House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Thunder Bay—Rainy River (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 21.70% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Points of Order June 20th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, in question period, instead of getting a response or any kind of a straight answer to my question, the hon. parliamentary secretary for FedNor was mathematically challenged regarding my interventions on behalf of my riding. He should have made mention of my numerous speeches here in the House during debates, question period, Standing Order 31 statements, and in committees regarding my riding in northwestern Ontario, so I demand an apology.

Economic Development June 20th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the Ontario government recently announced a budget increase for the northern Ontario heritage fund, money that supports economic development in the north. This increase makes the fund worth $100 million in 2011. In contrast, the similar federal program, FedNor, was cut by $6.4 million.

This is another example of a provincial government doing the right thing while the federal government runs in the opposite direction.

When will the Prime Minister start doing the right thing in northern Ontario and restore FedNor's budget?

Carbon Tax Proposal June 20th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, when I was in university earning my graduate degree in environmental studies, the future of our planet seemed mighty grim. Eagles were disappearing and rivers did not freeze in the winter because they were so contaminated with mercury.

Since that graduation, I have been working on many environmental causes, as a councillor, as a mayor and as a member of Parliament, but yesterday, it all came together. The green shift is a plan that gives us all hope for the future.

Since yesterday's announcement people have been calling. They are excited and have encouraging words. For me, it is with a dynamic sense of optimism that I can tell my constituents that we have a plan that will work; that we have a plan that will help; that we have a plan that will bring about a richer, greener and fairer Canada and will restore that sense of democracy and optimism in our country.

Aeronautics Act June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting that in northwestern Ontario, my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, there are several small airline companies. There is the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority, which is the third busiest airport in Ontario. A number of very small private charter operations and a number of tourist camp operators have their own systems in concert with their tourist camp operations.

As someone who used to be in the insurance industry, not only do I know these operators personally, and they are far from shy people, they will always let me know if there is an issue of concern to them. In addition to the airport authority board, which is rather dynamic and forward thinking, in my meetings with the Canadian Airports Council, it has been pretty unanimous that everyone in these professional organizations and as independent business people have been very much in favour of something that strengthens safety for all passengers in Canada.

Aeronautics Act June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Yukon has made a statement, which is a reasonable one. From the standpoint of northwestern Ontario, I understand for the large number of smaller aircraft the concern is the expense. It is the kind of thing that committee should have on the record as addressing. In many cases in our society there is frequent over-compensation. In this modern era of technology, almost everyone in this room who has a BlackBerry can pretty much find out where they want to go or where they have been. Therefore, the technology need not be so expensive.

Aeronautics Act June 16th, 2008

Thank you for understanding that fact. It is great geography.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that when everybody's goal is primarily aviation safety and security, we really want to show some conclusion to the committee's work rather than risk losing it all and starting from scratch again in the fall. I would really encourage everyone in this House to support the bill.

Hoist motions are one thing. There is a historical precedent for why they are used, but now they are being used as a technique to slow things down and just be obstructionist. I think that in the spirit of compromise among all parties, getting these amendments through should be the goal of this Parliament.

Aeronautics Act June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I read through that huge list of organizations. I would have to say that if we have a committee that has been working for six months and has come to an agreement, especially with the chance of Parliament adjourning perhaps by June 20, there must be some form of compromise to move forward and get that large number of constituencies on board rather than lose all of that work. The committee has been six months in the process; it almost had it a year ago. I have to say that some may feel that the legislation is flawed.

Of course everybody in this House knows that Thunder Bay's airport is the third busiest in Ontario.

Aeronautics Act June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I had been led to believe that there would be an introductory speaker from the government side. Nonetheless, I am ready.

I believe that Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, should proceed.

When I first arrived in the House four years ago, I undertook an exercise that took several months and that was to read Marleau and Montpetit. Many of us here have read it and found it to be absolutely riveting in terms of jurisprudence and parliamentary procedure. I know the hon. member opposite found it exhilarating when I asked him what his comments were in the book review.

Let me just paraphrase what Marleau and Montpetit talk about when they talk about hoist amendments, which originated in British practice and appeared in the 18th century. A hoist amendment enabled the House of Commons to postpone resumption of consideration of a bill. An analysis of hoist amendments moved in the House of Commons since Confederation shows that the cases in which this procedure has been used fall into two specific periods: the first was from 1867 to about 1920 and the second from 1920 to the present day.

The first hoist amendment was moved on November 28, 1867. Prior to 1920, it was the government not the opposition that used hoist amendments most often. Because the House only had a little time for government business during the short sessions of that era, the government sometimes felt obliged to dispose of a great number of private members' bills by using the hoist procedure, so it would have more time to devote to its own legislation. Since 1920, the period set aside for government business has grown to take up the largest share of the time in the House. Hoist amendments have gradually come to be used almost exclusively by the opposition.

