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Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 62

Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker


THE SENATE

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Senate met at 1:30 p.m., the Speaker in the chair.

Prayers.

Visitors in the Gallery

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, I draw your attention to the presence in the gallery of His Excellency David C. Jacobson, United States Ambassador to Canada. He is accompanied by Mr. Scott Douglas Bellard, Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs.

Your Excellency, on behalf of all honourable senators, welcome to the Senate of Canada.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

[Translation]

Royal Assent

The Hon. the Speaker informed the Senate that the following communication had been received:

RIDEAU HALL

October 21, 2009

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Thomas Cromwell, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 21st day of October, 2009, at 5:36 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook
Secretary to the Governor General

The Honourable
        The Speaker of the Senate
                Ottawa

Bills assented to Wednesday, October 21, 2009:

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct) (Bill S-4, Chapter 28, 2009)

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody) (Bill C-25, Chapter 29, 2009)


[English]

SENATORS' STATEMENTS

Mark Parent

Congratulations on Receiving 2009 Nova Scotia Nature Trust Nature Conservation Award

Hon. Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie: Honourable senators, I rise to bring to the attention of honourable senators the recent recognition of an accomplished Nova Scotian, Mark Parent, former Minister of Environment and Labour in the Government of Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Nature Trust announced recently that Mark Parent has won the 2009 Nova Scotia Nature Trust Nature Conservation Award.

The Nature Trust presents the award annually to an individual, organization or business that has demonstrated an outstanding dedication to private land conservation in Nova Scotia. The news release related to this award states:

Mark Parent was recognized by the Nature Trust for the significant contribution he made in his role and capacity as a Minister of the Crown in encouraging and leading his Government to make decisions that dramatically improved the climate and opportunities for private land conservation in Nova Scotia.

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In the release, Nature Trust Executive Director Bonnie Sutherland is quoted as saying that the former Minister Parent "demonstrated incredible conviction, leadership, and vision in advocating for and moving forward three major initiatives that have had, and will continue to have, a major impact on private land conservation in this province."

The news release goes on to state:

First, he demonstrated foresight, courage and leadership in spearheading the creation of a landmark environmental law in Nova Scotia, the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. The Act set unprecedented targets for environmental achievement, including a commitment to protect 12% of our province by 2015. This is the first time in Nova Scotia's history that government has not just committed, but also has legally bound itself, to a major advancement in land conservation.

Second, in response to ongoing recognition of the need for funding to support private land conservation in a province with 70% of all land in private ownership, he was a strong supporter of the initiative to create the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, a $23 million matching fund for private land conservation. Again, an unprecedented conservation achievement!

Finally, he supported and advocated the passage of legislation to provide a property tax incentive for both land trusts and private landowners who protect their land, as yet another major advancement to facilitate private land conservation.

Executive Director Sutherland is quoted later in the release:

It has been exciting for us to work alongside Mr. Parent in addressing these important land conservation challenges. His passion and willingness to lead and encourage his government to make bold and significant decisions to advance conservation was encouraging and inspiring. And most important, he got the results!

I had the privilege to work with Mark Parent in outlining a strategic economic outlook for Nova Scotia.

The Hon. the Speaker: The Honourable Senator Callbeck.

Co-op Week

Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck: Honourable senators, last week marked Co-op Week, which focused on the immense contributions that cooperatives and credit unions make in the lives of the people in their communities.

Co-ops and credit unions help strengthen Canadian communities. They use self-sustaining business models and the money spent by members stays in local communities. Co-ops and credit unions endeavour to be not only economically viable but also environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. They strive to improve the well-being of those in their communities.

For example, there are more than 2,200 housing cooperatives running more than 92,000 housing units in this country. These cooperatives provide homes to more than 250,000 deserving Canadians.

Co-ops exist in a multitude of forms in my home province of Prince Edward Island. There are financial services, grocery co-ops, funeral co-ops and agriculture, fishing and housing co-ops, among others. They all help people and communities to prosper together.

In Atlantic Canada, there are more than 500 co-ops that employ more than 8,000 people. Co-op Atlantic recently earned distinction as an entrepreneurial leader in Progress magazine's Top 101 Companies survey.

More than 9,000 co-ops and credit unions can be found nationwide, employing more than 150,000 Canadians. Millions of Canadians are sharing the advantages of membership in co-ops and credit unions across the country.

Honourable senators, these community-based organizations care about the quality of life and standard of living of the people in the communities they serve, as well as the financial health of their businesses. I commend co-ops and credit unions for their work in supporting Canadian communities, and I wish them continued success in the future.

Olympic Flame

Hon. Nancy Greene Raine: Honourable senators, the Olympic flame has been lit and has begun its journey to Canada.

Early this morning, the Olympic torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, during an extraordinary and moving ceremony at the site where the ancient Olympic Games took place. Canada, British Columbia and Vancouver were proudly represented by the Minister of State for Sport, the Honourable Gary Lunn, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. John Furlong, Chief Executive Officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, VANOC, was also on hand for this traditional torch-lighting ceremony.

The lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame took place in the temple of Hera, within the Olympia site. The flame will now travel through Greece before arriving in Victoria, British Columbia, on October 30, 2009.

Once in Victoria, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay will begin its 106-day, 45,000-kilometre, cross-Canada journey that will conclude in Vancouver, when the torch arrives to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony, signalling the start of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on February 12.

Honourable senators, the Olympic torch relay is a momentous event for Canada. As Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee said, "the Olympic torch and flame are symbols of the values and ideals that lie at the heart of the Olympic Games."

Many Canadians will be able to see the flame as it passes through their communities. This torch run will be the longest domestic torch relay in history and will spur significant events to take place across our country. Approximately 90 per cent of Canada's population will be within a one-hour drive of experiencing the Olympic flame. As well, the Olympic flame will visit Canada's North, including Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently inhabited community in the world.

The Olympic flame has the unique ability to unite people and communities across our country. As a former Olympic athlete, the Olympic flame is meaningful to me, especially after carrying the flame alongside my mother in the 1988 torch run. I know that 12,000 Canadians will have a similar thrill to the one I had in 1988.

Honourable senators, please join with me in recognizing and supporting today's extraordinary event and acknowledging its importance for all Canadians.

Global Handwashing Day

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, if you are like me, you have heard enough about handwashing. Honourable senators know how important this practice is to protect our health and to prevent the spread of disease, particularly with the H1N1 epidemic.

However, around the world there is another epidemic — the epidemic of intestinal diarrheal diseases and pneumonia — that kills 3.5 million children every year.

Honourable senators, the same handwashing practices that will help keep us healthy and safe from flu can save many of these children; but soap, water and education are not always within the grasp of those living in dire poverty.

