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NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway (B.C.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 50.10% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this House and speak on Bill C-6, an act to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
We debate a wide range of subjects in this House. They are all important, but some subjects are more serious than others and some have more implications than others. Some deal with policy that affects our lives, but once in a while an issue comes up that involves matters of life and death and invokes some of the most important considerations that a government and a deliberative body like this one can have. This is one such act.
This bill deals with the use of cluster munitions by states around the world. It is the position of the official opposition, the New Democrats, to oppose Bill C-6 in its current form on the grounds that it contradicts and undermines the very international treaty that it is supposed to implement. I would point out to Canadians watching that the New Democrats did what a good official opposition does; that is, we attempted to work with the government and, in a good faith attempt, to amend the bill at committee. However, the Conservatives only allowed one small change. As we will see later on, it is not a change that is sufficient to render an inherently flawed bill acceptable to us.
This Conservative legislation purports to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I will say that it is widely recognized as the weakest attempt to do so in the world. It undermines the very spirit of the treaty it is supposed to implement.
The NDP will continue to push the government to further amend Bill C-6 to try to ensure that Canada's humanitarian reputation is not tarnished further by this weak legislation.
I will give a bit of background to detail exactly what we are talking about.
Cluster munitions are a weapon, an armament, that can release hundreds of explosives over a large area in a very short period of time. They have a devastating effect on the people in the area, mainly civilians. I will say right now that 98% of the casualties of cluster bombs around the world are innocent civilians.
These munitions often do not explode on impact and therefore can last many years after a conflict has ended. We have heard some testimony by members on all sides of the House that this is still a problem for countries such as Laos, where these weapons were dropped during the Vietnam war; some thousands of these munitions, unexploded ordnance, that are still in that country risk going off and harming and killing innocent men, women, and children today.
Canada participated actively in what was known as the Oslo process to produce a convention to ban the use of cluster munitions. The Oslo process came on the heels of the success of the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines. These are important international initiatives that attempt to get worldwide consensus on an agreement to refuse to use certain weapons that are of particularly egregious effect. The U.S., China, and Russia did not participate in the process, and they continue to have stockpiles of cluster munitions to this day.
Despite strong opposition from the majority of states participating in the Oslo process and from many non-governmental organizations that have an interest in peace and in moving forward to a more civilized world, Canada succeeded in negotiating an article into the final text of the convention that explicitly allows for continued military interoperability with non-party states. That is article 21 of the treaty. In other words, Canada worked to allow and facilitate the continued use of cluster munitions by states that refused to participate in the process or sign the treaty, but limited that to the concept of interoperability, which essentially meant that a nation's military that was working in conjunction with an ally would not necessarily face criminal sanction under the treaty if its ally happened to use cluster munitions.
It was surprising and unacceptable to many countries in the world to see Canada urge the exception that would continue to allow the use of these devastatingly horrific weapons. The Minister of Foreign Affairs used the word “horrific” to describe these weapons, and properly so.
These weapons are often the size of batteries or small tennis balls, and they come, as the name would suggest, in clusters. When a cluster of these munitions explodes, many of these things are spread. Where they end up cannot be controlled. Often they exist for years unexploded until someone accidentally trips them, and then an innocent person is hurt.
After Canada, some years ago, negotiated that treaty, even with the narrow exception, the government then, as it was committed to do under that treaty, drafted the legislation that is before us in this chamber that is supposed to implement its obligations under the Oslo Treaty.
Bill C-6 now comes before us. When it came before us in its original draft form, inexplicably and completely unacceptably, the bill contained a number of widened exceptions that would continue to allow and facilitate the use of cluster munitions, directly contrary to the spirit and intent of the treaty Canada signed.
In its original form that the government drafted, it put in a clause, clause 11 of the bill, that would permit Canadian soldiers to use cluster munitions, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions whenever they were acting in conjunction with another country that was not a member of the convention. It would also allow Canadian military personnel to request the use of cluster munitions by another country. That is shocking.
After sitting in an international arena to negotiate the end of the use of these munitions, and even though Canada, incorrectly, I think, advocated at that treaty table that there be a limited exception, the interoperability concept, the legislation the Conservatives drafted and brought before the House widened those exceptions, which effectively gutted the intent of the bill.
At the foreign affairs committee, New Democrats, led by our foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, supported by Canadian and international civil society groups, pushed for changes to the bill. We engaged closely with the government in public and through direct dialogue to encourage improvements to this legislation, and we were successful to a limited extent. We were successful in persuading the government to formally prohibit the use of cluster munitions by Canadian soldiers.
