A tax break for hybrid car owners?

Not quite yet. There had been much speculation before last week’s federal budget that the government might try to encourage more Canadians to buy hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or the Ford Escape Hybrid by offering a rebate or other kind of tax incentive to offset the somewhat higher cost of those vehicles compared to regular vehicles. (Personally, I think that higher cost angle is no longer an angle. Price a standard Prius against a Camry with some decent options and you end up with the same price and the same-size car. But I digress . . . .)

In his (long) speech in the House of Commons last Wednesday, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale did not mention the words 'car' or 'auto' or 'automobile' even once.

In the budget documents that were tabled in the House, the government committed to considering the idea of a “feebate” although it doesn't seem to address hybrid cars specifically and instead addresses its applicability in a more broad sense to any kind of fuel-efficient vehicle. From those documents:

“Of particular interest to the Government are measures that may encourage Canadians to acquire more environmentally friendly vehicles. As discussed below, the Government is negotiating with the auto manufacturing sector to achieve an agreement that would improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in Canada. The Government believes that there may also be merit in the concept of a vehicle “feebate.” A feebate would provide a consumer rebate for fuel-efficient vehicles and impose a fee on fuel-inefficient vehicles. The program could be designed to be revenue neutral for the Government. Over time, a feebate could contribute to the improvement of the fuel efficiency of vehicles purchased in Canada, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality.”

This message brought to you by the ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union and many other groups in the United States are campaigning hard to shoot down proposals to build One Big Database which its enthusiasts say would help improve U.S. national security. To make its point about the kind of privacy and civil liberties risks associated with One Big Database, the ACLU has put up an entertaining Shockwave movie about some poor schmo trying to order a pizza.

There are 6.5 billion of us

The United Nations says there will be 6.5 billion human beings on the planet this July but that population growth rates are slowing. Still, the UN says that by 2050, there will be 9 billion on this Earth.
“The world has added nearly 500 million people since 1999 – just six years,” said Hania Zlotnik, head of the United Nations population division. “The good news is that new estimates show that it will take a little longer to add the next half billion, reaching the 7 billion mark probably by 2013.”
Between 2005 and 2050, eight countries – India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bangladesh, Uganda, the United States, Ethiopia and China – are likely to contribute half of the world's population increase, while the population would at least triple in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, the DRC, Timor-Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Uganda.

CIBC is getting sued over fax fiasco

A Toronto lawyer has filed a class-action lawsuit against Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce over the fax fiasco. Last year, we reported that CIBC had been faxing the confidential information of hundreds of customers to a West Virginia scrapyard operator. Later we learned that similar faxes were being transmitted by CIBC to a Montreal man.
Ted Speevak, one of the individuals whose confidential information — social insurance number, bank account data, home phone, etc. — ended up in West Virginia, is part of the lawsuit. Speevak's exposure was unique in that he is one of two individuals whose information also ended up on a publicly accessible court Web site in Maryland as part of a separate lawsuit between CIBC and the West Virginian.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Speevak and others seeks $9-million in damages.

Digital Divide: Not quite as advertised?

Reuters reporter Thomas Atkins has an interesting piece which has the World Bank suggesting that the digital divide described by groups associated with the United Nations is not nearly so wide as once thought.
“People in the developing world are getting more access at an incredible rate — far faster than they got access to new technologies in the past,” Atkins wrote. “Half the world's population now enjoys access to a fixed-line telephone, the report said, and 77 percent to a mobile network — surpassing a [U.N. group's] campaign goal that calls for 50 percent access by 2015.”
Been all around the World Bank site but can't find the URL for the report that Atkins references. Anyone got a link?

From Brussels to a budget

I returned home from the NATO summit in Brussels late last night and am now up bright and early to cover the federal budget.
This NATO summit was remarkable, I thought, for the presence of Victor Yushchenko, the president of the Ukraine. Ukraine, of course, went through tumultuous times around Christmas. A presidential election was overturned amid allegations of vote-rigging and a subsequent election — during which as many as 700 Canadians participated as observers — resulted in Yushchecnko's victory.
Yushchenko is a reformer and, yesterday, at the NATO summit, he spoke about Ukraine no longer wanting to be the neighbour of Europe but rather Ukraine wanting to be fully integrated into Europe. To achieve that integration, Yushchenko spoke about becoming a NATO member.
Prime Minister Paul Martin had a private meeting with Yushchenko. During that meeting, Martin invited Yushchenko to Canada and Yushchenko accepted.