From an examination of the precedents, it is clear that hoist amendments were moved to motions for second and third reading during periods when there was considerable tension between the parties. Those amendments rarely passed. Of the scores of cases recorded in Journals, only four succeeded. In each of those four cases, the hoist amendment was moved by the government with the intent of defeating a private member's bill.

Thus, in order to stop the work of the other parties, and not just the three parties but by this very Parliament itself, the NDP has put forward this ancient parliamentary tactic, I believe, just to be obstructionist.

Bill C-7 deals with integrated safety management systems, or as we say in the vernacular SMS. It authorizes the designation of industry bodies to certified persons undertaking certain aeronautical activities. Other powers would be enhanced or added to improve the proper administration of the act, in particular, powers granted to certain members of the Canadian Forces to investigate aviation accidents involving both civilians and military aircraft or an aeronautical facility. This enactment is thus a proactive measure to assist in preventing airplane accidents from occurring in the future.

The opposition's approach at the committee table was clear from day one. Public safety was and is our number one concern not partisan politics as we have seen permeate so much of the government's manoeuvring in the 38th and now the 39th Parliament.

Regrettably, and I must introduce this little negative, the bill did not get through the House in June 2007 as it should have. I think most of us, if not all, were expecting that it would, especially when all members of the committee were working together.

Members of the NDP, who were also working diligently on this in the House, ended up fighting every improvement and then voted to accept them all, coming into the House with a change of mind. That is fine. Such is the way of politics. However, each party seemed to contribute to improve the bill. Government members also demonstrated that they were ready to accept the very good position that all parties had worked diligently to bring forward.

Now, we have a bill that says we have taken into consideration all of those issues and have put into place a safety management system that does not replace the ministerial regulatory oversight required to ensure that the weight of the law is behind all regulations, systems and requirements, that ensure that the public is being served, and that this is always put forward with security and safety first and foremost. If nothing else, that level of cooperation merits supporting this bill.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has already heard from many key witnesses and stakeholders, such as the Air Line Pilots Association, Transport 2000 Canada, the Union of Canadian Transport Employees, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Air Canada Pilots Association, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association, and the Helicopter Association. It heard from unions such as Teamsters Canada, business organizations such as the Canadian Business Aviation Association, transportation associations such as the Air Transport Association of Canada, and airport representatives such as the CAC, the Canadian Airports Council, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. In addition to other organizations, it heard from CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and departmental officials from the Department of National Defence and Transport Canada.

As a party, we listened to witnesses' concerns on the possible reduction of aviation inspectors with the implementation of this system. If Transport Canada were to essentially diminish the role of the inspectorate or eliminate it altogether, Liberals would not support the bill. However, all the witnesses had the same point of view or enjoyed concurrence in one way or another.

The committee dealt with the issues that appeared to focus particularly on safety. Of the concerns that were raised, the committee realized that these were responsible amendments and, thus, responsible amendments were put forward to strengthen the bill.

The committee actually devoted six months to the hearings and that was a very large amplitude and cross-section of stakeholders and witnesses. Some, indeed, were opposed but most were in favour. Many had concerns but that is why we have an amending process.

Most of the amendments made by the three opposition parties were passed and now form part of the legislation before the House. This is an example of a committee doing its work and expecting a forward movement with the bill. Hopefully, a vote will occur and members can actually indicate it in a democratic fashion.

To summarize some of the key amendments, we have provided definitions to explain safety management systems and have updated the International Civil Aviation Organization's standards. There have been several amendments made to the Aeronautics Act over the years but none of these amendments seem to have actually addressed the matter of bringing Transport Canada's standards and regulations up to ICAO standards. The amendment was put forward by the opposition parties.

Another amendment had the minister take responsibility for the development and regulation of aeronautics and the supervision of all matters relating to aeronautics, thus ensuring, hopefully, the highest safety and security standards.

Ensuring that regulatory oversight is not replaced by safety management systems so that safety management systems have to be implemented by each company that operates in the aeronautics industry, whether it be the carriers, the maintenance companies or the suppliers, would have an additional layer of safety available to Canadians who are justifiably concerned when they use airplanes. I note that the hon. member for Charlottetown, in supporting some of these key amendments, was keen to ensure that there is a definition to explain safety management systems.

Those types of hearings, meaning that people are responsive to them, represent what Parliament can do in a minority government that actually listens, acts and agrees on amendments that make the minister responsible for the development of regulations on these matters of supervision. Canadians want to know that we as a nation have taken a leadership role, and that when they get on board an airplane they know it meets our expectations as Canadians to meet the highest possible standards, and rightly so. Do we know of anyone who would want to take a chance on getting on an aircraft? I do not think so.

