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Last in Parliament September 2008, as NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 50.85% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Charles Caccia May 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to pay tribute to the life of the Hon. Charles Caccia, a distinguished former colleague and my predecessor as Dean of the House of Commons.

Charles was the member for Toronto--Davenport for 36 years and, while he was here, he established a reputation as one who practised politics with dignity, with principle, with civility, with independence of mind and with a deep, abiding and well-informed concern for the environment.

It is not an exaggeration to say that had Charles Caccia been listened to more often over the years by both Liberal and Conservative governments, many of our ecological problems would be far less difficult than they are today. Unfortunately, he was the minister of the environment for only a very short time.

His concern for the environment was part of a larger ethic of care that made him an advocate for peace and social justice in general and a mentor to many in this place. I worked with him in the mid-eighties when we were our party's respective environment critics, on the environment committee, on the special committee on acid rain and on many issues of mutual concern over the years.

Many others will also gratefully remember the excellent work he did more recently as chair of the environment committee for over a decade, producing critical reports that challenged his own party and government.

Parliament could have used a lot more Charles Caccias. May his memory be instructive now and in Parliaments to come.

Bill Dance April 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, last week was a sad week for Transcona and the larger community of railroaders in Winnipeg and across Canada. Hundreds of people gathered last Friday to mourn the sudden passing and to celebrate the life of Bill Dance, who died one day after his 55th birthday and only a short time before he was to receive his first pension cheque, after 39 years of service as a conductor.

Bill was the treasurer of UTU Local 1874 for 30 years, served on numerous committees and, as the auditor for Canada of the UTU for CN and CP, was very helpful to many locals across the country. He was a great friend and supporter of the cause of working people, and I personally will cherish many fond memories of working with him on issues of mutual concern and in various election campaigns.

To his fellow railroaders, to his wife Pat and his children, Leila, Twila and Corey, and particularly to his grandson, Braeden, who was with him when this tragedy occurred, I offer the hope that the memory of a good and faithful life that many will always be grateful for will be of comfort in the days and years ahead.

Mark Rose April 3rd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise today to have the House take note of the death of a friend and distinguished former colleague, the hon. Mark Rose, who died on March 8 at the age of 84.

Mark Rose sat in this House from 1968-74 and again from 1979-83, after which he served in the B.C. legislature until 1991. My first memory of him was as chairman of the NDP caucus from 1979-83, during a time when very important decisions to be made, combined with many rookies like myself and the member for Toronto Centre, made for impassioned internal debate.

His experience and perspective were greatly valued at that critical time, but Mark's greatest gift to us all down through the years was his great sense of humour and sharp wit, which he combined with a good-natured personality to be an outstanding example of the kind of parliamentary civility that we so often mourn the lack of in contemporary politics.

He was partisan but not mean. Perhaps the talented musician and music professor in him, which we also remember with great admiration, just could not contemplate playing a sour note.

To his wife, Isabel, his three daughters and extended family, we express our sincere condolences and gratitude for a life well lived in the service of the common good.

Point of Order April 3rd, 2008

Before proceeding to the orders of the day, I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on Friday, March 7, 2008, by the hon. Government House Leader alleging the inappropriateness of the response provided by the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, to an oral question raised by the hon. member for Churchill during oral questions that day.

I would like to thank the government House leader for raising this matter and the hon. member for Wascana for his intervention.

The government House leader contended that in response to a question posed by the member for Churchill regarding the agenda of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the answer provided by the member for Hull—Aylmer was inappropriate because it was substantive and partisan and, therefore, did not follow the usual practice for this kind of response. He also added that this constituted a breach of the rules of the House that was deliberate and calculated.

The opposition House leader argued that the response given by the committee vice-chair was within the rules of the House since it referred explicitly to the agenda of the committee.

Let me begin by putting this point of order in context. It is well established that questions to committee chairs, with the emphasis on questions, should be strictly restricted to requests for information concerning matters of simple committee administration rather than the substance of their proceedings.

