House of Commons final hour of debate on Tobin Tax (1999) - Part 2



The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion and the amendment.

Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina-Qu'Appelle, NDP): Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been the usual consultations among all the parties and you should find unanimous consent for me to make a small wording change to my motion to help clean it up.

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I would like to ask for unanimous consent to remove from my Motion No. 239 the following words "show leadership and". The amended motion would then read: That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the world community. I have had the usual consultations with the government across the way, the Bloc Quebecois House leader, the whip of the Reform Party, the whip and the leader of the Conservative Party and also with my own party.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to make the change that he has just mentioned?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): Resuming debate. When the motion was last before the House, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had the floor. He still has five minutes remaining.

Mr. Wayne Easter (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I want to briefly summarize what I said previously. I explained how much a tax on currency speculation was needed. I also explained that we could not allow the money speculators in New York and elsewhere around the world to sometimes bring countries to their knees by statements that a country was a basket case or whatever which drives trading in the currency down. I also explained that we could not allow money speculators, who just play with paper and create no real wealth and do not produce anything, to jeopardize ordinary people's working lives by their actions. Let me use the few minutes I have left to build on why Canada should push for such a policy globally. The fact is a small and some would say very tiny tax on currency speculators could stabilize economies. At the same time it could help finance social initiatives and third world development. By stabilizing economies I mean that some speculators who are playing with the financial markets on Bay Street or some other such place have a notion about a country and make a statement that a country is in serious financial trouble, that it is a basket case or whatever. Those words get into some of the investment papers. That one single statement by people play around with money and create no real wealth other than for themselves starts a run on the country's currency and causes serious problems for the finances and people of that country. Putting this small Tobin tax as it is called on money speculators would ease that kind of activity. They would not play those kinds of games. We are talking about a very small tax, somewhere in the rage of one-tenth of one per cent. That kind of a tax would also bring in a fair bit of return. It would have to be put in place globally. With that kind of financing a lot could be done for the third world in terms of needed social policies. The book Good Taxes by Alex Michalos had this to say about the tax and how it would be put in place: A transaction tax on purchases and sales of foreign exchange would have to be (1) universal and (2) uniform; it would (3) have to apply to all jurisdictions, and (4) the rate would have to be equalized across markets. Were it imposed unilaterally by one country, that country's FOREX market would simply move offshore ... (5) Enforcement of the universal tax would depend principally on major banks and on the jurisdictions that regulate them. (6) The surveillance of national regulatory authorities could be the responsibility of a multilateral agency like the Bank for International Settlements or the International Monetary Fund. It might be authorized to set the size of the tax within limits. (7) It would have to possess sanctions that could be levied on countries that fail to comply with the measure.

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Those points are important. That is what we are saying we have to move toward. All those conditions have to be met. It is important for Canada to lead the way by discussing with other countries that this kind of tax is needed on a global basis. This should lessen the money speculation and would provide moneys to do good things in social policy and other ways for the third world.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): Before resuming debate I would like to state that the motion proposed earlier by the hon. member for Regina-Qu'Appelle has been carried.


