February 10, 2004


Dennis Mills


Mr. Dennis Mills (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying through you to the member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis that as long as she is present in the House of Commons, Quebec's voice will never be diluted. As I reflect back over the last 16 years I have served in this chamber, one of my special joys has been meeting members from different parties for whom I feel great admiration for the work they do. The member is one of the special contributors to helping this place be a better place.

On the point of the motion, I humbly disagree with my colleague from the Bloc Québécois. It is important that we let Canadians know what we are trying to achieve. It is an easy thing to pick and choose the bills that we are trying to reintroduce to the House in this motion.

I heard one of the members from the new Conservative Party this morning put a big focus on Bill C-38, the marijuana bill. This is not about reintroducing just the marijuana bill. There are a number of bills on this motion that we are trying to reintroduce.

We should tell Canadians the reason we are trying to reintroduce these bills that lapsed in the last session is we want to pick up where we left off, especially with those bills on which we probably have a consensus, such as: Bill C-10B, cruelty to animals, which I will come back to in a minute; Bill C-17, public safety; Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship; Bill C-20, protection of children; Bill C-26, the railway safety act; Bill C-33, international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences; Bill C-43, the Fisheries Act; Bill C-52, the Radiocommunication Act; and Bill C-56, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. There are many more like these bills.

If we are going to be candid with the Canadian public who are listening to this debate today, we have to let them know that it has been a convention for hundreds of years that in a new session the government has up to 30 days to introduce bills that died on the Order Paper when the previous session ended. This is a convention that has long been practised. It does not mean that when these bills come back we will vote on them all at once. Members will have a chance to say yea or nay on each individual bill.

The idea of delaying this has an adverse effect on citizens in every riding of the country. Some of those bills touch every riding in the country. A case could be made on the electoral boundaries. We all know what that is about. That is an attempt to delay the election. I personally would not have any problem if we delayed the election for a while, but the reality is that we will have a chance to vote yea or nay on all of these bills when they come back. I do not think this delay tactic serves the opposition party well.

I want to talk about a very specific bill on the Order Paper that has concern in my riding and has had national attention in the last couple of weeks. It is Bill C-10B, cruelty to animals.

As hon. members may know, Withrow Park is in my riding. It is a fairly large park. It certainly would not be large by the standards of the member for Rimouski, but in my little community in downtown Toronto, Withrow Park is a major park and is probably about 10 to 15 acres big. About two weeks ago someone put poison in the park where people walk their dogs and from time to time let the dogs off the leash. The one that hit national media was T-Bone, a King Charles spaniel. He was quite well known.

In my constituency there are over 10,000 pet owners. Those pets are sources of comfort and have special relationships with many of the seniors and families in my riding. The attachment, the love and the affection for these animals is in many respects similar to that of parents with children. The notion that someone would drop poison is overwhelming. In fact the poison is not even available in Canada; it can only be obtained by licence in the United States.

It is that kind of insensitivity with which a bill like Bill C-10 deals. The notion that this House would work at delaying reintroducing a bill like that is not in my mind a constructive way to go.

I am hoping that through the motion that is on the floor today we can create some new consensus so that we can move forward on getting these bills back on track.

A lot of people would feel pretty anxious if an election was upon us and we let a lot of these bills die before the election. When we came back, I believe we would have to go through the entire process again. What is that process? Probably a lot of Canadians do not realize that hours and hours go into getting a bill to this stage. Witnesses come to the various committees of the House of Commons and give members of Parliament from all parties expert advice on designing the bills.

In the manufacture, preparation and formulation of a piece of legislation in the House, we do not just snap our fingers and a bill is put together by the legislative branch. Bills are built after receiving hundreds of hours of input from citizens across Canada. Some of them use their own money to come here to give expert testimony. The House of Commons committee system funds some of them to come here. The notion that we would just scrap all of that work is most disrespectful to the work of all of those witnesses we have heard with respect to the 40 or 50 bills that we are trying to put back on the Order Paper.

I would appeal to the leadership of the Conservative Party and the leadership of the NDP. The NDP should take a strong stand on this because I know there are bills here on which the NDP has had a strong influence. Those members should stand and say they support the government in moving these bills forward.

There are bills that affect every region of our country, such as the administration and accountability of Indian bands. Look at all the great work that went into putting that bill together. Look at all the travel time from every region of the country, especially the long distances from the north. Look at the ethics bill. How could the opposition not want us to proceed on the ethics bill? There is also the whole area of the Food and Drugs Act.

These are bills that affect the health of the citizens of every riding in the country. The notion that there would be opposition to bringing these bills back and passing them is counterproductive. It is part of the reason that people lose trust in this place, because stalling just for the sake of stalling I do not think serves anyone very well.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Bob Mills

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Bob Mills (Red Deer, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to speak to the motion and to highlight a few of the reasons for our opposition to what the government now takes as daily routine, to use closure and shut down debate on pretty much any topic.

Having listened to question period today, I can understand why the government may want to talk about some other things and not talk about the issues with which Canadians are concerned. The people in my riding would like us to talk about some quite different issues than what the government has its emphasis on and I will talk about some of those.

Let me first deal with the closure motion and talk about it specifically. On May 2, 2000 during a discussion of the rules curtailing debate at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the former clerk of the House of Commons, Robert Marleau, responded to a question regarding the Speaker's authority to protect the minority in the event of an abuse. The former clerk said:

It exists intrinsically in the role of the speakership... all the time, where there can be tyranny on either side. It could be the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the minority.

At a subsequent meeting on May 4, the former clerk suggested that with motions of time allocation or closure the Speaker is less likely to intervene. There is a reference to this on page 570 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice . However, the clerk stopped short of suggesting that the Speaker would never intervene. He used an extreme example that if the government time allocated every bill at every stage, the Speaker might intervene.

My interpretation of what the clerk said is that there exists a limit to what a majority government can do with respect to closure and time allocation. The clerk used the extreme example in his response because he knows it is not up to him to establish this limit.

If we were to consider the current Prime Minister in the context of the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, a prime minister who was not known to be progressive in the democratic deficit file, we see the shocking excess, an excess the Speaker should take note of, an excess that should give the Speaker reason to disallow notice and look the other way when the motion for closure is moved. On only his sixth day in the House of Commons, the current Prime Minister has given notice of closure on debate to reinstate bills from his predecessor, Jean Chrétien.

So much for that new vision. So much for that new parliamentary reform. So much for the parliamentary deficit. We have a Prime Minister who does not even know where he wants to go. He simply wants to bring back a bunch of bills from the previous government. There is no new hope there for Canadians. There is no new government dealing with the issues that the people on the streets are talking about.

Mr. Chrétien was flexible in comparison. It was five months before he could bring himself to move time allocation on debate in the House. His first full-fledged closure motion did not come until he had been at 24 Sussex for a year and a half. Add to that excess the excess of the sheer number of motions moved by the government calls for an intervention from the Speaker. The 75 time allocation motions and 10 closure motions total 85 motions.

It used to be that calling one closure motion in a term might well have brought down the government. Canadians wonder why the government does not let debate go on. If debate does not happen in the House, where is it supposed to happen? The government has demonstrated by its actions 85 times that it has shut down debate.

The current Prime Minister, six days into being in the House, has shut down debate. That is not democracy and leads people out there to ask what we are running here. Are we running a dictatorship where the PMO runs the show and where the Prime Minister is afraid to allow debate in the House?

The third excess to be considered by the Speaker is the fact that through the reinstatement motion the Prime Minister is recycling Chrétien legislation from the previous session. There is nothing new and nothing of his own. How can Canadians know where he wants to go when he simply recycles all of the legislation from the previous administration?

The Speaker has already ruled on that point. I suppose the Speaker's ruling confirms that the government is actually the old, tired government of Jean Chrétien. Otherwise, how could this procedure today even be possible?

I think the Speaker should reconsider this point in view of the fact that the debate on the motion is being closed off. If it is procedurally correct, it certainly is not morally correct. Our ability as the opposition to solicit public support for this point of view is being hampered. We simply do not have the time. We have only been here six days and we are already shutting down debate.

The naval aid bill of 1913 represented the first time in Canadian parliamentary history that closure was ever used. The proposed legislation was introduced by the Conservative government of Robert Borden and, if adopted, would have authorized a cash donation of $35 million to Great Britain for the construction of the Dreadnought class warships for the navy.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier strongly opposed the bill. The Liberals filibustered throughout second reading and committee of the whole. At one point in committee of the whole they kept the House virtually in continuous session for as long as two weeks. The House sat from 3 p.m. on Monday, March 3 until Saturday at midnight, and then again from 3 p.m. on Monday, March 10 to Saturday late in the evening. The naval bill was eventually defeated in the Liberal dominated Senate. The good old days when government actually allowed debate.

Closure was used again to close off the famous pipeline debate in 1956. Debate on the omnibus energy security act of 1982 was made famous because the opposition caused the bells to ring from 4:20 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2 until 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, at which point Bill C-94 was dropped from the agenda as a result of an agreement having been reached to split the bill into eight smaller bills. There was the GST filibuster organized by the Liberal Party in the House which turned the Senate into a real sideshow.

The point is to allow debate and filibusters to occur in the House. I would refer to the story of Kyoto and the dilemma that I was faced with as the chief environment critic. I had just watched the Grey Cup game and I saw a $250,000 ad for Kyoto during the game. I then knew that $23 million was to be spent advertising Kyoto in the next six weeks. I said to myself as the chief critic for the environment, “How will I get our position out on Kyoto? How will that be possible?”

On the plane ride back that Sunday night, I decided that maybe there was a way and that maybe I would talk in the House for a while. Talking to our leader the next morning and then to the Speaker, I found that there was a rule that allowed that to happen. If a member was the first speaker after the minister who proposed the bill, there was unlimited time to talk about the issue.

There were certain rules pointed out to me by the Speaker: I could not stray from my area, I could not go off topic, I could not read the telephone book, I must not repeat myself, and I must stay on topic. That was a challenge. Members know how that worked out.

The point is that by being able to debate that in the House and being able to get that point of view out over that period of time, we ended up by Wednesday night of that same week being on the front page of every newspaper across the country, being on many talk shows and even going to Toronto to be on Mike Bullard.

By having that opportunity in the House to express our point of view, we were able to accomplish what we needed to because we did not have $23 million to push a particular point of view as the government did. We can see the value then of having an open ability to speak in the House. I am sure that possibly the environment minister cannot see the value of that, but certainly many Canadians could and we were able to get our point of view across.

When a party uses closure and shuts down debate, that then ends discussion of the issues that Canadians should hear about and want to hear about. The government then shuts down any opportunity for debate. These debates are part of history. They are part of being opposition. They are part of what should go on in the House of Commons. They are part of that democratic deficit that obviously our new Prime Minister does not understand because if he did, he would not be using closure six days into his first session in Parliament. Obviously he does not mean what he says when he gets to that.

In 1988 Speaker Fraser said:

It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con, and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.

We started debate on Friday and we were given a half a day yesterday. Is that a reasonable time? We are talking about a motion that has the potential to reinstate the entire agenda of the former Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who had obviously worn out his welcome, was not popular within his own party, and who was ousted from his position by the very person who is now Prime Minister.

This agenda is being advanced by using closure and shutting off debate and then using a whipped vote to make it happen. It is unconscionable to let that sort of thing happen in a democracy. How can Liberals even say it is a democracy, when they use that sort of tactic for the 86th time?

How do we explain that to people back home when they ask, why do Liberals keep using closure? It is because they do not want debate. People believe that we are in a democracy where we can debate. Try to explain that one even to a grade five class that asks those questions when it is studying the Canadian Parliament.

I know the Speaker respects this institution and would want to protect it from abuses. In his first two weeks the Prime Minister has contributed more to the democratic deficit and has done it quicker than any other Prime Minister. He has denied a free vote on the funding of the gun registry and has allowed an undemocratic closure motion introduced at undemocratic speed to adopt an undemocratic motion, shattering an undemocratic closure record.

Before we allow such excess to become a precedent, the Speaker should intervene and rule the notice of closure out of order. The former clerk indicated that the Speaker can intervene in an extreme circumstance. This is such a circumstance, Mr. Speaker. Standing Order 57 was not intended to usurp the constitutional duty of the opposition. It was not intended to upset the important balance between the government and the opposition. This was the legacy of the former Prime Minister and it will now become the legacy of the new Prime Minister.

One must start asking questions because these are the questions that I know I will get asked at home when I return there on weekends. Constituents are going to ask, what does that closure really mean? It means that we bring back the agenda--some of it, the ones we choose--of the former Prime Minister. It means that we will have something to deal with in the House that suits the government.

It means that the government can cover up things like the Auditor General's report that we heard today. It means that it does not have to deal with issues like the throne speech where there is no mention of agriculture.

I have young farmers, husbands and wives, come before me in my office and say they are desperate, they do not know what to do, they are not able to pay their bills and this is destroying them. Having a 30 year old young fellow cry in one's office is not something that any of us should be put through.

We need to talk about that here. We need to talk about the solutions. All parties need to deal with issues like that. It is critical. It is literally career and life-threatening to many of these people, yet here we are reintroducing things that are not necessarily the key issues that people out on the street are talking about.

