- On the Parliament site
Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Mississauga West (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2000, with 63.20% of the vote.
Statements in the House
The Budget March 25th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I know you are giving me some leeway and I appreciate it. You will not have to give me leeway very much longer. I appreciate the question from my hon. colleague.
Some things go wrong in a ship of state, if you will, as large as the government. We are close to approaching $200 billion in our total budget expenditures so it is a big organization and some mistakes occurred. I am very disappointed at the stuff we are hearing and I know that my constituents are disappointed.
Perhaps people who have voted for the government in the past are thinking that maybe they will not this time. I am sure that is good news for those opposite, but why is it? It is because they are upset at what they perceive as criminal wrongdoing, as someone who did not perhaps watch the purse strings very closely.
I do not say that we need to be blind and so defensive that we should just ignore that. That is not what is happening. The Prime Minister has ordered investigations. The RCMP is investigating. There will be charges laid. People made mistakes, and I would not call them mistakes. Obviously, if there was criminal activity, it was done with intent and people who did that will have to pay.
At the end of the day, that does not mean that we should throw out all the wonderful accomplishments of the government under the former Prime Minister and in which the current Prime Minister will lead the government after the next election.
I still believe very strongly in the record of the Liberal Party in this country and will always defend it.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I will at least hold up the budget while I answer, how is that?
It would have an impact on the budget, I do not deny that. However, the vast majority of nominations are not contentious. They are certainly not like the one we saw in Hamilton East--Stoney Creek or Mississauga--Erindale. The vast majority are even unopposed, where there is not a big challenge or an issue.
Therefore, I do not know. However, we should look at finding some way to bring forward better organization. The real problem is the loss of the democratic right of the individual. The real problem is not the candidate. It is always the loser in an election who wants to change the system, by the way. Therefore, I am not espousing it because of that.
I am espousing it because of the men and women who I saw, actually many of them with tears in their eyes, who were turned away from voting because of some irregularity in their membership. Yet, in a general election in that riding we would have ten times the number of people registered to vote. Virtually no one gets turned away in a general election. It is a democratic deficit and we should fix it to make it work better.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, sadly, in the nomination and the reason I came to this plan and this idea is because a lot of the issues were fought on misconceptions. Frankly, lies were put out there about my particular position, that somehow I did not care about the human rights abuses and the problems in the Middle East. It is simply not true.
I strongly believe that an independent Palestine and an independent Israel living in peace together is the ultimate goal, but how do we get there? We will not get there by forcing some kind of solution from abroad, from Canada or from the United States. The road map was tried and it failed. How do we get there?
It is my view that we get there by putting more Canada into this issue, by taking advantage of the fact that we have a very strong individual, in the hon. Allan Rock, as the ambassador to the United Nations, and perhaps he can open some doors.
I am going to be pulling together a group from Palestine House and from Solel Synagogue to sit at the table in Mississauga and talk together because they are willing to do that. Hopefully, we can then take it to the next step, depending upon how much time I have left. If the Prime Minister would agree not to call the election for another six months or so it would be helpful. I can start this dialogue and get some advice as to who else we can talk to, to show the people at the United Nations and the world that in this tiny little part of Canada called Mississauga--Erindale we have some ideas and that we are living together in harmony.
It is perhaps a small step, but it is a contribution that I want to try to make before my days are finished in this place.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I will answer that by just telling a bit of an anecdotal story. Yesterday I was in the Pearson airport and I decided to get my shoes shined. As the gentleman was shining my shoes, he noticed I was reading the paper and said, “Is there anything in the budget for me?” I looked down at him and I said, “Actually, I see right here where they have eliminated income tax for shoe shining”. He of course did not believe me, and it is a good thing he did not.
I would run on more than this budget, were I running. Frankly, I would run on a record of 10 years under the former prime minister. I know he is taking a beating in the media right now on all of the various scandals, but I can say and will say to my children and my grandchildren that I was proud to be part of the cabinet, part of the team, and part of the caucus of that particular government under that particular prime minister.