Mr. Stéphan Tremblay (Lac-Saint-Jean, BQ): Madam Speaker, I am somewhat troubled by the shift in thinking that has taken place over the last year. I am referring to the government's position which would tend to be supportive of the motion before the House. The debate we are having today is very important. The motion may not be perfect, and the mechanism to deal with the issue may not be either, but at least this parliament is talking about the phenomenon of speculation, which is pervasive in our economies. The first challenge in this debate is to define the concept of speculation, and it is quite a challenge. To understand speculation, a bit of a historical background may be useful. Since the end, in 1971, of the Bretton Woods agreement governing the foreign exchange market, financial markets have been plagued with instability. Speculative bursts have occurred, and since the value of assets had no relation with reality, speculators played currencies against each other at the expense of the affected countries. Mexico was under attack in 1992 and, in 1994, the pound sterling had to be withdrawn from the European monetary system. Mr. Soros, one of the biggest speculators in the world, who, incidentally, gambled $10 billion against the pound sterling and earned $1 billion, has stated that some order definitely had to be restored in the financial system. This is a complex debate, but the impact of speculation remains to be determined. Today, at least, we are dealing with part of this problem. I will not speak in favour or against a tax mechanism on financial transactions. I think the issue must be considered in a more comprehensive way. First, we have to understand the impact of speculation on civil society, and then, once we understand it-as I often put it, to understand in order to act-we will be able to act with the full knowledge of the facts. Unfortunately, some people today are against such a regulatory system for the international financial system. However, the Tobin tax, the tax we are talking about today, is a mechanism that can be proposed. There are other mechanisms. For example, Chile, a South American country, partially sheltered itself from speculators by charging a tax on a portion of the funds getting out of the country less that two years after coming in. Then, there is the tax on direct investments abroad, derivatives trading market regulations such as swaps, options, futures contracts on bonds, stock index contracts and so on; I have here a list of proposals coming from civil society economists throughout the world. Where there might not be any consensus is on what mechanisms should be set up and which international body should initiate such a reform. Others attack the project, stating categorically that it is impossible to reach an agreement internationally on this type of regulations. The challenge is there but at least, what is important is that we talk about it and that people know more what we are dealing with when we talk about financial market destabilization because I think this is the case. There is some instability.

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A while ago, my colleague mentioned investments in financial markets, they are not value-added. These investments do not create jobs, but wealth. It all depends how you define wealth. There are other causes for concern. Thousands of billions of dollars are moving freely around the world in search of gains due to speculation. On a regular basis, their owners trigger attacks against currencies that appear weak, often causing them to be devaluated. Cases in point are the Swedish krona, the pound sterling, the Brazilian real and the Mexican peso. When I read this kind of thing in L'Actualité, where economist Pierre Fortin tells us that speculators are attacking currencies, I would like to know what mounting an attack on a currency means. I am not talking about hypothetical things. Last summer, the Canadian dollar lost 10 cents due to speculation. I am wondering who is attacking and who is mounting the attack. I believe this is worthy of debate. The list of reasons why it is urgent to take such steps is quite long. I believe that when the House wants parliament to foster such debates internationally to bring about international regulations, we must agree with that. This leads me to an issue dear to me. I believe the economy is currently in mutation. For example, with regard to speculation, 30 years ago only 5% of financial operations were of a speculative nature. Today, this proportion is as high as 90% to 95%. This is a lot. This means that a huge part of our economy is at the mercy of such fluctuations and so-called attacks. This worries me and this fact is not the only one I find troublesome; there are a number of other ones which are linked to the globalization of the economy. I believe this is linked to globalization. Make no mistake, I am not against globalization. But I want people to understand what it is all about. It seems to me that, for the first time in history, we as a society are faced with a very complex situation, and it is extremely important for us to understand it. In the same spirit as this motion, one battle I am trying to wage in this Parliament is to see to it that the members of this House understand this phenomenon, that they have a perfect understanding of what we are experiencing as a society with regard to globalization, particularly with regard to what is going on right now in financial markets. Last December, I presented a petition signed by 50,000 people asking their elected representatives to reflect on this phenomenon. I think it is a very legitimate request. It is perfectly normal. The study of a mechanism to prevent financial speculation or to clean up financial markets is essential. I am happy that we can take part in such a debate today because I think it is of the utmost importance for countries and for society. I cannot speak on this issue without also talking about civil society, which is mobilizing all over the world to make such debates happen. There is Atac, in France, a movement that is taking international proportions. Here in Canada, there is the CCIC and the Halifax initiative. In fact, there are numerous groups promoting debate on this kind of issues in civil society, in Parliament and soon, I hope, in international forums. In conclusion, I will quote world famous speculator George Soros, who has taken advantage of the chaotic international financial system. He said "If people like me can bring down governments, it means something is wrong with the system. My experience with markets has shown that they often had a tendency to be unstable. If we do not take measures to stabilize them, serious accidents will occur". Obviously these are financial accidents. This quote is from the October 24, 1996 issue of L'Express.

