John McKay's House of Commons Speech on Euthanasia


Liberal Opposition Day Motion. 

Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have been here for a good part of the day, listening to this debate, and I want to congratulate colleagues on their largely non-partisan debate. It is actually quite encouraging. I think that for those who are watching it is encouraging to see parliamentarians actually engaging in an issue that is of deep significance to each and every one of us. I thought that, frankly, over the course the day, we have done that in quite a respectful manner.

What brings us to this point, though, is the Supreme Court decision which is only, as my colleague just said, 18 days old and does put us under the gun, and the gun will explode one way or another on February 5, 2016. In my judgment, it is a carefully crafted judgment, it is unanimous, it has a date, and it is also an exercise in deference to Parliament because the Supreme Court rightly thinks that Parliament is the appropriate place to craft a legislative response to its decision.

In that light, we have basically three decisions before us, or three alternatives before us.

We can do nothing. That is an alternative. The “do nothing” alternative means that in 12 months, we will have legal chaos, and I would extend that even to emotional chaos. I really do not think that Canadians would be very encouraged by their parliamentarians if in fact we did nothing over the next 12 months.

The next alternative is to ask for an extension. That is a perfectly legitimate response and has been raised by the member for Kildonan—St. Paul and has been raised by the parliamentary secretary speaking on behalf of the government alluded to by the member for Winnipeg-Assiniboia. That is, again, a second alternative and possibly an alternative that we might land on. However, I would not want to be the government lawyer on February 5. 2016, standing before the Supreme Court of Canada, asking for an extension. The first question out of the mouth of the chief justice would be, “What have you done in the last 12 months?” If in fact we have done nothing, then I would say that the Supreme Court would be very reluctant to grant the extension.

That basically drives us to the third conclusion; which is, we have to start doing something.

We have put forward to this chamber a motion to create a special committee to do something because doing nothing or hoping like heck that somehow or another, in another year, the Supreme Court would grant us an extension in my judgment is not a reasonable alternative.
I think because this is a decision that so uniquely affects 100% of the Canadian population it behooves us to listen to what Canadians have to say and so, I adopt the reasoning of a former colleague and, for many of us, a good friend, Preston Manning, who outlined a nine-point process in The Globe and Mail just recently.

I will start where he ends. He says:

Let the people speak. The courts, the interest groups, the academics and the commentators have had a great deal to say on the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide.

He is absolutely right:

Now, it is especially important that our elected officials and legislators hear from rank-and-file Canadians.

Mr. Manning has put before us a challenge, as has the Supreme Court. I know Mr. Manning a bit and I know his great respect for listening to what Canadians have to say.

In his article, he goes on to talk about that when he was a member for Calgary Southwest he actually convened a number of meetings with his own constituents..

His own constituents, by and large, were in favour of some legislation involving physician-assisted dying. That was, frankly, contrary to his own personal beliefs. It was interesting for Mr. Manning to be in a situation where his own constituents were asking him to forward legislation, to promote legislation which was not consistent with his own views.

In the process, he outlined a number of areas where we need to be concerned. His first point was that we need to be compassionate. I have heard various members over the course of the day talking about various personal situations. Those personal situations are deeply held views, ranging the entire gamut of the human experience. The first point, if and when such a committee is composed, is that it be a committee that expresses itself in compassion.

The second point that Mr. Manning raises, and I think is a relevant point and has been raised by the member for Timmins—James Bay has to do with palliative care. I think we are a bit agnostic as to whether the motion needs to be amended to include reference to palliative care. I know the Liberal Party would be open to such a suggestion.

However, our motion was drafted in response to what the Supreme Court said. I think a lot of, for want of a better term, air would go out of the balloon if the Government of Canada and all of the other legislatures in Canada responded to the committee report that the member for Guelph, the member for Timmins—James Bay and the member for Kitchener—Conestoga put forward. If that was there, then maybe there would not be as much animus that goes into this kind of debate.