I would run in the next election on the fact that we should celebrate the record. Yes, we had some problems. Yes, there were some mistakes. There appears to have been possibly even criminal activity that took place. This is a large institution. The current Prime Minister has said he will get to the bottom of it. I trust that he will. I trust him explicitly. I believe the Canadian people do as well. I would run on the overall package.
This budget, frankly, is a little what I would call typical of what I might have expected out of the current Minister of Finance, who is very small c conservative, careful and prudent. That is important, but let us run on the successes and let us stand and say we are proud to be Liberals, we are proud to have been the government of this great country, and this country has become great as a result of a lot of the work of the men and women who have been part of the last 10 years in this government.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
I would require an expansion of the aisle if I had to sit beside the member for Wild Rose and probably some body armour to protect me from time to time because we might find ourselves at opposite ends of a particular argument.
I have just gone through a nomination battle. I was unsuccessful at running for the nomination in Mississauga--Erindale. Having some experience in the fights that take place in here, in the cut and thrust that goes on across the floor, it is nothing, trust me, compared to what goes on in internal battles within the party. What we have actually seen is a bit of a transformation. For some time the internal battles seemed to be across the way. Now there appears at least on the surface to be some unity across the way and the internal battles are taking place within the Liberal caucus.
I do not say that out of bitterness. I made my choice. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was going to be a tough battle and I was not successful at the end of the day. However, it is a long road without a bend and we will see exactly where that road takes us.
This morning, since I am not talking under the pressure of an upcoming election, I seem to have some new-found freedom, some joie de vivre. I can almost say whatever I want. Those who want to attack the democratic deficit should lose a nomination. It is simple. Then they could come into this place and say whatever they wanted to say. There would be no consequences. What would the whip do to them?
I do want to leave some ideas in this place that may or may not be accepted, that may or may not last beyond my departure. I do not know when that is going to be. None of us know, except perhaps for one certain Prime Minister and I do not know if he knows, when that election will be. I want the House and my constituents to know some of these ideas. They are still my constituents.
I am still the member of Parliament for Mississauga West, although there was a friend of mine who went to get a passport and I signed the application. The passport office called to ask what riding I represented because the information in the passport office showed the riding of Mississauga West as being vacant. How soon they pull the plug and pull the lever. I assured them it was not vacant, that it was substantially filled and would remain so until the next election. Who knows what will happen after that, as I have said.
I do want to say that I do not go on to the next phase of my life with any sense of bitterness or any sense of regret. I go on with a sense of pride in having been able to stand in this place. It is such an honour to do so. I say to all who will return, and some who may not return under different circumstances than my departure, to always hold deep in their hearts the knowledge that they have been part of history, part of a place that is so steeped in the significance of nation building, steeped in the significance of world peace and the contribution that our country makes. It stems from this place.
There are 301 of us now and there will be 308 members after the next election. It is such an honour in a country of over 30 million people to be given the burden, the responsibility, the opportunity, the challenge to come into this place and to represent Canadians, in spite of the ideological differences that exist in this place.
Once we get away from the actual cut and thrust of question period or parliamentary debate and we get out into the community and work on committees and travel with colleagues from opposite parties, we get to know each other. Oftentimes we find that we really are not that much different, that all of us came here with the same kind of lofty goals.
When we run for public office, the first question people always ask us is why we are doing it. The standard answer is that we want to make a difference. It gets a little boring after a while, but it really is the truth for members on all sides.
I see the member for Edmonton North who is also not returning to this place, but it was her choice, and it was roundly applauded by people on this side who agreed with that particular choice. In spite of the fact that we have not been chummy or warm and friendly, I think she would agree that there are people on both sides who indeed can and do work well together, whether it is on a committee, a task force or in some other capacity other than the confrontational approach that occurs in this place.
It is not all about confrontation is what I am trying to say. I would like to leave a message for the young people in my community. All they see is question period and the scrums. They always wonder about all these empty seats. Is it because members do not enjoy hearing me speak? That is a possibility, but I would suspect they are not here because they are busy. They are working. They are in their offices. They are having meetings. They are at committees. They are in caucus. They are doing the job of a member of Parliament. The job of a member of Parliament is not simply to put bums in seats in this place all day long. There is too much to be done. The people in the community need to know that it is not all about that kind of approach.
