September 25, 2001

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The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to section 66 of the Official Languages Act, the annual report of the Commissioner of Official Languages for the period starting on April 1, 2000 and ending on March 31, 2001.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(4)( a ), this report is permanently referred to the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.


Subtopic:   Commissioner of Official Languages
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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC/DR)

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wrote to the Prime Minister last night asking if he would make a full statement to the House, as is the custom in this place, with regard to his recent conversations yesterday with the president of the United States on a matter of such grave interest to the House of Commons.

Has the House received any indication as to whether or not the Prime Minister would take advantage of that parliamentary opportunity to inform parliament, in the normal way, of those discussions?


Subtopic:   Points of Order
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LIB

Geoff Regan

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I thank the right hon. member for his question. I will take it under advisement. I do not have any information on that at the moment.


Subtopic:   Points of Order
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CA

Art Hanger

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast, Canadian Alliance)

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-396, an act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous child sexual predators).

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this private member's bill titled, Carrie's Guardian Angel Law. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that the fullest force of the law is brought to bear upon violent sexual predators.

Under the bill a violent sexual predator would receive a sentence of 20 years to life, with no chance of parole, in cases of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault situations on a child, which also involved the use of a weapon, repeated assaults, multiple victims, repeat offences, more than one offender, confinement or kidnapping or the use of position of trust with respect to the child for sexual advantage.

To the victims and their families, the bill represents a return to fundamental justice. To those who prey on the young and the vulnerable in our society, if caught, they will be punished and punished severely.

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

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Criminal Code
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BQ

Gilles-A. Perron

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Gilles-A. Perron (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, BQ)

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-397, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (support payments).

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to introduce a bill to amend the Income Tax Act. This bill will allow parents having joint custody of their children to claim basic deductions proportionally and equitably.

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

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Income Tax Act
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I pleased to present a petition that is very timely in terms of a motion passed overwhelmingly by the House last April.

The petitioners acknowledge a couple of well established facts: one that the consumption of alcoholic beverages may cause health problems; and the other, that fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol related birth defects are preventable by avoiding alcohol during pregnancy.

They call upon the House to mandate the labelling of alcoholic products to warn pregnant women and other persons of certain dangers associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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CA

Reed Elley

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Reed Elley (Nanaimo—Cowichan, Canadian Alliance)

Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure, pursuant to Standing Order 36, to present a petition on behalf of 90 constituents in Nanaimo--Cowichan who are deeply concerned about the fact that many health care workers in Canada are expected to assist in providing controversial services, such as abortion and promoting controversial material against their conscience.

The petitioners urge the Government of Canada to enact legislation that explicitly recognizes the freedom of conscience of health care workers.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Geoff Regan

Liberal

Mr. Geoff Regan (Parliamentary Secretary to the 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 (Ms. Bakopanos)

Shall all questions stand?

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
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BQ

Michel Gauthier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Gauthier (Roberval, BQ)

moved:

That this House urge the government, in any reprisals taken in reaction to the terrorist strikes in New York on September 11, not to commit Canadian armed forces in any offensive action until the House of Commons has been consulted and has voted on the matter.

Madam Speaker, I would first like to advise that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Saint-Jean.

We are here today to discuss a motion by the Bloc Quebecois. The motion's importance stems from the tragic events of the last weeks, events to which we are trying to find the best and most peaceful solution possible.

It is important that the Parliament of Canada be consulted by the government before any major decision is taken regarding Canadian participation in any military action.

It is democracy that has been attacked and, therefore, it is up to democracy to defend itself. When the terrorists attacked the Pentagon, what they targeted was the power, the symbol of military power, not only of the United States but of the free democratic world as a whole. When the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, it was the economic powers that they attacked. When they targeted the White House, fortunately without success, it was the political power that they singled out. Since the target was democracy, it is up to democracy to defend itself. This is critical, in our view.

Parliament must also be consulted because, should there be military action, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Quebecers and Canadians would be at stake. The decision to send its sons and daughters to fight for democracy has to be the most important one a parliament can make. Such a decision cannot, we believe, be made by the government alone. It cannot decide to put the lives of our fellow citizens at risk and not ask those elected to represent them to make this most important decision in a non-partisan spirit.