Today we have an Auditor General's report that says we had $250 million funnelled away and used by Liberal hacks who supported the party. People then say that they have to send in their cheque at the end of April to the tax department. They are senior citizens who earn $8,000 a year and can hardly buy groceries.

Students who are in university are saying that they worked all summer at three jobs, and guess what? They have a tax bill. My own daughter went to school, got a scholarship in Holland and received her Ph.D. there. She also got a tax bill from the Canadian government. Do members know how embarrassing that was for her, when she went to her professor and said she had to pay taxes on that scholarship? I sent the cheque for her because I was pretty shocked too.

The president of the university wrote to me and said that my daughter was one of the best students. That made me pretty proud, but he also said that as a member of Parliament, I should be disgraced that my government was sending a tax bill to a student who was going to school on a scholarship. We are taxing her. Why would she ever come back to this country? What about the brain drain? That is the kind of thing we should be talking about in the House. That is the kind of stuff we should be ending.

The Auditor General's report states that $250 million just went out to patronage. Well, that $250 million would go a long way to helping seniors who are earning $8,000 a year and paying tax; to helping those students who are working their butts off all summer and are paying tax; to helping that single mom out there; and to helping that husband and wife who are trying to get their kids to go to hockey practice and dance lessons, and trying to make a living and hopefully taking a week's holiday somewhere. That is what Canadians want to talk about. The young farm family who is losing the farm because of BSE is the issue we need to talk about in the House.

The government thinks that it can simply hold a general review, a public inquiry. I have been here a long time now, 11 years, and I have been through the public inquiry routine before. I remind members of the Somalia report, the Krever report, and the APEC report. All of those were inquiries. Why did we have them? What did they accomplish? They accomplished having ministers over there say that they could not answer questions about it and could not debate it in the House because there was a public inquiry going on.

Then the inquiry goes on and on. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on those inquiries, and what is the end result? They are dropped. Think about the taxpayer sending in that cheque at the end of April for those millions more dollars that are going to be spent. That is what we should be talking about in the House.

The government should have its own agenda. It should not have to bring back the old one and it sure as hell should not have to use closure.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Jean-Yves Roy

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Jean-Yves Roy (Matapédia—Matane, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, during this debate and particularly yesterday, I listened intently and I especially re-read some statements made by some speakers, particularly on the government side.

I heard members, and particularly the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, repeatedly accusing the opposition, saying that it was the opposition that was filibustering and causing the democratic deficit.

I have a lot of difficulty accepting that the government, which introduced the motion, blame the opposition. Indeed, this is worth mentioning. It is not the opposition that introduced the motion. It is the government that introduced this motion whose aim is, as members reminded the House, to bring back to the House bills that were dropped following prorogation last November.

It is not because of the opposition that the House of Commons was prorogued last November. It is not because of the opposition that we did not sit as planned in November, December and January. It is not because of the opposition, it is because of infighting within the governing party.

At one point, the situation had become intolerable for the former government. I should say for the former prime minister, because it is not the former government, since we are back again today with the same government in front of us. All that has changed in this government are a few titles and people who have been moved around, but this is still the same governing party and the same government.

It is because the feud between the former prime minister and the current Prime Minister had come to a point where government operations were paralyzed, and it was virtually impossible to legislate. This feud and the problems were so blatant that, at one point, someone made a decision and said, “We will prorogue the House. We have no other choice”.

Of course, as my colleague from Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis said earlier, this bothered the current Prime Minister. It is causing him problems, and I hope it will cause him problems serious enough to get him to reflect further when it comes to the democratic deficit.

I want to come back to the issue of the democratic deficit. The last few months have been very telling. What happened was very significant. We have a man who decided to seek power, to replace the former prime minister and to prevent the government from operating for weeks, if not for months. That is what happened.

If only he had respected democracy, if only he had respected Parliament, if only he had respected the elected representatives of the people, things would have been different. Unfortunately, what happened is that an over-ambitious man prevented the government from operating.

Therefore, we have to remember that it was not the opposition who prorogued the House in November 2003, but the government and the party in office. That means, of course, that a greater number of bills died on the Order Paper. And now, the government wants to reinstate them as if nothing happened.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. If they want to pretend that they form a new government, that they stand for change, then they cannot just bring back the bills of the previous government and of the previous Prime Minister as if nothing happened.

Something very serious happened. For instance, if the government really wanted to eliminate the democratic deficit, it would have reinstated some of the private members' bills. Let me give the House a very good example of a bill which was ignored at the very last minute by the government, when the House was prorogued. The bill directly affects eastern Quebec. It deals with the issue of lighthouses. I said it affected eastern Quebec, but I could also mention the Maritimes and all of Canada.

I was just reading something that was published, on this matter, back in November, not long after the House was prorogued. At the time, the House was considering a bill requiring the government to maintain its properties, including lighthouses.

This affects all Quebeckers living along the St. Lawrence River, Quebec's maritime regions and the maritime provinces as a whole.

Right after the prorogation, I read a document from Radio-Canada Atlantique which clearly stated that, in Nova Scotia and elsewhere, up to 100 lighthouses that have been used until very recently to guide navigators could be lost because of the government's lack of commitment to meeting its obligations and maintaining the infrastructure.

The situation is the same in Quebec. We could talk about what is going on in Quebec and in British Columbia. This bill was introduced by a member following discussions in the Senate. The idea was to force the government to take its responsibilities and to maintain the infrastructure. This affected us directly. As I said earlier, this bill affects all of Quebec's maritime regions.

We could also talk about fisheries. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which was sitting, had decisions to take. The Coast Guard could be in trouble following all the cuts that were made. Fisheries and Oceans may very well cut 600 jobs in the next few months. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was sitting to consider all the issues concerning fisheries.

Unfortunately, and maybe taxpayers ignore this, as soon as the House is prorogued, committees stop sitting. Naturally, it takes some time after the House has resumed its business for the committees to start sitting again.

So, all this process that I would described as undemocratic, all this infighting within the Liberal Party went on and caused the prorogation of the House, which stopped sitting. In the meantime, all the issues before us were suspended until today.

Now, they blame us, saying that the opposition is undemocratic because it refuses to pass such a motion. That is unacceptable. I will never be able to accept that the opposition be blamed for doing its job. The governing party is to blame for everything that happened, on top of the House being prorogued.

There is also Bill C-49 concerning the revision of electoral boundaries. This is very important. In our region, we are faced with quite a problem. The member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis talked earlier about the size of her riding. We could mention the riding of Matapédia—Matane, which is just huge, but we could also mention the riding of Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok.

Let us not forget that, in recent history, 10 years ago, the Gaspé lost one riding. Now, we could lose another one. The government is not taking into account the huge size of the areas, particularly in the Gaspé, where the new riding will include some five regional county municipalities and a very large number of municipalities.

The riding of Matapédia—Matane, which is just next to that riding, is about the same size. Had it not been for the mergers, there would be some 60 municipalities over a very large area. From west to east, the riding is about 350 kilometres long. Constituents have a very hard time reaching their MP in such ridings.

As regards the democratic deficit, the government had a great opportunity to correct the situation by making exceptions and creating in all the so-called remote regions ridings that make sense.

Moreover, we were totally opposed to Bill C-49 because it did not take into account the historical aspect of the presence of Quebec MP's in the House of Commons.

I should point out that the government is adding new ridings, including in Alberta and British Columbia, which means that Quebec's representation will be proportionally reduced. We Bloc Quebecois members had suggested that the number of federal seats allocated to Quebec be increased from 75 to 77, to maintain a fair and equitable proportion. This would probably have enabled us to have smaller ridings, particularly in my region, in which an MP would have been able to do a perfectly adequate job, and in which it would have been much easier for constituents to have access to their MP.

The notion of democratic deficit is critical. First of all—and luckily the situation has changed at the federal level, although more than 20 years after changes were made in Quebec—there is now an act dealing with the financing of political parties. This is the very foundation of a democratic system. That was a major problem in terms of the democratic deficit. In Quebec, we realized that almost 25 years ago.

The very basis of democracy is the financing of political parties by the citizens, the participation of the people in the life of political parties. Naturally, in the end, during an electoral campaign, the more people participate, the better it is for democracy.

Unfortunately, since the last election, we have realized that voter turnout at the federal level has been dropping constantly. That is a sure sign of a democratic deficit that must be rectified.

We will certainly not deal with that deficit by acting like the government has acted towards members of Parliament and all-party committees. Even within the government itself, the problem is serious. We have seen it in the past. We have seen that the whole machinery of government, all the mechanics of government, the cabinet and the executive itself were centralized and operating from the Prime Minister's office, and that all decisions were being made there.

If we want to do something about the democratic deficit, that is where we have to start. The system must be more open, people must be given access to information and must be allowed to participate in the work of all committees and in all decisions made in the House.

I think the other democratic deficit concerns the members' right to speak. Opposition members have one right, and that is the right to speak. It is crucial. We also have the right to stand for our fellow citizens and those who sent us here.

Government members are not allowed to criticize or to make proposals. They do not have any right in the public forum. They have to remain silent. Therefore, it is much more difficult for them to stand for their constituents.

The government wants to reinstate another bill. Let me digress for a moment. We have heard a lot about safety lately. The government wants to reinstate Bill C-17 on public safety. The Bloc Quebecois was against this bill, and we still are today.

But we should not forget that, while the House was prorogued, the Canadian and American governments exchanged letters on the infamous missile defence shield. Commitments were made while the House was not sitting.

Through the back door, the government is trying to come to an agreement with the American government on an eventual Canadian participation in the American missile defence shield. I think this is an extremely serious democratic deficit.

There should have been a debate in the House on the subject, since this is a major decision. It is a decision involving the commitment of funds which may, of course, not be allocated to service delivery, funds that will not be available to provide services to the public. And this puts democracy at risk. We should have had this major discussion here in the House. We should have had a very serious debate on the subject.

During the prorogation of the House, something else happened, which directly affects taxpayers, particularly Quebec taxpayers: the Canadian government's decision to take part in a study with the American army to widen the St. Lawrence Seaway. In this regard, it would have been essential to have a heated debate on the subject, because the widening of the seaway may cause major problems, such as environmental problems. Let us think of all the stirring of sediments at the bottom of the seaway. If you disturb something that has been covered by a good layer of sediments, you will find large quantities of contaminants that came from the Great Lakes. There have been problems in the past.

This could cause environmental problems, first of all. In fact, there are sediments on the bottom of the seaway now. If we start to interfere with that thick layer of sediment, below it we will find contaminants that come from the Great Lakes, and very great quantities of them. We have had problems in the past. If all that shit—please excuse the word—were stirred up, it would obviously cause major environmental problems.

The second element regarding the enlarging of the St. Lawrence Seaway is shoreline erosion. If the seaway is enlarged, larger quantities of Great Lakes water will flow out, and there is a risk of provoking erosion problems all along the banks of the St. Lawrence. The problem already exists: imagine how much greater the erosion could become.

The third very important point regarding enlarging the St. Lawrence Seaway is an economic one. Why do they want to enlarge the seaway when, simply by setting up an intermodal transportation system based on the ports that already exist, it would be possible to ship freight easily to Detroit or the states concerned in the United States, since they seem to want to do this solely for the Americans and southern Ontario.

Once again, we in the Bloc Quebecois are not, at this time, in favour of entering into a process with the American army to enlarge the seaway. And yet, there is no debate in the House and on the government side, they are telling us about the democratic deficit. I think it is essential to hold a debate on this subject.

We could also be talking about Bill C-17. We can add another element to the concept of the democratic deficit. The Prime Minister was recently heard on the CBC talking about the $46 or $47 billion they have taken from the employment insurance fund. Of course, it is a virtual fund, but if you take money out of the fund and spend it all, you have stolen it, quite literally. It is very clear today that it is a completely virtual fund. Citizens, seasonal workers in particular, are being denied the help they need to live in decent conditions.

It must always be kept in mind, when referring to the employment insurance fund, that today not even 40% of workers have access to it. In terms of democracy, notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, all the studies proving that it is totally unjust, the government kept on. The present Prime Minister, when finance minister, was the main one responsible for what happened to the EI fund.

We could also talk in terms of democratic deficit of all the services to the populations in regions such as mine, because of the fact that the electoral districts are very large. Given their immense size, the populations we represent are deprived of services.

Over the years since 1993, the federal government has become almost totally absent from our regions, abandoning the airports, no longer investing in the infrastructures that belong to it, among them the wharves at seaports. It has pretty well been the same thing for the entire railway system. In the region I come from, Canadian National is virtually absent and private companies are operating the railways today.

It is a democratic deficit when the entire population of my area pays as much in taxes as anyone else in the country and ought therefore to be entitled to about the same services, or so I believe.

Getting back to the motion before us, I was just referring to the ports. There was a private members bill on this, and it was abandoned. We could talk about all the other bills that fell by the wayside because of prorogation. As a result, today we find ourselves faced with a motion that is asking the opposition to say “Everything is forgotten. We start again from scratch”.

