April 27, 2004

CA

Deepak Obhrai

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Deepak Obhrai

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Fraser Valley for raising that point. He is absolutely right.

We were sitting here when the Prime Minister used the threat of an election to keep the backbenchers in line so that his bill could go through. Forget about all the other business. That is why we need to give this power back to the people, away from the PMO and the Prime Minister. That can only happen if there are fixed election dates. Then the people of Canada will be able to take back the power to where it belongs, to the people of Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Claude Duplain

Liberal

Mr. Claude Duplain (Portneuf, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the opposition motion calling upon the government to take steps to hold elections on a fixed date.

I will, however, make no secret of the fact that I have some serious reservations about the wisdom and appropriateness of such a change. I would add, and I will return to this point later, that the opposition's sudden desire to make such a change with no further ado does raise some questions.

First of all, I would like to raise the point that it is important to make sure that changes to our electoral system are not made lightly and without sufficient thought. This is particularly the case when it comes to the ability to call an election, since this is at the very core of our Westminster-style parliamentary system.

There have been past studies of this issue, including the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, better known as the Lortie commission, which recommended in 1991 against the introduction of a fixed date for elections. The Conservative party of the day had what I consider the wisdom to follow that recommendation. As hon. members are aware, the government has initiated a consultation process in order to advance its program of democratic reform.

Today's motion calls upon the government to turn its back on that process and move ahead without even consulting Canadians or taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of the proposed change. A question arises as a result. Reference has just been made to giving Canadians the opportunity to express their opinion, yet if a fixed date for elections is decided upon, as the motion today suggests, Canadians are not being given that opportunity. We must find out what they think.

What is more, if I remember correctly, the policy of what was until just recently the Canadian Alliance was not to move immediately to put in place a system for elections at a set date, but rather to consider the question after consulting Canadians in a national referendum.

That approach at least had the merit of acknowledging the importance of such a change, which ought not to be made lightly and even less so without seeking Canadians' point of view.

The motion before us today throws all caution aside and seems more motivated by a desire to avoid an election and to back the government into a corner than by any real desire for constructive public debate.

I do not mean that the question of fixed dates for elections is frivolous or unimportant, or that it should not be publicly debated; quite the contrary.

However, I think it is important to remember that changes to our electoral system, particularly serious changes that may have a significant impact on our system of governance, should not be made in a hurry, on the eve of an expected election, or for reasons of election strategy.

We must ask ourselves what effect a system of fixed election dates would have on ministerial accountability. Some people claim that fixed election dates would bring greater accountability. But it was precisely the fear of a lessening of government accountability that led the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to object to fixed election dates. In November 2000, its opinion appeared in the National Post , and I quote:

Legislation requiring fixed terms would either permit the house or legislature to call early elections or it would not. If it did, the result would differ little from our current system. If it did not, such legislation could hardly be said to increase government accountability.

Fixed election dates have some advantages. The primary one is that they make it easier for governments to govern...But such advantages are similar to the advantages of a blank cheque, and thus typically come at great cost.

For anyone who favours reform that increases, rather than decreases, government accountability, the idea of fixed electoral terms will not be an attractive one.

Today's motion recognizes the need to maintain the principle of responsible government, thus allowing elections to be held when the government loses the confidence of the House.

Without a doubt, this is an essential element, but one which to my way of thinking fails to address all the concerns I have just listed.

Even if an exception were specifically provided recognizing the principle of responsible government, I am not sure that in practice the introduction of a fixed election cycle would not diminish the accountability of the executive and the ability of the opposition to force the dissolution of the House.

This is not just a change in the electoral and parliamentary machinery. This is a change that would affect the political culture and conventions of our system by introducing a foreign element.

This type of hybrid system was also rejected, as I said before, by the Lortie Commission.

According to the commission, even if there were agreement on the constitutional amendments needed to introduce fixed election dates, it is far from clear that the results would be satisfactory and would lead to greater government accountability; quite the contrary.

Aside from the principle of responsible government and the related constitutional issues, the commission was concerned about the consequences of a system with fixed election dates on the duration and cost of elections.

Taking the U.S. experience as an example, the commission found that fixed election dates might contribute to prolonging the campaign process and compromise the effectiveness of election spending limits on parties and candidates.

Adopting a fixed election cycle would deny Canadians major democratic advantages related to the flexibility that our current system allows.

It is not unusual for a new prime minister to be appointed following a change in the governing party's leadership. In this context, it is not uncommon for a new prime minister to call an election and thus obtain a popular mandate.

Similarly, a government wanting to present a new platform or an important initiative may feel the need to obtain a clear mandate from the electorate beforehand.

