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George Baker

The Hon. George  Baker, P.C. Senator George Baker is the former MP for the riding of Gander - Grand Falls (Newfoundland and Labrador). He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1974, and was re-elected at every subsequent federal election. Since March 26, 2002, he has served in the Senate of Canada, representing the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Safe Streets and Communities Bill—Allotment of Time for Debate

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Statement made on 01 March 2012 by Senator Joseph Day

Hon. Joseph A. Day:

Honourable senators, I did not have the opportunity to participate in the committee deliberations last week. I had hoped and expected, under our rules, that I would have the benefit of dealing with the report of all of that work that our honourable colleagues had performed during the week of hearings that they conducted during the report stage, and then again at third reading. I am finding it most unfortunate that the government has found it necessary and desirable to bring closure to this debate so that the rest of us cannot have the opportunity to understand this very important piece of legislation.

Honourable senators, I do want to thank Senator Wallace and Senator Fraser and all senators who participated on the committee work. I have had a chance to hear Senator Wallace's report yesterday at report stage. In reading between the lines of Senator Wallace's report I see the statement: We did what we could. We were asked to do something and we did that, and here it is, for what it is worth.

Honourable senators, I want to point out to you that rule 39(2) — that is the rule we are dealing with regarding this closure motion — as was pointed out by Senator Cowan, states that a closure motion shall provide for at least a certain number of hours of debate.

With respect to second reading, there shall be a further six-hours of debate on any substantive motion and a further six-hours of debate on a motion for second reading. That is one step in each of those instances.

If one goes down to rule 39(2)(d), it reads:

. . . a single period of a further six-hours debate, in total, to dispose of both the report and the third reading stages of a public bill.

Senator Carignan is quite right to bring this motion, but I submit that the spirit of this section is that there would be at least six hours for each step. We have two steps here: one being the report stage, which we just started yesterday; and the second stage being third reading. This would have given us all an opportunity, if we had had at least 12 hours of debate, to deal with these matters. That is not what is before us, and that is why I cannot accept and support this request of closure.

I want to read from Senator Wallace's statements yesterday because this, I think, very succinctly outlines what we are dealing with here:

Bill C-10 brought together nine previous bills . . . covered a variety of topics — topics that related to victims of terrorism, vulnerable foreign workers, international transfer of offenders, controlled drugs, sexual offences against children, youth criminal justice, house arrest, parole and pardon.

That, honourable senators, is what we asked the committee to study last week, and that is what we are now being told we can deal with in the next six hours of debate. I suggest that is unseemly at best.

Honourable senators, Senator Wallace, again in his statement yesterday:

. . . there was a strong feeling that we had to analyze the key issues within the bill.

He pointed out:

As I say, there were nine different components.

They picked out all they could do, but we asked them to deal with nine different pieces of legislation. They went for the key issues and tried to analyze those during the time that they had available.

Honourable senators, I object fundamentally to omnibus legislation. Omnibus legislation does not make good law. We have seen it time and time again, and I suggest that is the case in this instance.

There might be a reason for the omnibus legislation, and there might be a reason that could be explained to us for bringing a closure motion the same day as we start debate on the report stage, but there was absolutely no suggestion made as to why that should be the case. What is the emergency? There is no emergency on any of this legislation. In fact, a lot of people are very concerned about this legislation.

I will give it to you, there are a lot of people that want to see different little pieces of this legislation passed, and we have received calls from many people in that regard. However, when I spoke to them, I asked, "Had you considered some of the other pieces of this legislation?" They would say, "No, all I want is my little piece passed." That, honourable senators, is the reason why the executive would want to pass omnibus legislation, to get a lot of things through without scrutiny, and that is why we as parliamentarians should be very concerned about omnibus legislation when a lot of pieces of that legislation are not being properly studied, did not receive proper scrutiny and, therefore, can well result in unintended consequences.

Honourable senators, let me read a quote from debate that took place on March 25, 1994:

. . . in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

Honourable senators, that was a quote by Mr. Harper when he sat as a Reform member of Parliament in the House of Commons. The block of legislation that he was referring to was 21 pages long. That is 83 pages short of Bill C-10, and he had that concern at that time.

Senator Mitchell: Wow. Do the math.

Senator Day: This quote by Mr. Harper exemplifies the problem that many senators are facing with this piece of legislation.

As I indicated, there are good and necessary aspects to this bill, as you might guess there would be when nine different bills are brought together. It is the process that we are concerned about, honourable senators, and it is the process that I am referring to here, not necessarily all of every piece of this legislation.

We know that this legislation could and will cause some concerns. We know that. We know that because the legislation has garnered such international attention already that it has even induced warnings from the United States and from Australia.

Honourable senators, some amendments have been made. The six Irwin Cotler amendments that were proposed in the House of Commons have finally found their way into this legislation. That was referred to yesterday by Senator Wallace. There were 16 other amendments that were proposed in the Senate committee hearings, 16 other amendments that were summarily dismissed, the same way as Irwin Cotler's amendments were summarily dismissed in the other place. That, honourable senators, is an indication of the kind of work that was going on and the process we are now seeing.

What concerns me is that the government is seemingly unwilling to accept any advice from anyone outside of their inner circle. Even members of their own caucus are being ignored.

We have all received the letter from our colleague the Honourable Senator Nolin urging us to give more careful consideration to this bill. He points out that the Minister of Justice, while appearing before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said, "Our experience shows that toughening sentences does not create new criminals; it just keeps the existing ones in jail for a more appropriate period of time." We ask, honourable senators, what experience is that?

[each senator has 10 minutes for debate; Senator Day's time has expired]

Please click here to read the full text of this debate

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