There are some things that were not in the budget that I found a little disappointing. Obviously, as a member, even a defeated nominee for this party, I still support the budget. I support the government. So many good things are being done.
I particularly like the tax exemption for our fighting men and women when they are in harm's way. That shows some real sensitivity to the men and women who do the job on behalf of all Canadians. I can say that while the number one issue in the country may be health care, the number one thing we will hear from people is how proud they are of the men and women in Canada's military and the sense of pride they feel whenever they see what they are doing on foreign shores and in difficult places.
We did not put enough emphasis in the budget on what Canada can do in the world. It may be hard to quantify. We hear cries for more money for the military. What I would rather see is more money and more emphasis on diplomacy.
Let me take members back to the convention where the current Prime Minister was crowned. The Irish rock star Bono spoke to the throngs at the convention centre. Ralph Klein could not pronounce his name, saying he thought he was called bwana or something, poor old Ralph.
Bono made a statement that stuck with me and I think with everybody at the convention and probably with most Canadians. He said that what the world needs is more Canada. I have not seen that kind of leadership go far enough, frankly, with this government or any government: “what the world needs is more Canada”. That does not mean we need more military. That does not mean we need to go into every combat. That does not mean we need to agree with the United States and join the war in Iraq.
I want to say for the record that I wholeheartedly supported the government's decision not to go to Iraq in spite of some rumours that have been perpetuated around my community which would indicate that somehow I supported the war in Iraq. I did not, I do not, and I think it was a courageous decision on behalf of the former prime minister, one that I, along with most members in this place on this side of the House, was proud to stand behind him on.
But I think we could do much more. Let me talk briefly about the experience that people are feeling in the community about the war in the Middle East. We have terrible tensions. We have assassinations. We have suicide bombings. How could anyone ever understand how a mother could wrap a bomb around a child and then send that child onto a bus to detonate that bomb and kill people? It is not an image that most Canadians could even come close to understanding, but it is reality.
Why does it happen? It happens because there is no hope. It happens because there is no sense that anyone is coming to the table to talk about how we can resolve the differences between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. We know, all of us, that the long term, ultimate solution is an independent Palestine and an independent Israel living together in peace. But how do we get there?
There is a synagogue in one part of my riding. In another part of my riding, I have Palestine House. Believe you me, Mr. Speaker, the conflict is very much alive in the city of Mississauga, and I will say tragically alive in the city of Mississauga, because it is not in Mississauga that we should be resolving this problem. However, we as a government can set some standards. We could use a budgetary tool or a throne speech or a particular announcement from foreign affairs to say to those people, “Look. Stop the killing. Let us sit down and talk. Let us talk about the issue of the wall and the fact that there is a sense that a wall is needed for protection from terrorists”.
What we need is education. What we need is understanding. Walls crumble. Walls fall. History shows that. Walls do not solve problems; they create problems and they create fear. Of course the fear is understandable. The state of Israel worries every day about who is crossing its border points because those individuals may have backpacks laden with explosives.
Are we going to solve that problem here? I do not think so, but we can show some leadership. Perhaps Allan Rock, our ambassador in New York, could show some leadership. In fact, I am working on a delegation to meet with Ambassador Rock to discuss this kind of thing and to see how we can move the dialogue along.
This is about more Canada. Let us give the world more Canada. We do not have to be smug about it. We are different from the Americans, there is no question about that. We are sovereign and there is no question about that. We tend to self-flagellate ourselves all the time. Every time there is a slight problem, every time some nutbar down in the United States goes on national television and calls us “Canuckistan” or whatever, we tend to blame ourselves instead of recognizing the fact that these kinds of comments are coming from people who are unbalanced, frankly, and who do not understand the very nature of this country. I think we need to start looking outward as a country to see how we can work.
There was another thing that was missing in the budget. There was no new money for immigration. That relates to this issue, because this is obviously a nation that is built on immigration. If we take a look at my riding, we see that I have people from every single corner of the world there, and in large numbers, too, I might add. We should be celebrating the fact that they are in this country. We should be working with those people to try to find out how we can take more Canada to the parts of the world that they have come from. They have left there to get away from the wars, whether they are in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in Jordan, Egypt or wherever; it does not matter. These people have come here to get away from the tensions, the fears and the problems, but they still have strong ties to their homelands and that part of the world.