In Brussels, at NATO, with a shy Prime Minister

I arrived last night in Brussels, Belgium to cover the NATO Summit tomorrow. We travelled on Prime Minister Paul Martin’s plane, leaving Ottawa early Sunday morning, local time, and arriving at about 10:30 pm, local time, in Brussels.

President George Bush beat Martin to Brussels so we missed the spectacle of a 43–car motorcade ferrying Bush into the heart of Brussels to the heavily fortified U.S. embassy where Bush is staying.

Martin has been disappointingly shy so far on this trip. We did not see him at all during the seven-hour plane ride, although his Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew was a bit more sociable.

And while Bush has the famous giant Boeing 747 that is Air Force 1, Martin travels aboard a much more modest military Airbus. It is operated by the Canadian military’s  437 Transport Squadron. 

The media and some government bureaucrats travel in economy class. Martin, Pettigrew and their senior staff are at the front of the plane in a special cabin.

The service, provided by Squadron members, was polite and attentive. The food, while plentiful, was about as good as you get on any airline.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs ro French toast. Dinner was a fillet of beef with peppercorn sauce or a chicken breast with Napolitan sauce.

The flight was long enough for two onboard movies, Shall We Dance and Cellular.

Upon arriving, there was a brief photo opportunity as Martin and his wife Sheila de-planed and shook the hands of his hosts. Martin was wearing a blue-and-white Canadian Football League jacket, an attempt, no doubt, to get Belgians fired up about those great Canadian rivalries like the Argos and Ti-Cats and its Western equivalent, the Stamps and the Eskimos.

It seems unlikely we will see much of Martin today, either, despite the fact that a new poll says his approval rating is 57 per cent and that nearly 47 per cent of Canadians would vote for him. No media briefings are scheduled with him. Again, all he will do is two photo opportunities, one with the Prime Minister of Belgium and another with the Secretary General of NATO.

Bush, on the other hand, is to give a major speech tonight which has advisors say should set the tone for a rapprochement with European powers.s


A new boss at CTV National News in Ottawa

We just gathered in our office on the Hill to learn that Craig Oliver, the dean of political scribes here, is, after 17 years, going to step aside as Bureau Chief for CTV in Ottawa. As Craig said, he wanted more time to do what he loves most — find, report, and analyze political stories. He didn’t want to keep up with the daily management grind.

Bob Fife, who is bureau chief for Canwest (National Post) here in Ottawa and a former colleague of mine, has been appointed Bureau Chief here.

Here’s the text of the press release our company just released:

CTV Announces Key News Appointments in Ottawa Bureau

Toronto, ON (February 17, 2005) – Robert Hurst, President, CTV News, today announced two changes to CTV's Ottawa Bureau. Craig Oliver has been appointed the Chief Political Correspondent for CTV News and Robert Fife assumes the role of CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief.

“Craig Oliver approached me last week and asked for a change in his role,” said Hurst.

“I have been managing CTV's Ottawa Bureau for 17 years,” said Oliver “At this point in my life I want to focus on the work I enjoy the most – chasing news, talking to politicians and hosting Question Period.”

Oliver brings a wealth of experience and a passion to reporting on Canadian politics. He has worked in the Canadian news media for more than four decades, a job that has taken him across the country and around the world. Oliver has served as CTV's director of news and current affairs and as producer of Canada AM's inaugural season. He spent more than a decade as CTV's Washington Bureau Chief. The depth of Oliver's experience is evident in the awards he has received. Some of these include: the prestigious Charles Lynch Award; the President's Award for Excellence in Canadian broadcast journalism from the Radio and Television News Directors Association; the Broadcast Hall of Fame award from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters; and two Gemini Awards – one for Best Reportage and the second for Best Overall Broadcast Journalist. In addition to his new role, Oliver will continue to co-host CTV's Question Period on Sundays.

