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Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Oak Ridges—Markham (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 28.30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Food and Drugs Act June 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. member mention that he would agree with some areas of the bill. I think it is the same on this side of the House. That is why we are moving forward to refer it to committee, so it can have a look at it and have amendments from a variety of stakeholders from across the country and see what we can do to improve the bill. We know it is imperfect and I think the member would agree with me on that. Why not move it to the next step? Why stop it here?

Food and Drugs Act June 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I will comment on the process, but I will mention a couple of things with regard to the doctor shortages.

The immigration bill has passed, without our support. If the parliamentary secretary is thinking the bill will solve the problems he has as the parliamentary secretary, and Canadians endure, he is dreaming in Technicolor.

In terms of the process, it is such that we will now move the bill to the committee and the committee will do an intensive study. We will hear from the brightest minds and most of the shareholders who are involved with the bill. We have looked at our agenda and we will bring Bill C-51 to the committee's agenda upon our return in the fall. At that time, we will discuss and hear witnesses from across the country. If people are watching and would like to be witnesses, they should get in touch with our clerk and she will ensure they are added to the list of witnesses. We like to hear from everyone.

This morning my assistant opened over 100 envelopes with the same message inside. The names of different people were added on to the letter of request or comments that people had made. Therefore, I believe there is a movement, in terms of Bill C-51, looking to stop the bill dead in its tracks right now.

However, we will send it committee, work on it and come up, hopefully, with an improved plan than the one with which the parliamentary secretary gave us to work, which is not enough.

Food and Drugs Act June 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

First and foremost, as vice-chair of the health committee, I would like to say that we have looked at some of these issues and it is a pleasure to see the parliamentary secretary here to support this bill and to debate it.

First, the bill looks at modernizing the regulatory system. What does that mean? It means that because the act was introduced in 1953 and is a little bit older than I am, we can see that it needs some improvement, just as I do on a regular basis.

Second, it looks to improve the surveillance of benefits and risks of therapeutic products throughout their life cycles. At the committee, we have been looking at licensing or surveillance of medication.

At this time, what happens with medication is that some pre-market tests are done, but we all understand that pre-market tests cannot be done on young children or on elderly people, pregnant women and so on. At the same time, when products are introduced into the market, they are taken by those people as well, so we have been doing a study on post-market surveillance to see what can be done and how to improve the system of post-market surveillance.

The post-market surveillance assessment will be done soon and I believe the report should be hitting the House either this week or next week, hopefully before we rise. The report will have some recommendations about which I am not at liberty to speak at this time.

The other issue this bill looks at is improved compliance in reporting adverse reactions. As for adverse reactions when someone takes a medication, the medication is either reported back to their doctor or not reported at all. So far, our information tells us that only 10% of adverse reactions are reported.

We have been wondering about that. We have been consulting with stakeholders from across the country, the people who really do this work, such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian pharmaceutical associations, the Canadian Nurses Association and so on. We will be coming up with some recommendations on those issues before the House rises, but what is important is that the issue of human resources for health professionals is not being dealt with.

When the Minister of Health appeared in front of the committee, we asked if he was aware of how many Canadians did not have a doctor, a health professional. At that time, which was about three months ago, he was not aware. Further, when we asked if he was aware of what the doctor shortages were in Canada, he was unaware. The third question was the clincher and that was about whether he had a plan. He obviously had a plan, but having a plan for improving the situation of health care professionals in Canada and not being aware of the first two questions begs the question of how he could be fixing a problem without being aware that it exists.

The minister came up very short in front of the committee. I was very surprised when he did not know that three million to five million Canadians do not have a doctor and that in Canada there is a doctor shortage of about 26,000 physicians. They were needed yesterday, not tomorrow, not next year, not 10 years from now, but yesterday.

Because the minister said he had a plan, we asked him what his plans were in the health department to fix the human resources situation. He told us that residency spots in Ontario were available. When we asked how many, he said they had been increased by roughly 100.

I was born in a very small village and my math may not be so good, but when three to five million Canadians do not have a physician and we are told that 24,000 to 26,000 physicians are needed to make sure that Canadians are looked after, it does not take a genius to figure out that we need an aggressive plan for human resources in the health care system. The minister's aggressive plan was to increase the number of residency spots in Ontario by 100.

Twenty-six thousand doctors are needed, yet we are increasing that number by only 100. It will take a zillion years, let me note for the parliamentary secretary, to solve this huge problem. It is a problem in the beautiful riding of Oak Ridges--Markham, the largest riding in Canada when it comes to eligible voters. We need more health care professionals in our riding.

I would like to go back to Bill C-51 and put on the record a number of emails that I have received from people in my riding.

Linda wrote to me and said:

If I prepare apple cider vinegar steeped with a few herbs like sage and lemon balm in my garden for a general winter tonic to ward off flu or colds, or to give in case of sore throat, I could find myself in jail if I give this to my children or husband or give a jar to my neighbour or a friend. Or if I make some skin cream for my son's eczyma from beeswax from some herbs growing in my garden I could be thrown in jail....