In a ruling on May 20, 1970, on page 7126 of the Debates, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux clearly defined the limits of this line of questioning when he stated:

… the only questions which are acceptable when directed to the chairman of a committee are questions which relate to procedural matters—whether a meeting is to be held, whether a committee will be convened, at what time a committee will be held, and so on; … I think there has to be a very strict limit on questions that may be asked chairmen of committees.

Furthermore, House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 429 states:

Questions seeking information about the schedule and agenda of committees may be directed to chairs of committees. Questions to the Ministry or a committee chair concerning the proceedings or work of a committee may not be raised.

Our practice in this regard seems quite clear.

In fact, as recently as February 12, the Speaker had occasion to address the issue of questions to committee chairs and hon. members will recall that he reminded the House of the narrow parameters of questions that are acceptable.

He also took the opportunity to underline the Chair's very limited powers in determining what constitutes an appropriate response to such a question. Specifically, he acknowledged that the Speaker was not the judge of the nature or quality of the response and that the Chair was, in the matter of responses to questions, limited to the language used. Thus, he stated in part:

If the response is not an answer to the question, I cannot rule the response out of order unless unparliamentary language is used in the response....

Accordingly, in the case complained of, while it appears that the response includes remarks that were unnecessary simply to provide information about the committee’s schedule, in the view of the Chair, those remarks--superfluous to requirements as they may be--nonetheless cannot be construed as unparliamentary and so there are no grounds for ruling them out of order.

I confess that I am somewhat surprised to find the Chair being asked to examine the procedural acceptability of a response during question period. Whatever certain commentators may claim with regard to the prerogatives of the Speaker, the House of Commons has never, to my knowledge, required the Chair to be the arbiter of the appropriateness, completeness or even relevance of responses given to questions during question period. Hence, the old saw that this 45 minute period each day is called question period and not answer period.

However, I must say that I have some sympathy with the concerns that continue to be expressed by members about this category of question. Questions to committee chairs, once rare and exceptional, have lately been used more frequently. This trend and the repeated procedural squabbling it has occasioned prompts me to inform the House that in future when considering the procedural acceptability of such questions, the Chair intends to demand strict adherence to the intended practice, namely, the scheduling and agenda of committee meetings. I am counting on the cooperation of all hon. members in this regard.

At the same time, I strongly encourage committee chairs or vice-chairs, who are the only members in a position to answer these kinds of questions, to do so in a spirit of fair play and in keeping with the very specific information-seeking strictures that apply to members asking these questions.

I thank the House for its attention.

Donald Cameron MacDonald March 11th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the life of Donald Cameron MacDonald, former leader of the Ontario CCF and Ontario NDP, who died on Saturday, March 8, at the age of 94.

Donald was often called the best premier Ontario never had. During his 27 years in the legislature, he established a reputation for a principled pragmatic opposition from the political left that New Democrats remember with gratitude and admiration, and which Canada as a country acknowledged when he received the Order of Canada in 2003.

Donald, who served with the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II, was one of the leaders in that generation who, having went through the dirty thirties and the war, emerged with a terrific determination to build a better world. He helped create the kind of Canada that most Canadians not only value but regard as crucial to our self-understanding. I know I speak for many when I offer thanks for a wonderful life, a happy warrior whose hope for social justice inspired all who knew him, myself included.

I offer my sincere condolences to his wife, Simone, and to all his family, and appreciation for a long life, well lived.

Firefighters December 5th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, recently I had the honour to attend the Winnipeg Fire Fighters Annual Charity Ball.

I would like to congratulate Mr. Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, Local 867, on a successful evening and extend my thanks and the gratitude of my constituents for the work that firefighters and paramedics do every day.

When others are rushing out away from danger, they are rushing in to protect, to rescue and sometimes to die in the line of duty.

Tragically, this was the case for two Winnipeg firefighters this last year, so the event was also an opportunity to honour and thank the families of Captain Harold Lessard and Captain Tom Nichols.