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These are not leftist remarks. Even the greatest speculators in the world say that danger is lurking right now. I rarely say such things, but I am doing so today with all my heart in the interest of current and future generations. If we want to have a global economy, we must have rules. Just like in hockey or in life, rules are essential. Right now, it seems that the lack of rules in this system and the lack of understanding by parliamentarians have resulted in carelessness, which has caused a lot of turbulence in financial markets. That is why I will vote in favour of this motion today.


Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to enter into debate on the motion put forward by my colleague from Regina-Qu'Appelle to suggest the importance of Canada taking leadership in putting forward a Tobin tax and building international consensus around the critical importance of adopting such a tax. It is a private member's motion, but let me make it very clear that it will be one that is enthusiastically supported by all 21 of my caucus colleagues. Why? Because we recognize and have long believed that it is essential for Canada to take the lead in building support in the international community for a modest but important tax on international financial transactions. In 1997 the federal New Democratic Party at its convention adopted support for the Tobin tax into our party policy. In the 1997 election we ran on the commitment that we would go on working to gain co-operation and support for the Tobin tax at home and abroad in partnership with other progressive forces. Let me say how pleased we are today that there is an increasing number of progressive groups in Canada from the faith communities, the labour movement, the environment, the development and other social justice movements calling for the Government of Canada to provide leadership in the adoption of a Tobin tax. What is the Tobin tax? It is the brain child of Nobel Prize winning economist, James Tobin. As early as 1978 Dr. Tobin proposed the introduction of a tax on international financial transactions, a tax wisely proposed to be low enough not to have adverse effects on trade in goods and services but high enough to cut into the profits of currency speculators and thereby hopefully reduce the currency speculation that is causing havoc in economies around the world. The world desperately needs to restore some balance after the mania of market fundamentalism which has gripped the world economy. In the 1990s we have seen the spectacle of the so-called risk takers: a 28 year old in red suspenders who can bring down a century old bank, a major private sector hedge fund engaged in billion dollar investments which has to get bailed out to the tune of $3.2 billion by the U.S. federal reserve fund to prevent a major global financial crisis, and currency traders making billions of dollars while wages for ordinary citizens stagnate or fall even in the most successful economies of the world. Market fundamentalism in the nineties has meant idealizing the marketplace as something that can take care of everything that matters to people. When unbridled currency speculators turn the Asian so-called economic miracle into a financial crisis overnight, whole national economies were plunged into recession. Twenty-five million people sunk into dire poverty in Indonesia and Thailand alone. Thirty-five per cent of the world today is in recession, and as the contagion spreads to other countries like Brazil that percentage is increasing.

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Why do we need a Tobin tax in today's market? The economic market was supposed to reward risk takers. That was the theory, to reward people who would put up their own money to build a plant, to develop a new product or to provide a new service to the community. That is the theory. However today's market rules are: do not bet your own money; hedge your bets; invest in the private market preferably offshore; get the public, in other words taxpayers, to bail you out if you get into difficulty; protect and hoard your personal wealth by sending it to a tax haven abroad. This has led to rescue packages for the super rich, impoverishment for the many, and diminishing capacity for the public through its elected governments to address the social problems left in the wake of market failures. Today the world desperately needs a strategy to ensure that the international economy serves the interest of ordinary citizens in the poorest countries that are being increasingly marginalized and in the wealthier countries where workers are launched in a race to the bottom. The Tobin tax is one way to rebalance risks, rewards and responsibilities, a way to ensure that those who benefit most from the market system take some financial responsibility for it. George Soros, the billionaire financier who has made a fortune in international markets, describes today's global capital flows as a wrecking ball spreading indiscriminate grief and poverty around the globe: There used to be a concept of civic virtue, but because of the sharpening of competition, people have become so involved in fighting for their own survival they cannot indulge their concern for the common good. The concern with the common good has been almost eliminated by allowing the markets to become the main forum for decision making. According to the United Nations human development report the estimated cost of providing universal access to basic human services for all the world's citizens is roughly $40 billion per year, and $40 billion is a mere 20% of the revenues that could be collected through the imposition of a Tobin tax. Nations around the world could use the revenues generated to alleviate human suffering on a scale so vast that it would eclipse all our collective efforts for the past five decades. When the G-7 nations met in Halifax in June 1995 regrettably the Prime Minister of Canada resisted the call for our government to provide leadership in building consensus in support of the Tobin tax. I think it is a positive development, a very welcome development, that today the government recognizes the Tobin tax is an idea whose time has come. The finance minister has recognized in the Tobin tax: -the general taxing power to raise money for great international needs, whether it be problems of the Third World, the heaviest indebted poor countries, or international environmental problems. Surely a proposal with such potential cries out for political and international support. The finance minister was absolutely correct when he stated publicly almost a year ago today on national television that it would take a long time to get the rest of the world to sign on to the Tobin tax. To that I say let us get started by giving unanimous passage in the House to the motion before us calling on the Government of Canada to provide leadership to the adoption of a Tobin tax on behalf of all world citizens.