She went on to say:

I don't trust Health Canada to keep my family safe. I don't trust the health minister to keep my family safe...

If this bill does pass, and I pray it does not, I will be contacting you and your colleagues....

Another email is from Angela, who says:

I wanted to write to you to see if there is anything you can do to help out with Bill C-51, which the government is trying to pass as law. If passed, Bill C-51 will ban our access to all vitamins, herbs and alternative therapies.

I would like to read a couple more, with the House's indulgence. The next email is from Rosie, who says:

You might remember chatting with Jeff and myself...a few weeks ago...I am writing to protest the passing of Bill C-51 in its current version.

She says that we should take it out of here, pass it on to the committee and have a look at it at committee. That is a great idea. That is what our party is suggesting.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will finish with an email from Marjorie, one of the many that we have received. She says:

By now, many people in the Natural Health Product (NHP) community are pulling their hair out over Bill C-51, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act.

I end my speech with that.

Government Policies May 9th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has really failed to live up to its promises.

Remember when health care was one of the five priorities of the government? No? That is all right, neither does the government.

Remember when the Prime Minister said the Conservative government would not monkey around with income trusts? It would be unfair to seniors, the Conservatives said. Well, they did not just monkey around with them, they ripped them apart like King Kong with a biplane.

There is one area where the government has overachieved, one area where the Conservatives are performing at a level beyond anything seen in Ottawa since the days of, well, Brian Mulroney. This is one more area where the government is going to surpass the achievements of Brian Mulroney. Mulroney was thrown out of office after two elections. The current government will get it done in one.

Food and Drugs Act May 1st, 2008

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the hon. member, I would like to ask him a number of questions.

My constituency office has received letters from the natural food products industry. I am wondering if the hon. member's office has also received letters from that industry. What is his party's policy on this issue?

Could he speak to the issue of whether or not advertising by drug manufacturers will be affected by the bill? Will drug manufacturers be able to advertise directly to the public?

10,000 Trees for the Rouge April 7th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, Sunday, April 27, marks the 19th anniversary of 10,000 Trees for the Rouge, a community initiative to reforest the Rouge Valley.

Covering 47 square kilometres in the eastern part of the greater Toronto area on lands that border the surrounding municipalities, including part of my riding, the Rouge Valley is an important green space in the most urbanized area of Canada. So far, the 10,000 Trees campaign has reforested over 140 acres of land.

Last year, 2,000 people volunteered to preserve the beauty of the Rouge through the planting of 5,000 trees. In previous years, my wife, children and I planted trees alongside many of my constituents.

This being one of the largest single-day tree planting initiatives in Canada, the volunteers for 10,000 Trees deserve our appreciation, recognition and many thanks.

Kidney Disease March 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I wear a green ribbon today to mark World Kidney Day. Kidney disease can hit at any age. Today and every day about 14 Canadians find out their kidneys have failed. If not treated, they may die within days or weeks.

It is imperative that we raise awareness about these vitally important organs. We need to bring attention to organ donation because kidney transplantation saves lives and it is not as expensive as dialysis. Yet there is a shortage of kidneys for donation in Canada.

We can all do our part by speaking frankly with our families about organ donation, by informing loved ones about detection and symptoms of kidney disease and, most important, by teaching ourselves about how to keep our kidneys healthy.

The Budget March 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood mentions two good points. When the Minister of Finance for Canada stands up and trashes one of the largest provinces in the country, I do not call that responsible government.

Even if that were true, the Minister of Finance is the man who is supposed to be selling Canada, not only to Canadians but right across the world. He must find ways to make that a little bit sweeter, not put so much vinegar in his speech, especially when it comes to speaking about a province such as Ontario which has been so prosperous in the last 10 years.

There has been somewhat of a change in economic fortunes in the last couple of years. It is coincidental that we have a change in government federally, but maybe there is some truth to it. I will not put vinegar into my words and say that it was totally dependent on the new Conservative government that a downturn is happening, but we--

The Budget March 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, when I mentioned mismanagement, I mentioned it in the context of the Conservative government saying that the Liberals have been big spenders and have not been able to balance budgets.

On the contrary, we had eight consecutive balanced budgets with surpluses in the past. This is the only area where I am mentioning mismanagement.

In terms of repaying the debt, I am in agreement as most Canadians would be, that it is very prudent to make sure that we repay our debt. It is also equally important to make sure that we do not repay our debt and forget about the people who need the programs. We have to make sure we have a good balance when we are dealing with the two issues together.

The Budget March 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the budget today.