That is not exactly what the motion is calling on us to do. In actual fact, it is asking us to accept having all the bills that were before the House come back in the form they were in before prorogation. We did not accept those bills. We did not have all the time or debating space to express our views. Today what they want is to simply cancel out everything that was done. This is totally unacceptable.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Dick Proctor

New Democratic Party

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House and today is no exception. We are talking about the reinstatement of legislation that resulted from the prorogation of the House back in November. It is interesting to go back to where the ball went into motion to where we are today.

The House was scheduled to take its adjournment for one week on November 8 prior to Remembrance Day and we were scheduled to return on November 18. The weekend after Remembrance Day was the Liberal leadership convention. Unlike the rest of us who occasionally take a weekend to elect a new leader then come back to work the following Monday, the new administration took a little over two months to return.

The previous House leader had indicated that the House would come back on January 12. Almost immediately the new leader of the Liberal Party said that the Liberals would not be ready at that time because there was a throne speech to write and work had to begin on a budget, et cetera. It was not December 12 nor was it January 12 when we came back. The House came back on February 2 to hear the Speech from the Throne.

The idea that this is a new government and that it is putting a new stamp on everything is difficult to reconcile. We are faced with, with closure today for the 80th something time, the reintroduction of legislation that technically died on the Order Paper, but is being revived and brought back without any changes. That is the problem the government has in its early going. It is trying to portray itself as something new and something different, but it keeps getting caught up in the same old situation.

One thing the new Prime Minister has talked about is the democratic deficit and his concern about it. He claims to want to engage parliamentarians in that. Not only do we see closure being introduced here today to get these bills through, we also saw an example outside the House at two o'clock this afternoon. Rather than come into the House and explain to elected members of Parliament how the government would respond to the serious report of the Auditor General, which was made public earlier today, the Prime Minister chose to hold an impromptu scrum just outside the doors and deal with the media. He then came in here later to respond to questions from the acting leader of the official opposition and all opposition parties. We do not see very much new or exciting in all of this.

The member for Toronto--Danforth spoke earlier this afternoon. He looked in our direction and said that we should be concerned about this because there were some bills on the list of 28, which were before us in the reinstatement motion, that the New Democratic Party would want. I agree, there are some. However, as my colleague for Windsor--St. Clair said very eloquently yesterday, we are not prepared to abdicate our responsibility and give a blank cheque to the government to introduce the whole list.

I would have thought that a government that was interested in addressing the democratic deficit might have sat down with the House leaders to talk about which specific bills they might want addressed and those the government might want addressed. I agree with the tenor of other speakers who have preceded me in the debate. A lot of work has gone into legislation in terms of standing committees and the like. That would have been one way to address the matter of democratic deficit rather than have the government House leader say that this would be way it would be handled, and introduce the 28 bills. We are not sure, but some of bills have already been introduced and many others perhaps will not be introduced. We simply do not know. We are being asked to sign a blank cheque.

As a look at the 28 bills, the prize in all this undoubtedly is Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries bill, that would give the government the ability to move up the election after April 1.

As the House knows, under the rules when redistribution takes place there has to be a full year after the redistribution process is completed before a general election can be held. That would have put the election not earlier than the middle of August of this year. However, the Chief Electoral Officer wrote to the government last summer and said that if there were quick agreement on this by all parties and we put a bill through the legislature, his office could ensure that the country would be ready for a general election after April 1.

That legislation did not get through. It got through the House of Commons and it went to the Senate where it was one of about 18 bills that was left in the Senate. That was the largest number of bills not dealt with by the Senate since 1867, since the very first Senate was appointed.

I do not know whether that was a failure of the then House leader in the Senate or whether the senators simply were tired. Maybe the Liberal senators wanted to go to the convention in Toronto and did not want to come back to deal with them. Who knows. It is one of the great mysteries of the unelected Senate. That is why this party favours a thorough house cleaning in the way we deal with that. We need to abolish the unelected Senate and find a much better way to elect senators or have proportional representation. If we want to talk about the democratic deficit and the appointed Senate, that is not a very good beginning.

That is the situation. We have difficulty with the government wanting to portray itself as being brand new, but seemingly unable to escape its past. The Liberals want to portray themselves as a government seeking a first mandate when really I think Canadians see them as a government about to embark on wanting a fourth mandate, from their first election back in 1993.

Several people ahead of me have spoken about the situation in rural Canada. I want to speak for a few moments about that as well. In the throne speech, which was delivered on Monday of last week, it stated:

The Government is dedicated to Canada’s farm economy and to taking the steps necessary to safeguard access to international markets and to ensure that farmers are not left to bear alone the consequences of circumstances beyond their control.

On Friday Canadians heard the horrific report about realized net farm income in 2003 and that it was a negative amount of money, $13 million, the lowest ever recorded since the country began keeping records back in the 1920s, and certainly lower than what we saw during the depression. If we subtracted what federal, provincial and territorial governments have put into assisting farmers over the last year, the negative is almost $5 billion. It is absolutely incredible.

As the president of the National Farmers Union, Stewart Wells, said, “This is the most spectacular and damaging market failure in the history of Canadian agriculture”. A large part of that was caused by the one cow that was affected in Alberta on May 20. Just when we thought we would get out of that and the U.S. market would reopen to live cattle, probably about this time, then we had the Christmas eve disaster where the cow in Washington State was identified. Quickly thereafter we found out that it had a Canadian connection to it.

BSE is a large part of it but not all of it. We have had drought. We have had low commodity prices. These are the sorts of things that people in my area want to talk about. They would much rather be talking about what the government is going to do and how it will go forward to address the issue.

As the member for Red Deer said very well a few moments ago, this is a crisis of incredible proportions and most people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. There is a real fear that if this drags on much longer, many of the small producers, cow-calf operators, backgrounders and the like, will not be able to continue to exist with the prices falling to the levels that they have sunk to.

As the NFU notes, the government over the last couple of decades has taken away hog marketing agencies. In the 1990s it cut the Crow benefit, which was extremely important. Farmers in western Canada recognize the loss of that more with every passing day.

The government has ended the two price wheat system, deregulated grain handling and transportation, presided over the destruction of many co-operatives and tied its own hands with trade and investment agreements. At the same time, the transnational corporations have merged to the point where only a handful are left controlling each and every link in the agrifood chain.

These corporate and government policies collectively have pushed family farms and farmers to the edge of the cliff. It appears, by the numbers we saw last week, that in 2003 many of the farmers simply fell over that cliff. In fact, the numbers are so bad that the government, which normally does a two year forecast, its Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food is not able or prepared to come out with numbers now. Of course up until May 20, although we had the drought and low grain prices, we did not have BSE. I think the last half of 2003 would have been very bad compared to the first half, so we can imagine as we go forward into a new calendar year how much worse it is going to be.

As we heard last week in the so-called take note debate on BSE, I do not think anyone realistically expects our borders to reopen until after the November presidential election in the United States.

As a young farmer from the Mossbank area told me on the phone last night, as difficult as this was for him to say, he felt that the time had come for us to consider whether we should be closing our borders to American cattle coming north on the eastern seaboard if they are not prepared to take our animals. He tells me that the boxed beef, which has been allowed since the end of August of last year, has slowed to a trickle as the Americans deal with their exporting countries that have closed their borders as a result of the Washington State case.

We, the government, all of us, have an obligation to do one of two things. Either we have to subsidize or support our farmers, although they are not looking for subsidies except to continue to keep their operations alive, or we need to perhaps close the border to the American industry and start shipping cattle from western Canada into Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. We could move cattle and begin to firm up some prices in the process.

It is good that the Prime Minister spoke with the president about the BSE issue, and about softwood, but it is extremely important that we deal with the BSE issue because farmers are on the edge in terms of knowing where to go.

The big news today of course is the report of the Auditor General. I want to read into the record something that was said in 1993:

Nine years of Conservative government have brought our political process into disrepute. A Liberal government will restore public trust and confidence in government.

That quote is from “Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada”. It goes on to state:

If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored.

A Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government. Open government will be the watchword of the Liberal program.

We have a long way to go to live up to those lofty expectations. The findings from the Auditor General, findings that have been available, by the way, to the government since November, even though they were just made public today, indicate that the Liberals hid the objectives of the sponsorship program from Parliament. The Auditor General was unable to find answers to key questions. The report goes on and on.

Those are the kinds of things that Canadians want Parliament to deal with. They do not necessarily want to go back and grapple with many of the bills from the past.

As I look at what the government is doing and how it is going about doing it, it seems to me that it is very much like the dog that caught the car, and now that he caught it he is not sure what to do with it. It is similar to Robert Redford in The Candidate : What do I do now? I think this is the question and these are the problems that the government will have as we head into March and, undoubtedly, the election in April, thanks to the proposed changes that will come back as a result of the reinstatement of bills.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Paul MacKlin


Mr. Paul Harold Macklin (Northumberland, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to rise in the House today and address the motion to reinstate government bills.

I know there is a tendency to wander when we have the opportunity to address matters of this nature, especially when it is not in the interests, in particular, of the opposition to do so, and today is no exception.

Clearly, though, I think the Canadian public expects us to take seriously the matter before the House because a lot of time, effort and energy has been invested in the bills that the government wishes to reinstate in the House.

I think each and every one of us, if we were to look back at the history of the reinstatement process, would see that this process goes back some 30-plus years and, in fact, has precedent in this process where we have received unanimous consent in the previous times for reinstating bills that were advanced in the House in pre-prorogation periods.

The United Kingdom also carries on with a similar process. This process is quite normal and it should be respected in the House at this time.

We have come here with an obligation to serve the country and advance the cause and interests of this just society. I think that as we do so we need to take the time to properly address issues of this nature and go forward.

In this particular case it is clear that there are a number of bills that the government would like to bring forward. In particular, I would refer at this time to Bill C-20. I know that bill, which was brought forward in the House before, is part of a reform package to improve the protection of our children and other vulnerable persons. It responds to the commitments that were made in the 2002 Speech from the Throne. Quite frankly, I think these commitments continue today in the interest of advancing those protections.

We want to protect our children from exploitation in all of its forms. We want to reform the Criminal Code to increase penalties for abuse and neglect, and to provide more sensitive treatment for children who take part in justice proceedings as victims or as witnesses.

Bill C-20, as introduced in the previous session, is very important. These proposals build on some of the recent measures, that is measures that we had brought in before, in the interest of increasing the protection for children from sexual exploitation.

The previous reforms that we brought in included some criminal law reforms that created new offences to target criminals who use the Internet to lure and exploit children, or who transmit, make available, export or intentionally access child pornography.

The government has been consistent in its desire to better protect children. With the advent of new technologies, this has been a constant challenge for the law to stay up to and maintain the protection that we believe our children need.

Since the new technologies, including the Internet, are increasingly making the sexual exploitation of children a borderless crime, the government is also working closely with the international community in developing a strategy to include measures that will improve international co-operation, information sharing and techniques that will advance the prevention, health and public awareness, cooperation with the private sector and outreach to other countries with respect to issues of this nature.

We need to advance stronger child pornography provisions and Bill C-20, I submit, would certainly do that. The fact that the opposition is stalling today in order to stop the process of bringing forward this bill is somewhat distressing to those of us who seriously believe there is an opportunity to advance the protection of our children.

The existing defences for child pornography would, under this new bill, be reduced to a single defence of public good. A person would be found guilty of a child pornography offence when the material or act in question does not serve that public good, or where the risk of harm outweighs any public good that it would otherwise serve.

The proposed reforms would also expand the existing definition of written child pornography to include material that is created for a sexual purpose and predominantly describes prohibited sexual activity with children. The current definition of child pornography only applies to material that advocates or counsels prohibited sexual activity with children. This is something that is important. It is meaningful and it should be advanced as quickly as possible in the House.

One other area in Bill C-20, which could be brought forward through the process of this motion, deals with the new category of sexual exploitation. The provision would provide new protection to young persons between 14 and 18 years of age. Under this proposed reform, courts would have to consider whether a relationship is exploitive, based upon its nature and circumstances, including any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person.

This new category focuses the court's determination on the conduct or behaviour of the accused rather than on the consent of the young person to sexual activity, again a very important advance that we believe ought to be brought forward as quickly as possible.

When we look at sentencing within the bill, we see that it proposes tougher sentencing provisions. Under the government's reform proposals, the penalties for offences that harm children would be increased. The maximum penalty for sexual exploitation, for example, would double from five years to ten. The maximum penalty for abandonment of a child or failure to provide the necessities of life to a child would more than double from two to five years. The abuse of a child in the commission of any Criminal Code offence would also have to be considered as an aggravating factor by the court and could result in a tougher sentence.

Clearly, members can see that these are very important points that need to be advanced for the protection of our children and other vulnerable persons. It is very important that we continue to bring forward these ideas, which I believe are important for the future of our children in this country.

There are other things that would also be met by allowing the reintroduction of Bill C-20. For example, when we talk about children and other vulnerable persons as witnesses within our courts, several reforms contained within the bill would help ensure that when they are participating in the criminal justice system, it would be less traumatic for them than it would otherwise be. First of all, it is very traumatic for someone to have gone through an experience of this nature, and it is even worse when they have to relive it in a courtroom setting. It is very important that we make provisions so that it is as easy and as least intimidating as possible. I think that although every time one enters a courtroom there is an element of intimidation, we should certainly try to minimize that for those who would be witnesses.

