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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was kind.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as NDP MP for Burnaby—Douglas (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 37.94% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Resignation of Members March 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, it has been an honour to represent the people of Burnaby—Douglas. As a gay man, it has been an honour to represent the queer community in this place.

My work here has been possible thanks to that of many others, including comrades in my offices: Jane Ireland, Sonja van Dieen, Ayesha Haider, Caren Yu and Andrea Emond, Lynn MacWilliam, Corie Langdon, Gillian Chan and many interns. Their professionalism, creativity and service to the community and this institution have been outstanding.

I am inspired by my leader and caucus and many party activists. I salute my brothers and sisters in my union, CEP 232, for their dedication to ensuring that what we desire for ourselves we seek for all.

I want to thank the employees of the House of Commons without whom I could not have done this job.

I want to thank my family, my partner Brian Burke, my parents Bill and Pat, in what we came to know as the “Whitby office”, and to thank Keith Gilbert, Brad Teeter, Russ Neely and my brother David and his family for their steadfast love and care. I have also been blessed with the best riding association, thanks to the commitment and talents of many folks, including Lil Cameron, Lila Wing, Michael Walton, Marianne Bell, Jaynie Clark and Doug Sigurdson.

I will miss working in solidarity with dedicated people. The transgender and transsexual communities have taught me so much about our humanity and courage. I wish we had a bit more time. I have learned much from peace, anti-war and nuclear disarmament activists; from gay and lesbian couples determined to walk through the front door of the important institution of marriage; from those detained and working to repeal security certificates; from war resisters; from local activists on homelessness and poverty, the environment and industrial and transportation safety; from animal rights activists; from the labour movement and refugees, immigrants and temporary workers and their allies; from supporters of CBC/Radio Canada and those seeking more open government.

My predecessor, Svend Robinson, once remarked that the highest duty of a member of Parliament was love. Love should be our daily agenda, a daring, justice-seeking and tender love. Some day, even here, we will find that path where all that we do we do for love.

The Budget March 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the question was about the lack of commitment on health care in this budget, of providing new family physicians to the five million Canadians who are without one; the problems of the proposal from the Conservatives to forgive the student loan debt of health care professionals who are prepared to move to rural areas and what that does to the need for doctors in urban areas; and, also, how it does not address the mounting student debts of Canadians who are seeking post-secondary education.

The Budget March 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague about the health care provisions that are really very minimal in this budget from the government.

One of the things in this corner that New Democrats were looking for was a commitment to new health care professionals, new doctors and nurses, who would help Canadian families. There are five million Canadian families without a family physician, and yet there is nothing in the budget that would increase the number of doctors and nurses in Canada.

The Conservatives came through with this funny proposal to shift doctors from cities to rural areas by forgiving student loans, which does not increase the number of family doctors available to Canadians. It also does not really address the incredible debt of students who are coming out of post-secondary education with huge student loan debt. It does not address either of those important situations.

I wonder if the member might comment on what the Conservatives are not doing in those areas.

Petitions March 21st, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to table a petition organized by people seeking justice for Mohamed Harkat and signed by over 400 Canadians from Ontario and British Columbia.

These petitioners are very concerned about the security certificate provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act noting that they make possible indefinite detention without charge or conviction based on secret information, that detainees may never know of the information held against them, that an appeal can be denied, that the evidentiary standard is very low and that detainees are at risk of deportation to face torture or death.

Furthermore, the petitioners believe that the process is undemocratic and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada's international human rights and refugee obligations.

Finally, they call for the abolition of the security certificate process, for open, fair and independent trials and for a guarantee that no one will be deported to face torture or death.

Petitions March 21st, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to table.

The first petition has been signed by over 550 Canadians from British Columbia and Ontario, including organizers Gwendy and Alfie Williams of Burnaby. The petitioners point out that we are obliged to protect other sentient beings from needless cruelty and suffering. Their particular concern is the use of electric shock as an animal training tool, a practice that they name as barbaric and unnecessary. They also point out that many experts have documented the use of electric shock as abusive and damaging to an animal's physical and psychological well-being.

The petitioners, therefore, call for a ban on the sale of electric shock devices for use on animals.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act March 1st, 2011

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has taken an active interest in airline passengers since he arrived in the House of Commons. All airline passengers in Canada want to thank him for that.

He was getting to an important point at the end of his speech when he talked about the accumulation of data about airline passengers by foreign security agencies, particularly by American security agencies. Some critics of this legislation have said that it would aid and abet data mining by American security agencies at the expense of the privacy of Canadians. He talked about the building of profiles that these security agencies would do with the information they would collect from airlines.

Could he expand on that point and let us know what he really thinks of the criticism that the bill would aid and abet data mining by American security agencies?