It seems to me that we should take the opportunity to work with these people to find out how we can arrive at some solutions to some of the problems that exist around the world. I might add that the motive can be a little bit selfish. The motive can be that we are creating new markets for ourselves, that we are creating new opportunities for Canadian technology; we punch above our weight so much in the area of technology and our exports around the world. We talk about the importance of the United States to Canada, but I might add that it is a two way street. Twenty-five per cent of everything the United States exports is exported to Canada. It is the largest single trading block in the world. It is one that is important not only for Canada but extremely so for the U.S.
Why not have some free trade agreements with other parts of the world? I know what happens is that the Maude Barlows of this world would all come demonstrating and saying it is awful, that we are only trying to take advantage of the poor people. That is just nonsense. There is a way to help poor nations. There is a way to help South Africa.
I was once in Durban, South Africa, leading a team Canada trade mission. It was about roads, but because at the time I was responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing as the secretary of state, I did some work in the housing field. Durban is a city with a housing waiting list. We think we have problems here, but Durban is a city of 3 million people in South Africa, a modern, vibrant city, a very dangerous city, and it has a waiting list for affordable housing of 800,000 people.
Can we imagine that? Frankly, affordable housing in Durban is something like a 30 metre box with some decent plumbing and clean water. It is not what we would perhaps see as the standard here in Canada. They build 17,000 new homes a year in that community. The government does it. Why can we not do that? I do not understand. We have governments from sea to sea to sea and we as governments do not come close to building that, yet we have put in the money through Canada Mortgage and Housing.
Mr. Speaker, if I may, I will acknowledge Catherine Cronin from Winnipeg and Roberta Hayes from Saint John, two members of the CMHC board. They are here this morning. I know it is the Speaker's responsibility to acknowledge people in the gallery so I will not go any further.
I point this out just to say that we have an opportunity. It has been missed in this budget and, frankly, it has been missed in the government. I hope that it will show up in some form of a commitment in the next red book. That opportunity is to take Canada Mortgage and Housing and return it to its rightful place as a builder of affordable housing in this country. We must not simply leave it to the provinces and the territories, which then in turn pass it on to the municipalities, saying that the municipalities should build it, that the provinces and territories cannot do it, they do not have the money. They say they are under stress and under pressure and people should blame Ottawa.
The municipalities in Ontario blame Queen's Park. Whatever: let us knock it off. We have a company here, Canada Mortgage and Housing, that last year turned a profit of $500 million. It is basically an insurance company. It provides mortgage insurance. It turns a profit of $500 million and then puts, as it must by the laws of the Superintendent of Insurance, a large chunk of that into reserve, which it must do to operate competitively. Last year Canada Mortgage and Housing wound up with unallocated surpluses in the range of $200 million. Why can we not put that money directly back into housing? I argued that at the cabinet table but was unsuccessful.
Perhaps my colleagues, who will surely rise to the cabinet level after the next election, would be prepared to take that fight forward to the Prime Minister and to the cabinet. We have a tool that is there. It is called Canada Mortgage and Housing. We are not using it, we should be using it, and it should be here in this budget.
Let me say finally that I appreciate this opportunity. I cherish the opportunity to make a speech here because it means that I can share ideas I have on behalf of my community and my family, and I thank the Speaker for the honour of doing that this morning.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
I have actually been asked if I would be interested in going over there. It is nice to be asked. It is nice to know that at least I am wanted somewhere in this universe.
The Budget March 25th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I am afraid to say, although it might come as good news to some people in this place, that this may well be my swan song speech. We usually make a maiden speech in here, but this may be my swan song speech in the House of Commons, at least for the foreseeable future. I say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, who is convinced that I only ever make the same speech every time I talk, I will try to give some variance and some different points of view. I say it may be my swan song, my farewell to arms, but it may not be either. One never knows. This is a strange world and one never knows where one might wind up. One should never rush to judgment or rush to conclusions.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply February 4th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, people will politic no matter what. We are not going to change that, particularly in election times. People will make the suggestion that sending a government member is better for the constituency. I would not try to be naive enough to suggest we can change that.