The current Criminal Code provisions would be expanded to allow all witnesses under age 18 to benefit from testimonial aids in any criminal proceeding, not just those involving sexual or other specified offences. These aids would include providing testimony from behind a screen or by closed circuit television, or having a support person accompany the young witness.

Current provisions generally require the Crown to establish the need for a testimonial aid. Given the potential trauma of the courtroom experience for young witnesses, the proposed reforms in Bill C-20 acknowledge the need for the aid. For all testimonial aids, the judge retains the discretion to deny the aid or protection where its use would interfere with the proper administration of justice. In addition, the facilities to permit the use of a screen or closed circuit TV must be available in the courtroom before the judge can permit their use.

Fundamental rights for the accused are fully respected under the proposed amendments. For example, the reforms would also allow children under 14 to give their evidence when they are able to understand and respond to questions. A competency hearing, which is currently mandatory, would no longer be required.

These are very important advances that would be very helpful in the administration of justice and are being held up by the failure of the House to approve the motion for reinstatement.

There are other areas, too, where in fact we talk about voyeurism. I think most of us are aware that with electronic advances today, voyeurism is becoming more and more of a problem. The latest evolution seems to be in the cellphone camera. It seems to be the latest intervention that is causing additional concern about voyeurism. I see that now notices are actually being posted at various establishments like the YMCA, for example, to the effect that one no longer can take a cellphone into a dressing room because of that particular characteristic of these more modern phones.

So it is something that is extremely important, this concept of voyeurism and making it an offence, and we have to deal with it. Bill C-20 is a bill that attempts to do this, and I believe it would do so in an appropriate manner. The rapid technological changes and developments of these years of course have brought many benefits to our society, but they raise all sorts of implications for such basic matters as our privacy. Web cameras, for example, which can transmit live images over the Internet, have raised concerns about their potential abuse, notably, of course, the secret viewing or recording of people for sexual purposes or where the viewing of a recording involves a serious breach of privacy.

The proposed offences listed in Bill C-20 would make it a crime in three specific cases to deliberately and secretly observe or record another person in circumstances where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists: first, when the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose; second, when the person observed or recorded is in a place where one is reasonably expected to be in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity; and third, when the person observed is in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity and the purpose is to observe or record a person in such state of activity.

Distributing material knowing that it was produced through an offence of voyeurism would also be a crime. The maximum penalty for all voyeurism offences would be five years in prison. The copies for sale or distribution of a recording obtained through the commission of a voyeurism offence would be subject to seizure and forfeiture. The courts could also order the deletion of voyeuristic material from a computer system.

As members can see, these reforms clearly are quite important. The steps that we have taken so far to bring forward Bill C-20 in the previous pre-prorogation session, in fact, were very important and I think they were very positive steps in this regard. I think Canadians are concerned. They want solutions to these issues. That we are bringing forward solutions is extremely important. The fact that these solutions are being slowed up by this process of failure to cooperate and to work with the government in terms of bringing forward the existing bills that the government would like to reintroduce on this motion quite frankly is very troubling to me.

The time has come for the House to engage in the business that we were sent here to engage in and that is to advance the cause of the protection of our citizens. In this particular case, by reinstating Bill C-20 we would be advancing the cause of children and other vulnerable persons. It is extraordinarily important. I find that this process of delay for no reasoned purpose is very ineffective. Quite frankly, I think the Canadian people can see through this masquerade and they want us to proceed.

Accordingly, I would ask that the House support the reinstatement motion, bring it forward as soon as possible and have it pass in the House.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, again we are talking about the Government of Canada reinstating bills lost in the last Parliament when the House was prorogued.

This morning was an example of how dedicated the Prime Minister is to the democratic deficit and the reforming and democratizing of this House. He rammed through closure after having been here in the House as Prime Minister for only six days. This is the earliest closure motion ever introduced in the history of this place, so he is not committed to democratizing Parliament and he is not committed to the democratic deficit, that is, doing something about it. This morning was a perfect example.

What is this reinstatement motion all about? It is really all about a rush to an election, an early election.

Let us remember the history of the Prime Minister. He was an ordinary backbench member of Parliament last summer who was caught up in the leadership race. Most of us assumed that he would replace the former prime minister and in fact become the Prime Minister of Canada, but he was thinking very strategically in terms of how long he would have to stand in the House, day in and day out, and answer questions put to him by the opposition.

In other words, he did not want to be put under close scrutiny by the House of Commons so he asked the Chief Electoral Officer whether or not he could speed up the redistribution process and in fact change the election act so that he could be ready. In other words, the Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard at the time, asked the Chief Electoral Officer if he could be ready by April 1 in terms of redistribution. The Chief Electoral Officer said of course he could.

That is what Bill C-49 does: it speeds up the redistribution process so that in fact the Prime Minister of Canada can call an election as early as April 1, versus August 25 when those new boundaries would have automatically kicked in. Basically, the Liberals changed the electoral act. This is one of the bills that is caught up in this reinstatement package. The government wants that bill more than any other bill, but it just so happens to be one of the 28 bills it wants reinstated.

If we think about it, I can understand why the Prime Minister does not want to be in the House of Commons. He is doing everything to bury some of these issues that are haunting the government. I have a list here, but I will just go through some of them.

One of the first things the present Prime Minister did was to have the Government of Canada expand the reference to the Supreme Court on same sex marriages, which of course will delay any Supreme Court decision by many months, possibly a year, because obviously he knows the same sex marriage issue creates a lot of problems on the government side, on his side of the House. That is an easy way to sweep that one under the carpet. He effectively did that.

In the Maher Arar case, he has asked for a public inquiry. Obviously, once he asks for a public inquiry, which he has, it basically shuts down debate on that issue in the House of Commons. In other words, we can no longer question the government on that.

Then, of course, there is the biggest one of all. This is more personal than anything else: Canada Steamship Lines. Until the Prime Minister gave it to his sons, which would not be an arm's length transaction, until he gave it free and clear to his sons, he was the sole owner of Canada Steamship Lines. One of the questions that our members put to the Prime Minister was the question of how many contracts CSL, the Prime Minister's own company, got from the Government of Canada. The answer from the Prime Minister came back: $137,000.

We persisted and we wanted more. We knew that figure was not accurate. Finally last week the government coughed up what it believed to be the right answer but we are not sure. We found out that the number was not $137,000 that the Prime Minister's shipping company received from the Government of Canada. The number was $161 million. How could one miscalculate by over $160 million? Only a Liberal could do that and get away with it.

The Prime Minister has effectively buried this one as well. He has asked the Auditor General to investigate those numbers and find out what the real number is.

Our leader suggested that he pick up the telephone and call his two sons who now own the company outright and ask them what that figure would be. Canada Steamship Lines brags, and I think it does have bragging rights because it has very modern, up to date, good computer systems and with one press of a button on that computer system they could tell us today what that number is. The Auditor General does not need to spend months to come up with that number. That is another one that the Prime Minister is trying to duck because the figure is embarrassing and it is going to cost the government popular support.

It is interesting. The Prime Minister was asked when did he realize that figure was wrong. In other words why the figure of $137,000, Prime Minister? He should have known that it would be more than that. When did he know that it was more than that? He said, “It was a number of months ago, but I was sort of tied up in a leadership race so I didn't say anything about it”. Is it not conceivable that the outcome of that Liberal leadership race might have been different if card-carrying Liberals had known that this man, the Prime Minister of Canada, had received $161 million in contracts from the Government of Canada? He tried to cover that up until the leadership race was over.

If I were Mr. Rock sitting down in New York in a new job, I would be a little annoyed by that, as would be the member for Hamilton East who was a contestant in that leadership race. He had an unfair advantage and he took advantage of it because he did not want the truth to come out. He has effectively buried that one.

Now the burying job of all burying jobs came about today when the Auditor General reported on the sponsorship program. By the way, that is the sponsorship program where the Government of Canada wasted, it basically threw a way $250 million of taxpayers' money on work that was never performed or work that was given to the government's political cronies with no accounting mechanisms in place.

We asked the Prime Minister about this one today. In fact the question was put to him by reporters before he came to the chamber, which is the insult of all insults to this chamber. He should have been here explaining to the House what he knew about the sponsorship program. One of the journalists was clever enough to ask, “Prime Minister, how could the Government of Canada spend that kind of money and you not know about it?” He said, “You know, that kind of detail kind of gets lost in government”.

Everyone says that the Prime Minister is a policy wonk. He fancies himself as being a master at detail. How could that escape the attention of, today's Prime Minister, the former finance minister and also vice-chair of the Treasury Board when he in fact is the man that determines what programs get funded and which ones do not? That $250 million is still a lot of change.

This is intolerable when that kind of government money is basically wasted and those kinds of contracts are given out without close scrutiny. The Prime Minister today said, “Those responsible will be held to account”. He is only talking about the bureaucracy. He is not talking about his own Liberal cronies who are sitting right there supporting him through the thick of all of this and who sat with him in cabinet when they allowed these decisions to be made.

If there is anyone to be recalled or held to account, it should be the Prime Minister of Canada. There is no way that he did not know what was going on with those sponsorship programs.

The insult of all insults in terms of intelligence and what the Prime Minister expects us and the Canadian public to believe is that this was happening in his home city of Montreal. That is where most of the contracts were given out. His old friend Mr. Gagliano is obviously the fall guy. I guess he was the man who orchestrated it. He will be back in Ottawa, I guess. He is coming back under protest obviously. It will certainly be interesting to hear what he has to say about this when he rats on the Prime Minister and what the Prime Minister and his people knew at the cabinet table with regard to this boondoggle of all boondoggles. There is no end to it.

One other point the Auditor General brought out today was the hurry up purchase of two Challenger jets. That only cost the Government of Canada $100 million. The interesting thing about that is the minister of defence and his staff said that we did not need them because the current fleet of Challenger jets are operating at something like 99.1% efficiency and dependability. That is almost better than your car, Mr. Speaker. When the Prime Minister of Canada wants to get on one of those jets and take off, 99 times out of 100 there will not be one single problem with those jets.

The government made that decision. That decision was made when the present Prime Minister was vice-chair of the Treasury Board and finance minister. Within 24 hours that decision to purchase $100 million in jets was made and the Government of Canada, according to its own sources, did not need them. The government simply wanted it done. Worst of all, it was not a contracted bid. It was a sole source bid. The bid went to the government's friends again and to no one else.

This is what the motion to reinstate bills is all about. Simply put, the Prime Minister does not want to be around the House to talk about all the things that are going to come back to haunt him and his government. The Prime Minister does not want to take any responsibility for his own actions as finance minister, as vice-chair of the Treasury Board and even as Prime Minister today, because the buck stops at his desk now.

It is hard to believe that the Prime Minister of Canada could stand in his place and pretend that he had no idea of what was going on, none. In fact, about a week ago there was that public forum, and I am sure the Prime Minister is thanking CBC for the free advertising. During that public policy forum or encounter with the Prime Minister last week, a question was put to the Prime Minister by a woman who I believe was from western Canada. She asked, “Prime Minister, why did you not do something about that?” Believe it or not, he stood in his place and said, “Only when I became Prime Minister of Canada did I really have my hands on the levers of power that I could actually get the right answers”.

There would not be one member of Parliament even on the government side that would believe that. As an individual member of Parliament, just about every one of us on this side has spoken to or written to the Auditor General when we have seen something wrong. When something stinks, we have the power to do something about it. What does the Prime Minister of Canada do? He simply covers his tracks and pretends it was not happening.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

An hon. member

See no evil, hear no evil.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson

See no evil, hear no evil and so on.

That again is the reason the Prime Minister wants the legislation passed. He wants to get out of this place. He does not like the scrutiny of question period. He has no tolerance for that.

Basically, the Prime Minister wants an early election and if he gets his way on this, think about it. If this does pass and he does get the early election call, it means that the new Conservative Party of Canada will have just gone through a leadership race. We will have had exactly two weeks after selecting a new leader to come up with the party policies and platforms on which to run in an election campaign. There is nothing like leaving the opposition at a tremendous disadvantage. No prime minister in Canada has ever done that; prime ministers have always considered the other party.

There has to be a level of fairness in this place. I have asked the Prime Minister of Canada to rethink this and to allow us to debate again some of the measures in some of the bills that should not be automatically passed by the House.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Roy Cullen


Mr. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.)


That, in the opinion of this House, the government, in the context of the softwood lumber dispute with the United States, should: (a) negotiate an end to the United States' countervailing duty process by replacing this United States trade remedy with one which either focuses on net subsidies--taking into account tax-free bonds, sales tax abatements, property tax reductions, investment tax credits and energy co-generation agreements--which are available in the United States at the state and local government levels, or that focuses exclusively on whether or not policies in Canada and elsewhere are anti-competitive in nature; and (b) that, in addition to the foregoing, the government should launch negotiations with the United States' government with a view to eliminating tax competition, in particular manufacturing subsidies, which is ongoing between Canada and the United States.