Parliament must also be consulted because the events that will unfold in the coming weeks and months could very well shape our whole future. Democracy and the free world are at stake. The goal pursued by terrorists was to destabilize the values, which are dear to us and which we have fought to defend over the years and down through the generations. These are the values we are fighting for daily in this parliament, despite our ideological differences.

The issue of consulting parliament is so fundamental, in our view, that we have a hard time understanding why the Prime Minister who on the very first day of this session opened the door to a critical consultation of parliament and a vote on crucial issues, is now backtracking. It is unbelievable.

It is out of the question for us to accept such an attitude on the part of the government on issues that are so fundamental for us and for those who may be called upon to put their own lives at risk in a conflict, the outcome of which is unfortunately never known at the outset.

It strikes us as unacceptable that the government is settling for responses that are not only ready made but, let us admit it, partisan along the lines of “We are consulting parliament”.

It is true that parliament is consulted on a certain number of subjects, when missions of this nature are involved, but most of the time the discussions held here are for the purpose of obtaining the members' points of view after the important decisions have already been reached.

It makes the Prime Minister and the government look good to say that there is a new type of debate in parliament and that from now on members can express their points of view when troops are to be deployed.

What we are calling for, however, is that before the government commits to actions of such importance it require not only the opinion of members, and a general point of view on what must or must not be done, but also the approval of parliament, pure and simple. There must be votes in this parliament so that the government knows where the representatives of the people stand on future actions. This is the very basis of democracy.

What we are asking is not unrealistic. Let us look at what other countries have done in the same context.

In France, Prime Minister Jospin said “--decisions of this kind could not be reached by the executive without consultation of the National Assembly and the Senate”.

Argentina made its participation in any military intervention conditional on a vote in its parliament.

In Germany the lower chamber, the Bundestag, voted to give the government the mandate to take part in any military action.

From information I received only this morning as I was preparing my notes for this speech, in India. The opposition was consulted, and will be consulted on any participation involving services or other contributions.

In Great Britain, although their parliament is not sitting, when Mr. Blair returned he consulted not only the European Union but also MPs from all the parties in order to find out their opinion.

When the major democracies of the world are behaving like democracies, we have trouble understanding, as do those who are listening to us, why the Prime Minister is afraid to submit to a vote in this parliament decisions of such great importance as the one to join in the fight against terrorism. Why do the Prime Minister and his government fear democracy?

We in the Bloc Quebecois have shown a sense of responsibility from the beginning of this crisis. We have tried, through our suggestions, to support the government and to give it credibility. In response to this co-operation, the Prime Minister is now rejecting any confirmation by a vote the consultation of parliament.

Yesterday, our Prime Minister went to Washington. Observers consider that he was not taken so seriously. What stature he would have commanded if he had met the president of the United States armed not only with his opinion and that of his ministers' who incidentally are appointed by him, but also with the opinion of all Canadian parliamentarians, with a serious, credible vote that would have given him a credibility that he unfortunately did not have?

When one wants to look like a head of state, one behaves like a head of state, and the Prime Minister did not behave like a head of state. He refuses to consult parliament.

He went to a Liberal Party fundraising dinner to talk about his visit with the president of the United States and he expects to be taken seriously.

He still has a chance to make amends. He must allow parliament to voice its opinion by voting on any major decision to be taken in this context.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I see a member rising on questions or comments, but unfortunately he is not in his place. Or is he rising on debate?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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An hon. member

I would like to make a comment.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry, but since the member is not in his place, I must give the floor to the member for Saint-Jean.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Claude Bachand

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I invite my colleague to put his question to me after my speech. I think it is important for him to be in his seat. I am sure that is the message you were trying to get across. It is also important for him to get closer to our House leader and to those who will be speaking later on. The discussions that we are having here today are very important.