The next point has to do with provincial legislation. I, and quite a number of other colleagues in this House, have practised law. We have dealt, from time to time, with situations where the relatives are telling us one thing and the client is telling us something else. Even absent an impending death, or even outside of an impending death, there is conflict within families. I am not telling the House anything new. There is conflict within families, and the conflict frequently spills over into conflicts with professionals. A clarification in either living wills or some other form through provincial legislation would be very helpful.

The next point has to do with the number of letters a lot of us are receiving with respect to doctors and where they find themselves on these difficult situations. A lot of doctors got into being doctors because they are very interested in life, in preserving life and in enhancing life, et cetera. They see this kind of physician-assisted dying as inconsistent with their own understanding of why they are doctors.
That needs to be clarified sooner rather than later, because a lot of doctors, certainly if my correspondence is similar to anyone else's in this chamber, are very conflicted about where they stand without real legislation. If this Parliament does not act by February 6, 2016, so that there is some clarification of law, there will be a very difficult situation for physicians who will not know where they stand in the administration of this whole matter.

Let me just wind up there. Again, I commend colleagues for what I believe to be a largely respectful debate. I do think it is important that the people speak. I do think it is important that we get going on this. If we could start tomorrow morning, I would be happy about that. I am agnostic about whether it has to be a special committee, but my views are that it does have to be a special committee because all of the other committee agendas are already filled.

I am conscious that we have essentially 12 weeks to get through this. It is possible. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I hope that tonight we will get that way.

Mr. Bob Dechert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's speech. He quite rightly said that this issue of physician-assisted dying in something in which 100% of Canadians are interested.

He and his colleagues have outlined today the proposed special committee that would meet periodically between now and the end of July. I wonder if he could tell us how many witnesses the special committee would be able to hear in its deliberations. Could he give us a sense of who they would be and how they would be chosen, and if he thinks that all of the views that need to be heard could be accommodated?
I wonder if he could also clarify something that his colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said about having legislation developed by this committee proposed and passed by the end of June? I think that the motion itself calls for the committee to sit until the end of July.

Hon. John McKay: Mr. Speaker, I should have said where there is a will, there is a lawyer, but in this particular case, let us hope not.
I point to the example of the finance committee. The finance committee annually, for probably the last 10 or 15 years, has conducted pre-budget hearings. The witness list stretches to 300 or 400 witness over the course of about 3 months. Where there is a will, there is a way. A special committee would presumably have sufficient time.

I do not consider the legislative drafting to be all that difficult. We would be amending the Criminal Code. We do that each and every day. I would be very surprised if the Minister of Justice has not already received several draft responses from his officials to look over. Compliance with charter issues is extremely important.

There is the ability to do this if there is a will do it. If we fail to do this, we are letting down 100% of Canadians.

Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the cogency with which he argued for the need for this committee or a similar process, and the analogy of the pre-budgetary hearings in the finance committee. That was particularly appropriate.

One Parliament does not have to think of itself as ending all study of an issue. We could end this in July, as it is proposed in the motion. Perhaps the committee could be mostly made up of MPs who have announced that they are not going to be running in the next election to give them more time.

The report could even take the form of something rough, such as an interim report, and then go to government. Ultimately, we would need some kind of legislative response or a decision on legislation. It could then go to government, which would be working while the rest of us are doing other things, preparing for an October event that we all know about. That way, when the new House comes back, things will be ready to pick up. It is not as if the two Parliaments have to be completely separate from each other.

I wonder if my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood would like to comment on the fact that it is possible to put these two parliamentary processes together. When we come back, we may well want to see government legislation in an early stage after first reading, as opposed to after second reading, and continue the process in that way.

Hon. John McKay: Mr. Speaker, my colleague made a very thoughtful suggestion. I had not thought of it in terms of dividing the two to get the report by July and then have a draft of the legislation ready to go post-election. That is certainly an alternative.

When we first contemplated making this particular motion today, one of the suggestions that I put forward dealt with asking the government to introduce legislation at first reading. I suggested having the first reading initiate the hearings so that we would be doing the legislative hearing and the hearing on the issues simultaneously.

That said, I actually like my colleague's idea more than I like my own, so if that is appropriate, I would be fine with that.