“Robert Fife is one of the most respected journalists on Parliament Hill,” said Hurst. “With Oliver and Fife leading the CTV News Ottawa Bureau, viewers will receive the best and most comprehensive political reporting in Canada.”

As CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief, Fife will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the bureau and will deliver a broad spectrum of stories from the nation's capitol. Previously, Fife was the Ottawa Bureau Chief for CanWest News Service and the National Post. He has covered national politics since 1978, beginning his career in the Parliamentary Bureau of NewsRadio and later United Press International (Canada). Fife was a senior political reporter for the Canadian Press and spent a decade as Ottawa Bureau Chief and political columnist for the Sun Media chain. He is also the author of several books: A Capital Scandal: Politics, Patronage and Payoff; Why Parliament Must Be Reformed; and Kim Campbell: The Making of a Prime Minister.  An award-winning journalist, he has appeared regularly on television and radio programs.


Canada's Prime Minister: Why he supports same-sex marriage

Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin delivered the first speech in the House of Commons today in support of Bill C-38, The Civil Marriage Act. This is the legislation that, if passed, would permit to persons of the same sex to be legally married in Canada.

Needless to say, this is a contentious issue.

Martin delivered parts of his speech in French and part in English. Here is the full text of his speech, with anything he said in French translated by his office into English:

“I rise today in support of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law.

This is an important day. The attention of our nation is focused on this chamber, in which John Diefenbaker introduced the Bill of Rights, in which Pierre Trudeau fought to establish the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our deliberations will be not merely about a piece of legislation or sections of legal text – more deeply, they will be about the kind of nation we are today, and the nation we want to be.

This bill protects minority rights. This bill affirms the Charter guarantee of religious freedom. It is that straightforward, Mr. Speaker, and it is that important.

And that is why I stand today before members here and before the people of this country to say: I believe in, and I will fight for, the Charter of Rights. I believe in, and I will fight for, a Canada that respects the foresight and vision of those who created and entrenched the Charter. I believe in, and I will fight for, a future in which generations of Canadians to come, Canadians born here and abroad, will have the opportunity to value the Charter as we do today – as an essential pillar of our democratic freedoms.

There have been a number of arguments put forward by those who do not support this bill. It's important and respectful to examine them and to assess them.

First, some have claimed that, once this bill becomes law, religious freedoms will be less than fully protected. This is demonstrably untrue. As it pertains to marriage, the government's legislation affirms the Charter guarantee: that religious officials are free to perform such ceremonies in accordance with the beliefs of their faith.

In this, we are guided by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, which makes clear that in no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple – in no religious house will those who disagree with same-sex unions be compelled to perform them. Period. That is why this legislation is about civil marriage, not religious marriage.

Moreover — and this is crucially important – the Supreme Court has declared unanimously, and I quote: “The guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.”

The facts are plain: Religious leaders who preside over marriage ceremonies must and will be guided by what they believe. If they do not wish to celebrate marriages for same-sex couples, that is their right. The Supreme Court says so. And the Charter says so.

One final observation on this aspect of the issue: Religious leaders have strong views both for and against this legislation. They should express them. Certainly, many of us in this House, myself included, have a strong faith, and we value that faith and its influence on the decisions we make.  But all of us have been elected to serve here as Parliamentarians. And as public legislators, we are responsible for serving all Canadians and protecting the rights of all Canadians.

We will be influenced by our faith but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective — to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society.

The second argument ventured by opponents of the bill is that government ought to hold a national referendum on this issue. I reject this – not out of a disregard for the view of the people, but because it offends the very purpose of the Charter.

The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority.

We embrace freedom and equality in theory, Mr. Speaker. We must also embrace them in fact.

Third, some have counseled the government to extend to gays and lesbians the right to “civil union.” This would give same-sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, the courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the Charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated that, and I quote: “Marriage is the only road to true equality for same-sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same-sex relationships …falls short of true equality.”