On October 15, we celebrated Global Handwashing Day to raise awareness of the importance of this practice to health and development. "Clean hands save lives" is the call to action — such a simple act with such dramatic effects. Handwashing will protect us from flu and it will make children around the world healthier.

Let us do what we can to reach out and lend a hand — a helping land, a clean hand — to people living in countries where simple hygiene, soap and water are beyond the reach of far too many.

We know that health and education are the foundations of a safe and prosperous society. Canada is an example of this fact. We must do more to help people in other countries be healthy too.

Let us support the work of the Global Sanitation Fund, which is looking to Canada for a $10-million to $15-million contribution. This money will help make handwashing something everyone does, many times a day, all over the world. It will be an important step to a healthier world, a better world — something we all want.

HMCS Kootenay

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald: Honourable senators, all Canadians are aware of the great dangers our soldiers face when on active duty, as they face danger at this very moment in Afghanistan. However, even in peacetime, the military must live in an environment fraught with potential danger.

I rise today to draw the attention of honourable senators to the anniversary of the worst peacetime tragedy in the history of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Forty years ago tomorrow, there was a disastrous explosion aboard Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Kootenay. She was one of seven "Restigouche"-class destroyer-escorts in the Canadian Navy and the First Canadian Escort Squadron.

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On the morning of Thursday, October 23, 1969, HMCS Kootenay was taking part in a NATO exercise 200 miles west of the Royal Navy base at Plymouth, England. Shortly after 0800 hours, while carrying out power trials — with both main engines set at full ahead — a gearbox in her engine room rose to a temperature of over 600 degrees and finally exploded.

Nine men died and more than 50 others were injured, some seriously.

Earlier this month, on October 2, 2009, survivors who were on board the Kootenay that day, along with their family and friends, travelled to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, England, which is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the United Kingdom. Four of the nine sailors who perished that tragic morning were laid to rest there.

This journey, which they called the Kootenay 40 Plymouth Pilgrimage, gave all the former Kootenay crewmen an opportunity, perhaps their last, to say goodbye to their fallen comrades; to their old "wingers."

"They exceeded any standard that you wanted for training. And they had guts." These are the words of Neil Norton, Kootenay's commanding officer on the day of the explosion.

The courageous actions of these former Kootenay crewmen helped to expedite the creation of the Canadian bravery decorations.

In the wake of the tragedy, families, friends, the media and the general public pleaded with the federal government to honour these sailors for their duty and sacrifice. On December 30, 1971, D.W. Groos, the honourable member of Parliament for Victoria, asked in Parliament: "Would the Prime Minister use his influence to speed up the awards as they are now more than two years overdue?"

The Decorations Committee even suggested that the highest level of bravery decoration be called the "Kootenay Cross." While this proposal was not accepted, on May 10, 1972, Queen Elizabeth II accredited three new bravery decorations. Appropriately, the very first Crosses of Valour, Stars of Courage and Medals of Bravery were awarded to crewmen of HMCS Kootenay.

As the memorial order of the 1969 ceremony stated:

At the going down of the sun, And in the morning, We shall remember them.

Honourable senators, we remember: Chief Warrant Officer Vaino Olavi Partanen, 41, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, awarded the Cross of Valour; Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class William Alfred "Billy" Boudreau, 40, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Petty Officer 1st Class Eric George Harmon, 42, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; Petty Officer Lewis John Stringer, 29, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, awarded the Cross of Valour; Leading Seaman Pierre "Pete" Bourret, 24, Halifax, Nova Scotia; Leading Seaman Thomas Gordon Crabbe, 29, Dartmouth Nova Scotia; Leading Seaman Gary Wayne Hutton, 24, Bedford, Nova Scotia; Able Seaman Michael Alan Hardy, 21, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; and Ordinary Seaman Nelson Murray Galloway, 19, Hamilton, Ontario.

Honourable senators, I ask that we please take a moment and remember these nine young Canadians. These dedicated men lost their lives serving their country 40 years ago. We also extend our heartfelt sympathies to those who have had to live for the last 40 years without a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a friend.

[Translation]

Mr. Guy Laliberté

Congratulations on Space Travel

Hon. Jean Lapointe: Honourable senators, unlike all of the jealous, envious and frustrated people who have so harshly criticized a man whom I consider to be a national — even an international — hero, Guy Laliberté, I would like to offer him my most sincere congratulations on his wonderful, magical space adventure.

I completely disagree with Péloquin, the poet who failed to see the virtue of the cause and refused to turn over the rights to his poem. I know this unusual man well, so I am sure that all he wanted was to make some money. Pélo certainly has many talents, but all the same, I am sad that one of our own, one of our visionaries and philanthropists, a true genius, was mistreated and maligned by his very own mudslinging countrymen. I really do not understand. I was deeply disappointed to see that the most enthusiastic applause came not from his own people, but from the Russians.

Personally, I would have been honoured to offer my song about water, L'eau, free of charge if it could have been part of this extraordinary event that united artists from all over who worked together to build awareness around the world of how our truly precious water is being used.

Guy Laliberté's mission was seen and heard around the world, and I am sure that it sparked a sense of urgency in many of us. How many of us knew that millions of children die each year because they do not have access to clean drinking water? This mission, regardless of what its detractors say, achieved its goal, which was to inform and raise awareness.

Hats off to you, Guy. Congratulations on this brilliant mission. Congratulations on Cirque du Soleil, which sparkles all over the world, and congratulations on your One Drop Foundation.

Honourable senators, if we had more people like Guy Laliberté on this planet, the whole world would be a better place. Thank you, Guy, for your generosity.


ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

Study on Provisions and Operations of National Defence Act

Fifth Report of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee—Government Response Tabled

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to the fifth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs entitled Equal Justice: Reforming Canada's System of Courts Martial.

L'Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie

Bureau Meeting and Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, July 2 to 6, 2009—Report Tabled

Hon. Andrée Champagne: Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canadian branch of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), respecting its participation at the Bureau Meeting and at the thirty-fifth Ordinary Session of the APF, held in Paris, France, from July 2 to 6, 2009.

Regional Assembly and Conference of Branch Chairs of the America Region of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, September 16 to 19, 2009—Report Tabled

Hon. Andrée Champagne: Honourable senators, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canadian branch of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), respecting its participation at the twenty-fifth Regional Assembly and at the Conference of Branch Chairs of the America Region of the APF, held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from September 16 to 20, 2009.


[English]

QUESTION PERIOD

Health

H1N1 Flu Vaccine—Awareness Campaign

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The threat of a potential H1N1 flu outbreak is a worry for all Canadians. Despite statements by the Minister of Health encouraging us all to get vaccinated, we have received no information regarding the availability and delivery of the H1N1 vaccine and whether or not — and if so, when — we should also receive the seasonal flu vaccine.

Canadians have simply been left in the dark as to how to protect themselves and their families against the first pandemic in 40 years.