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Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Ref.): Madam Speaker, all we need is the NDP to come to this place and suggest to these Liberals a new way of taxing us. As if we are not taxed enough, now there will be a new tax, and tax on tax on tax on tax. I use that as my introduction because I think this is a wrong headed idea. We need a government that learns to live within its means, that perhaps stops subsidizing all the buddies of the politicos over there and giving them a bunch of our taxpayers money. The government just wastes it and avoids dealing with the real problems of the country, and that is jobs. Jobs are created by having less taxation on economic activity, less taxation on the people and the families of the country and less taxation on businesses, not more. We do not need more taxation. What we have here is a motion by the member for Regina-Qu'Appelle. I will not question the hon. member's motivation. As a member of the New Democratic Party, the overt socialist party, he is very interested in seeing how he can get money from somebody who earned it-maybe it was not earned; maybe it was by speculation, which is part of the way of earning money-and give it to somebody who did not earn it. That is the whole agenda of the NDP. I remember a number of years ago I had an interesting debate with a member of the New Democratic Party. We talked about helping poor people. I said to him, and I will not use his name here because he probably would not like it-

An hon. member: He was a nice fellow.

Mr. Ken Epp: A nice fellow indeed. I asked him how much he gave to charity the previous year and he said nothing, that it was not his responsibility but the responsibility of the government. I said to him "Therein lies the difference betwixt thee and me. I believe in being generous with my money; you believe in being generous with everybody else's money". That is what is wrong in the whole premise of adding yet another tax on to people who are trying to make money. Here is an interesting twist, though. A New Democratic member has proposed the motion and the motion has been amended by the socialists on the other side of us here. The motion says that the government should enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community. This tax on financial transactions has been taken out in the wording of the amendment by the Bloc, so we will first be voting on whether or not to promote the implementation of a tax aimed at discouraging speculation on fluctuations in the exchange rate. This was put forward by an eminent scholar, an economist, a Nobel prize winner who knew a lot, but I seriously question whether a small tax on a transaction will make any difference at all. Everybody who deals in the market, whether it is the money market or any other market, is quite willing to pay the transaction fee which accrues to the dealers. It does not discourage it at all. As a means of discouraging speculation, it is a wrong headed idea. We would have to put such a high tax on it to actually discourage the process that it would basically cause economic chaos around the world, as if we do not have enough of that already. I would like to make a few comments on this tax. Generally what we tax we discourage. That is just simple human nature. I often think of my father who lives in a tax ridden province run by the NDP. He said when it brought in the GST, which was added to the PST, that it was one tax he could avoid. Whereas my father used to buy a new car every four or five years, he drove his car for ten or twelves years after that. I do not remember exactly how long it was before he traded it, but he said that he did not have to buy a new car.