Committees of the House March 1st, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for sticking around for the debate. It is something that he does regularly when these issues are debated in the House and I do appreciate that he takes the time to participate.

I do want to say that flies a bit in his assertion that somehow debating a concurrence motion is just a time-wasting dilatory thing in this House. It is not. This is the chance for the House to look at the work of committees and to express our support for initiatives taken in committee. It is absolutely not a time-wasting exercise. The minister's presence here, I hope, speaks to that as well.

The minister talked about the right of landing fee. I have to say that I agree with his analysis. The right of landing fee was hurting immigrants to Canada. It was taxing immigrants to Canada at a time when they can least afford to pay. A tax on landing of $1,000 was very harmful to people coming to Canada to settle here. Although the minister's analysis of that is correct, a $500 landing fee is equally offensive to the goal of integrating new immigrants into Canadian society.

I wonder why the government is taking hundreds of millions of dollars, as the minister pointed out, out of the pockets of new immigrants when, at the same time, it is now cutting services that many new immigrants need in key places like Toronto, Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Why is the right of landing fee there at all? Why are we putting that burden on new immigrants to Canada?

Human Rights February 10th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, February 5 was the 30th anniversary of police raids on four Toronto bathhouses, all of them important gay community institutions. Almost 300 men were arrested, one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

The response to these raids was immediate and angry, with thousands taking to the streets. This marked a turning point for the queer community and for Canada's human rights history. Not only did our community organize, but strong allies also emerged, including the member for Toronto—Danforth. Margaret Atwood famously remarked at one rally, “What do the police have against cleanliness?”

The raids were a low point in the history of relations between the gay community and the police and the state, but change resulted. The Right to Privacy Committee began many years of defending those arrested and raising civil liberties and privacy issues. Toronto's first pride parade was held later that year.

Bath raids did not end in 1981, but the Toronto raids changed the politics of gay liberation and pushed many to come out politically. We remember those arrested and outed, sometimes with tragic consequences, and those inspired to work for full human rights.

Hazardous Products Act February 10th, 2011

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-618, An Act to amend the Hazardous Products Act and the Textile Labelling Act (animal fur or skin).

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to table a private member's bill, An Act to amend the Hazardous Products Act and the Textile Labelling Act (animal fur or skin), and want to thank the member for Vancouver East for seconding the bill.

The bill would prohibit the sale and import of products made in whole or in part of dog or cat fur. It would also require all animal skins to be labelled and full disclosure of fur fibres on labels.

Many Canadians are very concerned about the use of cat and dog fur and strongly support a ban on its use in imports. Should the bill pass, Canada would join Australia, Switzerland, the United States and the European Union in banning products that contain dog and cat skins and fur.

As well, animal pelts and hides do not currently require to be noted on labels. Under the Textile Labelling Act, products can simply be labelled fur “fibre”, no matter what quantity is involved without an explicit listing of all the type of fur fibre in the product.

I have been proud to work with Lesley Fox, executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, on this project. We believe the bill will give consumers who wish to avoid fur products clear and confident choices.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Seeds Regulation Act February 8th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate this evening.

I want to begin with a tribute to my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior who is also the NDP's agriculture and agri-food critic.

My colleague has done yeoman's service in this area of responsibility for our party and this parliament. I know of no other critic who has taken their role so seriously. He has gone the distance to find out what Canadians think about this issue and has also heard from farmers, people in rural areas, and in the cities about issues related to agriculture and food.

He engaged Canadians in his Food For Thought tour, a tour across Canada from coast to coast to talk to Canadians about issues of food production and food security. He developed a report after his meetings in over 28 communities, called “Food For Thought: Towards a Canadian Food Strategy”. People in these 28 communities were engaged in this issue in a very important way. They were interested in the topic and made recommendations that he used to draw up his final report.

In my home community of Burnaby—Douglas, the member for Vancouver East and I held a joint session with the member for B.C. Southern Interior, where we discussed issues of food security. It was one of the best attended public meetings I have held in my time here as a member of Parliament. People were very interested and engaged in the issue and very appreciative of the work the member did.

The report that came out of that is also very important to the folks in my community. While the recommendations do not deal specifically with the topic of Bill C-474, they certainly set the stage for a piece of legislation like that, which deals with genetically engineered seeds.

I want to quickly go over the recommendations that came out of the Food for Thought tour.

Under the heading, “Ensure all Canadians have access to healthy food”, the recommendations included enacting legislation that would require that food be properly labelled with information on its origin, nutritional value and whether it is genetically modified; requiring imported foods to meet the same environmental and health standards that apply to food produced in Canada and provide resources to enforce those standards; and working with provinces and territories to include food production and food preparation in school curricula.