The motion asks that the House urge the government to consult parliament. I believe this is a very serious issue. Yesterday, we saw the Prime Minister of Canada go to Washington without the formal support of parliament. He may have had the support of the executive, of cabinet, but he did not have the support of parliament.

He went to meet with the President of the U.S., who has the support of both houses of Congress. In the U.S. Senate as well as in the House of Representatives, these discussions went beyond any partisan considerations.

I think this is what parliament is all about, that is to give all elected members not only the right to express their views on an issue, but also the fundamental right to vote on the issue. It is the same as if an election campaign were to provide for heated debates between candidates but, in the end, no opportunity for the people to vote.

I think people have to be asked to vote. When the people voted, whether they voted for an individual and a party or an individual representing a party, they asked that person to sit in parliament, to which they had elected him, to debate and to vote on all of the issues. That is what counts.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister did not have a mandate from parliament. He had a mandate from cabinet, but not from parliament.

If we look at all of the countries of the world in the context of this crisis, I think armed forces, including those of the G-7, will certainly draw on the decisions of their respective parliaments. The French president has just made a commitment. He has said, “We cannot use force, involve our army, without consulting the National Assembly”. He has made that commitment.

Yesterday, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, not only briefed people, but he is planning to recall parliament before the date set, because he also wants to draw on parliament. He will thus be speaking on behalf of all members of the British parliament. It is important to remember this.

The same is true in Germany. Probably for historical reasons, this is in the German constitution. Because of the two world wars, when Germany wants to use force, it must consult its parliament.

The Canadian Prime Minister cannot remain outside what the major powers are doing. Of course, we already have problems with our army. We cannot contribute a whole lot. Still, if parliamentarians have the opportunity to speak their mind, we can then come up with solutions. Democracy will then decide. How will it do so? By letting each member of this parliament vote on these questions. That is the aim of the motion before us.

Each of the members is well equipped to do so. We are used to making decisions. I would even say that we can make decisions that are often very difficult. The decision for which we want the government to respond to our request is a difficult one. The decision to send Canadians and Quebecers into a conflict that could be lengthy and dangerous is the responsibility of each member. We each have our points of entry in this debate and in the vote. We will hold a considered vote based on what each member must do.

A member is someone who already—this is true in my case—has a file, who is in contact with the army, who can discuss at length with members of the armed forces and listen to their viewpoint.

A member of parliament is also someone who listens to his constituents. Since there cannot always be unanimity, a majority of voters may say “I think you should defend my point of view and go so far as to vote according to it”. This is the fundamental role of a member in this House. His role is not to merely discuss issues.

So far, we have been discussing and we have expressed our opinion to the Prime Minister. Now, we want to go the next step, a step without which it is useless and totally pointless to discuss issues. If we have a debate without a vote, we can talk until we are blue in the face. However, the fundamental decision, the decision that history will remember, will be the one recorded in Hansard , following a vote, that will show how members voted on the motion. So, this is very important.

Members of parliament also listen to interest groups. Peace groups come to see us and so do more aggressive ones. We must listen to these people. This is why I say that we are perfectly capable of making these sometimes difficult decisions.

We should not miss this opportunity to strengthen the role of MPs. How many times have we heard comments such as, “Backbenchers never have a say”. This is a typical example of the importance of the members of the House as a whole, both backbenchers and ministers. When a vote takes place here, everyone has a voice. The Prime Minister or any minister does not carry more weight. The process is fair to everyone. Sure, the government can always rely on its majority, but this is normal and at least members can vote on these issues.

Members who will be expressing their opinions today want to do more than talk. They want to do more than have a debate. They want to do more than engage in rhetoric. They want all these speeches and discussions to end with their vote, a vote based on what I mentioned earlier namely their files, their voters, the interest groups that contacted them and the feedback provided by their office, which receives calls every day on this issue. We must take all this into account and give MPs an opportunity to give some finality to the debate through a vote.

There is the importance of debating and the importance of voting. There is also the importance of knowing, in the motion before us, what the financial consequences will be, for there are financial consequences. However, at the outset I must say that the primary consequence for a member is that Quebecers and Canadians will be sent into a risky conflict. That is the main thing I said earlier that we were used to taking decisions. The most difficult part about taking those decisions is that we are the lives and health of people.