These are perfectly legitimate choices in terms of democracy and would be impossible in a fixed election date system.

The motion before us today for fixed election dates may seem appealing at first glance. However, I fear that it is merely an illusion of progress.

We must resist adopting an easy solution that would create more problems than it would solve. Above all we must avoid hastily making changes to our electoral system that would have profound consequences and possibly adverse effects.

Even if I thought introducing a fixed election cycle were a good idea, which I do not, and putting aside any constitutional difficulty this might create, I would nonetheless be opposed to this motion for procedural reasons.

The spirit of democratic reform demands that we first consult the public on major changes to be made to our electoral system. Wisdom demands that we make reforms in a reasoned manner.

The motion before us does not satisfy either of these two criteria. That is why I intend to vote against it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
Permalink
CA

Deepak Obhrai

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I was actually amazed to hear the member's reasons for opposing fixed election dates. His reasons of procedural matters were just amazing. When we talk about fixed election dates we are talking about giving people the choice of fixed election dates, not his party the choice.

Does the member not remember that his own prime minister used the threat of an election to make backbenchers do what he wanted them to do to have his bill passed? How does that serve the Canadian people? Has he forgotten that his own prime minister threatened an election to keep the backbenchers in line?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Claude Duplain

Liberal

Mr. Claude Duplain

Mr. Speaker, obviously, the party representing the current government is able to make decisions. Perhaps, for the opposition, is it because, in their minds, they are unable to make decisions and so they will no longer have to make any if there are fixed election dates? Perhaps is it because they have no confidence in their leader's ability to make decisions about when to call an election?

If we want to let the public decide, the Prime Minister must be able to make decisions himself, particularly about when he needs a mandate from the people. There may be questions of principle, with regard to which he wants a mandate from the people. He must be able to do this.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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CA

Lynne Yelich

Canadian Alliance

Mrs. Lynne Yelich (Blackstrap, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member not think that this would be costly, not only for us but, I am thinking, for the people who have to set up the offices, the returning officers, and the people who run the elections?

What kind of a position does that put them in when they are renting space? Do they hold on to the space? Do they put downpayments on it? How long will this be? Will it be one year from now? Do they get their officers trained? These would be all the costs for an election that may or may not happen.

Could the member tell me what kind of pressures this has put on returning officers across Canada in a year when all the boundaries and names are being changed? The returning officers do not know what name they are running under sometimes. There are all sorts of difficulties that they themselves have.

Rules are being made and I would like to know whether the member thinks that is such a smart idea.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Claude Duplain

Liberal

Mr. Claude Duplain

Mr. Speaker, we thought of all that. Perhaps the member cannot take the pressure. Of course, if, some years, there are changes to the electoral map, there is additional pressure on those who have to answer for their actions and make decisions. We are capable of doing this.

If we start to debate whether elections should be held on fixed dates or called by a Prime Minister, we should hold this debate with Canadians so they can decide. In a democratic system, that is the most important thing.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
Permalink
?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Portneuf will have six minutes remaining during questions and comments, after oral question period.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
Permalink
LIB

Sarmite Bulte

Liberal

Ms. Sarmite Bulte (Parkdale—High Park, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, on April 18, I participated in the opening ceremony of phase III of the long term care project at Copernicus Lodge.

Copernicus Lodge is recognized as a leading facility of senior citizens care in Ontario. Not only does it provide high standard health care but also it is an exemplary case of integrating senior citizens in the heart of a vibrant community.

This phase adds 228 new beds providing full nursing care for the senior citizens in my riding and throughout the Polish community in Toronto.

On that occasion I took the opportunity to congratulate the board of directors, the staff and the numerous volunteers whose continued support and involvement made this project happen. His Excellency, Cardinal Ambrozic, gave his blessings and announced that the Copernicus Lodge will be renamed the Pope John Paul II Care Centre of Copernicus Lodge.

We were glad to play a small part in supporting this project through CMHC.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Copernicus Lodge
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CA

Dave Chatters

Canadian Alliance

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the energy sector is one of the most important industries in the Canadian economy. It accounts for 45% of our trade balance and is the single largest private investor in Canada. In public policy discourse, though, its significance remains under-appreciated. There is neither a parliamentary committee nor minister solely devoted to energy, nor is there much public debate about the federal government's role in this industry.

The federal government has the responsibility to provide energy security and reliability across Canada. Research and development money should go toward developing cost-competitive technologies in new non-renewable resources in the medium to long term.

Our energy policy should seek to encourage a diversity of energy supply choices and focus on a long term view that builds a sustainable energy framework for Canada.