Put simply, we must always remember that “separate but equal” is not equal. What's more, those who call for the establishment of civil unions fail to understand that the Government of Canada does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Only the provinces have that. Only the provinces could define such a regime – and they could define it in 10 different ways, and some jurisdictions might not bother to define it at all. There would be uncertainty. There would be confusion. There would certainly not be equality.

Fourth, some are urging the government to respond to the decisions of the courts by getting out of the marriage business altogether. That would mean no more civil weddings for any couples.

It is worth noting that this idea was rejected by the major religions themselves when their representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2003. Moreover, it would be an extreme and counterproductive response for the government to deny civil marriage to opposite-sex couples simply so it can keep it from same-sex couples.  To do so would simply be to replace one form of discrimination with another.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there are some who oppose this legislation who would have the government use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights to override the courts and reinstate the traditional definition of marriage. And really, this is the fundamental issue here.

Understand that in seven provinces and one territory, the lawful union of two people of the same sex in civil marriage is already the law of the land. The debate here today is not about whether to change the definition of marriage – it's been changed. The debate comes down to whether we should override a right that is now in place. The debate comes down to the Charter, the protection of minority rights, and whether the federal government should invoke the notwithstanding clause.

I know that some think we should use the clause. For example, some religious leaders feel this way. I respect their candor in publicly recognizing that because same-sex marriage is already legal in most of the country, the only way – the only way – to again make civil marriage the exclusive domain of opposite-sex couples is to use the notwithstanding clause.

Ultimately Mr. Speaker, there is only one issue be
fore this House in this debate. For most Canadians, in most parts of our country, same-sex marriage is already the law of the land. Thus, the issue is not whether rights are to be granted. The issue is whether rights that have been granted are to be taken away.

Some are frank and straightforward and say yes. Others have not been so candid. Despite being confronted with clear facts, despite being confronted with the unanimous opinion of 134 legal scholars, experts in their field, intimately familiar with the Constitution, some have chosen to not be forthright with Canadians. They have eschewed the honest approach in favour of the political approach. They have attempted to cajole the public into believing that we can return to the past with a simple snap of the fingers, that we can revert to traditional definition of marriage without consequence and without overriding the Charter. They're insincere. They're disingenuous. And they're wrong.

There is one question that demands an answer – a straight answer – from those who would seek to lead this nation and its people. It is a simple question: Will you use the notwithstanding clause to overturn the definition of civil marriage and deny to Canadians a right guaranteed under the Charter?

This question does not demand rhetoric. It demands clarity. There are only two legitimate answers – yes or no. Not the demagoguery we have heard, not the dodging, the flawed reasoning, the false options. Just yes or no.

Will you take away a right as guaranteed under the Charter? I, for one, will answer that question, Mr. Speaker. I will answer it clearly. I will say no.

The notwithstanding clause is part of the Charter of Rights. But there's a reason that no prime minister has ever used it. For a prime minister to use the powers of his office to explicitly deny rather than affirm a right enshrined under the Charter would serve as a signal to all minorities that no longer can they look to the nation's leader and to the nation's Constitution for protection, for security, for the guarantee of their freedoms. We would risk becoming a country in which the defence of rights is weighed, calculated and debated based on electoral or other considerations.

That would set us back decades as a nation. It would be wrong for the minorities of this country. It would be wrong for Canada.

The Charter is a living document, the heartbeat of our Constitution. It is also a proclamation. It declares that as Canadians, we live under a progressive and inclusive set of fundamental beliefs about the value of the individual. It declares that we all are lessened when any one of us is denied a fundamental right.

We cannot exalt the Charter as a fundamental aspect of our national character and then use the notwithstanding clause to reject the protections that it would extend. Our rights must be eternal, not subject to political whim.

To those who value the Charter yet oppose the protection of rights for same-sex couples, I ask you: If a prime minister and a national government are willing to take away the rights of one group, what is to say they will stop at that? If the Charter is not there today to protect the rights of one minority, then how can we as a nation of minorities ever hope, ever believe, ever trust that it will be there to protect us tomorrow?

My responsibility as Prime Minister, my duty to Canada and to Canadians, is to defend the Charter in its entirety. Not to pick and choose the rights that our laws shall protect and those that are to be ignored. Not to decree those who shall be equal and those who shall not. My duty is to protect the Charter, as some in this House will not.