We know that not everyone is killed in a conflict but some people come back in pretty rough shape. We have only to think of the gulf war and the conflict in the Balkans. Some people who went over lost their lives, but others came back with their health broken, which is almost as bad. We therefore have a very great responsibility.

Similarly, the cost to the Canadian taxpayer will also be great. Once again, members do not want to be restricted to debating the matter.

They want to have their say in a vote on a motion, with the financial consequences that vote will imply.

So far, the performance of the Minister of Finance has been sadly lacking. He has said nothing has been planned yet in this regard and that he would do everything possible to avoid a deficit.

If we decide to make an additional commitment and troops are sent to Afghanistan or if we increase our participation to make up for the shortfall in our international commitments such as replacing the Americans in the field in Bosnia, this is bound to have financial consequences.

I therefore think that members of this House have everything they need to be well informed in the debate and that they are certainly in a position to vote, which is essential in a democracy.

Just to tie this in with the proposal I just made regarding financial resources, I wish to move an amendment to the motion moved by the member for Roberval.

I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the word “action” the following:

“nor any financial resources”.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I would like to inform the member that the Chair will take the amendment into consideration and report later to the House as to whether it is in order.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Mario Laframboise

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I would like to know what my colleague from Saint-Jean thinks about the comments made by representatives of the Liberal Party in 1990, when, on the issue of the gulf war, the member at that time, the Deputy Prime Minister, stated:

Liberals insist that before Canadians are called upon to participate in any offensive action, such participation must first be brought before parliament and voted on here in the way it was done at the time of the Korean conflict.

It was the Liberals who were calling on the government for a vote, as we are doing today.

What does my colleague from Saint-Jean think of this?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Claude Bachand

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Claude Bachand

Madam Speaker, my colleague has just given us an example where the Deputy Prime Minister, back then, answered back to the Conservative government in office “You must consult us, but you must also allow us to vote on it”.

Incidentally, I would like to remind my colleague that there was not only one member of the opposition at the time who questioned the government about this. I believe all the Liberal members of the opposition asked that there be a vote.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of an opposition party that forgets the past once elected to government. They should re-read Hansard and ask themselves if they are not contradicting themselves on their positions of the past.

In the case that my honourable colleague raised, the Liberals are indeed in contradiction with their stand at the time. For this reason, we are asking them to demonstrate that they are listening and to allow all members a vote on this issue.

As for the Bloc Quebecois, while I do not believe we will ever form the government, we would not contradict ourselves, unlike the Liberals certainly are, from when they were the opposition compared to today as government.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Robert Lanctôt

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Robert Lanctôt (Châteauguay, BQ)

Madam Speaker, during question period, when we came back we asked the Prime Minister if there would be a vote, since consulting the House appeared essential in such an important debate on the attacks. In his reply the Prime Minister indicated that there would be consultation in the House.

Our understanding was that it would not be mere consultation as part of an exploratory debate, but that a vote would be taken in the House of Commons to give ourselves some power.

Later the Prime Minister recanted. What does my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, think of that tactic on the government's part?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Claude Bachand

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Claude Bachand

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the hon. member for Châteauguay, for his question. I believe there is indeed a discrepancy between what the Prime Minister said at the beginning of the session and the statement he made later, saying that he was not sure whether people would be asked to vote on the issue.

Today it must be clear that this motion is more than just a motion put forward by an opposition group or a political party. It concerns all members who are not ministers or the Prime Minister. What matters today is that members realize that we are sending a message, not only to opposition members, but also to all members of this House who, sadly, are all too often confronted to positions taken by this government's executive branch the cabinet that is, and are expected to toe the line.

What we want to do today is get a vote. We are asking the Prime Minister to allow all backbenchers of his party to vote. We want these people, all the members, not only to give their opinion on the issue but also to vote on it. This is a fundamental principle and the Prime Minister must not miss this opportunity to take a measure which will satisfy all members of the House of Commons.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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September 25, 2001