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Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for North Vancouver (B.C.)

Lost his last election, in 2008, with 37.37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply May 17th, 2007

Mr. Chair, in the last election the Conservative Party promised yet again to restore a regular army presence in British Columbia with a new rapid reaction army battalion of 650 regular force personnel that will be air deployable to be stationed at CFB Comox.

I would like to know what steps the minister has taken to implement this promise. How much will it cost to carry out this promise? Has the money for this promise been booked in either of the two budgets?

Business of Supply May 17th, 2007

Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with the members for Newton—North Delta, Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, and Bourassa; two and a half minutes, two and a half minutes, one minute and three minutes. I believe that adds up correctly.

Let me begin by saying that the residents in North Vancouver appreciate the dedication of our men and women in Afghanistan. We would like them to come home sooner than later, safely.

In the last election the Conservative Party promised to provide new territorial battalions with 100 regular and at least 400 reserve force personnel each to be prepared to respond to emergencies in Canada's major urban centres, with battalions in the west to be stationed in areas of Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg.

Particularly in light of the predicted high risk of a major earthquake that is expected for the lower mainland of British Columbia and the recent world natural disasters, I would like to know how prepared we are. In particular, I would like to ask the minister what steps he has taken as minister to implement this promise. I would like to know what it would cost to carry out this promise. Has the money for this promise been booked in either of the past two budgets?

City of North Vancouver May 9th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to recognize the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of North Vancouver in British Columbia.

The city is one of two municipalities in my riding of North Vancouver and was incorporated on May 13, 1907. Covering an area of approximately five square miles, this modern city is today the vibrant home to over 50,000 residents, plus thriving businesses and commercial, film and television and waterfront port industries. It is the northern terminus of the SeaBus that daily ferries thousands of commuters and tourists between Vancouver and the North Shore.

I give recognition to all the former mayors and city councils whose vision helped create this great community as it is today. I congratulate the current mayor, Darrell Mussatto; his council members, Barbara Perrault, Bob Fearnley, Craig Keating, Bob Heywood, Pam Bookham and Sam Schechter; plus city manager, Ken Tollstam; and the city staff for providing their dedication and leadership as they begin the second century of the history of this beautiful City of North Vancouver.

Railway continuation Act, 2007 April 17th, 2007

Personally, Mr. Speaker, I am always open to listening to good ideas. I will give consideration to the points that have been made by the member, but I must say that I have concerns. In my opinion and in my observations from reading the reports and from what I have been aware of, CN basically has been running the Canadian operation much as an American railroad is run, and there are differences between the two. There are substantial differences in terrain, in what the expectations of the public are and in the rules that we have as a federal government, our Transport Canada rules.

My concern is that it appears that the Canadian operation has been run almost as a branch plant. I can speak of British Columbia being run as even a sub-branch plant to the extent that when this came in it had problems because it did not recognize the steep terrain, ran trains that were too long, in my opinion, and has not maintained things such as dynamic braking.

I believe that the combination of getting this contract settled and the work that is going to be done by the transport committee will see things improve substantially.

I have been told by most of the people I have spoken with that money is not the issue. Safety is the issue. While I listen with respect to the suggestion that final offer settlement, FOS, may not be as effective as an arbitrated or an interest-based settlement or arbitration, I believe there comes a time when what is needed is a resolution and that further delay is damaging to the relationship between the unions and also damaging to our economy and to the credibility of Canada as a country that is available for other countries to be trading with, both in imports and in exports.

I want to restore that confidence as soon as possible. I have watched while the bargaining process has gone on. It has not gone on satisfactorily. I believe that finally, reluctantly, it is time for us to act and to take the action that has been proposed.

Railway continuation Act, 2007 April 17th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I too have had experience in labour negotiations in my previous career in municipal politics. In fact, in my business career with a major Canadian corporation I was associated with a variety of negotiations. I am familiar with the distinctions the hon. member makes, but I do not think one precludes the other. I think what we have to look at is what problems are involved.