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As a result the GST and the PST discouraged him from entering into the marketplace and getting a new car. He just drove his old one. I think that was a good decision anyway. It was a perfectly good car. I will not do any free advertising for Oldsmobile here. I remember reading about the Brits who at one time thought they were would tax rich people like NDP members always wanted. They say let us tax the rich so they leave the country like the finance minister does. He takes his business out of the country because he can get regime for taxes which is much more favourable. Let us tax these rich suckers so they leave and that way we will not have any jobs in this country. Everybody will be happy. This is NDP style. The Brits came up with a wonderful measure of a tax for rich people. They would base it on the size, the total area, of windows in their houses. What should surprise us is that all the rich people who had homes with big windows boarded them up. The windows were not needed if they were to be taxed on them. That is so obvious. What we have here is an attempt to manipulate human activity, whether it is an investment or elsewhere, by taxation. As far as I am concerned that is an unwelcome, unnecessary and immoral intrusion of government on our personal freedoms. We should be able to move in these areas without having government, through taxation or other means of coercion, try to influence, determine and prevent us from doing what we want and instead try to tell us what to do. There is another big problem with this tax. I have already mentioned the finance minister and his steamship companies. These companies are registered offshore. There are advantages that way. How can we ever presume that a Tobin tax will be accepted by every country? If all countries agree to do this, except 5, 8 or 12, then those are the countries that will become havens for the investors. Investors can go to these countries and do financial transactions without being taxed. That is exactly what they will do. That is human nature. I cannot blame people for making those decisions when greedy governments insist on taxing us to death to the point where we can hardly survive because so much of our income is confiscated from us. There is another very important aspect to this. How do we ever get agreement among countries to co-operate on this in terms of how they are to collect the tax and how it is to be distributed? We have this insane move by the minister of culture who thinks she will help the country by putting a tax on magnetic tape, notwithstanding that a lot of it is used for purposes totally unrelated to the recording of artists' materials. She will take the tax from this and have a whole bureaucracy. The government will soon announce the rate of this tax which will be retroactive. That will make people every bit as happy as the GST ever did. The minister will take this tax and redistribute the money. That is an absolutely insane idea. We have taxes on taxes. We have great difficulty in coming up with a bureaucracy that is big enough and efficient enough that it actually earns more money than it costs to administer. What is the point of having a tax that returns nothing to the government or to the people of the nation because the cost of administration is so high? This member certainly has his ideas. He is welcome to them. That is the wonder of democracy, the wonder of freedom of speech and I hope we can keep it. I have my doubts in this place because of the high handed government on the other side. It is the member's right to put forward this motion. He has done that. I recommend that all members think hard before they support this motion because it is wrong headed, going nowhere and will not be successful. It is a bad idea. Let us all be sure that it is firmly defeated.

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Mr. Ted McWhinney (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.): Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to return the debate to the subject of the hon. member for Regina-Qu'Appelle's resolution. We had only one reservation about the resolution and he has very gracefully accepted our suggestion for a change. I would like to enter into the record that the finance minister has been concerned with this issue for at least four years. He did raise it at the Halifax reunion referred to in 1995. It has recurred in discussions at the World Bank and the IMF in Washington and again at the Kuala Lumpur informal meeting of the APEC leaders. It is a subject we are very concerned with. The economist who gives his name to the tax proposed is not some obscure ivory tower economist. He has been working in the practical world of economics. Apart from his Yale professorship, he was an adviser to President Kennedy on the crucial financial banking policy making that President Kennedy's administration was engaged in. Returning to this subject, it directs attention to the problem of our times of the breakdown, as in other areas of the world community, of international institutions that were conceived for other purposes and have to be readjusted and remade to accord to new conditions. I am referring of course to the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system which in essence over the last half century has governed world banking and monetary policies. The Bretton Woods system was set in place in 1944 in anticipation of the victory of the Allies in World War II and it was based on the evident economic financial facts of that period: the war about to end, the dominance of the United States and the dominance of the U.S. dollar system which was the pivotal international currency linked to gold by a fixed exchange rate with other currencies with fixed par value rates too. What was linked to Bretton Woods was an international regulatory system for capital demand and supply and two very key institutions, the World Bank for long term capital assistance mostly to developing nations suffering from chronic capital shortages, and the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, for regulating money supplies to alleviate the crises in international payments. There was a multifunctional, global monetary banking framework established under Bretton Woods. The special societal and economic facts on which that was posited have changed. One of course is the emergence of other banking systems not in opposition but parallel to the American system. We would take note obviously most recently of the emergence of the European banking group, the emergence of the new European currency unit and also of course of the Japanese construction of their own financial banking system. More important, however, is the challenge to the institutions themselves. All of us have had reservations about the response of the International Monetary Fund to the Asian crisis. Others would take objection, as I have in other places, to the response to the change from the Soviet Union to a number of independent states and Russia itself. The careful line between financial policy and political policy in the strict sense which figures largely in the IMF's decisions has sometimes led to results that one would question. Again there have been serious complaints made by third world countries. What we are really directing attention to is that the member for Regina-Qu'Apelle's motion, the concept of curbing wild currency fluctuations due to manipulation of the international financial markets, this sort of thing has to be viewed in the larger context of the international financial regulatory framework.

