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Elsewhere

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Etobicoke North (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 61.62% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House June 17th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the parliamentary secretary to try to accelerate the review of this cost recovery policy, because it is creating a lot of anomalies and situations where there is unfair competition.

I can recall that courier companies were set up at various airports, for which there have to be customs services either 24/7 or very early in the morning. As the shipments come in, they have to be processed through customs.

There was an anomaly. A new courier company would come in and its services would be on a cost recovery basis, while the other courier services would be part of grandfathered core services. This creates some competitive issues.

Issues also arose at the Detroit-Windsor border, where there were opportunities to move more trucks on a ferry, but because of this cost recovery policy, the customs services were going to be on a cost recovered basis. That did not help in terms of the business case of moving more trucks across the river on a ferry to take some of the congestion off the Windsor-Detroit bridge.

I think it is a matter of some urgency now. I am surprised, frankly, that solutions have not been forthcoming. It was our Liberal government that brought in the grandfathering policy. That was done in the mid-1990s out of a need to deal with a $42 billion deficit.

Is it the most sound policy given today's circumstances? No, it is not. That is why our government started that review. We were close to seeing some resolution, but then the writ was dropped and there was an election.

However, the Conservative government has had more than two years now. I plead with the parliamentary secretary to get the Canada Border Services Agency to come up with some solutions to this problem as soon as possible.

Committees of the House June 17th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the parliamentary secretary's comments.

In fact, the review of cost recovery within the Canada Border Services Agency started under our government and was getting close to being finalized when the election was called and the new government came to power. It has been in power for over two years now, but on this side of the House we are still waiting for a new cost recovery policy.

If I may, just by way of background, I will highlight what my understanding is of the circumstances. In the mid-1990s, our government decided to grandfather the services provided by the customs portion of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, which ultimately became part of the Canada Border Services Agency. All existing services provided by customs operations would be grandfathered and any new operations would have to be on a cost recovery basis.

That applied to any new airports and any new ports. The port in Prince Rupert is a good example. It came on stream later and was presented with the option that the customs presence it would need in order to clear goods coming in would be on a cost recovery basis. It was difficult to establish how it was going to compete with the Port of Vancouver when the Port of Vancouver's services had been grandfathered and those of the Port of Prince Rupert would be on cost recovery basis.

I suspect, and I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could confirm it, that the Tremblant services were part of a new suite of services that were on a total cost recovery basis.

It seems to me, and I think the parliamentary secretary alluded to this, that the department is looking at core services and non-core services as being the more rational way of deciding what is on a cost recovered basis and what is part of core government services. I am wondering how that review is coming along and when the department, the minister and the parliamentary secretary will be able to brief Parliament on the new approach to cost recovery as it relates to customs.

Petitions June 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present a petition signed by a large number of people in the Toronto area who are very concerned about Canada Post policy to accelerate the installation of community mailboxes. They believe that Canada Post has not consulted very widely or fairly, that these community mailboxes create safety hazards, that they are often not accessible to seniors, that they are not accessible because of winter conditions, and that they create an environmental problem. They are asking that Canada Post reconsider this misguided policy.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008 June 3rd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, particularly the reference she made earlier to employment insurance. I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify the framework under which employment insurance works.

The member talked about the employment insurance fund. In fact, in the days of the Liberal government there was no EI fund per se. There was a notional fund. The Conservative government is planning to set up a crown corporation or something, but the previous government had a notional fund.

In the late 1980s the auditor general requested that the government consolidate the EI fund, or notional fund, into consolidated revenue because the fund was in deficit. The EI fund, notional fund, was in deficit from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s. At that point, I do not recall the unions or management clamouring to Ottawa to say that they would make up the deficit.

Yes, it is true that the EI surplus did form part of consolidated revenue and helped the government deal with the $42 billion deficit left by the Conservative Party, but, as I said earlier, there was a string of seven or eight years when the EI fund was in deficit and there was a certain logic to allowing that to happen. Then when our government came in, it reduced the employment insurance premiums every year. We were able to get it to the point where now the Conservative government can look at it as a self-sustaining insurance fund.