In dealing with what the root causes are of some of the concerns in this labour dispute, I have taken the trouble to speak both to rail workers and to the people from the communities that are concerned with the safety issues over the last year.

I acknowledge the distinction the hon. member is making between final offer bargaining and some kind of an arbitrated settlement that hopefully is somewhere between the positions that people have taken. However, I understand that there are issues in terms of rest times and some of the other issues to which my colleague referred and I have heard about. These issues are such that perhaps they need to be put to the test of a final arbitration settlement, a final offer settlement, because they have been well discussed and because the company has been moving in a position away from them.

It is my hope that this is going to work in the interests of the concerns about safe conditions for the workers and restoring pride and dignity to the workers of the rail operations.

I believe that there is a 90 day period from the time this legislation is passed until the arbitrator has to report, before which both the company and the unions involved can arrive at a negotiated settlement. If they cannot, then there is going to be the reality and bringing them to that reality of what they have to try to achieve as a settlement.

I am hoping that many of the ancillary safety issues will be dealt with by our committee and dealt with ultimately by Parliament to ensure that the regulations, where we have the ability to regulate, will address some of their issues and concerns.

I appreciate the principle. I do not see it as a contradiction. I see it as pragmatic. I have already indicated my concern for the economy of Canada and my concern for British Columbia as a gateway to ensure that we continue to have the goods from central Canada and from the Prairies flowing through ports to the Asia-Pacific, as well as enabling imports to come into Canada and thus having the benefits that accrue to all of Canada from that.

Railway continuation Act, 2007 April 17th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to say that I support Bill C-46.

The concern I have, both as vice-chairman of the transportation committee and one who instituted last October a motion passed by that committee with respect to rail safety, is with air, water and rail safety.

We have looked back and we have seen an increasing number of derailments across Canada, particularly in western Canada and particularly with Canadian National. We felt that it was time that we had an audit of its safety record because it appeared from the information we had that 2005 was a particularly bad year for derailments.

We have seen an example of a derailment in British Columbia, in the Cheakamus River, where the spill of caustic soda into the river basically killed the fish stocks for generations to come. We have seen an example, in the summer of 2006, where a locomotive left the tracks near Lillooet, which resulted in the death of two rail workers and the serious injury of a third. We have seen another incident in Lake Wabamun, in Alberta, where there was oil spilled into a lake. I could go on and on.

Basically, it was the trend toward those kinds of incidents that caused the previous Liberal government and the minister at that time to call for a two-phase review of rail safety, particularly of CN. One phase was to look at the issue of an actual audit of the figures and the second phase was to look at what was called the safety management system.

The reason I mention these in the context of the current bill is because these safety measures are largely what the labour concern of the workers is currently about. They have said it is not the money that they are concerned about, but it is their working conditions.

I would give the example where a decision taken by CN took away the ability of workers to phone in and say that they felt they were unfit to work on a particular shift. They work 12-hour shifts and the question is whether they get adequate time to rest before they have to take another shift as they can be called back on very short notice. They used to be able to say they did not feel fit to work as an engineer or to work as a conductor.

On most trains, and these can be trains that have anywhere from a few cars to 100-plus cars, there are two workers. There is an engineer and a conductor. So, we have two people running a train who are responsible for cars that are 130 tonnes each, in terms of loaded freight cars, and engines that are capable of producing anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower.

These trains have become a concern because of the lack of maintenance and concern about the track conditions and the rolling stock conditions as evidenced by the reports that were finally released, and these were reports that were called for by the previous government. A promise was made that these reports would be released to the public. They were not released to the public until just recently, through an access to information request. However, in that time it resulted in not only what is under the Railway Safety Act a section 31 order, which is from Transport Canada, but in fact a ministerial order, a section 32 order, where for the first time the minister himself had to order certain restrictions on the operation of CN.

The concern we have is that there have been outstanding notices on orders against the railway, 99 of them in this period and some of them in fact going back prior to the year 2000, that had not been answered.