However there are things that have been neglected that I think need to be looked at in Saskatchewan. In northern Saskatchewan the Metis housing situation is unacceptable and deplorable. I think the government can indeed do something about that by working with the province of Saskatchewan.
When there is an opposition member who holds a seat, that person should not be excluded from having input into the solution. If that member is responsible, and we tone down the partisan rhetoric on the issue, then I believe we will find ministers willing to sit down at the table with opposition members and find ways to solve them.
Again, not to be naive, we are never going to take out of the system the cut and thrust of debate, nor should we. We have different views as the Liberal Party than the Canadian Alliance or the Conservative Party might have, and different views than the New Democrats might have. That is what we have policy functions for. That is why we put together red books, government programs and speeches from the throne.
However the point is that once we get into the job, we should do what we do in committee and do what we do when we travel together: work together. It can happen.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply February 4th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I heard the Prime Minister say that the United States has to respect our passport. I think so do we.
Mississauga is a bit of a border community too. It is not very far away. There are two borders actually. I have constituents who phone me all the time. A constituent called me yesterday to say that he was pulled over and questioned for three hours. This is a man who has been in Canada for 30 years with his family and is a Canadian citizen. There was no reason to detain him for that length of time. He felt degraded, cheated and improperly dealt with.
Yes, we have to send a strong message. The government must stand up for Canadian citizens going into the United States. However I will tell members that it also happens to Canadian citizens coming back into Canada. It is a two-way street. The Americans should absolutely respect a Canadian citizen but Canadian people who work at the borders have to respect that as well.
As far as the other issue on the municipalities, the municipalities, in my opinion, give us the best services of any level of government. We see it and we know what they do. It is the garbage, the police, the fire, the parks and recreation, the roads and the snowplow. We all know what we get. It is not like the senior levels of government where all the money goes in a black hole and we cannot figure out where the money went or what it is going to. Let them do what they do best and serve their constituents.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply February 4th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I have never spoken in the House from this angle. I am usually at the other end. This is a new experience. I will try to get used to it.
A lot of the discussion in this place and during the past couple of years has been around this issue of a democratic deficit. It has struck me that there is a democratic deficit, perhaps, in the nation and that maybe one of the things we need to do when we look at it here, if we really want to enhance the role of members of Parliament, is that we should have a situation where the opposition does not simply criticize and the government simply defend.
Maybe we should analyze the issues as they are before us. Perhaps some of us on this side of the House, if we want to have an enhanced role as a member of Parliament, as a backbencher, should be asking some of the tough questions, and maybe the opposition should listen to them.
I read the Speech from the Throne and of course I could stand here and say that I think the commitment to the environment is wonderful and I think the commitment to children is terrific, and it is important, it is all very Liberal and it is what we all believe in, et cetera, but I want to talk about things that I did not see there that I am a bit concerned about.
There is only one spot in the entire document where I saw the words “affordable housing”. We talk about a new deal for cities. It is fine if we are going to give more money to cities and municipalities and fund it directly. Can we then be assured, number one, that the provincial governments or the territorial governments are not going to simply claw back the same amount of money from their contributions? Can we be assured of that? I do not care where the money comes from: GST or gas tax, it does not matter. Can we be assured that it is going to go to the services the municipalities are claiming they cannot afford to provide for their communities? We cannot be, not unless we have some agreements in place.
I would argue that one of the things I would have loved to have seen in the throne speech is a commitment to use Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a crown corporation, as a true housing company to deliver programs directly to communities and municipalities, and frankly, in the way they used to. I would argue that we have a crown corporation with some of the finest staff in Canada, and with a tremendous board, politically appointed but very much tuned in. These people could work with our municipal partners. They could work with provincial governments where appropriate, but they could also then work with private for profit and non-profit corporations, communities, groups or whatever to deliver affordable housing.
I do not see that in the throne speech. What I see is a blanket statement that says we are going to cut a new deal for cities. Let us get real. The cities want to keep their taxes low and I do not blame them. My wife is a municipal politician and I was one myself. No one wants to increase their taxes. If I can get the federal government to increase their taxes and give me the money, then that sounds like a pretty good deal. It is called lack of accountability and lack of transparency.