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for the long, rambling motion, but the rules of the House say it has to be in one sentence, so I tried to be as creative as I could be.

I am very pleased to speak to my motion today. Motion No. 397 is motivated by an extreme frustration with the U.S. countervailing duty process, particularly in the context of the continuing softwood lumber dispute. The motion also arises from my conviction that there is a certain hypocrisy and irrationality associated with the current U.S. countervailing duty process and my conviction that there must be a better way.

The sad irony is that the current softwood lumber tariff of 27% has caused sawmills in Canada to increase their production in an effort to lower unit costs. This has resulted in an oversupply situation and lower prices for everyone.

For almost 25 years softwood lumber producers in the United States have sought action by the U.S. government to restrict trade in softwood lumber from Canada. It seems to me that this dispute has less to do with subsidies and more to do with market share. I do not accept the notion that Canada's softwood lumber industry is subsidized.

Lumber I, as it is now affectionately referred to, was launched in 1982 and ended in 1983 with the U.S. Department of Commerce concluding that stumpage did not confer a countervailable subsidy. Lumber II began in 1986 and ended with a memorandum of understanding between Canada and the United States which provided for the levy of a 15% lumber export tax by Canada. This charge was eliminated for British Columbia and reduced in stages for Quebec from 15% to 3.1%. In 1991 Lumber III began, leading to a ruling by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1992 that stumpage and log export restrictions were not countervailable subsidies.

In 1996, in the search for trade peace, Canada and the United States finalized an agreement on softwood lumber covering the five year period to March 31, 2001.

Essentially, this agreement called for managed trade in softwood lumber, limiting exports from Canada through quotas.

Here we are again in lumber IV, to which has been added an anti-dumping duty petition.

The reality is that should Canada succeed in its arguments, a new countervailing duty process could be launched the very next day producing lumber V and an unlimited number beyond that.

Naturally, elected officials on both sides of the border are concerned about forest industry competitiveness and jobs in their respective communities, and so we should be. I remember talking to a U.S. senator who said that there would be ways in which the U.S. government or state governments could help forest workers in the United States who had to change from logging and sawmilling to other types of industries. That has happened in Canada and in the United States. It happened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when it changed from commodity steel mills to information technology.

However we know who the big winners are in a continuing softwood lumber dispute; none other than the trade lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., in Vancouver and in Ottawa. Who are the losers? First time homebuyers in the United States lose out because the cost of a typical new home increases by some $1,000 U.S. to $1,500 U.S. Sawmilling communities in Canada suffer as a result of layoffs, mill closures and the uncertainty that surrounds these disputes. In addition, many jobs in urban Canada that are there because of jobs in the resource economy across Canada.

The most negative impact of these softwood lumber disputes, however, is, in my judgment, on Canada-U.S. relations. We consider ourselves good friends and neighbours with the U.S.A., but most Canadians view the softwood lumber process as unfair and biased in favour of the United States. How many times do we have to win the argument in front of an objective panel that we do not subsidize our lumber before the issue goes away? We want a fair process and we do not have one now.

Trade in lumber as well as other major trade irritants in areas such as agriculture, cloud our otherwise very positive relationship. As Canada's former ambassador to the U.S.A., Allan Gotlieb, noted recently:

While trade between [Canada and the United States] has now more than doubled thanks to the Free Trade Agreement and most of it is non-contentious, the number and seriousness of trade disputes has nevertheless remained high, the mode of settling them relatively primitive and the cost to the relationship substantial.

At the heart of this misunderstanding between Canada and the United States on softwood lumber are four major factors: First, the structural differences between the forestry industry in Canada and that in the U.S.A.; second, a certain hypocrisy perhaps on both sides on the role and nature of subsidies; three, different perspectives on the efficiency of markets; and four, flaws in the countervailing duty process, certainly from a Canadian perspective.

First, let us briefly look at the structural differences.

The U.S. forest industry derives the majority of its raw log material from private lands. In Canada the reverse is true in that most timber is held and managed on public lands.

Could more timber be auctioned under our system? Of course it could. What would the impact on timber prices be? We might very well find that timber prices will decrease for reasons I would be pleased to elaborate on. How would U.S. producers react if that happens? They will have achieved the exact opposite result from that which was intended. Another countervailing duty process will undoubtedly follow.

Let me turn now to the hypocrisy of subsidies. First, earlier I mentioned agricultural subsidies. Canada's grain and oilseed farmers are currently getting mauled as a result of escalating agricultural subsidies in the U.S.A. and Europe which amount to some $350 billion U.S. each year. It would appear that there are some subsidies in the U.S.A. that our American friends believe are a good thing.

Second, a forest products company in Canada today can build a sawmill, a panel board mill or a pulp mill in the U.S.A. at a 20% to 30% discount when compared with the capital costs of a similar mill in Canada, even after taking into account our current exchange rate.

How can this be, one might well ask. The answer is very simple. It boils down to a whole array of incentives that are available at the state and local government level in the United States that are not available in Canada. These are incentives, or subsidies, like sales tax abatements, property tax reductions, tax free bonds, investment tax credits, cheap industrial land, favourable energy cogeneration agreements, and the list goes on.

I know from experience, having worked in the forest sector and having travelled to states like Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, that they will offer the kitchen sink for someone to set up their plant there.

These packages are not limited to the forest products sector. A recently announced greenfield automotive plant in the state of Georgia attracted $320 million in government assistance out of a total plant investment of $750 million. This represents over 42% of the total plant investment in subsidies.

A December 2002 Industry Canada report highlights many other such examples: in 2002, a Ford plant in Ohio, 48% of its capital costs were subsidized at the state and local government level; in 2002 a Ford plant in Michigan, 20% of the plant investment was subsidized at the state and local government level; in 2002, a Hyundai plant in Alabama, 25% subsidized; in 2002, a Honda plant in Alabama, 21% subsidized. In 2001, a Toyota plant in Alabama was 13% subsidized; in 2000, a Ford plant in Michigan, 11% subsidized; in 2000, a GM plant in Michigan, 28% subsidized. The list goes on with over 20 other examples going back to 1980, with subsidies reaching, in one case in Alabama, 67% of the total plant investment. These are the people who are talking about our alleged subsidies in softwood lumber.

This harmful tax competition creates a rush to the bottom and should be the subject of a discussion between Canada and the United States. These practices should be phased out because government revenues are being eroded as different jurisdictions try to give away more than the other in the hope of attracting investment and jobs. This negotiation is what part (b) of Motion No. 397 calls for.

Under U.S. countervailing duty law, all that we can do in Canada is defend our system. The way the countervailing duty law is structured, we are not permitted the opportunity to highlight subsidies in the U.S.A. Besides, the U.S. administration in Washington argues that it has no control over states and local governments. Is that not convenient?

Now to the issue of the power of markets. We are told in Canada that our pricing system is artificial. We should let the markets decide by moving to a system under which a much greater volume of timber is subject to auction. On this point, let me be the devil's advocate for a moment.

While I am a great believer in the markets, was it not these very same markets that caused the high tech NASDAQ bubble to build and then burst not too long ago, primarily because stock prices in many cases bore no relationship to economic reality? Now we are being told that the market is going to determine the perfect price for softwood lumber or for logs in Canada.

Could it be that the prices bid for timber in states like Washington and Oregon are higher than they should be from the perspective of sound economics as a result of speculative pricing induced by environmental pressures, for example, large tracts of land being set aside to create habitat areas for endangered species like the spotted owl?

Could it be that Canada has a comparative advantage in softwood lumber? Heaven forbid. We have some of the most productive and efficient mills in the world, a resource of logs and energy second to none and a worldclass workforce. Would it be too much to ask our American neighbours, that while we may not be able to beat them in sectors like defence systems and IT, we might have an advantage over them in products like softwood lumber? Would that be too hard for them to grasp?

I would like to turn my attention briefly to the countervailing duty process. U.S. trade laws are skewed in favour of U.S. interests. This perhaps should not be surprising. Following the losses by the U.S. lumber producers in 1983 and again in 1992, I was told, on very good authority, that U.S. trade laws were tweaked to achieve a better result the next time around. So they are going to keep trying and trying.

As I said before, the countervailing duty process, as it relates to softwood lumber, is flawed in that only alleged subsidies in Canada come under the microscope, and do they ever come under the microscope. Boxloads are sent to the U.S. department of commerce. What about U.S. subsidies at the state and local government level, like the ones I spoke of earlier? Why should we only be permitted to defend our system and not take into account practices in the U.S.A., like the low cost sales by the U.S. forest service, by auction sales in the United States where the buyers have been let off the hook when they realize the price is not economic?

Are there alternatives to the current countervailing duty process? Yes, there are, but it will take political will, particularly from U.S. congressmen and women and U.S. senators.

Part (a) of Motion No. 397 calls upon our government to negotiate an end to the U.S. countervailing duty process. Members in the House and in the other place could assist with such an initiative.

For starters, the process could be changed such that a countervailing duty process could not be re-launched repeatedly. The principle of “three strikes and you're out” should become the norm.

More far-reaching solutions offer the greatest potential however.

First, concepts, like net subsidy, would allow a countervailing duty process to be launched if it was reasonably alleged that there was a net subsidy difference that exceeded a prescribed de minimis . With this approach, any applicable U.S. industry subsidies would be scrutinized also.

Second, the countervailing duty process could be scrapped altogether and all trade disputes examined from the sole perspective of competition policy. In other words, if price collusion, price fixing or cartel-like behaviour was involved they could launch their countervailing duty process.

A third approach would be to have all Canada-U.S.A. trade disputes automatically fast-tracked through an independent and objective agency, an organization like the International Joint Commission.

I believe that Canada and the United States need to work together along the lines suggested by former Ambassador Gotlieb, one that reflects today's realities and that respects our differences as well as our common interests and cultures, a bargain that covers important bilateral public policies like defence, border security, energy and trade.

I am confident we can leave behind many of the irritants and move forward positively with our neighbours to the south.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

John Harvard


Hon. John Harvard (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would offer a couple of questions to my hon. colleague who just gave his speech.

My first question to him would be this. Why would the United States of America be interested in negotiating such a net subsidy scheme?

My second question would be this. What kind of mechanism and who would be involved in the mechanism, in the calculation of determining any net subsidy?

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

Roy Cullen


Mr. Roy Cullen

Mr. Speaker, in answer to my colleague from the Winnipeg area, net subsidies is not a new concept. It has been around for some time. It has been on the table at Doha and during other rounds of trade talks. However, the member is right. The problem is getting the Americans to agree to it, which is why I think that if we were to try to deal with that one issue exclusively we would not make any progress. We have to deal with it comprehensively. We have to deal with it as part of a new deal with our American neighbours, where we would look at energy policy, at our border differences, at the issues as a result of 9/11, at our military capacities and at how we could work collaboratively with the Americans.

However, on its own, no, we have no chance. It has been on the table and the Americans have rejected it, which is why we need a new deal. We need to put it among a whole basket of issues with the Americans where perhaps we could be doing certain things better or they could be doing things better, one of those being alternatives to countervailing duties, the way the process is struck today.

However it will require the will of U.S. congressmen and women and senators, which is why more dialogue between people in this House and in the Senate with our colleagues in the United States is absolutely critical to breaking break down some of the barriers that are causing a lot of frustration and harm in our relationship.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

Charlie Penson

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 397 sponsored by the member for Etobicoke North. I know that he has done a lot of work in this area and has some background. It is a well-intentioned motion, but it is basically just tinkering at the edges and I will make the case why I believe that.

The member gave a pretty good analysis of the longstanding problem of softwood lumber disputes with the United States. He talked about the subsidy game and the need for the net subsidy analysis. It reminded me that we are not so innocent in Canada either.

The Liberal government has been involved in subsidies right up to its eyeballs. The current Prime Minister and the debate that has been going on over the last little while is partly because of that. His own private company, Canada Steamship Lines, has been getting money from Industry Canada. Companies like General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Bombardier receive hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year from the government. I do not believe that is right.

The motions seeks to direct government to negotiate with the United States a net subsidy regime to replace the current American countervailing duty process. In addition, the motion calls on the government to seek an agreement with the U.S. to eliminate cross-border tax competition.

I know it is well intended, but it bothers me when a Liberal gets up and talks about seeking to eliminate tax competition. It worries me because it seems to me that what the government is trying to do is to get other countries to raise their taxes to the levels of ours so that we can have the same kind of basis. The pressure should be to lower taxes because competition is a good thing.

The preamble to the motion makes it clear that these are industry specific recommendations, namely to help a struggling Canadian softwood lumber industry. Currently, when Canada responds to a U.S. countervail action and the imposing duties to offset the so-called unfair subsidies at NAFTA and the WTO, American subsidies to American-like industries are not taken into account. The aim of this motion is to ensure that the whole picture would be considered by allowing Canada to balance our subsidies with those supplied by the country launching the trade action.

Theoretically, if both sets of subsidies were found to be roughly the same in value, there would be no countervailing duty imposed at the end of the investigation. That is what I believe my colleague intends. It should be noted that Canada has attempted to establish this net subsidy method for calculating potential countervailing duties before within the dispute settlement regimes at both the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement and Uruguay round. However, it failed. Canada is currently pursuing that at the World Trade Organization and suggested it at the Doha round.