On the other hand, the most up-to-date analysis of amounts spent on advertising shows that this government has spent $60 million to promote its Economic Action Plan, a publicity campaign which is of no benefit to Canadians. In contrast, the government has allocated a mere $6.5 million to inform Canadians as to how to prepare for a potential outbreak.

Why has this government spent ten times more funds on promoting themselves at the expense of the H1N1 vaccination awareness campaign?

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Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, once again, the honourable senator is totally misinformed.

Senator Comeau: As usual.

Senator LeBreton: I take this opportunity to congratulate Minister Aglukkaq and Dr. Butler-Jones for the outstanding work they have done on the H1N1 flu file.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator LeBreton: If the honourable senator, instead of sending out his own partisan spin on a serious issue like H1N1, had actually paid attention to what the minister and Dr. Butler-Jones have been saying across the country, he would not ask me that question.

As the honourable senator knows, the H1N1 vaccine has now been released by Health Canada. The minister made that announcement yesterday. Many doses have been shipped to the provinces and territories. Distribution of the H1N1 vaccines is being administered by the provinces and territories because they are responsible for the delivery of health in their jurisdictions. New Brunswick announced this morning that they are starting tomorrow with their first vaccinations. Ottawa newspapers are full of information today with regard to not only the permanent H1N1 clinics, but also the roving clinics.

With respect to the honourable senator's question on advertising, the campaign to inform Canadians fully is a shared responsibility between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Each government is participating in the rollout of advertising. The federal government has a share of this. When you add all of the contributions by the federal government, provinces and territories, a considerable amount of money is being expended to inform Canadians.

As I said in answer to questions about H1N1 before in this chamber, this is a serious health issue. Governments of all stripes have done an amazingly good job. Dr. Butler-Jones and the medical experts have worked hard with our counterparts in the provinces and in Europe. We had to deal with all of the misinformation and myths that the United States was way ahead of us when, in fact, if honourable senators were watching the news last night, you would have seen Senator Joe Lieberman of the United States complaining that the United States would have to wait to get their vaccines until after we Canadians got ours.

Senator Cowan: Recent reports have suggested that only one third of Canadians intend to get the vaccine. If there is such doubt in the minds of Canadians as to whether they will, in fact, get vaccinated, I can only conclude that it is due to an inadequate awareness campaign highlighting the importance of the vaccine. What does this government intend to do to ensure that a larger proportion of the population takes part in the vaccination campaign?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I think that if Canadians are having some difficulty grasping the urgency and importance of this, it is despite the efforts of all provincial and territorial health ministers, Dr. Butler-Jones, all public health officers in Canada and Minister Aglukkaq. They have been overly influenced by improper media reports and scare tactics, whatever those may be.

However, the Government of Canada and provincial and territorial governments all recognize there is still some confusion. If the honourable senator would get out of the little cocoon in Ottawa and pay attention to what is happening in the rest the world, he would see that the same thing is happening in other countries. As a result of this misinformation, a massive public health campaign is being undertaken by the federal government, provinces and territories. Brochures are being distributed.

The honourable senator is also selling health care professionals short. He is assuming that people do not have the common sense to consult with their own doctors, as I did in order to inform myself on the best course of action for me. Canadians are responsible people. They do not appreciate that an important health issue like H1N1 is being tossed around for politically partisan purposes.

Senator Cowan: Thank you for confirming what I said.

Senator LeBreton: What a fool.

Senator Comeau: Isn't that awful? He can do better than that.

[Translation]

Hon. Jean Lapointe: Honourable senators, I would like to know when the vaccine will be available and accessible to all senators.

[English]

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, in previous years there have been flu shot clinics on Parliament Hill. The government has been, quite rightly, concentrating on getting the vaccine shipped, getting the Health Canada release out and ensuring that the vaccine is put out into the community so that the most vulnerable have first access. I saw Dr. Butler-Jones yesterday suggesting that the most vulnerable should be the first to access the clinics. He also said that other people who go to the clinics, of course, would not be turned away.

I am not aware, honourable senators, of any specific plans for the precinct of Parliament Hill to have a clinic. However, from reading the newspaper this morning I now know where all of the clinics in Ottawa are located. I think there is a little personal responsibility involved. All of us can take responsibility for ascertaining where we can receive these shots and attend to it.

Having said that, I am not responsible for the precincts of Parliament. If the powers that be in the Senate, House of Commons and Parliament Hill decide to have a clinic on Parliament Hill, I would hope they will inform all of us equally at the same time.

Senator Lapointe: I read somewhere that young children and elderly people are the most vulnerable. I am getting old. I think we should get the vaccine quickly.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, actually, the opposite is true according to the public health officials.

Senator Comeau: He is listening to Senator Cowan.

Senator LeBreton: The most vulnerable are pregnant women and healthy younger people. For some reason or other, older people such as us seem to be the least vulnerable. People will make their own choice, but it has been suggested by public health officials that older people have the seasonal flu shot first. Then, after a reasonable amount of time make their decision on whether to have the H1N1 shot as well.

Information Commissioner

Access to Information

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I have a question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Canada has received yet another failing grade in the international arena. We already know how poorly we do for child care and poverty. The OECD and UNESCO have given us failing grades. We know how badly we are viewed on the environment as well when delegates walk out on Canada at international climate change meetings.

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However, this new failing grade is about freedom of the press. This week, Reporters Without Borders released their annual ranking of 175 countries. They rate a country's free press on three factors: the ability of journalists to protect their sources, ready access to information, and the existence of lawsuits that deter people from providing information. Canada was not first, second or third — not gold, silver or bronze. No, Canada was ranked nineteenth. What is even more significant, we fell six spots from 2008.

Freedom of the press, as my two colleagues on the other side know, is an essential part of our democracy. Yet this government does not seem to recognize this. When asked to supply information about government programs and policies, this government drags its feet, taking several weeks and even months to respond to access to information requests from journalists.

We know this government is quite savvy about photo ops and self-promotion, but when will it give people what they really want — timely information?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I saw that article and anticipated that I would get just such a question from the honourable senator. If he reads the article, the reasons for it are multiple. Many challenges are before the courts by certain members of the media; others are challenges to various human rights commissions by reporters such as Mark Steyn. There are many mitigating factors as well as access to information.

Honourable senators, the truth of the matter is that our government has opened up access to information and has included many more agencies and corporations, including the CBC. Of course, we would have added more had there not been an amendment to the bill. When I saw that article initially I said, "Here it comes again. We're going to be blamed for something else that we didn't do." Frankly, when I read the article, I satisfied myself that the ranking was more a result of circumstances beyond any government's control. Basically, it resulted because of certain actions that were taken in the courts. With regard to the sponsorship scandal, we have the Toronto Globe and Mail before the courts trying to protect their sources. I can expand on that if the honourable senator would like me to do so; it is an interesting story.

