October 3, 1996 (35th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Dave Chatters


Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Ref.)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join in this debate, although most everything has probably been said. When I listened to the comments coming from across the floor, certainly everything there is being said again because it simply does not seem to get through.
I just listened to the member for Kenora-Rainy River for some reason try to trap my colleague from St. Albert into some kind of remark about families including single parent families. Of course no one on this side of the House would deny that single parents with children are families. Certainly I will not apologize and I do not think anyone should apologize for supporting the traditional two parent family with children. That is the ideal.
If we were to talk to single parents anywhere in this country, be they men or women, they would choose to be in a relationship with two parents and with children. That is what everyone in this country strives for. We in this party make no apologies for supporting the traditional family and opposing the government in its recognition of all manner of alternative arrangements it would propose to refer to as families.
There have been huge problems around the whole issue of divorce, family break-up, child support and child custody. There is a need in this country for the government to address those issues.
The minister of state said earlier that they had travelled across the country listening to Canadians on the issue before the bill was drafted. Unfortunately what I see in this bill, if they truly went out and listened to Canadians, is not what Canadians were telling them. It certainly addresses one issue that probably one segment of Canadians would have them address, but it does not address the whole issue in a comprehensive way.
In some instances the failure of non-custodial parents to pay child support is a major problem and needed to be addressed in a pretty substantive way. This bill establishes four different areas of federal guidelines for support. There is the grid we have heard so much about. I will talk more about each area a little later.
There is also the opening of the Revenue Canada databases for search in cases of payment default; the denying of passports and licences to individuals who are persistently in arrears; and a provision for the garnishment of wages from public servants and seamen. On the last one, I find it interesting that the government would single out individuals working at sea. I do not know where that one comes from. Why do individuals at sea warrant specific attention any more than individuals working anywhere else? Maybe it has something to do with the longstanding reputation of sailors around the world. However, it seems strange that it is in there.
This issue is a major problem and I applaud the government for at least attempting to address part of it.
I listened to the minister talk at some length about child poverty, the favourite Liberal buzzword. It always disturbs me when I hear parliamentarians refer to the absolute necessity of solving child poverty in this country. It is unrealistic. We do not solve child poverty without solving family poverty.
If addressing the default in support payments is an attempt to address the problem of family poverty, it should strike fear into the hearts of non-custodial parents everywhere. If they are expected to solve the problem of single mothers with children living in poverty, then a huge responsibility is being put on them. I do not believe that is fair.
One of the problems all of us in Canada are quite familiar with is that 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Most of us have either been touched by the reality of divorce or have personally experienced it. As a member of parliament, I have certainly heard many divorced mothers and fathers discuss the problems surrounding this issue. There are a lot of real issues that need to be addressed. I wish the government had used a broader brush when it dealt with this matter and had dealt with some of the other issues besides support payments.
While at first glance the bill certainly looks broad and all encompassing, when one examines it, the bill is lacking. One of the issues we heard discussed earlier which has not been addressed in the bill but should have been is the whole issue of tax deductibility of child support payments as announced in the last budget. The fact that the government took half a billion dollars out of the hands of single mothers and custodial parents and put it into the government coffers saying that it was much more able to provide benefits to children by taking that away from parents and providing the benefits through government programs is assuming an awful lot on the part of government. One of the other issues that I hear about when I talk to divorced fathers who do not have custody of their children is the problem of access. Because of the adversarial court system, it is not the children going to court against the parents, it is one parent going to court against the other parent. One parent loses and one parent wins. That is the nature of court settlements. Often what is good for the child is not taken into account. In many instances custody is not dealt with fairly and access has not been addressed. It is unfortunate that the issue of access was not addressed by this bill.
This is a piecemeal bill, not unlike many other initiatives which the government has brought forward over the last three years. The Liberal government addresses the issues that the Canadian public wants it to address, but it only deals with the issues that are easy to deal with and avoids the more controversial ones. That is unfortunate.
The hon. member for Kenora-Rainy River asked what we would do in this situation. It has been stated before, but I will repeat it. We would approach the whole problem in a more comprehensive manner and would deal with the issue as a whole. We would focus on the issue of family support payments and enforcement of those support payments. That part of the bill is good. However, we would begin with a compulsory mediation process.
Those of us, like myself, who have been married for 30 years and have raised a family, know what it takes to make a marriage work. A willingness to mediate disputes is one of the things which keeps marriages together. When a marriage is falling apart, a system of compulsory mediation would go a long way in getting the marriage back on track. If it failed, at least it would make the split less painful for the children.
We would also include access provisions for both parents, unless that was not in the best interests of the children. Of course there are cases when a parent should not have access, but those truly are the
exception. We would also include access provisions for the extended family, which would include grandparents.
We would also deal with the way the tax system treats families and give all the benefits and encouragement that we possibly could to traditional family units under the tax system. It is quite clear that we would take a much broader approach to this whole issue.
I would like to address briefly the grid issue. It would be nice if everyone's life was as structured as the grid would have it. We could lay out the grid and someone making this much would pay this much money. That would be great, but unfortunately that is not the way life is. Different families with the same family income certainly do not have the same standard of living, nor do they enjoy the same benefits. Everyone has different circumstances and everyone manages their lives differently. It is unfortunate the government is trying to make everyone fit into these square holes. There needs to be more flexibility by the courts in addressing different circumstances. It is very unfortunate that the bill is so rigid-

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Divorce Act
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