Is the member aware of the history of EI fund and notional fund and would she look at it in the context of her remarks earlier, when she seemed to intimate that the surpluses were from the wages of workers and were exploited by the Government of Canada?

Canada Post June 3rd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the community mailboxes that Canada Post has been installing are a bad deal for communities across Canada. These mailboxes are being placed in neighbourhoods without considering the well-being of members of these communities who do not feel safe accessing their mail while traffic moves around them. Senior citizens often do not have the ability to go to a community mailbox to pick up their mail.

The government has not been looking out for the communities where these mailboxes have been installed. Why has the government put its own convenience ahead of that of the citizens and communities of Canada?

Old Age Security Act June 2nd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate and discussion on Bill C-490.

Bill C-490 provides for an increase in the amount of supplement to be paid monthly to a pensioner and for the payment of a pension and supplement to a person who ceases to have a spouse or common law partner by reason of the spouse's or common law partner's death. It removes a requirement to make an application for a supplement and allows for the retroactive payment of supplements.

I tend to support the idea of removing the requirement to make an application or to at least have some less bureaucratic way of ensuring that seniors are getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Some seniors get distressed in these cases or may not be fully conversant with the law. I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but we need to provide all the support and assistance we can to seniors to make sure they receive the pension benefits to which they are entitled.

Perhaps a process could be put in place to facilitate that, but I have a large problem with seniors who have not taken advantage of their benefits because they did not know they had to fill out an application. I see some of those seniors in my office from time to time.

I am not quite sure about the retroactivity provisions that are called for by the bill. That could be a bit difficult, but nonetheless I want to congratulate the member for opening up this discussion, because Canada's seniors have made an enormous contribution to the social, cultural and economic fabric of Canada.

As a result of their efforts, Canada is considered one of the best countries in the world in which to live. Our generation is receiving the benefit of their efforts and generations beyond us will benefit in the future.

In spite of this contribution, many low income and middle income seniors in Canada living on fixed incomes are financially stressed. Old age security payments and the guaranteed income supplement have not kept pace with the living costs seniors are facing today, notwithstanding regular inflation adjustments and increases that our Liberal government put in place through the GIS and, in fairness, that the Conservative government has put in place as well.

I have heard the arguments from the other side, and I think research would tend to show that on balance seniors in Canada do quite well, but it is equivalent to the summation that if we have our heads in the fridge and our feet in the fire, our average temperature is fine.

We still have some low income seniors who are struggling. Certainly in my riding, which we could characterize as a blue collar riding and where the mean family income is below the national average, many seniors who come to me, especially those on fixed incomes, especially women and especially widows, say that they are really having difficulty keeping pace with the costs they are facing.

This is a problem. It caused to me do some research into the question of whether it would be feasible to set up a cost of living index that was particularly unique to the basket of goods and services with which seniors in Canada are faced. I did some independent research and there also is some research already out there.

For example, a 2002 McMaster University study in the “Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Report”, showed that in explaining the changes in expenditure patterns after the age of 65, most of the major differences that are observed among age groups are a consequence of declines in income after retirement.

At the national level, the study found that while the all-items CPI did generally track closely to the inflation experienced by seniors, there were some notable variances in food and shelter expenses. These are the two items that are frequently brought up to me by seniors, who say they are spending far too great a percentage of income on food and shelter.

The rule of thumb with respect to shelter is that no more than 30% of a person's income should go toward it. Many seniors in my riding, in fact constituents of all ages, are spending 40% to 50% of their income on shelter.

According to the Department of Social Development, the last evaluation of old age security was completed in 1992. As reported by the Auditor General of Canada, the 1992 evaluation report concluded that, in terms of adequacy and earnings replacement, the program was “generally” fulfilling its role within the retirement income system.

However, research conducted by myself concluded that the old age security has consistently lagged behind wages during the period from 1991 to 2003.

The 2004 report of the Prime Minister's task force on active living and dignity for seniors, chaired by my colleague and soon to be member of Parliament again, Tony Ianno, states that:

Generally speaking, Canada has seen a trend where growth in wages has exceeded growth in prices.

Old age security recipients' benefits fall behind the rate of growth seen by the working age population.