The company claims that 2005 was a particularly bad year. Its record has improved substantially since then. However, the concern is that the level is still well above what it should be, and we see in these reports that we now have access to, phase one and phase two, that the safety issues the workers have talked about as their concerns are valid in my opinion.

We have situations where track has not been maintained properly. We have situations where the reporting of incidents is quite often mirrored on American railroad standards because they are lower than Transport Canada standards for either maintenance of cars or maintenance of engines. We have situations where 53% of the locomotives were deemed to have some kind of problem, ranging from relatively minor to inadequate braking; and that is of course what happened with the engine that jumped the track and the two men died down in Lillooet.

There was a decision, for example, when B.C. Rail, which was a relatively well managed system in the province of British Columbia, was acquired by CN. All the engines in British Columbia had dynamic brakes, a system whereby the electric motors in the trains can be reversed, or the polarity changed, and it can be used as a backup safety system to slow the train down. In fact, I am told by engineers and conductors that they can actually stop the train.

Those engines were sold. I do not know why but they were disposed of and other engines were brought in from other parts of Canada that did not have those features. In some cases there are still engines left, I gather, in which the dynamic brakes for some reason have not been adequately activated, or they have been deactivated.

I have a lot of empathy when I receive emails, letters and calls from rail workers who say that they feel concerned about their safety. That is at the heart of this discussion and the labour dispute that is currently going on.

Having said that, we have to recognize that safety is not just the safety of the rail workers, but it is also the safety of the communities through which the trains pass.

In my riding of North Vancouver we have chlorine tank cars passing through the community every day. We have seen what can happen in Mississauga with a propane tank or when there is a serious chemical spill. All we have to see is a major derailment to see how much destruction the cars can make when they scatter and the damage caused if they rupture, whether it is by a river or in a residential area, or whether it is injuries to railway workers or the public.

We have to ensure as a committee that we focus on this. The minister has commissioned a panel as well to report by October, but I do not think we can wait until October. We need to make this a high priority. Our committee began hearings yesterday and we heard from the first representative, a Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who was the lone survivor of that locomotive accident. It was very touching to hear his testimony about what it meant to him in his life and what it meant to him in terms of his concerns about safety and working on the railways. I have a lot of empathy for the workers.

On the other hand, I have to say, as the Liberal Party critic for the Pacific gateway, that I also have a concern that we continue to ensure that the movement of goods and services, both exports and imports, continue to flow because it is the economic lifeline of the country. We know, for example, that British Columbia is the gateway to the Asia Pacific which is a growing market.

Within 20 years to 25 years, it is estimated China will be either number one or tied for the number one economy in the world. We know that India has a growing economy. We know that Japan, Korea and Taiwan are economies that are important to the trade with Canada. We have to ensure that the facilitation of those goods, once they arrive at the ports, be it through truck, rail or air, is done as smoothly as possible.

We know the devastating effects of interference with that, whether it is a longshoremen or trucking strike that costs millions of dollars a week to have ships sitting idle in a harbour because they cannot be unloaded, or because of a trucking strike or a rail strike. It is just not satisfactory, let alone not being able to get Canadian goods, wheat and other products, to other parts of the world.

What will happen in the very fluid market that is international trade? The Chinese Overseas Shipping Company, COSCO, has nominated Vancouver as a port of first call. If it finds that when it has ships arrive in Vancouver, or Prince Rupert as we are growing a container port there, that it is not reliable because of a variety of reasons, it is going to end up bypassing Vancouver and will go south to Portland, Seattle or Los Angeles. We will just be out of the equation. In other words, we will cut our nose off to spite our face.

We as a government, and as a Parliament, need to ensure that there is adequate investment in port infrastructure. That includes highways, roadways and railways, and part of that aspect is to ensure that the railways are moving efficiently and safely, that we do not have derailments that can cause delays, injuries, and create the kind of tension that we are seeing currently within the CN Rail operation.