I would also like to commend Mr. Martin Johnson, a constituent of mine, for his leadership over the years in regard to the Fire Fighters Burn Fund. It has been an honour to work with and for such people.

Employment Insurance Act November 22nd, 2007

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, standing in the name of the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform for having raised this issue as well as the hon. Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his comments.

In his presentation, the hon. parliamentary secretary argued that clause 2 of the bill would create an employment insurance account that is outside the consolidated revenue fund, thus transferring money out of the consolidated revenue fund into the employment insurance account where money would no longer be available for any appropriations Parliament may make. He further argued that Bill C-357 would change the duties of the Employment Insurance Commission by allowing it to deposit assets for the financial institution and to invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return. Finally, he expressed concern that clause 5 would increase the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen.

The hon. parliamentary secretary claimed that these arguments were supported by a ruling delivered by the Speaker on June 13, 2005, concerning Bill C-280, also entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, and nearly identical to Bill C-357.

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine countered that there is no basis for the claim that this bill would bring about “additional” or “new” expenditures and that the transfer of revenue to an independent fund would not change the circumstances, manner and purposes by which Canada's Employment Insurance Commission will set the premiums and manage its revenue. Although he acknowledged that a royal recommendation would be necessary if the bill were seeking to withdraw revenue from the government's consolidated revenue fund to be used for purposes other than those described in the act, he claimed that this was not the case since the purpose of the bill would not alter anything in the current legislation.

He further argued that having Canada's Employment Insurance Commission invest assets to achieve a maximum rate of return did not constitute a new purpose for the fund since the federal government was “investing” these public monies to pay down the Canadian debt.

He concluded by saying that adding 13 new commissioners will be financed by a small increase in expenses, which will no longer appear as an expenditure from the consolidated revenue fund given that the employment insurance fund will no longer be a part of the consolidated revenue fund.

After examining Bill C-357, the Chair was struck, as was the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, by its similarity to Bill C-280. Indeed, the proposed amendments to sections 71 and 72 of the Employment Insurance Act included in Bill C-357 are in many respects virtually identical to those in Bill C-280.

For instance, like in Bill C-280, the proposed section 72 in Bill C-357 would credit moneys from the consolidated revenue fund to the commission, which would then place it into a new and separate account, one that would be outside the consolidated revenue fund.

Today, moneys in the consolidated revenue fund are available for eventual expenditure for purposes of claims under the Employment Insurance Act. With the passage of Bill C-357, these funds would no longer be available because, in effect, they have been spent, that is, transferred out of the consolidated revenue fund to a separate and independent account outside the consolidated revenue fund.

When the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities sought clarification regarding the provisions of Bill C-280 as it related to the royal recommendation, the Chair ruled, on June 13, 2005, that:

Such a transfer, in my view, constitutes an appropriation within the meaning of section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and for this reason a royal recommendation is required in respect of clause 2 of the Bill.

The Chair sees no reason to reach a different conclusion on this provision of Bill C-357 than the one that was reached at that time on Bill C-280.

In relation to the argument that the proposed change to subsection 72(6) of the Employment Insurance Act found in Bill C-357 creates new duties for the commission in terms of managing and investing amounts paid into the employment insurance account, the Chair does not accept the argument put forward by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that the federal government's use of moneys in the consolidated revenue fund to pay down the Canadian debt constitutes an authority to spend funds for a new purpose.

In addition, the Chair is of the view that the bill's proposed alteration of the duties of the EI Commission to enable the spending of public funds by the commission, namely, the investment of public funds to achieve a maximum rate of return, is a new purpose and requires a royal recommendation.

Finally, the increase in the number of commissioners on the Employment Insurance Commission from its current four to seventeen also clearly requires a royal recommendation. Although the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine contended that these expenses would not come from the consolidated revenue fund but rather from the newly created employment insurance fund, clause 5 of the bill clearly calls on the governor in council to appoint these new commissioners. Given that the current commissioners are remunerated, it follows that the proposed new commissioners would also be paid. As such, the addition of these new commissioners would involve an additional appropriation of a part of the public revenue.

Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, the debate is currently on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

Lord Selkirk Boy Scout Pipe Band October 23rd, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I recently attended the 50th anniversary reunion of Winnipeg's Lord Selkirk Boy Scout Pipe Band. It was a great event but, as an alumni, the best part was the fact that the founding pipe major and instructor, Pipe Major Robert Fraser, was on hand to help us celebrate.

Bob Fraser, originally from Arbroath, Scotland, is still an instructor with the band at 85 years of age and has taught literally hundreds of boys over the years to play the great highland bagpipe, all without any fee ever being charged because, in his view, passing on a culture is something one does for the sheer joy of it.

Bob Fraser also passes on to his students the example of his patience, good humour and all around gentlemanly way of being.

I congratulate the band but, even more so, I send a great big thanks to Bob Fraser. Lang may his lum reek.

Business of the House October 17th, 2007

Before we begin private members' business today, I would like to remind the House that yesterday the Speaker made a statement in which he reminded the House that all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the order paper during the previous session are reinstated to the order paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation of the first session. This also means that those items on the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to committee or sent to the Senate.

Just as individual items of private members' business continue their legislative progress from session to session, the Chair's rulings on these same items likewise survive prorogation. Specifically, there are six bills on which the Chair either ruled or commented with regard to the issue of the royal recommendation. The purpose of this statement is to remind the House of those rulings or statements.

Members will recall that on May 4 the Speaker made a statement expressing concern regarding the spending provisions contemplated by two bills, namely: Bill C-357, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, standing in the name of the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Bill C-362, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirement), standing in the name of the member for Brampton West.

Just as was done last May, the Chair invites members who would like to make arguments regarding the need for a royal recommendation for these two bills or any of the other bills on the order of precedence to do so at an early opportunity.

Members will also recall that during the last session some private members' bills were found by the Speaker to require a royal recommendation. At the time of prorogation, there were four such bills on the order of precedence or in committee. Let us review briefly the situation in each of these four cases.

Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits),standing in the name of the member for Acadie—Bathurst, was before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of persons with disabilities. The Chair ruled, on March 23, 2007, that the bill, in its present form, needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Bill C-284, An Act to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act (Canada access grants), standing in the name of the member for Halifax West, was awaiting debate at report stage. On November 9, 2006, the Chair had ruled that the bill, in its form at second reading, needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation. In committee all clauses of the bill were deleted. In its present eviscerated form, Bill C-284 need no longer be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Bill C-303, an act for early learning and child care, standing in the name of the member for Victoria, was awaiting debate at report stage in the House. The Chair ruled on November 6, 2006, that the bill, in its form at second reading, needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation. The Chair finds that the amendments reported back from committee do not remove the requirement that the bill be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Finally, Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), standing in the name of the member for Laurentides—Labelle, was at third reading in the House. The Chair ruled, also on November 6, 2006, that the bill, in its form at second reading, needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation and reminded members, on April 18, 2007, that the amendments reported back from committee did not remove this requirement.

Consistent with past practice, although today's debate on Bill C-269 may proceed, the Chair wishes to remind members that the question on third reading of the bill in its present form will not be put unless a royal recommendation is received.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Rail Transportation June 7th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter that I have raised before in this House and that is the growing length of trains and the subsequent length of time the trains take to clear a crossing.

Waits of 10 to 15 minutes are not uncommon. This is a problem in many constituencies but it is particularly acute in Transcona where constituents report that some crossings are tied up for close to half an hour because of switching in and out of the nearby yard.

I urge the Rail Safety Task Force, headed by former transport minister, Doug Lewis, to look into the effect that these 10,000 or 11,000 foot, or two mile trains, are having on public safety and community access to emergency services. Otherwise, it may be only a matter of time before someone in an emergency situation is sacrificed to a railway bottom line.