As far as the comment the Honourable Senator Munson made about countries walking out at the environmental conference, that is factually incorrect. Other countries did not walk out on Canada; the honourable senator knows that. He is supposed to be a good journalist; I am sure he knows the facts. However, if he does not, perhaps he is not such a good journalist. In any event, that did not happen.

An. Hon. Senator: You just cannot resist, can you?

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, that is quite personal. However, I will not get personal. I am too nice a guy to get personal like that. I am sure that Senator Duffy and Senator Wallin are sitting there, listening and saying, "Yes. What a wonderful answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate."

On the subject of access to information, is the leader saying that she is satisfied that when a journalist applies and puts down notes that they are getting that information in a timely fashion?

Senator LeBreton: I am so sorry if I offended the honourable senator's tender sensitivities. As the honourable senator knows, when the access to information requests are submitted there is always room for improvement.

Honourable senators, I want to put on the record again that our government expanded coverage to 70 more institutions. In April 2007, we expanded access to information to cover the Wheat Board; agents of Parliament, including the Auditor General's office; and five foundations. In September 2007, seven additional Crown corporations were brought under the act, including the CBC and the wholly owned subsidiaries of Crown corporations. Canadians can now see how these institutions spend their dollars. Access to information requests are up 14 per cent, from under 25,000 in 2005 to almost 30,000 in 2007.

As Senator Munson knows, because he used to be on the other side, access to information requests are handled by the bureaucracy and not by ministers or their political staff. They are handled by the government in the sense that they are handled by the bureaucracy. These requests are handled by competent senior public service professionals. Of course, as is always the case, there is room for improvement.

Hon. Joan Fraser: May I observe, to use a phrase the leader sometimes uses, that Senator Munson needs no lessons in journalism from anyone now serving the Harper government.

I should like to cite an example that was raised yesterday by Senator Cordy about a journalist who sought information about a centrepiece of the government's economic action plan, the stimulus spending. That journalist was told to go and check, individually, 6,000 separate entries on the government's website, instead of having the government provide something that it obviously does have, which is a properly compiled list of those projects.

Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate think that constitutes open and transparent government?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I appreciate that comment; I take it as an editorial comment. However, I am sure Senator Munson does not have to hide behind her skirts.

An Hon. Senator: How much fun are we having!

Senator LeBreton: In any event, I am not aware of the story to which the honourable senator refers, and I do not know who said such a thing because this information is all readily available. It is all over the country; you have seen the various newspaper clippings.

Since the honourable senator talked about stimulus and how we are giving it all only to Conservative ridings, I will read the following story into the record.

An Hon. Senator: You talk about that.

Senator LeBreton: This story today bears the headline "Toronto MP Claims Harper Government Favours Tory Ridings, Smitherman Disagrees." This is the deputy premier of Ontario.

An Hon. Senator: And a Liberal.

Senator LeBreton: The article states:

A Toronto MP claims that the federal government favours Conservative ridings, but Ontario's deputy premier disagrees.

Gerard Kennedy charges that recreational facilities in Liberal and NDP sections of the province don't get adequate funding.

Smitherman then says the following:

The RInC program was open to not-for-profits and municipalities, he explained.

Of course, he is talking about Ontario. He goes on to state:

So the fact that there are 450 municipalities, many of them small, meant that there were more requests in the mix from smaller communities.

I think that's why you see it's a little more distributed towards rural Ontario and by coincidence, that happens to be where Conservatives represent the ridings.

That is the Deputy Premier of Ontario, George Smitherman.

Hon. Francis Fox: Honourable senators, since the minister has indicated that the whole of the access to information administration is in the hands of the bureaucracy, would the government consider taking two actions? First, would the Prime Minister follow Mr. Obama's lead and indicate through the bureaucracy, through the college of deputy ministers, that, henceforth, after a 30-day delay, the position of the government would be to go to access by default, therefore making access more accessible? Second, would the government, in order to help change and modify the practices of the bureaucracy, ensure that part of the performance evaluation of deputy ministers in the government be a function of their department's performance in terms of making information readily available in response to access requests?

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Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, these are all wonderful ideas that the other side thinks of now.

In fairness to Senator Fox, though, his is a serious suggestion, and I would be happy to pass his comments and suggestions on.

I do not think anyone takes pleasure at the length of time that some people have to wait for access to information. As the honourable senator knows because he was a minister, it does create a significant amount of work and pressure on the bureaucracy, especially with so many more agencies involved and the volume of requests increasing so rapidly.

Senator Fox has a valid request, and I would be happy to pass it along.

[Translation]

International Cooperation

Canadian International Cooperation Agency—Distribution of Funds

Hon. Maria Chaput: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Honourable Marjory LeBreton, and concerns the Canadian International Development Agency.

According to former Bill C-293, CIDA must report annually to Parliament and account for its progress on three key criteria: poverty reduction, the perspectives of the poor and human rights.

The report has just been tabled and the minister, the Honourable Bev Oda, has stated that she is satisfied. I am aware of the federal government's investment of $783 million. However, I have a serious concern about the disbursement of this money. The report tabled does not provide information about Canada's programs, their outcomes or where they are delivered.

I am told that CIDA has withdrawn its support for a number of very poor African countries. It would seem that most of these are also francophone countries.

Could you obtain a list of the countries and places that CIDA has supported in the past and a list of those it now supports? Would it also be possible to obtain from Minister Oda CIDA's criteria for deciding to withdraw its support from this large number of African countries?

[English]

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, Senator Chaput always asks serious questions, but I am afraid to tell her that, just like her leader, she is misinformed.

As committed in Budgets 2007 and 2008, our government is transforming how Canada delivers aid around the world in order to make it more effective, focused and accountable. That has been clear.

In April 2008, we announced that food aid would be untied, which is something everyone had been asking for, providing flexibility to buy food from all countries, ensuring taxpayers' dollars make an even greater difference.

In September 2008, Minister Oda announced our plan to fully untie Canada's development assistance by 2012-13. We will focus 80 per cent of our bilateral programming in 20 countries, with increased resources and improved coherence and coordination. Other countries will continue to receive aid from Canada in various ways, such as through humanitarian assistance or through CIDA's partnership branch.

With regard to Africa, we doubled aid to Africa this year, one full year ahead of our G8 partners. Almost 45 per cent of our total aid budget and 62 per cent of our food aid is directed to Africa. The Initiative to Save a Million Lives, which the Prime Minister launched in Tanzania in November 2007, is training 40,000 health care workers in Africa and is providing treatment for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

As well, with respect to our support for francophone countries, I would tell Senator Chaput that francophonie countries receive 20 per cent of all CIDA's aid.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: Honourable senators, is the leader telling us that CIDA did not withdraw its support from African countries in the latest round of funding and that, therefore, there are no African countries that did not receive as much support from CIDA as they did previously, is that right?