On the surface the net subsidy approach seems to make sense and seems like a good idea. But if, as in the case of softwood lumber, the U.S. is taking Canadian provincial government policies into account, American subsidies, even at the municipal and state level of government, could also be calculated and put into context.

On the surface Motion No. 397 appears to be a positive step on the road to dismantling U.S. trade laws which I would argue is the only way to end the harassment of Canadian industries by U.S. competitors. I would suggest as well that the American trade law has been one long process of engaging us and costing us a considerable amount of money.

As long as the U.S. has the ability to use the U.S. trade law tools, which are currently available to it, a sustained period of peace is highly improbable. However, it seems to me that Motion No. 397 will not dismantle U.S. trade law but only make it more complicated. It seems to me that it would be better to dismantle trade law within the economic free trade zone of Canada, United States and Mexico.

We should focus on getting rid of the countervail trade law and the anti-dumping trade law altogether. I do not think there is a place for it. It does not happen within provincial governments and the federal government. It does not happen across Canada. It does not happen internally within the United States. It does not even happen within the European Union that has 15 member countries, soon to expand to 25. The reason it does not happen is that it is antiquated. It is used as harassment.

The devil, however, in the approach that my colleague has taken us, is in the details. For example, if the U.S. department of commerce investigative panel were required to measure like products to calculate and measure subsidies, the determinations regarding definitions, scope, inclusions and exclusions would all become critical. It would be a very complicated process. It would become more convoluted and time consuming than the one we already have.

The only way to achieve fundamental concessions from our southern neighbours would be to reopen NAFTA. However, we have to offer something as well. We cannot only go with our own shopping list and say this is what we want, and that we are not prepared to offer anything. We must offer up some major concessions as well.

Pursuing a net subsidy method at the World Trade Organization or at NAFTA may not fare any better than past attempts. It is fair to say that we have a better chance in our litigation process and I think it should run its course.

The Liberal government and the trade minister have been making comments suggesting that we should negotiate another big process similar to the supply managed products on milk and butter, a supply managed deal on trade. We had it once before and it did not work. He is suggesting we go back to it.

I say stay the course on litigation. The NAFTA panel will report here in March and I think it will be favourable to Canada. I do not understand at all why the member or the government would want to shortcut that process and bypass it.

I want to deal with one comment that my colleague made in his speech. He said that the markets cannot be trusted. That really bothers me. We have built economies in North America and in Europe based on a market approach. It says a lot about the Liberal approach to governing, which is to control and interfere with the free market.

I suggest that the markets can be trusted. Certainly, we have obligations to be the steward for our people in Canada and put rules around them. I think they should be minimal. I think Adam Smith would be rolling over in his grave today to hear the member for Etobicoke North talk about markets not being trusted.

I suggest that it is the artificial barriers that have been put in the way of the markets that have allowed the kind of harassment to happen by the U.S. lumber interests. Trade laws were introduced by Canada 100 years ago. They have not always been in our own interest. I would suggest that in an economic free trade zone, such as we have and would like to develop further between Canada, the United States and Mexico, that we should be putting away these tools from the past. We should let the market operate.

I believe, as does the member, that our softwood lumber industry can compete on the basis of production and kick their butt down there. I believe the same thing in agriculture. We must get away from the subsidy game and negotiate these trade rules at the World Trade Organization, but the market needs to be allowed to operate. If the market were free of subsidies and free of these kind of policies that are used for harassment, I believe that Canada would win hands down.

In respect to the dispute over softwood lumber, the Canadian government should stick to its guns, stay the course of NAFTA and stay the course at the World Trade Organization. I think it is working for us. Negotiating a deal or tinkering with the process before the binding NAFTA panel has had its final say would be irresponsible and be a great disservice to the Canadian industry.

While I appreciate the member's good intentions in this, I do not believe that that is the route we should go to try to resolve these problems. We should enter into a process where we try to negotiate away this redundant policy on trade law.

Let us examine the anti-dumping portion of it for a moment. I know we only basically talked about countervail. Anti-dumping means selling below the cost of production. What is wrong with that?

Let me use the cattle industry as an example. A feedlot operator buys cattle at about 1,000 pounds, or he does not buy them these days because things are not working, but traditionally he buys them at about 1,000 pounds. Say he paid $1.25 per pound. He then puts those animals in the feedlot and puts on about 200 or 300 pounds weight gain. If the market moves against that individual and he sells them for $1 a pound, that is the chance that he takes.

Technically he is selling below the cost of production. What is wrong with that? That is all part of the market. I think that this policy with anti-dumping and countervail is very redundant. Tinkering at the edges will not do it. We need to scrap it all together.

However, in order to do that I want to conclude by saying that it means that willing partners must negotiate this. Canada must come to the table and offer up some things that we have had as sacred cows for a long time that we should be willing to accept as a result of trade negotiations.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

Pierre Paquette

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to read the motion put forward by the hon. member, because it is made up of two parts which deserve to be considered as such. Motion M-397 reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government, in thecontext of the softwood lumber dispute with the United States,should: (a) negotiate an end to the United States' countervailingduty process by replacing this United States trade remedy withone which either focuses on net subsidies—taking intoaccount tax-free bonds, sales tax abatements, property taxreductions, investment tax credits and energy co-generationagreements—which are available in the United States at thestate and local government levels, or that focuses exclusively onwhether or not policies in Canada and elsewhere are anti-competitive in nature; and (b) that, in addition to the foregoing,the government should launch negotiations with the UnitedStates government with a view to eliminating tax competition,in particular manufacturing subsidies, which is ongoingbetween Canada and the United States.

As the House can see, the motion is made up of two distinct parts. Part a , in which the government is asked to convince the United States to put an end to their countervailing duties by pointing out that the Americans themselves are funding the softwood lumber industry, deserves our attention. Everybody in this House would agree that the U.S. industry enjoys benefits that the Quebec and Canadian industry is denied.

For instance, forestry roads are built by private companies in Canada, but by the state and sometimes even the army in the United States. I could list other tax measures. For example, the U.S. softwood lumber industry enjoys tax holidays, jobs grant programs, shared capital cost programs.

We could also mention the clear cutting programs brought forward by the Bush administration to promote strip felling in an attempt to avoid forest fires, while our industry has to meet costly reforestation requirements.

By the way, I think it is important to mention that the sawmill industry benefits from several funding programs covering new investments in a number of New England states, particularly in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

For example, there are programs that offer feasibility studies, tax holidays, employment tax credits and all sorts of other measures that are forms of subsidies. For that matter, the development agencies of these states frequently come to Canada and Quebec soliciting investments in their country.

It is clear that if we take into account all these factors, we can conclude that the countervailing duties imposed by Washington are unjustified and that we are totally right to challenge them. And, as you know, the challenge is based on WTO and NAFTA rules.

Confirming, as it were, the arguments raised by the member in the first part of this motion, the WTO as well the NAFTA secretariat concluded that not only was the American industry not suffering from Canadian imports, but that there was not even any threat that it would in the foreseeable future.

In fact, if both bodies—NAFTA particularly since, as you know, its decisions are enforceable in American law—maintain their position, the United States will have to withdraw its countervailing duties as well as its antidumping rights.

Until that happens, it would have been important to add to the motion the aid package that we have been demanding for close to two years, so that the industry can survive until the end of the legal proceedings.

It should be noted that neither of the two organizations I mentioned, the WTO and the NAFTA secretariat, recognizes the net subsidies mechanism, which consists in subtracting the subsidies of the exporting country from those of the importing country to determine countervailing duties. Let me remind this House that the United States opposed this mechanism. Nothing suggests that they are ready to support it at this time, especially since negotiations are at a standstill at the WTO and in the FTAA process.

We should keep in mind that the concept of net subsidies was examined during the Uruguay round but to no avail, because the United States and several other countries opposed it. Even if, at first glance, it seems attractive and logical, this approach is fraught with technical difficulties that would make its implementation problematic.

The subsidies granted upstream and the transfer of benefits to products downstream are a good example. Some examples are pork meat, live hog and corn. I could also have talked about international shipping, but that would have taken us away from our main focus.

From a political standpoint, I doubt that Canada can convince the United States that it should negotiate such an approach bilaterally because all the other countries together did not succeed in this respect during the last multilateral negotiations.

Although I agree with the previous speaker and the member that the motion stems from a good intention, I would be very surprised if such a motion were enough of a catalyst to influence the Americans or provoke any sort of reaction on the part of the American industry or the American administration.

As I said before, the important thing is that, meanwhile, the increasing value of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US dollar, and the continued imposition of punitive taxes on our exports—some 27.22 % on average—have become much more intolerable for our Canadian industry. Several of our producers are quickly approaching the breaking point because their financial burden is increasingly unbearable.

As I said, in the short term, what we need is a government program to help the producers, as we have been requesting since April 2001. This would take some of the load off the industry and help it survive until the conclusion of legal proceedings.

It is also important to point out that this aid package, whose first phase was announced, and whose second phase we are still waiting for, may be a very important element in the power struggle between Canada and the United States to get the American industry and administration to negotiate a full return to free trade. It is important for industry and government to collaborate closely, not only in order to have a program that meets the needs of the industry, but also to be more able to use it as a lever in the current dispute.

As for the first part of the motion, it does show good intentions, but we think it is impractical and has no impact on the current conflict. In contrast, part (b) of the motion is completely unacceptable to us. It reads as follows:

--eliminating tax competition, in particular manufacturing subsidies, which is ongoingbetween Canada and the United States.

The intent is certainly interesting, but it is clear that in this case it would lead us to tax harmonization between Canada and the United States, especially in the context where the Bush administration has entered a tax reduction phase, to the point of endangering American public financing, and even the stability of international finance. It seems to me that Canada cannot embark upon this course of action.

Second, the Bloc Quebecois is, naturally, extremely wary when it comes to mandating the federal government to harmonize taxation, which would also include provincial taxation. This seems to us to be extremely dangerous.

The third element I would like to discuss in relation to part ( b ) is that the motion presents even greater difficulties than net subsidies. We only need think of the overlap of taxes and the tax incentives of all kinds coming from all levels of government, especially in countries with a federal structure like Canada's—and this, by the way, is one of the reasons we want to get out—to imagine the obstacles to the feasibility of implementing the second part of the hon. member's motion.

Of course, this means giving up a great deal of sovereignty. I would like to remind members that the European Union just started its tax harmonization process. Imagine how different Canada and the United States are, and the various tax systems in the Canadian provinces and the American States.

In Quebec, the government is playing an important role that has allowed us to catch up remarkably well, even if we have not been able to close the gap between us and Ontario and the United States in particular. Still, we have made a lot of progress in the last 30 or 40 years. It has not been easy. We had to use tax incentives, particularly in the area of research and development. We also had help from major economic institutions of the government, like the Société générale de financement, the Caisse de dépôt and Investissements Québec. There were also tax incentives to the start businesses in designated areas to promote regional development. The Quebec government also supported the establishment of substantial venture capital reserves.

I have personally worked toward the establishment of one of those mediums, the Fondaction venture capital, which is sponsored by the Confédération des syndicats nationaux and which operates like the FTQ solidarity fund. I would like to take this opportunity to remind all Quebeckers in this RRSP contribution period that it is very important to invest in these venture capital funds to promote employment maintenance and development.

Such involvement of the state in the economy, during the quiet revolution, helped Quebec get out of its underdeveloped position and start catching up. Much remains to be done. We do not want to risk it all for the sake of tax harmonization.

For these reasons, I will vote against Motion M-397 and call upon my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois to vote against this motion while acknowledging once again that it was well intended, as far as part (a) is concerned. However, I believe that it is completely useless.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

Peter Stoffer

New Democratic Party

Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Etobicoke North for bringing the subject and interests of softwood lumber to the House, although I wish today we had been talking about it in an emergency debate. The Speaker's ruling, which declined the request, was most unfortunate. I think this is one of the more serious issues facing especially the rural and regional parts of Canada.

I have a few concerns with the member's motion. There were media reports almost a month ago that the trade minister was going to enter into a quota deal with the Americans and that he was trying to encourage softwood lumber producers in the provinces to get in on this deal. We really do not know if he was doing that because the comments were through the media. The biggest problem Atlantic Canada has with that is it would be buried under any kind of a pan-Canadian solution when it came to the quota system.

British Columbia, for example, would argue that it would be entitled to 50% of that quota. That means the other 50% of the quota would go from Alberta to Newfoundland, and that would simply be unjustified. Instead of fighting with the United States, we would be fighting among provinces. That is something we would fundamentally oppose.

As well, the hon. member knows that close to 80% of all lumber cut in the maritime region is cut on private land. We have always been exempt under the Maritime accord when it comes to duties and tariffs, as compared other provinces, from Quebec to B.C. To lump us into a pan-Canadian solution would be very detrimental to the people of Atlantic Canada.

Diana Blenkhorn of the Maritime Lumber Bureau, which represents the lumber producing industry within the Maritime provinces, has been dead set against the initial quota deal. To achieve some sort of semblance of its industry and to get things moving, it would probably accept something which would entitle it to a lot more board feed into the United States. The danger of that is we would let the United States off the hook in terms of what we would do with the $2 billion that have already been collected.