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I think we have to consider it together with the World Bank and the IMF. It will make a fruitful subject for study by the House committee on foreign affairs which had a very able group working on international trade policy. It is a subject that it could attend to. More than ever the motion which we accept in its amended form asks us to effectuate this tax in concert with the international community. It is the green light. It reinforces our attempts to get this on the agenda of the G-7 and to re-examine the issue of fundamental reforms in international financial and banking institutions. Sometimes we get interesting new policies. The post-Thatcher policies in Great Britain, which British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is calling for, look for some new global overarching international financial regulatory machinery. It will inevitably reform the IMF, the World Bank and the Tobin tax taken in juxtaposition. We welcome the motion by the member for Regina-Qu'Appelle. It accords with our government policy if we take it in the larger context in terms of fundamental reform and modernization of international financial institutions. I invite the hon. member and all members of the House to join in the committee studies of this aspect preparatory to raising it with renewed force and supporting empirical data before the G-7 and other arenas so that the efforts the finance minister has taken in previous years will have that extra strength behind them.


Mr. Mark Assad (Gatineau, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I do not have much time, but I did want to take this opportunity to state that the motion by the hon. member for Regina-Qu'Appelle addresses a world problem that has been around for many years. Every day, in excess of one thousand billion dollars are moved around the world. This is not exactly investments, but rather speculation. People need to be clear on the point that we are not against the free movement of money, but instead we want to limit speculation. The result of our hon. colleague's motion would be that Canada would be one of the first nations to promote this needed reform. In the past 15 or 20 years, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have not been able to find any way to control the existing abuses. The currencies of the various countries are in danger because of the incredible speculation that goes on in the business world. This measure will need the support of all countries, at least all the industrialized ones. This will be a start toward putting the financial affairs of the various countries in order. The developing countries, those unable to pay their debts, have fared the worst. Looking at the figures for recent years, the resulting difficulties and human suffering that have ensued are obvious. There has been reference made to the Tobin tax. Some five or six years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Tobin speak and answer questions when he was invited here to Ottawa. He explained his approach and the way the various transactions could be taxed for the good of humanity. A half or a quarter of one percentage point is certainly not enough tax to hamper investment.

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If there is one thing we need, it is investment, but not speculation. This initiative will certainly be the start of putting the world's finances in order so that the kind of shameless speculation that is already going on will not continue. Canada has an opportunity to demonstrate on the world stage that we are concerned with the countries that are having a hard time. With this motion, I am convinced, it would be an honour for Canada to take this to the G-7 countries in order to try to convince them that this is a necessity in today's world. [English] The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): It being 6.16 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

Some hon. members: No.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Some hon. members: Yea.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): All those opposed will please say nay.

Some hon. members: Nay.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): In my opinion the nays have it. And more than five members having risen:

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): Call in the members.

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The Deputy Speaker: As is the practice, the division will be taken row by row, starting with the sponsor and then proceeding with those in favour of the amendment, beginning with the back row on the side of the House on which the sponsor sits. After proceeding thr