[English]

Senator LeBreton: That is exactly what I said, honourable senators. I said that we have doubled aid to Africa, so I do not understand the premise of the honourable senator's question. We have doubled the aid to Africa, and 20 per cent of all of CIDA's aid goes to francophonie countries. I do not know what else I can say to convince Senator Chaput otherwise.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: Honourable senators, it is not a matter of the leader convincing me, I am simply trying to understand. I know that this funding was distributed to underdeveloped countries. However, I was wondering, out of the funding that the leader says was distributed, whether African countries that received this aid previously received it again or whether a certain number of these countries did not receive aid over the past year.

[English]

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, as I stated in my first answer, with respect to the whole CIDA program, the government has provided flexibility by untying the funding.

In addition, the goal of CIDA is to have the Canadian tax dollars which are contributed to this program be effective, focused and accountable. Therefore, when the people at CIDA are distributing aid, they obviously assess the need in all the various countries that are wanting it. However, that may mean that some countries that may have required funding two or three years ago may not require it this year and other countries would.

I do not think just because country "A" received aid in 2003 that they should get the same amount of money in 2009, when country "B," which had not received anything previously, is more needy and receiving it now. That is the purpose of focused, effective and accountable funding.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: Could the leader then provide me with the criteria on which CIDA's decisions were based?

[English]

Senator LeBreton: I will certainly be happy to refer Senator Chaput's question to the officials at CIDA. I am sure the criteria are available, but I do not have them in front of me.

Seniors

Elder Abuse

Hon. Judith Seidman: Honourable senators, my question is supplementary to those asked during Question Period yesterday concerning women's issues.

Honourable senators may be interested to learn that the Liberal Pink Book promises to do something that our government is already acting upon. Could the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister of State for Seniors please tell all honourable senators what actions the Government of Canada has taken since 2006 to address the serious matter of elder abuse?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, I will be brief. The honourable senator is actually quite right, which shows their lack of research over there. I guess they were relying on Steve Maher and Glen McGregor again.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

The Hon. the Speaker: Order.

Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator is quite right; the government is taking steps to fight abuse, and that is why I was very surprised —

The Hon. the Speaker: Order, please.


ORDERS OF THE DAY

Criminal Code

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Order Stands

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Wallace, seconded by the Honourable Senator Johnson, for the second reading of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime).

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, on this one, I wonder if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition could provide clarification for us on when we might expect to deal with this bill. This legislation arrived in the Senate on June 16, and our sponsor spoke to it on June 22. That was four months ago. The bill was supported by the Liberals in the House of Commons, therefore there should be no major concern with its principle.

(1430)

Given that this is an extremely important bill which deals with auto theft and trafficking, and that the opposition critic has not had the time in the past four months to put his thoughts together, perhaps they might consider having another critic.

Hon. Claudette Tardif (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, as my colleague opposite well knows, there have been several justice bills before this chamber. Our colleagues who are on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee have been very occupied studying Bills C-14, C-25 and C-15, and Bill S-4, which was passed. We have been extremely busy and remarks will be forthcoming very shortly.

Senator Mercer: In the fullness of time.

Senator Comeau: Senator Mercer said "in the fullness of time." It has been four months. Senator Mercer may think this matter is not serious, but if he were to go to British Columbia, and especially to Manitoba, he might find that theft of automobiles is taken very seriously and that "in the fullness of time" would not necessarily correspond to the needs of the people there.

I do not dispute that the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has been working hard. I applaud them and thank them for that. They have been doing tremendous work, as they have for many years. I have always appreciated their devotion to their work. However, that does not mean that an extremely important bill that has been languishing in the Senate for four months now should not be dealt with.

(Order stands.)

[Translation]

Canada's Economic Action Plan

Third Report—Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, rose pursuant to notice of Senator Gerald J. Comeau on 29 September, 2009:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to Canada's Economic Action Plan—A Third Report to Canadians, tabled in the House of Commons on September 28, 2009, by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Honourable John Baird, P.C., M.P., and in the Senate on September 29, 2009.

Honourable senators, on October 14, I was pleased to take part, with representatives of the Government of Quebec, in historic announcements for Dawson College, the Université de Montréal and the École Polytechnique, in connection with the Canada-Quebec Agreement on the Knowledge Infrastructure Program.

On behalf of the federal government and the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, I announced funding of $1.3 million for Dawson College, $23.5 million for the Université de Montréal and $8.4 million for the École Polytechnique. There is more than $70 million in funding from the two levels of government and our partners.

The funding for the Université de Montréal and the École Polytechnique will go toward 13 teaching and research projects. At Dawson College, a number of renovation projects will be carried out.

Judging by the nature and scope of the projects supported by the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, we can see that this assistance from the Government of Canada is very timely. The investments by the federal government and its partners will have a major positive impact not only on learning conditions, but also on security, training quality and sustainable development in the city's college and university establishments. At the same time, numerous jobs will be created for construction workers and engineers in the area.

The Government of Canada is investing in colleges and universities because it wants these institutions to have modern facilities that will enhance Canadian knowledge. By renewing the infrastructure of institutions of higher learning, we are supporting success and innovation. We are also helping to build prosperity for all Canadians. We are investing in people's quality of life and our society's future.

The Knowledge Infrastructure Program is a vital tool to stimulate our economy. These are concrete investments in our institutions and our future. We are proud to support the success of Canadian education centres such as Dawson College, the Université de Montréal and the École Polytechnique.

In doing so, the federal government is reinforcing its belief that the key to economic prosperity is found in research and development. I am convinced that the investments announced last week will energize the entire province.

Our colleges and universities absolutely must have proper research infrastructure so that students and researchers have optimal working conditions. The Government of Canada understands very well that the quality of college and university infrastructure is directly linked to the quality of research work.

(On motion of Senator Comeau, debate adjourned.)

(1440)

[English]

Criminal Code

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Yonah Martin moved second reading of Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to have the opportunity to sponsor this private member's bill, Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentences for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years).

This important bill addresses a pressing issue, appropriate punishment for those who traffic our most vulnerable members, our children.

I will start by thanking the member of Kildonan—St. Paul for her concerted and ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking of minors in Canada and for galvanizing an army of organizations and countless Canadians across the nation in support of this bill.

Bill C-268 proposes to strengthen our existing Criminal Code protections by articulating a minimum sentence for those guilty of trafficking minors. As a society, we need to send a clear message that trafficking of children is a grave crime, and severe penalties will be imposed on anyone who engages in such despicable conduct.

To achieve this important goal, the bill will create a separate offence for trafficking a person under the age of 18 years, which will carry mandatory minimum penalties of six years for the aggravated offence where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and five years where the maximum penalty is 14 years of imprisonment. This offence will mirror the existing offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, which does not make a distinction in age of the victims. This main trafficking-in-persons offence, along with two other related offences, was enacted of 2005 with all-party support, which reflects the importance that parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, place on this issue.