It is not often I agree with the Conservative Party, but we would agree that the government should exhaust all legal concerns prior to going forward with any kind of a deal.

This motion is a little premature because we need to exhaust every legal recourse that we have at our disposal. We met, and I am sure the member for Etobicoke North has met also, with various lumber producers and home building associations in the United States. They have been encouraging us to hold tight and be steadfast in our determination in order to beat the Americans, I guess, in their countervailing ways. We have also been encouraged to have further dialogue and ensure that all legal concerns are met. They believe and we on this side of the House believe as well that we would win those legal battles and legal challenges.

Instead of the Americans getting almost 48% or 52% of the moneys already collected, they would get nothing. It is not theirs. That money was paid by lumber producers for their intents and purposes, and they deserve to get that money back. A lot of these companies are counting on that money to come back to them.

This is not the first time we have been in a legal battle with the United States. If I am not mistaken, this has been ongoing for many years. Every time the Americans are unable to compete with us on an open market, free trade basis, they stand up on their hind legs and slap on duties or tariffs, and we know why. We know the political pressure in the United States is extremely strong. The pressure that states like Mississippi and Tennessee put on their senators in congress and on people everywhere is very strong.

The American association we met with the other day indicated that close to 100 congressmen and congresswomen were onside with Canada's efforts to stop this. We know that the price of lumber in the United States has gone up, which raises the price for homes, and the consumers in the United States are the losers on this one.

The government entered into free trade and NAFTA talks in the eighties and nineties. There were sets of rules and parameters on this one.

The fact is that the United States just cannot get up every time we beat it at something, because we have better quality, a better workforce, better production, a better product and a better price. Because the Americans do not like it, they will stand up and say, “Whoa. Back up the truck. We're going to put this huge tariff on the Canadian industry because we're getting pressure from our own lumber producers”.

The big question, which I do not think can be answered by anyone, is this one. Will the United States government, even if these legal challenges go through in Canada's favour, do anything about it in an election year? That is a good question. Would the U.S. government have the honour to accept what WTO or NAFTA would say in the final legal resolution of this, give the money back to Canada, reopen those borders on a free trade basis the way they should be--at least that is what we were led to believe--and allow these industries and their forest communities to continue their practices?

At the same time, we also have to ensure that Canada deals very openly with the provinces, and not just with the premiers of the provinces or the heads of those industries, but with labour groups, which are being left out of the conversation.

Why should small town mayors, small town business associations, small town chambers of commerce and labour representatives be left out of this discussion? They are the ones who have the most to lose in all of this: the workers in the mill, the guys cutting down the trees, and the small companies throughout all of British Columbia and for that matter right across the country. The forest industry in my home province of Nova Scotia employs a tremendous amount of people. They are hurting right now. They do not know what the future is going to hold.

Over the years we have asked the government to do a few things. While the legal challenges are on, we are asking that the government assist these companies and assist the provinces in dealing with their workforce, at the same time knowing that if we win--and I am sure we will although I know it is a bit of a risk--all that money will come back to the federal government. At least it would show the workers, their families and the communities that the federal government is on side with them, that we know we are right and the United States is wrong. Doing anything else other than that I think would be a little premature on this one.

So although there are some good elements in the motion the hon. member has presented, at this time we will not be able to fully support it. To repeat, we believe that all legal recourse must be exhausted first and that clear, open and transparent discussions should also be invoked, not with the provinces alone but also with the companies and with the labour representatives.

Also, we know full well that we have many friends on our side in the United States, representing millions of Americans. We are not alone on this one. We think it is a small minority of various companies and states within the U.S. that is putting terrific pressure on the political system in order to keep this going and make it that much more hurtful for our industries in the process.

Again, though, what we really require in the House is not just an hour-long discussion on softwood lumber. I think we need an emergency debate on this, so that Canadians from coast to coast to coast can actually hear the debate. We on this side of the House really do not know, except through the media half the time, what the government's approach to all of this is. What is the government doing as of today on the softwood lumber file?

The finance minister was in the United States the other day, we understand. What discussions took place regarding this file? I know there are many other trade issues that the finance minister possibly talked about, but why are we left in the dark? Why are Canadians not aware of what discussions are taking place right now? We are the representatives of the people. I have six mills in my riding. They constantly ask me what the government is doing. I have to go back and somehow try to get hold of someone within the departments and ask, “What is going on?” I get the same bureaucratic answer.

I would really like to be able to go back to my riding and go back to the mills, their workers and their families and say, “This is exactly what the government is going to be doing”. Right now I cannot do that. That information is lacking, at best.

I want to thank the House very much for this opportunity to speak on behalf of my party on this very important issue. I thank the hon. member for his intent in the motion, but at this time we cannot support it until all legal recourse is done and we can get back to the table to negotiate a proper trade deal with the United States when it comes to issues of softwood lumber.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

John Harvard


Hon. John Harvard (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, may I suggest to my hon. colleague from Nova Scotia that if he wants to know something about what the government is doing on this particular file he might want to listen to my remarks for the next five or ten minutes.

I thank the House for the opportunity to talk about the softwood lumber dispute in response to Motion No. 397 brought forward by the hon. member for Etobicoke North. Before going straight to the substance of the motion, let me begin by briefly updating the House on the status of the dispute.

As members are aware, Canada continues to pursue a two track strategy to resolve the softwood lumber dispute: legal challenges and negotiations with the United States. On the legal front, Canadian governments and industry are challenging the U.S. actions before the World Trade Organization and under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada is involved in six cases dealing with U.S. allegations of dumping, subsidy, and threat of injury to the U.S. domestic lumber industry. Three of these cases are before NAFTA and three are at the WTO. In addition to these legal challenges, Canada is currently in the midst of two administrative review processes before the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In all three NAFTA cases, the panels have remanded critical issues in the U.S. determinations back to the United States. At the WTO panel, reports on anti-dumping and threat of injury are to be published in March. These will show that the U.S. duties are not in compliance with WTO rules.

In addition to these legal cases, the Government of Canada has spared no effort in working toward a negotiated settlement that would provide a durable, long term resolution of the dispute. This long term solution would involve an interim border measure that could replace the U.S. duties, pending changes in provincial forest management practices.

On December 6, the United States put forward a proposal that calls for a tariff rate quota equivalent to 31.5% of the U.S. market. The proposal was presented to the Canadian industry and provinces for comment. Provinces were strongly of the view that this proposal did not give us a sufficiently clear path to free trade in softwood lumber.

On January 12, 2004, Canada presented its concerns with respect to the latest proposal to its American counterparts. We believe they now have a better understanding of our position.

We will continue to consult closely with provinces and industry on what would be required to achieve a negotiated solution. The litigation before NAFTA and WTO panels is ongoing and will be pursued aggressively until and unless we achieve a negotiated settlement.

Let me reiterate that Canada will continue to work with all those involved to find a long term solution that will get us to free trade and that will benefit both Canadians and Americans. We remain in regular and close consultation with industry and the provinces.

Let me turn to the motion at hand. The hon. member is proposing that Canada negotiate an end to the United States' countervailing duty by replacing this U.S. trade remedy with one which is either based on the concept of a net subsidy or that focuses exclusively on whether or not economic development and investment policies in Canada and elsewhere are anti-competitive in nature.

It is important to state at the outset that there are serious practical implementation concerns with a net subsidy approach given that the measure is not provided for in either the WTO or the NAFTA. The first major concern is that there are no internationally set guidelines as to how the net subsidy amount would be calculated.

The hon. member is correct in stating that a net subsidy approach could provide some degree of relief to Canadian softwood lumber exporters in the form of a lower countervailing duty rate on shipments to the United States. Of course, this is assuming that an investigation would find the countervailable subsidies are benefiting the United States softwood lumber industry, and that the subsidies to U.S. lumber producers would be deducted from the countervailing duties imposed on exports of Canadian softwood lumber.

However, one might ask if embarking on such a negotiation would result in resolving the issues and practices currently being disputed by Canada and the United States.

It would be unlikely that the United States would consider adopting an approach that would implicitly acknowledge that it is providing countervailable subsidies to its lumber sector and that potentially could lead to a reduction in the countervailing duty rate imposed on imports of Canadian softwood lumber.

It is important to recall that U.S. actions in this dispute have been driven in large part by U.S. industry concerns over the volume of Canadian softwood lumber imports and the resulting impact on U.S. lumber prices and the bottom line of U.S. forest product companies. The U.S. industry alleges unfair practices by provincial governments with respect to forest management programs generally and crown timber pricing in particular.

Another technical concern lies in determining which investigating authority would be responsible for conducting the investigation to establish the new subsidy rate. For example, would American investigating authorities be responsible for investigating the amount of subsidy present in its own domestic industry or would that responsibility lie with Canadian investigating authorities? There would undoubtedly be diverging views as to how such an investigation should proceed.

All of this is not to say that we ignore U.S. practices. The Canadian government monitors the U.S. subsidies to its industry via the WTO's trade policy review mechanism, which is conducted, in the case of the U.S., every two years. Should the Canadian industry feel that it is being injured or threatened with material injury by measure of U.S. subsidy programs, then it is well within its rights to request that an investigation be launched.

The two track approach of litigation and negotiations taken thus far is the result of extensive consultation with the provinces and the industry. Changing our course of action at this time would simply result in delaying the eventual resolution to the dispute. Furthermore, our current approach is aimed at eliminating both the countervailing and anti-dumping duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Unfortunately, the proposals presented in the motion only address countervailing duties.

The hon. member is also of the opinion that the government should, in the context of the current softwood lumber dispute, launch negotiations with the U.S. government with a view to eliminating tax competition, in particular, manufacturing subsidies between our two countries.

A competitive tax system is a key factor contributing to economic growth. The government has taken major steps in ensuring that Canada's tax system remains internationally competitive. The five year tax reduction plan has created a Canadian tax advantage for investment by reducing the general corporate income tax rate from 28% in 2000 to 21% in 2004. The 2003 budget builds on the Canadian tax advantage by phasing out the federal capital tax by 2008 and extending the 21% corporate income tax rate to the resource sector.

Taxation is also called upon as an instrument to implement a range of economic and social objectives. Differences between the tax systems of two countries, as are readily apparent between the U.S. and Canada, result from a myriad of factors that reflect fundamental policy choices made by each country. To enable countries to make those policy choices, a certain degree of flexibility must be retained in designing their tax policies.

To attempt to eliminate tax competition between Canada and the U.S. by harmonizing the tax system would involve negotiations on several complex issues. In particular, to meet the stated objective, harmonization would also have to be achieved at the sub-national level, adding further delays or further layers of complexity to such negotiations which are far beyond the scope of the current softwood lumber dispute.

Moreover, the motion also assumes that the U.S., for its part, would be prepared to revisit aspects of its own tax policy for purposes of achieving harmonized tax rules with Canada. In fact, it cannot be taken for granted that the U.S. would wish to cooperate in such negotiations since it is not readily conceivable that the U.S. would consider it to be in its best interests to impose constraints on its tax policy.

Notwithstanding, coordination and cooperation among countries to reduce tax related distortions is desirable to the extent these distortions are harmful for global economic growth and long term welfare.

In closing, the proposals identified in the motion, while useful and stimulating debate toward finding innovative ways to resolve this long-standing dispute, would broaden significantly the scope of the disputes.

All of our efforts to date have been with the goal of working toward a solution that will provide unrestricted access to the U.S. market for the Canadian softwood lumber industry. We will continue to pursue that goal.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Softwood Lumber

The House resumed consideration of the motion, of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.


Clifford Lincoln


Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with careful attention to the opposition on the motion before us. It seemed as if they were replaying question period and bringing out a litany of accusations, accusations of all types levelled at the Prime Minister.

I think it would be fair to ask the question that Canadians who are listening to us right now would ask us. They would ask what is our function here if it is not to legislate and to enact laws for the public good? Who would dispute that Canadians expect us to spend our time in Parliament productively and proactively, and to pass the laws necessary for improving the lives of Canadians right across the country?

The opposition is treating the motion to reinstate government bills as if it were an unusual, unfair and inappropriate measure, yet it has been a common practice in the House for well over 30 years. The same procedure has now been adopted by the House to apply to private members' bills. That was the wish of all members of the House. The same practice has been used for a long time by the Parliament that served as the model for ours, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

We should make it clear exactly what the motion intends to do, what it will do and what it will not do. It will not in any form derogate from the powers of members to debate. It will not in any way prejudice any of the prerogatives of the members and of the House itself.

What the motion really seeks to do is to allow ministers to apply to the Speaker within the first 30 days of a new session to have bills that died on the Order Paper reinstated at the same stage they were at when the old session ended. It is then up to the Speaker to decide if a given bill is the same as the one that existed in the old session and if it is, the Speaker can, if he wants, order it to be reinstated.

Reinstatement will not apply automatically to all bills, but only to those bills that have reached committee stage, that is to say, bills that have undergone a significant amount of study and debate prior to prorogation.