Last month marked an important milestone for me, but it was not the budget. Forty years ago, on February 24, 1968, I arrived in Canada at the age of 13. In one month, I would say “no English” and in two months I would say, “no speak any English”. Today, I am an elected representative of the largest riding in Canada. There are few countries in the world where a newcomer, who arrived without a command of either official language, could find himself commenting on the national affairs as an equal alongside parliamentarians whose roots go back much further. That is one reason why Canada is a blessed country.

I intend to use this opportunity to speak to the budget, a budget that will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions of Canadians.

It should have been a budget that would prepare the Canadian economy for the hard times forecast for the near future without losing sight of the responsibility we have as parliamentarians to help ordinary Canadians get through those hard times. We cannot ignore the demands the economic downturn is placing on the federal budget, nor can we ignore Canadians in need of help.

I would like to focus my remarks on a few issues that I feel are important as they relate to the budget.

Events ranging from the high Canadian dollar to the U.S. economic downturn to high energy prices are adversely affecting the Canadian economy. Canada, as a trading nation, has long depended on stable international markets and this economic situation should concern us all.

Many dynamic manufacturing, life sciences and high tech enterprises have operations in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. These enterprises employ hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of people in the area. Plus, the local economy in my riding is tied to the largest economy of the greater Toronto area in southern Ontario. Many constituents, like Canadians across the country, are not sheltered from the effects of an ailing economy.

The impact of the economic downturn on manufacturing in Canada has been especially troubling. More than 130,000 Canadian manufacturing well-paid, high-tech jobs have been lost in the last year alone. If current economic trends continue, more jobs may be lost. For this reason, it was important for the budget to invest in Canadian families.

However, It fell short in several areas. I would like to focus on immigration, trade, health care and infrastructure spending.

I will start with immigration. Of the more than 200,000 newcomers who choose Canada every year, many settle in the major urban centres in Canada that are home to key industries. Many settle in my riding. Just last month I played host to a group of about 50 new Canadian citizens eager to contribute to our society.

The budget announced several measures to modernize the immigration system and streamline the process so that we can swiftly address our labour needs. As important as it is to improve processing, we also need to assist people once they are in Canada. It is important that we tailor programs to meet their needs and help them to integrate successfully into Canadian society.

The budget does not address foreign credentials. According to the Gandalf Group survey of the top 1,000 companies' executives in Canada, recognizing foreign credentials is one of the measures executives are looking for the government to implement. The government's decision to create a foreign credential referral service a few months ago fell short of addressing one of the major challenges facing new Canadians.

During the last election, the Conservatives promised to set up an agency for foreign credential assessment and recognition. Instead, they announced that Service Canada offices would do little more than refer people to provincial credential offices.

Turning to trade, we have learned from the firsthand experiences of many witnesses, who have testified at the trade committee, that Canada needs to diversify its trade relationships. It is never a good idea for business to put all its eggs in one basket. The same holds true for a country like Canada with so many vital export industries. That is why we are exploring the pros and cons of a trade agreement with South Korea in committee.

The business community has been requesting that we strengthen our representation in India and China. The Liberal Party has promised to harness business, community and research links through the creation of a south Asian foundation of Canada. Much like the Asia-Pacific foundation of Canada, its south Asian foundation counterpart would help Canada tap into the growing dynamism of the Indian subcontinent.

Such measures, designed to foster trade diversification, would help strengthen Canada's competitiveness over time. The government has chosen to concentrate on the Americas, but vision is needed for Canada to remain competitive in the “Asian century”.

Moving on to health, Canadians expect parties to work together to improve health care. This is especially true in minority government situations. It is especially true if we are to steer Canada's public health care system through tough economic times. As the vice-chair of the health committee, I am reminded weekly of health care challenges, from wait times to doctor shortages.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, almost five million Canadians do not have a physician. I have raised this issue with the health minister in committee. We have to find ways to continue to address these shortcomings, but the budget fails to do so.

The party opposite campaigned on wait times but dropped the ball in this budget. The budget sets aside funds for health and safety initiatives, but wait times are not among them.

Finally, on infrastructure spending, my party would have budgeted $3 billion a year as a contingency reserve to protect us from deficits or times of need, such as natural disasters. This budget left us with projected surpluses of $2.3 billion for 2008-09 and $1.3 billion for the next year, well below the $3 billion contingency fund that Liberals consider the bare minimum to address economic shocks.

As the representative of some of Canada's fastest growing municipalities, such as Markham, Stouffville, Richmond Hill and King, I know firsthand how important issues relating to roads, public transit and energy supply are to ordinary Canadians. When I speak to constituents in my riding, traffic congestion often comes up in conversation.

We can remain fiscally responsible by allocating a portion of government surplus to debt reduction while also allocating money to fix Canada's infrastructure. However, this budget leaves Canada with few additional contingency funds, owing to previous spending patterns and tax cuts.

It is ironic that the government chose to attack our prudent finance plan, claiming we would drive Canada into deficit. This is to distract from its own financial mismanagement, its own program spending and tax cuts.

These are some of the shortcomings in the budget, as I see them.