These Criminal Code trafficking provisions address every aspect of trafficking in persons. The main offence of trafficking in persons, section 279.01, prohibits anyone from engaging in specified acts such as recruiting, transporting, harbouring or controlling the movements of another person for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person. This offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment, reflecting the severity of the crime and its harmful consequences to victims and Canadian society. A new trafficking in children offence proposed by Bill C-268 is modeled on this offence. Proposed section 279.02 makes it an offence to receive "a financial or material benefit, knowing that it results from" the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Proposed section 279.03 prohibits the withholding or destroying of travel or identity documents in order to commit or facilitate the trafficking of persons. This offence is punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment. These offences are used in addition to existing Criminal Code offences such as kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault, uttering threats, extortion, and the prostitution-related provisions to address human trafficking cases.

Although these crimes carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years and up to life imprisonment, there are currently no minimum sentences provided even when the victim is a child.

Human trafficking, especially exploitation of minors, is a despicable crime that violates victims' human rights and offends the most basic values of a free and democratic society. Tragically, this type of criminal conduct is not something that happens only occasionally on the margins of society. Rather, it occurs everywhere around the world, as evidenced by the global revenues generated by this crime. These revenues are estimated to amount to as much as US$10 billion per year and are within the top three money-makers for organized crime.

Significantly and sadly, we know that trafficking in persons disproportionately affects children. UNICEF estimates indicate that as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked globally each year. The U.S. State Department's 2008 annual report on human trafficking estimates that 800,000 persons are trafficked around the world each year, with 80 per cent of these transnational victims being women, and up to 50 per cent of all victims being children.

These vulnerable victims suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse including threats of violence or actual harm to their loved ones. This abuse is compounded by their living and working conditions, which are beyond what any of us could even imagine.

Imani Nakpangi, who is the first person in Canada convicted of human trafficking involving a minor, received a three-year sentence for the trafficking of a 15-year-old girl but was credited with 13 months for pre-trial custody. He made over $350,000 sexually exploiting her for over two years before she was able to escape. He brutally controlled "Eve" by assaulting her, threatening her, threatening to kidnap her brother and threatening to harm her parents. Without conscience, he used his illicit profits to purchase a BMW and a large home in Niagara Falls for himself. He will spend less time in jail for this conviction than he spent exploiting and brutalizing this vulnerable girl whose life he has completely destroyed. This sentence, and another recent case of Michael Lennox Mark, is even more appalling. Last year, Montreal resident Michael Lennox Mark received a two-year sentence, but with double credit for the year served before his trial, the man who horrifically victimized a 17-year-old girl over two years spent only a week in jail after his conviction.

The girls in both these cases lived in sheer horror during their victimization, and continue to live in fear of their perpetrators who are back on the streets far too soon. The sentences of Imani Nakpangi and Michael Lennox Mark represent a serious failure of our current criminal justice system to protect the young victims. We can correct this imbalance and fill the gap in the form of Bill C-268. We must ensure that those who engage in such heinous conduct are brought to justice, and that their punishment appropriately reflects the gravity of their crime.

This imbalance is what Bill C-268 is all about. If passed into law it will ensure that anyone who traffics children will be in jail for a longer time, as well they should be. Of course, a strong criminal justice response alone is not enough. Correcting the imbalance will require a multidisciplinary effort of local, provincial and federal authorities, services and resources. There is no doubt that this complex problem requires a multi-faceted response. What we must remember, though, is that Bill C-268 is an important piece of that response, a step that must be taken to protect the most vulnerable victims — our children.

Like Canada, other countries have also legislated trafficking-specific offences; however, many countries have already singled out child trafficking as a particularly heinous crime that requires more stringent penalties. These countries have taken important steps to denounce the trafficking of children and to send a clear message that the law will protect the children and punish the perpetrators. The American Trafficking Victims Protection Act imposes a maximum penalty of 20 years for the offence of trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and a maximum of life imprisonment for the aggravated branch of that offence. A maximum of life imprisonment is imposed for trafficking children for the purposes of sexual exploitation with a minimum penalty of 15 years where the victim is under 14, and a minimum penalty of ten years where the victim is under 18.

In Australia, the federal criminal law imposes a maximum penalty of 12 years for the offence of trafficking in persons, 20 years for the aggravated offence and 25 years for trafficking in children. The United Kingdom imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years for the offence of trafficking in persons.

In 2005, Canada ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. Article 3(1) states that "Each state party shall make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account their grave nature."

Canada's current convictions do not reflect the severity of the crime or the sentences handed out to child traffickers in other countries. Right now, we have the opportunity to strengthen our existing provisions, in keeping with the responses of other countries if we support Bill C-268.

I will conclude by quoting Timea Nagy, a trafficking survivor now counselling other victims. She said:

Trafficking drugs and guns get tougher sentences than trafficking a person. I truly believe that if it was your daughter, sister, you would also feel that something is wrong with that picture. You have a chance today to change that. We, as victims, and the police officers are relying on your decision today. Please give us hope and reasons to be brave and strong for giving a statement and testifying. Please reward the police officers who are doing a really hard work by giving them tougher laws to work with.

(1450)

Timea asks the following questions:

What confidence can we offer trafficking victims, when there is no guarantee that their trafficker will receive any jail time at all? Why would they dare come forward when the threat of further exploitation and abuse remains?

Let us answer these important questions by ensuring that traffickers of minors are appropriately punished for their crime. Let us answer these questions by supporting Bill C-268.

I ask all honourable senators to take to heart these profound words from someone who has suffered the effects of one of the worst crimes our society faces. I ask that we hear her plea to impose mandatory minimum penalties on the offence of trafficking of children.

I urge all honourable senators to help protect children from one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed against them and to join me in supporting Bill C-268.

(On motion of Senator Cools, debate adjourned.)

Budget Implementation Bill, 2009

Study on Elements Dealing with the Competition Act (Part 12)—Second Report of Banking, Trade and Commerce Committee—Adopted

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, entitled: Recent Competition Act Changes: A Work in Progress, tabled in the Senate on June 9, 2009.

Hon. Michael A. Meighen: Honourable senators, I am pleased to report that the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce has completed its study of those elements dealing with the Competition Act (Part 12), as mandated by this chamber, by order of reference of Thursday, March 12, 2009. In doing so, I wish to thank all the senators who made contributions to this final report, both at the witness stage and in the preparation of the report.

[Translation]

I would also like to thank the research staff at the Library of Parliament for their excellent work, including Mark Mahabir, Marc-André Pigeon and June Dewetering.

I also thank the translators and committee support staff for their work, as well as Line Gravel, whose excellent work as the clerk of the Committee on Banking and Commerce is vital to me and all members of the committee.