The federal government must also help facilitate future investments. The federal government must institute an environmental assessment program that balances environmental and industry concerns.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Energy Sector
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LIB

Gérard Binet

Liberal

Mr. Gérard Binet (Frontenac—Mégantic, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, Quebec mining week 2004 was kicked off yesterday in Chibougamau.

In Quebec, in both the regions and urban centres, tens of thousands of jobs depend directly and indirectly on the success of the mining industry.

Quebec is duly recognized as a centre for mining excellence. More than ever, there must be encouragement for this economic sector, which has to keep up with the dizzying pace of scientific developments and the evolution of specialized technologies.

Whether it is finding innovative ways to reforest tailing sites or developing a better asphalt by adding chrysotile fibres, those working in the mining industry show creativity and innovation.

I ask my colleagues to join me in celebrating the mining industry's important place in Canadian society.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Semaine minière du Québec
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LIB

Janko Peric

Liberal

Mr. Janko Peric (Cambridge, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, Strite Industries, a pioneer in the machining of ultra precision components for the aerospace, automotive, computer, medical and scientific industries, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Founded by Joseph D. Strite in 1964 with eight employees, today this world-class company located in my riding of Cambridge has a highly skilled workforce of 230 dedicated individuals.

With its can-do attitude, innovative training methods and engineering excellence, Strite Industries has diversified and gained a global reputation.

The company represents the first Canadian survey for the best manufacturing practices program, and is an amazing economic success story.

For 40 years Strite Industries has been a leader in innovation and the adoption of best practices. I join all colleagues in the House in congratulating the entire team at Strite for their tremendous success.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Strite Industries
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LIB

Eleni Bakopanos

Liberal

Hon. Eleni Bakopanos (Ahuntsic, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, young children who get a good start in life are prepared to learn when they start school and then go on to become healthy and productive adults.

In my riding of Ahuntsic, the Association de gardiennage d'Ahuntsic, La Rose éclose and the Institut de formation et d'aide communautaire à l'enfance et à la famille are just three of the numerous community organizations working in early childhood education and family services. I was there to honour them last week during volunteer week.

The Liberal government supports healthy child development through: providing funds for the Canadian Prenatal Nutritional Program, the Community Action Program for Children and the Aboriginal Head Start Program; investing $500 million annually to help Canadian families access prenatal programs, early childhood education, child care and parent resource centres; and providing an estimated $520 million a year in tax relief to parents for child care.

Our Liberal government believes that giving children a good start in life is one of the most important investments we can make. We are proud to help at such an important time, at the beginning of one's life.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Children
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CA

Rick Casson

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to honour and pay respect to brave Canadians who must never be forgotten: the valiant men and women from the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force, who fought with their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic is commemorated annually on the first Sunday in May. I rise today to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to the many Canadians who came before me who fought for the freedom I enjoy in this great country.

The Battle of the Atlantic is considered the longest campaign of the second world war. For five and a half years, allied forces protected vital shipping lanes against German U-boats. Everything manufactured in North America for the war effort needed to cross the Atlantic. It was shipped and protected by brave men and women who stood shoulder to shoulder to see that cargo reach Britain.

This courageous effort in the North Atlantic directly contributed to turning the tide for allied success in Europe. Let us never forget our Canadian heroes.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Battle of the Atlantic
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LIB

Claude Drouin

Liberal

Hon. Claude Drouin (Beauce, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like all members of Canada's Parliament to join me and the people of the Beauce region in congratulating the Garaga hockey team from Saint-Georges, and its organization, for winning the Canadian championship for the second time in three years, in the 2004 Allan Cup tournament.

The tournament was held in the city of Saint-Georges, in the Beauce region, from April 19 to 25. Six teams representing various regions of the country fought for the Allan Cup, the trophy emblematic of the senior amateur hockey championship of Canada.

I take this opportunity to thank all these teams who showed us their passion, their determination and their will to win.

I offer my sincere congratulations to the event's organizers who made it possible to hold a top-notch tournament and, once again, my most sincere congratulations to the Saint-Georges Garaga hockey team and its entire organization.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   2004 Allan Cup
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BQ

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

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

Mr. Speaker, the people of the lower St. Lawrence and northern New Brunswick are completely fed up with seeing their friends and relatives dying on highway 185.

In September 2002, the Prime Minister, then campaigning for the leadership, made a stop in Rivière-du-Loup and promised to bring about the widening of the entire length of highway 185.

I am bringing a petition started by Adeline and Lise L'Italien, who have lost family members on this road. More than 5,600 petitioners and 7,000 students in schools between Rivière-du-Loup and Edmunston have reminded the Prime Minister of his promise and of the urgent need to work on this killer highway where 100 people have died in 10 years.