Reinstatement will not be automatic. Obviously there will be situations in which a minister may decide not to request reinstatement, or where he or she may decide that it was best to reintroduce the bill from the very beginning, or perhaps not reintroduce it at all. This is the reason the motion allows for all these possibilities and it is up to the minister to decide if an application for reinstatement will be made.

I mentioned earlier that the practice covered by the motion before us goes back more than 30 years. Indeed in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1986 the House gave unanimous consent to motions to reinstate bills. It adopted a similar motion under a previous government in 1991. Similarly in 1977 and 1982 the House adopted amendments to the standing orders to carry over legislation to the next session. In the more recent past, in March 1996 to be precise, the House adopted a similar motion. As well, in October 1999 the House adopted a motion similar to the one before us today to allow it to carry on its work from a previous session.

Let us examine whether certain bills which are contemplated by the motion deserve to be reinstated or not. Can the opposition challenge the worth and necessity of the following bills?

There is the bill to create an independent ethics commissioner and Senate ethics officer. This is a measure that has been loudly clamoured for time and again by all opposition parties.

Another example is the bill dealing with the changes to the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. The bill would make it easier for people in the developing world to get low cost pharmaceutical products to tackle malaria, HIV-AIDS and other epidemics. I ask members of the opposition if they are ready to challenge the necessity for a bill of this urgent nature to speed through the House as soon as it can. Should we put a bill of this urgent nature back into the system and reintroduce it from the beginning rather than pick it up where we left off before prorogation?

Another example is Bill C-49 which sought to speed up the implementation of new electoral boundaries so our constituencies would better reflect the social, cultural and demographic realities of a fast changing country, including additional ridings in places like B.C., Alberta and Ontario. This again is a measure the official opposition has clamoured for very loudly.

There are a number of other bills aimed at enhancing the security of our most vulnerable citizens.

Let me ask also, by insisting that we hold up these bills and reintroduce them from the very beginning of the parliamentary process, are we really helping the common good? Would it not be for the common good to speed the passage of these bills by reinstating them at the stage they were at when the last session of Parliament ended? The answer is obvious.

I started my political life in the opposition. I was in the opposition for nearly five years, so I know how it works. The opposition is there to probe, to criticize and to challenge the government at every facet of the government's day. That is what the opposition does and I think it is fair game that the opposition should do it.

At the same time, Canadians also have a right to hear the other side of every story. In this particular case Canadians who are listening to us should know that the other side of the story is that certain important bills such as the institution of an ethics commissioner responsible to Parliament and the special legal provision to accelerate getting pharmaceutical drugs to people with HIV-AIDS in developing countries, in Africa and elsewhere, are bills that need to be passed as soon as possible.

The irony is that these measures, especially that of the ethics commissioner, have been clamoured for the most loudly by the opposition who have been criticizing the ethics counsellor now responsible to the Prime Minister. When we want to institute it and we want to accelerate the passage of this bill through this motion, the opposition says no, that the motion is unfair, that it is a delaying tactic.

People will have to decide for themselves what is best, the delaying tactic of not moving the bills forward, or passing a motion that will reinstate bills which Canadians in all fairness would judge as appropriate, necessary and even urgent.

I leave the people who are listening to us to decide. I know they will decide that the motion is fair and that it is necessary to pass it as soon as possible.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the motion on the reinstatement of government bills.

Finally, we are discussing the fact that, in November 2003, to the surprise of everyone, the government decided to suspend the deliberations of the House and to resume them in February, because there was a new Prime Minister of Canada and he would have new initiatives and new bills to present to us.

Today, the Liberals, and the member for Lac-Saint-Louis just did so, are asking why the opposition does not agree that all bills be reinstated immediately. Why does it not cooperate automatically to ensure that the bills that were discussed last fall can be revived, at the same stage that they were at, without any questions asked and by simply agreeing to this?

I would like to remind government members that they are the ones who suspended the deliberations of the House. They are the ones who decided that all the bills that were on the Order Paper were no longer urgent enough to be debated. They decided to suspend the deliberations of the House.

This is true for the bill that would make it possible to provide drugs to southern countries, particularly for the treatment of AIDS. In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois gave its support to deal with this bill as soon as possible so that people in developing countries could receive the services quickly. We will not oppose the reinstatement of this bill, of course.

However, the motion before us would also allow us to reinstate other bills, particularly one that is totally unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois, that is Bill C-49, whose purpose is to move up the effective date of the 2003 representation order.

To make this clear, it should be mentioned that the Election Act provides for the review of electoral boundaries after a number of years to reflect population movements. Ridings are redefined. Following the necessary consultations, non-partisan commissions determine the reallocation of boundaries. The new redistribution takes effect one year after these commissions have submitted their report.

Last fall, the Liberal government set aside the important principle of a non-partisan Election Act by asking that the effective date be April 1, 2004 instead of August 2004, as provided for in the Election Act.

Today, this is posing many problems. Since the government wants to move up the implementation date, we have problems with the fact that the bill is changing the names of some ridings and we also have problems with the enforcement of the new political party financing act. There is a lot of improvisation in all this as well and all that has negative consequences.

Why would we allow Bill C-49—and in this regard the amendment to the amendment presented by the Conservative Party of Canada is interesting—to be automatically reinstated when it is not at all in the interest of democracy in Quebec and in Canada and when it blatantly rejects the important principle of a non-partisan Election Act.

With the changes proposed in Bill C-49 being implemented at the beginning of April, the Prime minister will be able to call an election for early May, while the initial legislation would have given all political parties a whole year to get ready and would have given Canadian citizens the time to get to know what riding they will now belong to. It would be a much more reasonable period.

Today, when the government tells us that we have to reintroduce the bills at the stage they were before prorogation, it is the opposition's prerogative to object, particularly when we know that this will be detrimental to the quality of democracy, as can be seen with Bill C-49.

The Bloc Quebecois denounces the flagrant absence of integrity on the part of the federal government in connection with this bill as it prepares to advance the Prime Minister's personal agenda.

Today, on this black day for the parliamentary process and for Canada since the beginning of its history, the Auditor General has unveiled a situation that is totally unacceptable.

Indeed, a government sponsorship program was used to divert funds to advertising agencies. The money was also used to carry out polls that only served political purposes.

We have yet to find a solution to this problem. On the other side, there are still a lot of members who were sitting here during all that time. We even have a Prime Minister who was finance minister at the time. We are not talking about just any department or just any member of Parliament, but rather about the second most senior cabinet member after the Prime Minister. He complacently told us, in a press conference, that he was not aware of the situation.

Today, we have a good reason not to want Bill C-49 to be reinstated at the stage it had reached at the time of prorogation. Where that bill is concerned, if there is one thing we must to do in the months to come it is to take whatever time is needed to shed some light on this sponsorship fiasco.

It made a mockery of our democracy. We need to go to the bottom of the issue. For instance, are the advertising agencies who illegally pocketed the money not friends of the Liberal Party of Canada and did they not use some of the money to make contributions to that party?

It is a whole patronage scheme that was brought to light here. The auditor general said today that she has never seen such a thing before. We are faced with an extremely serious situation that needs to be dealt with.

As for Bill C-49, the Bloc Quebecois has yet another reason to turn it down. It would reduce Quebec's weight within the Canadian Confederation. Quebec is guaranteed at least 75 seats, but with the population movements that have occurred, we would end up with 75 seats out of 308. For the first time, less than 25% of the members would be representing Quebec in this House. This is totally unacceptable. It is certainly not what the Fathers of Confederation had in mind when they talked about Canada being a country with two founding nations.

Now, Quebec is becoming a minority, as we saw in the Speech from the Throne. The government is talking about the anglophones, the francophones and people of other origins, without any reference to the historical aspect, to the role that Quebec has played, which can be seen on the very coat of arms of Canada.

We do not believe that the government should be allowed to reinstate any bill at the same stage, as it intends to do with its motion. If it has bills that it absolutely wants to introduce, the government and the opposition parties should come to an agreement in the House on the list of bills to be reinstated.

There are bills on which a consensus could be reached. I talked earlier about the bill that will provide drugs, anti-HIV/AIDS drugs in particular, to African countries. I am sure, and I have seen this during debates in this House, that there is a general goodwill among all parties to ensure that this bill can be reinstated at the stage where it was before prorogation. There will be no problem in this regard.

I mentioned another bill, Bill C-49. Major difficulties should be expected in that case. There is also a set of other bills on which we should negotiate with the government to determine whether they should be reinstated. For example, there is the assisted human reproduction bill and related research. We are in favour of the bill in principle, but there are jurisdictional problems.

During the whole debate on this issue, the Bloc Quebecois told the federal government that it had to reach a compromise that would allow Quebec to maintain its jurisdiction without any federal interference. Today, as we debate a bill or a motion to allow the reinstatement of certain bills, it would be only normal that we, as an opposition party, have the opportunity to say that, among these bills that the government wants to bring back, there are some that we do not think appropriate to reinstate. Let us find a compromise on a list of bills that should be reinstated. Then we will be able to reconsider the situation.

There is also the former Bill C-17, an act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety. We are against this bill that would allow any air carrier or operator of an airline reservation system to divulge certain information about a person, such as their name, date of birth, ticket number, and itinerary.

Over the past few months, now that the panic resulting from the events of September 11, 2001 is subsiding, we have seen that in order to strike a balance between the protection of personal information and the thirst for information of security services, we must make sure there are enough watchdogs. In this regard, the bill does not introduce the elements we might have expected.

Today, a time allocation motion has been put forward. The government had months to decide on how to reinstate bills. It did not find a way to avoid a time allocation motion.

It is pretty bad when in the first few days back in the House a time allocation motion has to be used. This type of motion limits the right to speak of parliamentarians who were elected to represent the public in this House. The government should be judged on how many times it uses this kind of motion and for which bills.

In this case, it is completely unacceptable that at the beginning of the session this type of time allocation motion is already being imposed for bills that should be debated over the next few months.

A bill was introduced on electronic piracy. Again, there was consensus on most of the clauses in the bill. Thus, we would not be opposed in a debate. Yet, in the bills for which there is opposition, it is important to make sure that things are done properly and that we do not debate issues that were put on the back burner, simply because of a strategic decision made by the Liberal Party.

The government decided to prorogue the session in the middle of November. The main reason, as we have seen today, was that the Auditor General was to table her report in November. Because of the importance of the report that was to be presented, the government felt compelled to put off dealing with the problem until now. It tried to create a new era that would allow them to say that all this was the way the former government operated and that they were completely different. I do not think that Canadians will buy that.

The situation being condemned today has to do with the fact that the government in place since the last election is composed of all the Liberal members in the House and that several current ministers have been part of the cabinet for years.

We remember former Prime Minister Chrétien saying that this was a program aimed at national unity and that a few millions lost were not a big deal.

When a prime minister sends such a message and the members of the cabinet say nothing, that means they feel the same way. Nobody from the Liberal benches got up to say that the Prime Minister's statement made no sense.

As a matter of fact, the Auditor General had a scathing remark to that effect, saying that the end does not always justify any means. In this case, the end did not justify the means.

It is understandable that federalists would want to promote Canada's unity. Wanting to do so legally can be defended. However, nothing can justify the fact that funds were misappropriated, and for the benefit of their own party.

This was a flagrant misappropriation. We need to get to the bottom of this. This is another factor that has to be taken into consideration during the negotiations between the government party and the opposition.

If the government feels that some of its projects are important, we need to have guarantees. We will need something tangible if we are to debate the content of the Auditor General's report with some urgency, thereby ensuring that the commission of inquiry will be made up of people above suspicion.

In our opinion, we have not yet had any guarantees from the Prime Minister. He appears to be sitting on the fence on this issue, as he does on many others.

For the Bloc Quebecois there are many reasons why the motion, as presented by the Liberal government, should be rejected. Interesting amendments have been submitted by the Conservative Party. It will be up to the people to decide whether the government acted responsibly in suspending the deliberations of the House in November 2003, and resuming them in February 2004, claiming that we should be able to continue with business as usual, because nothing special had happened during that interval.

The government must find out there is a price to be paid for this decision. If there were a difference between the former government and the new one, it should have been apparent in the way of going about things, and today's motion shows this is not the case. The new Prime Minister made a promise to reform Parliament but today we are in exactly the same situation as we were in the past.

The bills they want to reinstate today are bills that had already been brought in under the former government of Mr. Chrétien. The main problem, in my opinion, is that democracy is being hijacked by using a non-partisan bill like the one to modify the Elections Act, to move up the date for calling an election.

Nevertheless, as of today, with what we have seen in the Auditor General's report, there may be reasons for the Prime Minister to reassess the situation. I am sure that most people in Quebec and in Canada are thinking this evening that we cannot give this party another mandate to govern this country, and that its members need some contemplative time in opposition. There is ample evidence that this government should not be re-elected.

There has not been enough change. There is nothing that indicates clearly that another way of doing things is coming. Almost all the actors who are here today were involved in this government in the past.

For all these reasons, we shall vote against the government's motion and ask once more that there be established a list of bills that truly deserve reinstatement before this House and on which the parties agree.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Reinstatement of Government Bills

February 10, 2004