Further, I note that the hon. member for Charlottetown made mention that the committee devoted six months to hearings. He stated that there was a whole host of stakeholders and witnesses and that some were opposed but most were in favour, that some had concerns, but that is why we had many amendments.

I believe that the hon. member for Charlottetown, in the spirit of compromise and in trying to make the committee system work, really was on the right track. I know he has spoken at length on this matter several times. We hear now in the last days perhaps of this parliamentary session that we should try to pass as much legislation as possible. If we were almost a year late on this bill already, then at the very least we should be moving forward and trying to clear some of this legislation so that people in the public service can actually get to it and start doing their job, which they are eager to do, to tighten this up and to make our skies more secure.

I see that during the previous debates there were more compliments than there were acrimonious accusations. In this House it is always a pleasure to see people getting compliments. I notice that all parties were recognized for their contributions. It is interesting that in coming together on something like this we can recognize that safety is paramount. We cannot say it enough times that safety is first.

Taking into consideration all of these issues, I believe the committee members deserve credit for their six months' worth of work, which is enough in itself, but the introspective scrutiny and lack of partisanship is a compliment of which we can all be proud.

The hon. member for North Vancouver was also active in this matter. Including aspects of the Canadian Forces to assist in the investigation of aviation accidents that involve both civilians and the military is something that can be done in Canada. It would enhance our inspection services and the reliability of a system that has a built-in backup and follow-through for these things.

I was trying to calculate the total number of witnesses and stakeholders. Among them are CUPE, the teamsters, the airline pilots associations, the Canadian airport associations and the Canadian Business Aviation Association. That is just a precis of the organizations that appeared. When we add up all of that input, we are talking well into hundreds of thousands of people converging on one point in everyone's self-interest. Fortunately the public is the main beneficiary of those hundreds of thousands of people represented by those dozens of organizations all aiming for the same thing which is to make sure that those planes that everyone takes land safely.

The concern about the possible reduction of inspectors has been addressed. We have assurances that this will not happen. Judge Moshansky was the commissioner of inquiry into the Air Ontario crash at Dryden. To my continuing sorrow, and I will never forget the day when I heard the news, I lost two of my very best friends in that crash. It was a very emotional day. I can remember it vividly. In having a chance to speak to this now, it is almost impossible to think of this in that context, when one loses one's best friends. At the best of times one wants to make sure that there is some legacy to actually ensure that no one else will have to endure that kind of sorrow.

In summary I will talk about key amendments. First I want to mention the many major organizations that spoke in favour of the bill: the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, Teamsters Canada, Transport 2000, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Canadian Airports Council, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Canadian Business Aviation Association, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada.

These amendments include additional regulation making powers for things such as aircraft emissions and fatigue counter-measures, as well as safety management systems for holders of Canadian aviation documents. Agreed? I hope so. There are new powers comparable to those of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board for the Canadian Forces Airworthiness Investigative Authority to investigate aviation incidents and accidents involving both military and civilian contractors. Agreed? I sure hope so. There are provisions to encourage employees of Canadian aviation document holders to report safety concerns voluntarily without fear of legal or disciplinary action. Supported? I believe that should be so. There are provisions to allow for more self-regulation in low risk areas of the aeronautics industry. Hopefully this would receive unanimous consent. There are additional tools for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to ensure compliance and increased penalties for contravention.

I hope that this bill is passed with its amendments and that everyone supports it when it comes to a vote.

Petitions June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to stand and present this petition from Canadians for Action in Darfur.

The petitioners insist that Canada must act to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur. They outline that since 2003 over 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people have been displaced. The petitioners also call upon the Canadian government to engage with the international community in whatever way is necessary to end these atrocities.

It is interesting that each signature on this petition represents 100 innocent citizens of Darfur who have been killed.

This is primarily the work of Mr. Dan Leroy from Canadians for Action in Darfur and his association. We thank them for their continued involvement and conscientious caring for the people of Darfur.

Income Tax Act June 10th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill because originally 15 months ago I was asked to present the bill and in fact had already had it drafted by the clerk. Things were going very smoothly until I realized that my buy Canada motion for public transit was pretty much a priority for myself and my riding. I am really glad to see this surface again in this way.

In particular, my sister-in-law, who is a very highly respected broker, will appreciate this as will John Litt who is an Ontario Real Estate Association representative and had been a real champion of this issue. Mr. Litt and his team deserve full marks for encouraging this.

Just as an aside, the City of Thunder Bay has the highest rate of home ownership in Canada and I am proud to announce that. It also has the second highest rate of home ownership for people with recreational properties. Some call it cottages, others cabins, and in our neck of the woods it is called camp.