[English]

During its study, the committee heard from eight different presenters or panels of witnesses, and also received three additional submissions from interested groups or individuals. The testimony and submissions were useful in helping the committee discharge its duties under the order of reference, despite the fact that the changes to the Competition Act are in their relative infancy.

Honourable senators, the committee elected to stay away from making specific recommendations in its report. This appears to be the prudent course because some of the changes in Part 12 of Bill C-10 are so recent and others, such as the revised criminal conspiracy offence and the new civil conspiracy offence, do not come into effect until March 12, 2010. As well, the committee was under severe time constraints, given the requirement to report back to the chamber by June 11, 2009. Indeed, colleagues will notice that our committee's report is entitled Recent Competition Act Changes: A Work in Progress.

The committee is mindful of the need to give time to see how the changes in the Competition Act unfold and work in practice. It was also mindful of the fact that to do a thorough review of these changes would require more time and more input from a broader range of viewpoints.

For this reason, the committee has left the door open for the option of doing a more complete examination of competition law issues at some future point in time.

In the interim, this report sets the table in terms of laying out some of the issues raised in Part 12 by the last federal budget.

While the testimony of some witnesses raised the idea that some of the ideas prove to be contentious, it is my view that these changes will be proven to be beneficial, for it is within the context of the government's broader approach to managing Canada's economy that these changes to the Competition Act need to be viewed.

Indeed, this package of changes builds on the government's commitment in the 2008 election, the 2008 Speech from the Throne and Budget 2009 to improve Canada's competition and investment policies.

The last budget introduced significant short-term economic stimulus. The changes to the Competition Act are meant to complement this economic package by reforming Canada's economic framework policies and also spurring long-term growth.

Especially in times of economic viability, it is even more important to ensure that consumers and legitimate businesses do not fall prey to illegal activity, and that if they do, they can have confidence the law can be enforced and the penalties will be tough enough to deter future illegal acts.

Ultimately, honourable senators, consumers are the ones who will benefit from these measures because keeping business honest cuts costs for everyone in the economy by better protecting Canadians from the harm caused by anti-competitive activities like price-fixing, cartels and misleading advertising. The changes to the Competition Act will help ensure legitimate businesses are not victimized by the unlawful behaviour of competitors through tougher penalties and make it easier to convict companies if they conspire to fix prices or form a cartel.

The amendments will also help companies engaged in honest marketing practices and instill greater confidence in advertising claims in the marketplace by instituting more meaningful penalties to deter misleading advertising and mass marketing fraud.

[Translation]

During the hearings, the committee heard from representatives of Competition Bureau Canada and Industry Canada, who provided a comprehensive overview and a detailed explanation of amendments to the Competition Act.

The committee also heard from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Bar Association, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Option consommateurs. During their presentations, these groups shed light on various aspects of the amendments to the Competition Act, each according to their perspectives and interests.

The committee was also helped in its work by written submissions from the Association of Canadian Advertisers, the Canadian Real Estate Association and Tipacimowin Technology.

Lastly, Tim Kennish of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt made an individual presentation that included very interesting points of view, which the committee mentioned throughout its report.

In conclusion, honourable senators, throughout the process, the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce studied the range of amendments to the Competition Act, but did not have time to conduct a thorough review of Canadian competition legislation.

[English]

While this committee now reports back to the chamber as per its order of reference to examine and report upon these changes by June 11, 2009, the witnesses and the submitted testimony raised several issues of which we intend to be mindful as we follow the unfolding of these changes, with a view to possibly revisiting these matters at a future date.

In the meantime, this report speaks to the need to maintain the vitality of Canada's competition laws with the ultimate objective of supporting the smooth functioning of Canada's economy.

Thank you, honourable senators.

An Hon. Senator: Question!

The Hon. the Speaker: Does the honourable senator wish to move a motion to adopt the report?

Senator Meighen: I so move.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)

(1500)

Treaty on Cluster Munitions

Inquiry—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Hubley calling the attention of the Senate to the Treaty on Cluster Munitions.

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, my colleague is not in the chamber at this moment and I do know that she intends to speak on this inquiry. I saw her write some notes the other day on this matter. She has not had a chance to complete the full text at this point. Therefore, I would ask that we adjourn the debate in her name for the balance of her time.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, it is best that we have clarity on the order here. We are at day fourteen. The rules are clear. Senator Comeau has participated in the debate in his own name, but we are now moving the adjournment of the debate in Senator Andreychuk's name?

Hon. Terry Stratton: Yes.

The Hon. the Speaker: There is no remainder of time for Senator Andreychuk. The debate has been engaged by Senator Comeau and is now being adjourned in the name of Senator Andreychuk by Senator Stratton, seconded by Senator Tkachuk.

Is it agreed, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(On motion of Senator Stratton, for Senator Andreychuk, debate adjourned.)

Nortel Employees and Pensioners

Inquiry—Debated Concluded

Hon. Mac Harb rose pursuant to notice of October 7, 2009:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to the need for the Government of Canada to take immediate action to help those Nortel employees and pensioners who are suffering financial hardship caused by the government's lack of action as this Canadian research and development flagship faces bankruptcy.

He said: Honourable senators, I would like to draw to the attention of the Senate the need for the Government of Canada to take immediate action to help those Nortel employees and pensioners who are suffering financial hardship caused by the government's lack of action as this Canadian research and development flagship faces bankruptcy.

When Nortel Networks filed for bankruptcy protection on January 14, 2009, the carefully laid plans of more than 20,000 current and former Nortel employees in Canada were shattered. The federal government's lack of response to their plight and the ongoing dismantling of this former telecommunications powerhouse made a bad situation much worse.

[Translation]

Nortel, supported by the Canadian taxpayer and powered by its employees, played a critical role in putting Canada on the map as a leader in the knowledge-based economy. It has been the biggest investor in research and development in this country, and its intellectual property developed with the investment of taxpayers' dollars continues to benefit us all.

In 2007, Research Infosource reported that Nortel spent $1.85 billion on research and development, nearly 12 per cent of all business research and development spending in Canada that year. Research in Motion spent only $245 million that same year. Meanwhile, General Motors, newly revived with $10.6 billion of Canadian and Ontario government money, indicated recently it would maybe commit $1 billion to research and development between now and 2016.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, saying it planned to restructure the company. Since that time, about 1,000 employees have been terminated in Canada without severance pay. Special pensions and retirement allowances were halted, and in May Nortel announced that its defined benefit pension plans were only 69 per cent funded. When it became apparent that restructuring was not a viable option, Nortel began to sell off its assets to the highest bidder. As unsecured creditors, current and former employees were left to line up behind the company's suppliers and trade creditors, financial backers and even government, competing for a share of the proceeds as the corporate garage sale gets under way.