A group of recommendations under the rubric, “Help Canadian farmers produce adequate amounts of secure and healthy food”, included offering incentives on designing tax policies to promote local food production, processing capacity and distribution networks, including things like farmers markets and agricultural co-operatives; developing and implementing an alternative and appropriate food safety regulatory regime for small farm-gate operations; analyzing the impact of our trade agreements with other countries on our farmers; requiring federal government institutions to use local sources for their food supplies and encouraging other levels of government to do the same.

A third and final rubric was to “Establish a sustainable agricultural sector for future generations”, including by providing greater skill training, mentorship programs and other incentives to encourage young farmers to take up farming and to support current farmers; and facilitating the availability of arable land for people committed to farming; and finally, enacting a heritage breed act to preserve our heritage seeds and breeds as well as our biodiversity.

I think that final recommendation does touch on what we are talking about this evening in terms of the use of genetically engineered seeds across Canada and the promotion of heritage seeds, which keep us in the ballpark of what many Canadians hope is possible with our food production.

Specifically, the bill we are debating tonight is Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). This bill calls for an amendment to the seeds regulations,

to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Right now in Canada genetically engineered seeds are approved for commercial release here without any assessment of the impacts on our export markets. The only criterion currently considered is the safety of those products.

What the bill would do, very simply, is to call for a change to the regulations attached to the act that would require than an analysis also be done of the effect of the use of these genetically engineered seeds on Canada's export market.

It is a pretty straightforward bill. There is not much to it. It is very direct and very, very simple and straightforward. There is already a mechanism for analyzing what the impact of genetically engineered seed will be in Canada, and this just adds another piece to that analytical policy, and a very important one.

Why is it so important? We have seen, we have had a great example of, the problems that can be associated with the use of genetically engineered seed, a cautionary tale, if you will, from the rough experience of Canadian farmers related to the use of an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called the Triffid, which contaminated Canadian flax exports. That was back last year when a lot of this was happening. The GE Triffid flax was not approved for human consumption or environmental release outside of Canada and the U.S.

Last September, companies in European countries began removing products from their shelves and distribution lines, and Canadian shipments of flax to Europe were quarantined. Europe represents a significant part of the Canadian flax market. About 60% of Canadian flax exports went to Europe, and by the end of last year 35 countries that had recorded contaminated flax from Canada closed their markets to Canadian flax exports.

That is a huge problem. A significant market for Canadian farmers has been closed because of the fact these genetically engineered flax seeds somehow got into the product. This has caused chaos for that particular product.

The reality is that it is farmers who are bearing the brunt of the cost of that problem. In addition to the cost of market uncertainty with the collapse of the flax market related to this and lower prices, farmers are paying for the testing and cleanup of their farms. Farmers are now also being asked to forego using their farm-saved seed and to take on the extra cost of growing certified flax seed in 2010 for export to Europe.

Even though this was not a problem created by Canadian farmers, it has certainly fallen back on their shoulders to deal with the problem, now that it exists. Yet if we had done our due diligence, if a provision like the one that is in Bill C-474 had been in place, the kind of the analysis that would look at what the effect of a problem related to genetically engineered seed would be on Canadian producers or Canadian farmers, it would have been identified and hopefully would have led to the avoidance of this particular problem.

One of the other side issues related to the bill is the short shrift that it was given in the agriculture committee. Unfortunately, there were games going on, it is fair to say, at that committee when it came to dealing appropriately with this piece of legislation. Out of the blue there was a move to get it off the agenda of the committee. In fact, one morning a committee meeting was cancelled, even though witnesses had been flown in by the committee across Canada to testify on this particular bill. The Canadian Wheat Board, the National Farmers Union and the scientist Rene Van Acker were scheduled to appear at a meeting that was abruptly cancelled just minutes before it was due to start.

The committee had paid to bring these people to Ottawa to testify before the committee. It is certainly not a great use of committee resources and the resources of Parliament when that kind of abrupt action is taken to prevent witnesses from speaking on this very important issue. Certainly the Canadian Wheat Board and the National Farmers Union have a clear interest and clear experience with this kind of issue and should have been able to present their case on the bill to the committee.

What happened as a result of that? There were some folks at the committee from the parties that prevented this committee meeting from going ahead who felt guilty about it. What did they do? They announced another study. That is always a great fallback position, not to deal with the specific problem before us but instead suggest a larger study. In fact, members of the committee are engaging in that study now, when they could have been dealing with a very specific measure that would have assisted the situation and made a clear recommendation on how to deal with the question of genetically engineered seed. Now instead we are doing this broader study, which seems to be pushed somewhat toward the side of the industry and not to the needs of producers, as this bill is designed.

I am glad the member brought this forward. I hope that members will support it. It is a very important piece of legislation for Canadian farmers and Canadian consumers.