A Library of Parliament research report prepared in February 2006, at my request, noted that no effort has been made to establish a consumer price index targeting seniors. Further, independent comparative analyses that I have completed have concluded that cost pressures on seniors have risen at a much higher rate than current old age security inflation adjustments.

While I laud the member for putting forward this private member's bill, it would appear that it probably will not have the support of the government, primarily for reasons of cost, which is not the right criteria necessarily, unless it would bankrupt the government and put the old age security into a non-sustainable position.

Creating a cost of living index specific to seniors would not be that difficult to implement. It would weigh the cost of products and services to which seniors are exposed and it would be updated annually. It would be that cost of living index that would be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, rather than this generalized cost of living index, which represents the population as a whole, the basket of goods and services to which Canadians generally are exposed, but does not really reflect the basket of goods and services that our seniors are faced with, seniors who built this country and deserve our respect and our support.

I recall meeting a senior widow in my riding and her family who are the salt of the earth. Her husband had worked in construction for 50 years and, regrettably, passed on. She lives in their small bungalow and raised a family of three. They are all doing well and contributing to society. She was struggling severely. What a tragedy for that woman, who lost her a husband and raised a family, all of whom had contributed and are contributing so much to Canada, was being pressured to move from her small, modest home to something not really appropriate.

While the bill before us is a step in the right direction, and I appreciate its intent, we could do something more significant and more achievable for seniors by creating a cost of living index that would reflect the cost of the goods and services that they face. The index would then be used to increase the old age security and the GIS annually, instead of this generalized cost of living index.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that good answer by the member from the Bloc.

Within the EFTA agreement itself, what growth areas does the member see as possibilities for Canada and for her home province of Quebec? Are there any particular sectors, products or services in which Canada and the province of Quebec would be poised to take advantage of this agreement? Does she see any possibilities for investment back and forth between Canada and the EFTA countries?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act May 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to the member from the Bloc. My own perspective is that this trade agreement is a very positive thing for Canada. It gives us a window into enhancing trade and investment with Europe. I think it is a very good start.

I have a question for the member with respect to shipbuilding, which I know has been a matter of contention. I wonder if she could comment on the state of the shipbuilding industry in places such as Lévis, for example.

The member talked about the need for various incentives or subsidies, if I may call them that, to help this industry compete with the Nordic countries. I wonder if anything within the EFTA agreement would preclude that, anything that would say it would constitute a subsidy. Are there any provisions in the agreement that address those particular matters?

Community Living May 26th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, May is Community Living Month in Ontario, an opportunity to celebrate those with an intellectual disability and to acknowledge their accomplishments at work, in school and in the community.

Events throughout the month have been planned to recognize the accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities in Etobicoke, Toronto and indeed across Canada, and to commemorate those volunteers who make it possible for the successes in this important area.

The more than 465 community living associations across Canada are essential to support the choices of persons with intellectual disabilities regarding where they live, work, learn and play.

Community Living Toronto should be congratulated for its 60 years of work in offering these opportunities to the over 6,000 individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities and their families. This organization has the important responsibility to provide the resources for these men and women to realize their full potential and achieve their dreams.

Questions Passed as Orders for Return May 15th, 2008

With regard to the $300 million commitment Canada made in 2003, in conjunction with the international community, as an effort to assist Iraq in its reconstruction: (a) to date, how much of the $300 million has been allocated for Iraqi reconstruction assistance; (b) what percentage of the money allocated thus far has been directed to areas largely occupied by minorities in Iraq; (c) what percentage has been directed to the ChaldoAssyrian population in the Nineveh Plains; (d) what action is the Minister taking to assist in the development of an effective security infrastructure in the Nineveh Plains; (e) since 2003, what amount of development assistance has been directed by the government to 'grassroots' non-governmental organizations in the Nineveh Plains; (f) what amount was directed to the Assyrian Aid Society and the Babylon Charitable Society towards assistance to the minorities in the Nineveh Plains; (g) since 2003, what action has the government taken to promote regional democratic development and local administration in the Nineveh Plains; and (h) what action will the government consider to stop any ethno-religious discrimination and abuses of the indigenous ChaldoAssyrian minority?