While I share and appreciate the concerns that the workers have for the issues currently part of the labour negotiations, and I have spoken with a number of them, I think there are ways in which we can deal with that through our transportation committee, through regulation, and through ensuring that the issues of rail safety are important to the government and to Canada, and that we follow through with appropriate action.

However, I believe that it is also important for the economy that we have the continuation of that service. We cannot afford to have it dismantled or disturbed and creating problems for small businesses as well as medium and large businesses who rely on imports and exports. A delay of a week or a month can be in many cases devastating for these businesses and for many other employees who are affected.

Having said that, I think the issues that have been raised with respect to the need for the back to work legislation are valid. The minister's representation earlier today stated that the discussions have been going on since last September. The contract expired in December. We have had petitions and information from businesses that are affected and from employees who are affected.

Ideally, the labour negotiation process should be allowed to work itself out, but there are some areas that are of national importance, almost what I would call an essential economic service. I feel that it is important for the government to be able to bring that stability in and to let the parties work things out in an environment that allows the service to continue. With the kind of agreement that we would have now, the back to work legislation, hopefully the union and the company will be able within the 90 days that are proposed in this bill to indeed come to a resolution, a negotiated settlement, before there is the imposition of an arbitrated settlement.

If it cannot happen, then we have to think what is good for all of Canada because it is not just British Columbia that we are talking about. We are not just talking about the port of Prince Rupert, the port of Vancouver and the businesses in B.C. We are talking about western Canada. We are talking about all across Canada.

In fact, through the rail system we move goods from Prince Rupert and Vancouver through to Chicago. We have a two day advantage on a natural sea route from Asia. We have that advantage over the U.S. We can get goods into Chicago two days faster than the Americans can by going to the U.S. ports. We need to protect that advantage and ensure that we take the steps and do what we can for a healthy economy.

Basically, what are important are the issues that the union has talked about: personal rest time and ensuring that they are safe as employees to work, that the equipment is safe, and that Transport Canada will ensure that its policies are followed to provide for a safe operation both for the employees, the railway and the communities through which it trains pass.

We have to tackle the issue of derailments. We have to tackle the issue of railway safety, but we also have to tackle the issue, as this bill proposes, to ensure that there is a continuation of those rail services and that the economic backbone of Canada, the economic spine of Canada, is maintained.

Therefore, I am pleased and prepared to support Bill C-46.

The Budget March 27th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, that is basically the problem. I would be happy to comment on the things I like in the budget but I am only given a certain amount of time.

My role as an opposition critic is to point out the shortcomings of this budget and point out areas where the government, hopefully, will listen and make improvements.

The Budget March 27th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, the whole concept of our child care program was early childhood development, not babysitting, not simply paying someone to look after our children but to help them develop.

The quad principle, which was part of the root of our program, was quality, universality, affordability and developmental. It is the developmental part that gets lost, as I see it, in terms of the government's approach to child care.

Certainly national standards make sense. Canadians should be able to move from province to province without feeling that there is a substantial difference in the kinds of basic services that are provided, such as health care and child care.

In the case of health care, for example, we put strings on the money we provided to the provinces, stating that we wanted to focus on reducing wait times.

There are times when the money from the federal government can be given totally to the provinces to decide their priorities. There are other times when, because the federal money is supplementing provincial programs, there should be direction and guidelines provided. We have done that in the past.

The Budget March 27th, 2007

The money was booked, Mr. Speaker, and in fact what has happened is that the choice the Conservative government has said it offers, as I mentioned, is really no choice.

In respect to the member's question about the hours of day care, day care operations in British Columbia operate for more than just eight to five hours. In fact, because workers start their day early many day care operations start their child care services very early in the morning, and those children can stay later, so there is flexibility. It is flexible when we have professionals who are able to provide that service.

The Budget March 27th, 2007

No, Mr. Speaker. First of all, our child care program was a real program. It was negotiated with the provinces and--