As mayor, I met frequently with the Thunder Bay Real Estate Board and as MP I am regularly briefed by its representatives.

When this came forward, it seemed to me like a very natural type of bill that should be proceed in a very regular way. The purpose of the bill is to raise the limits from $20,000 to $25,000 per plan holder with future indexing. Let us face it, we really do not want to come here every 16 years to do this. To bring it to the rate of inflation would bring the plan closer to its value.

Let us look at the stats when it was introduced in 1992. Since that time average residential home prices have risen 66%. The consumer price index is now up 27 points over the same period. If we use that $20,000 under the plan adjusted for inflation, it would now come to $25,400. Therefore, the bill itself is very reasonable and very fair in terms of what it intends to do as compared to the original base.

Just as an aside, of course, in November 2005 gasoline was 79¢ and now it is twice as much at $1.48, so I will ask members to research their governments to find out what gasoline prices were under which government.

When we make a case for raising the limits, it is the fundamental argument as the case for the plan itself. Canadians can save for retirement and save for a home simultaneously. Previously, one had to make that decision: retirement, home, or in many ways diluting both of those ambitions.

The Canadian Real Estate Association has been successful in making the pitch that home ownership is the cornerstone of retirement for the vast majority of Canadians and they really should not be placed in a situation where they have to choose. This plan has allowed Canadians to save for retirement and leaving the option to borrow against RRSPs at a later date to access ownership.

The fact that we have come to the realization that it should be indexed means that we do not have to play catch-up. Members of the Canadian Real Estate Association will realize that this will be good legislation that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. Because it does not divert retirement funds from the goal of retirement security, we know that the bill has further merit.

I would like to quote from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It said: “The plan is a means of promoting homeownership and homeownership is good public policy. The reasons are strongly embedded in the fabric of Canadian society. Surveys show that owning a home is an aspiration of the majority of Canadians. Homeownership makes better citizenship, it represents an important national asset, and it provides a sense of being part of free enterprise. There are major economic and employment spin-off effects from housing, directly and indirectly”.

We have been under the impression that home ownership has increased four points, from 62% to 66%, over a 10-year period, from 1991 to 2001, and the plan can take a considerable amount of that credit. We also know that mortgage insurance flexibility and its expansion along with the dropping of interest rates have also been positive contributors to that.

We must do everything we can to encourage people to save. Certainly, research by the Vanier Institute of the Family shows that the overall increase in home ownership has been driven entirely by those aged 55 and over. Their ownership rate increased by 68%. The question is: How can we get younger people to save and realize the dream of owning their own homes?

The Vanier Institute reports that, on the surface, the increasing proportion of Canadians who own their homes looks like good news, indicating that home ownership is a realistic goal for all. That goal has proved to be attainable for older Canadians, but it remains to be seen whether or not, over time, the same proportion of younger Canadians will be able to make the dream of home ownership a reality.

This is another step we can take to make it easier for younger people to own their own homes. Clearly, the program has been working, is working, and this bill would make it work even better.

Members of Parliament, over the past year or 15 months, have all generally been supportive of the proposal to raise the limits. The fact that it exists comes from two parties. Former minister Don Mazankowski initially introduced it and the current hon. member for LaSalle—Émard and former prime minister made permanent this legislation. Therefore, we owe a great deal to two parties for what we have today. If people really wanted to argue against them, they would be talking about pre-tax dollars, but I would think that argument would ignore the fact that an effective mechanism is in place to protect the integrity of retirement savings.

There are at least three points that I would like to make. First, the borrowed savings are invested in a principal residence, which of course is the pillar of security. Second, the plan would require the borrower to repay the plan over 15 years. Third, as an incentive to repayment, funds not repaid are fully taxable. That should get a healthy rate of repayment and statistics show that it has been well accepted and repayment rates are very positive.

We really do not want to get into a situation, such as is becoming the trend with our friends to the south, where mortgages of 35, 40 or 50 years are now commonplace. It probably means that people will never own their own homes. We have already discussed the value, pride, investment, and basically the value system that home ownership provides.

The home buyers' plan is unique among support plans. It encourages savings and maximizes down payments. These are important. Heaven knows that Canadians want to avoid the disastrous subprime situation.

Let us face it, this is a very modest request. We are all going to support and endorse it, I hope. Paying off a mortgage is key to fighting inflation. There are 90,000 members of the Canadian Real Estate Association encouraging us to do this. We have a national housing policy. With all of these things combined, including the good work of the Canadian Real Estate Association, the local brokerages, and all regional real estate associations that are all asking us to do this, the least we could do, in an all party way, is unanimously endorse this bill.