Let us never forget that one of the reasons that Canada is such a vibrant nation, so diverse, so rich in the many cultures and races of the world, is that immigrants who come here – as was the case with the ancestors of many of us in this chamber – feel free and are free to practice their religion, follow their faith, live as they want to live. No homogenous system of beliefs is imposed on them.

When we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural nature. We are reinforcing the Canada we value. We are saying, proudly and unflinchingly, that defending rights – not just those that happen to apply to us, not just that everyone approves of, but all fundamental rights – is at the very soul of what it means to be a Canadian.

This is a vital aspect of the values we hold dear and strive to pass on to others in the world who are embattled, who endure tyranny, whose freedoms are curtailed, whose rights are violated.

Why is the Charter so important, Mr. Speaker? We have only to look at our own history. Unfortunately, Canada's story is one in which not everyone's rights were protected under the law.  We have not been free from discrimination, bias, unfairness. There have been blatant inequalities.

Remember that it was once thought perfectly acceptable to deny women “personhood” and the right to vote. There was a time, not that long ago, that if you wore a turban, you couldn't serve in the RCMP. The examples are many, but what's important now is that they are part of our past, not our present.

Over time, perspectives changed. We evolved, we grew, and our laws evolved and grew with us. That is as it should be. Our laws must reflect equality not as we understood it a century or even a decade ago, but as we understand it today.

For gays and lesbians, evolving social attitudes have, over the years, prompted a number of important changes in the law. Recall that, until the late 1960s, the state believed it had the right to peek into our bedrooms.  Until 1977, homosexuality was still sufficient grounds for deportation.  Until 1992, gay people were prohibited from serving in the military.  In many parts of the country, gays and lesbians could not designate their partners as beneficiaries under employee medical and dental benefits, insurance policies or private pensions. Until very recently, people were being fired merely for being gay.

Today, we rightly see discrimination based on sexual orientation as arbitrary, inappropriate and unfair. Looking back, we can hardly believe that such rights were ever a matter for debate. It is my hope that we will ultimately see the current debate in a similar light; realizing that nothing has been lost or sacrificed by the majority in extending full rights to the minority.

Without our relentless, inviolable commitment to equality and minority rights, Canada would not be at the forefront in accepting newcomers from all over the world, in making a virtue of our multicultural nature – the complexity of ethnicities and beliefs that make up Canada, that make us proud that we are where our world is going, not where it's been.

Four years ago, I stood in this House and voted to support the traditional definition of marriage. Many of us did. My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples were a function of my faith, my perspective on the world around us.

But much has changed since that day. We've heard from courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. We've come to the realization that instituting civil unions – adopting a “separate but equal” approach – would violate the equality provisions of the Charter. We've confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms.

And so where does that leave us? It leaves us staring in the face of the Charter of Rights with but a single decision to make: Do we abide by the Charter and protect minority rights, or do we not?

To those who would oppose this bill, I urge you to consider that the core of the issue before us today is whether the rights of all Canadians are to be respected. I believe they must be. Justice demands it. Fairness demands it. The Canada we love demands it.

Mr. Speaker: In the 1960s, the government of Lester Pearson faced oppos
ition as it moved to entrench official bilingualism. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was. In the 1980s, the government of Pierre Trudeau faced opposition as it attempted to repatriate the Constitution and enshrine a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was.

There are times, Mr. Speaker, when we as Parliamentarians can feel the gaze of history upon us. They felt it in the days of Pearson. They felt it in the days of Trudeau. And we, the 308 men and women elected to represent one of the most inclusive, just and respectful countries on the face of this earth, feel it today.

There are few nations whose citizens cannot look to Canada and see their own reflection.  For generations, men and women and families from the four corners of the globe have made the decision to chose Canada to be their home. Many have come here seeking freedom — of thought, religion and belief. Seeking the freedom simply to be.

The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to include all, regardless of their differences; a country that respects all, regardless of their differences; a country that demands equality for all, regardless of their differences.

If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians: Let us step forward.