This issue must be settled before the election is called. I cannot imagine that people's lives would be made into a campaign issue.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Highway Infrastructure
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LIB

Anita Neville

Liberal

Ms. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, as we know, the Liberal government is committed to working with aboriginal communities to build healthier and stronger communities. Each year, more than $7.5 billion in federal money provides basic services for first nations on reserve, services such as education, health care and infrastructure.

Aboriginal communities face many challenges both on and off reserve. Budget 2004 doubles funding for the urban aboriginal strategy to $50 million, which is most important for my city of Winnipeg and other western cities.

Community programs receiving federal funding include the Canadian prenatal nutrition program, the community action program for children, and the aboriginal head start program.

The government also supports the first nations and Inuit child care initiative, which contains strategies for dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome.

In cooperation with the provinces, the government is further spearheading an initiative dealing with domestic violence specific to aboriginal communities.

These initiatives are only part of the government's commitment to helping aboriginal men and women acquire the tools they need to improve their quality of life.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Aboriginal Affairs
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CA

Brian Pallister

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Brian Pallister (Portage—Lisgar, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the town of Morden, Manitoba in my riding is featured in this month's edition of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine.

Founded in 1882, Morden is home to 6,500 fine people and is a great place to raise a family. As the magazine states, “It's like a scene out of Leave it to Beaver ”, with a historic downtown and old houses “whose verandahs and Victorian charm are still intact”:

Remarkably well preserved, the town's Victorian character has not been forgotten. Its grain elevators still stand beside the CPR and the old post office... has been converted into an art gallery.

Being featured in this magazine is a well-deserved honour for this fine community. Visitors can enjoy the sights and smells of the Morden roses; the Morden and District Museum, which houses the largest collection of marine reptile fossils in Canada; lakes and beaches; and the top ranked, member owned golf course in Manitoba. Each summer, our Corn and Apple Festival is enjoyed by tens of thousands of people.

In the words of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine, Morden, Manitoba is the “Prairie town that could...and still does”.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Morden, Manitoba
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LIB

Claude Duplain

Liberal

Mr. Claude Duplain (Portneuf, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my congratulations today to Alcoa Canada Primary Metals, and in particular its Deschambault smelter, a major economic engine in the riding of Portneuf.

This evening, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment will award the Pollution Prevention Award in the large company category to Alcoa Deschambault. It will join the illustrious ranks of former winners such as Novapharm and IBM Canada.

The Deschambault team of 570 employees contributes, along with Quebec's other aluminum smelters, to the economic spin-offs of over one billion dollars annually in Quebec.

I would like to pay particular tribute to the initiative of the workers of this company for recognizing the importance of taking care of the environment and for taking an active role in a project to reduce fluoride emissions. They are with us in the House today to hear my congratulations.

This evening's award is just confirmation of this company's long-standing commitment to the environment.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Deschambault Aluminum Smelter
Permalink
NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

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

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has been out on the election trail singing Liberal praises across the country. To Canadian listeners it sounds like an old, worn-out record, a broken record that no one wants to hear again.

Nowhere are the sour notes of the Liberal failure more pronounced than in gender equity.

A recent study by the Canadian Association of Social Workers takes stock of the Liberal decade: women's pre-tax income is still 62% of men's; 42% of unattached women aged 18 to 64 live in poverty; women's poverty has deepened; and lone-parent families headed by women remain on the bottom of the economic rung.

The study called for stronger transfers directed to women's needs, gender sensitive pension reform, progressive integration of tax and program spending, and flexible income benefits that foster equality.

Was any of this in the budget? Not a single note. When it came to women's equality, the silence was deafening. For women, Liberal budget day was indeed the day the music died.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Status of Women
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BQ

Réal Ménard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, the federal Minister of Health has made an active commitment to promote new health partnerships. He made that the core theme of his speech in Toronto on April 20.

The minister has clearly expressed his vision of the future of health care. The provinces would deliver the care, and Ottawa would guarantee its accessibility. In fact, for the Liberal government, health is becoming the matrix for the Canadian nation building it plans to carry out in the coming years.

Let us get serious. If the federal government wants to do something useful as far as health is concerned, it needs to improve aboriginal health, improve drug licensing processes, keep a better eye on the surgical equipment coming onto the market, and above all do what all stakeholders are unanimously calling for: raising its contribution through transfer payments to at least 25%.

It must also respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces over health. These are the conditions that must be in place for there to be a new health partnership.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Health
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April 27, 2004