I just give a message. If this is the new role for backbench MPs in the government, my message to the government is, “Do not give the ship away. Do not just say to municipalities that we are going to give them all this money without making sure that we have an agreement with provincial and territorial partners who are going to participate equally and who are going to ensure that we in fact do address the shortfall”. Never mind the democratic deficit. Let us talk about the affordable housing deficit, because it is real.
I was in Saint John, New Brunswick, where I saw some of the problems. Saint John has a vacancy rate somewhere in the neighbourhood of 6%. If we take away the homes that we would not allow our dogs to live in, that vacancy rate goes down to 1.5%. Who is doing anything about that?
We announced a contribution of $1 billion total, two tranches of money, $680 million plus $320 million, to be matched by the provinces to build affordable housing. We have not seen it happen in Saint John yet and it is a terrible, unacceptable situation.
We talk about the number of children living in poverty, but do people know that in the greater Toronto area there are 5,000 kids living in shelters? This is in Canada. This is unacceptable.
My message is for those under all governments, and if people want to be partisan, be partisan, but the provincial Tories did not do anything about it either. I am not talking about partisanship here. I am talking about how we should all work together on both sides of the House to solve some of these problems. The first place to start is for us as a government is to admit that there is a problem, that there is a deficit.
What does a kid say when he goes to school and walks into a schoolyard? The first thing somebody says to him is, “Hi, what's your name?” What is the second question? It is, “Where do you live?” We know what the answer is for those 5,000 kids: “I live in a shelter”.
In the city of Calgary, 50% of the people who live in shelters have jobs. They actually go to work every day. They walk out the door. They send their kids to school and they go work at a minimum wage job. They meet them back at the shelter that night and, God willing, have something to eat and a place to sleep. What does that child say in the schoolyard? “I live in a shelter. I live at the Y”.
This is unacceptable. I want to say to my government that it is time we admitted there is a problem. We cannot fix it overnight. The problem did not occur overnight. It is from decades and decades of neglect by all governments, municipal, provincial and federal. All parties involved in the process have stood by and neglected this situation. Now we find, in a country with as much wealth as Canada, that we have 1.8 million Canadians living in core need, which means they are paying 50% and 60% of their gross pay for shelter. This means that at the end of the month there is not enough money left to buy food so they go to a food bank. This is unacceptable.
As a member of Parliament, I am willing to accept my share of the responsibility. I think everybody should. Instead of just standing up and saying, “you bad government, you must fix this”, why do we not collaboratively come up with a way to fix it together?
If we want to do something about the democratic deficit that allows backbench MPs in the government to stand up and do something other than just sing the praises of throne speeches, that is fine with me, because I have seen the problems on the ground. I was the minister responsible for eight months and I cried some nights when I saw the depth of the despair that Canadians are living in. It is absolutely unacceptable.
There is another deficit that I want to talk to members and the Canadian people about. We have a serious problem that has occurred in this country since 9/11. That is where the real deficit is. There is racial and religious profiling going on in our communities. It is going on in our police departments. It is going on in the RCMP. It is going on in CSIS. It is going on in government. Anybody who looks like me would not understand it, because it does not happen to me, but it happens to dark-skinned people in this country. Whether they are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, it does not matter. It happens.
I can tell members first-hand the story of Mohamed Attiah, who worked as an engineer--and still does, thank God--for AECL at Chalk River. Ten days after 9/11, CSIS and the RCMP walked into his office, interviewed him for a couple of hours and left with no charges, allegations or anything. He went to lunch, but when he came back from lunch his security pass had been cancelled, his door locks had been changed and his employment had been terminated. Why? Supposedly some kind of connection to al-Qaeda. I investigated this with the solicitor general and we found that Mr. Attiah was totally profiled and targeted for no reason other than the fact he was a Muslim. He has been in the country 30 years and is a Canadian citizen.
It is absolutely unacceptable. It is happening in Canada right under the noses of parliamentarians. I call on every member in the House to stand and say we are not going to allow it to continue, that we are going to fight that deficit. That, Mr. Speaker, is the true democratic deficit in this country.