Each one of us understands the role Nortel has played in defining the modern Canadian technology sector and I believe we all acknowledge that it was the partnership between the federal and provincial governments and the Nortel employees themselves that fostered this success story.

That partnership and its incumbent responsibilities cannot simply be ignored. The people of Nortel, and indeed all Canadians, are depending on the government to protect their interests and the interest of our country. So far, they have been very disappointed.

Honourable senators, today on the front lawn of Parliament, these very Canadians gathered to try once again to impress upon the federal government that action must be taken to protect their interests as the Nortel liquidation continues.

[English]

These Canadian pensioners, employees and laid-off workers have every reason to feel angry and discriminated against. They face losing 31 per cent or more of their pension entitlement, yet their counterparts in the United States and in the United Kingdom are being sheltered by federal pension guarantee funds. In the United States, for example, there is federal protection for all American pensioners up to $54,000 per year. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, there is central government protection of up to $50,000 per year.

The U.S. government-backed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has in fact taken over Nortel's U.S. pension plan and has been a member of the unsecured creditor group, which has been influential in United States and Ontario court decisions regarding company liquidations. Ironically, there is no international standard being set between jurisdictions to determine equal treatment among unsecured creditors.

Is it fair, for example, that $3 billion out of the $6 billion value of Nortel ends up going to the United States, while the rest of the pensioners and workers of Nortel literally get nothing?

What is the Government of Canada doing for these 20,000 Canadians and their families who are begging for protection, who are begging to have their interests protected and put ahead of other unsecured creditors in Canada?

The average Nortel pension in Canada is approximately $20,000 a year.

(1510)

In Ontario, which actually has Canada's only pension benefit guarantee fund, the government finds itself seriously trapped under a multi-billion-dollar bail-out payment to General Motors and Chrysler. The latest annual report for the Ontario Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund indicated the plan had a $47 million deficit at the end of March 2009. Nortel paid all of the required insurance premiums into this fund since it began. The fund should have covered up to 12,000 a year for those affected by the Nortel bankruptcy. It is broke at the time when Ontario residents need it most.

Canadian Nortel pensioners had hoped to avoid a wind-up of the Canadian pension plan to allow a stock market rally and better interest rates to rebuild some of the shortfall. So far only the Quebec government has offered to step in and protect its residents by taking over the pension plan for the 6,000 Quebec residents who are affected. The Nortel plan has $2.5 billion in assets with roughly $800 million belonging to Quebec members. These assets would be invested in efforts to recoup the funding shortfall.

For those who argue that these employees were fortunate enough to have a pension at all, it is important to remember that contributors to defined pension benefit plans are severely restricted from participating in registered retirement savings plans, foregoing tax savings and deferring their income, based on an expected retirement pension payout. They did their part but, sadly, we failed them.

Regulations and laws permitting, the underfunding of these plans put not only these Nortel employees but all Canadians participating in company pension plans at risk. Surely there is some onus on us and on government to make up for this breach of trust. These workers and retirees and those on disability pension are not asking for a bailout, they are simply asking their government to protect their investment, the investment they made in their jobs and retirement.

It is also apparent that we need to work quickly to update our current legislation governing pension plans in this country. In particular, one area of the law governing bankruptcies and insolvencies must be addressed immediately.

As Don Sproule of the Nortel retirees committee put it:

. . . pensioners should rank higher in the pecking order than other unsecured creditors and especially bondholders, who are protected by credit default swaps and claims against Nortel assets in the United States and Britain.

Nortel bond holders and creditors took a calculated risk with their investment and have the advantage of being able to write off the subsequent losses as tax deductions. Nortel pensioners and severed employees cannot claim their loss of benefits on tax returns. Simply put, employee claims against the assets should take precedence over commercial claims.

The Nortel situation is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of seniors who are at risk because of outdated legislation. We, collectively, must take steps to protect the depleted Nortel pension fund to ensure it is not wound up during the worst possible market conditions.

Canadian legislation forces employers facing bankruptcies to terminate pension plans instead of allowing them to be taken over by another administrator. Quebec has pledged to change its regulations to overcome this ill-conceived legislation, and others should follow. All Canadians, regardless of where they live, should be able to benefit from a pension plan management program such as that being offered in Quebec to its Nortel retirees.

Despite the many problems at Nortel, we cannot forget there are still operating units that continue to lead the world in research and development. At a time when the federal government should have been playing a leadership role to ensure these core high-tech jobs in their head offices were located here in Canada, we rolled over and played dead, not even offering verbal support for a made-in-Canada solution to save the last embers of a flagship Canadian company. This will shake the confidence of all Canadian companies, domestic or otherwise, that count on the support of our government to stand up for their interests and the interests of their people.

The federal government is mandated to seek a solution that is in the national interest.

I will quote former Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, who wrote in an essay published in The Globe and Mail this summer:

. . . it is difficult to conceive that the government has no legitimate role in this process and should be a mere bystander.

He continues:

. . . I urge the government in this particular instance to use its authority and persuasive powers to ensure that the best interests of Canada prevail.

Is the government 100 per cent sure, as Minister Clement has said, that they can do nothing? Is it true or are there ways the government can intervene and support these former workers of Nortel?

The Canadian government needs to be proactively working to ensure that Nortel's worldwide assets are available to Canadian creditors and pension plan members. It is apparent that the American and British governments are ahead of us on this. Nortel Canada is bearing a disproportionate share of Nortel's global cost — all for lack of, frankly — federal oversight, involvement and support.

Federal bankruptcy laws allowed Nortel to bypass the very provincial pension benefit and severance laws that would have protected these workers in favour of other creditors. We have to act and act now.

We have the jurisdiction to set conditions on the sale of Nortel business to foreign acquirers to ensure these foreign acquisitions are done in a way that will bring net benefit to Canada. The government can allocate sale proceeds of these assets to Nortel pension and long-term deficit plans and to fund unpaid severance, to ensure that these foreign purchases benefit Canada.

Our government has both a short and long-term role to play in helping those affected by the Nortel bankruptcy, but the clock is ticking. It is time for action.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Tommy Banks: Honourable senators, I do not know anything about the commercial aspects to which Senator Harb referred, but I want to associate myself with his view. In the order of precedence for unsecured creditors, the fact that bond holders — as in his example — have taken a calculated risk whereas persons who contributed to their own pensions did not, is something to which great attention ought be paid.

I thank Senator Harb for bringing that to our attention.

The Hon. the Speaker: No other honourable senator wishing to intervene, this inquiry will be considered debated.

[Translation]

Adjournment

Leave having been given to revert to Government Notices of Motions:

Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate and notwithstanding rule 58(1)(h), I move:

That when the Senate adjourns today, it do stand adjourned until Tuesday, October 27, 2009, at 2 p.m.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to.)

(The Senate adjourned until Tuesday, October 27, 2009, at 2 p.m.)