Child support is not a discretionary thing. Child support is an absolute duty to the child.

I also heard the hon. member asking me about using 30 to 40 per cent of the half a million dollars in order to create a bureaucratic structure. I am not a mathematician. I certainly never claimed to be one. However, when I last looked 40 per cent of a half billion was not $15 million. This is grade 2 arithmetic we are talking about here. It is interesting that this kind of arithmetic comes out. Fifteen million dollars is not half of a half billion dollars. That is not 40 per cent of it.

One of the important things to remember is that if there is a system that is fair and equitable, that is going to be tracking people, you have to use the technology so the information is available across this country. That has been the major problem of enforcement. People leave provinces. They go to other provinces. No one can find them. They do not know where they are. If the defaulter cannot be tracked, support payments cannot be enforced.

It is a clear issue. We know that 43 per cent of non-custodial parents in the province of Ontario today do not pay a penny of child support. Of the remainder, only about 30 per cent of them manage to pay the full amount.

We are talking here about major default. We have to set into place the structures to help these children. Saying that this is a lot of rubbish actually means that the hon. member does not even understand the issue to start off with.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
Permalink

October 3, 1996