The bill comes before us with that one improvement, but it would still permit Canadian soldiers and military to request the use of cluster munitions by another country, to acquire cluster munitions, to possess cluster munitions, and to transport cluster munitions when they are acting in concert with another country.
Unfortunately, these loopholes are rightly attracting the criticism not only of Canadians but of the world. Without amendments to rectify these loopholes, Canada's commitment to ending the use of cluster munitions will be superficial at best. Indeed, many suggest that Bill C-6 would even damage the convention as a whole by establishing an international precedent for opt-outs and exemptions.
As it currently stands, Canada's legislation has been called the weakest of all countries in the world to have ratified this convention, and that is no small feat, because 113 countries have signed the convention and 84 have ratified it, and of those countries, Canada has the weakest legislation.
I am going to ask the indulgence of my colleagues for a minute. In six years, almost, in the House, I have yet to mention a very special person in my life, and that is my mother, Renee Marlene Davies. She is a very lovely and talented woman. She is hard working. She is loyal. She is a fantastic mother. I mention her because this debate made me think of her for two reasons. First, she was born on December 7, 1941. That is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. It was a surprise attack. It was unprovoked. It shocked the United States. In fact, it shocked the world. That war was ended in the Japanese theatre some four years later by the dropping of two horrific weapons of mass destruction, atomic bombs.
The issues of the eradication and control of nuclear weapons continue to this day, and the government has continued that process. I understand that the government has completely boycotted and sanctioned Iran. It has closed our embassy even because of its view that Iran's development of nuclear processes threaten international security. I think that, not quite to the same degree but similar in kind, so do cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs threaten international peace and security in a different way, perhaps not in such a dramatic profound way, but when we have thousands of people around the world killed by cluster bombs, people who have nothing to do with the conflict, that is mass killing of innocent people and is something that should shock the conscience of all right-thinking people.
The second reason article 11 made me think of my mother is because she would never countenance me using dangerous or illegal products, or allow me to hold a product for a friend of mine, transport it for a friend of mine, or to request a friend of mine to use it, which is what this is. None of us would permit, as a logical exercise, a state of affairs where we would say that something is so dangerous and horrific that we will not use it, but we will certainly hold it, transport it or ask someone else to use it if they really want to. That is aiding and abetting.
I know the Prime Minister and the government have often stated that they want Canada's foreign policy to be one of principle. They want our foreign policy to be one that is not subject to the vagaries of relative arguments or of relative shifting of values or morals. They want to take the right position, and it does not matter what other countries think.
Why is that perspective absent here? Why does the government not say that it will not compromise its strict and absolute commitment to the eradication of a weapon that has no place in a civilized world? These weapons have no place in modern warfare at all, and the government should say that it will not consider views otherwise from anybody, friend or foe alike.
Why have the Conservatives gotten relative here? Is it because they will not use it, but their friends use it, they cannot really stop them, so they will just have to get along with that? This is contrary to the principled assertion the government claims to follow.
The government's approach to the Cluster Munitions Convention fits into a broader pattern of weakness on arms control, and I do not think that affects just our government, but it affects many countries in the world. The government has refused to join all of our NATO allies in signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty and it has loosened restrictions on arms exports.
The New Democrats, for our part, fully supported the creation of a treaty to ban cluster munitions. We fully believe that Canada should take a leadership role on the world stage and say that under no circumstances should these weapons be used and we will not be part of it in any fashion whatsoever. We will not have our military work with another military that uses them, end of story. That is a principled approach to the use of what has been described as horrific weapons of war, which do not kill soldiers, they kill civilians.
The bill would undermine the convention rather than implement it. Therefore, we are opposed to the bill as presented. We will continue to urge the government to make the kind of changes that I would like to think the Conservatives want to make.
I have heard members opposite talk about their commitment to ending the use of these weapons. They have described, in very accurate detail, the devastating impact of these weapons. They know that these weapons have no place in the modern world and should not be used by any country of good conscience. However, we know that Israel, the United States, China and Russia use them.
There are validators of our position, such as Earl Turcotte, the former senior coordinator for Mine Action at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He was the head of the Canadian delegation to negotiate this convention. He also negotiated the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as the Ottawa convention. Mr. Turcotte resigned as a result of Canada attempting to implement this weak legislation.
Mr. Turcotte is active in advocating for stronger legislation. This is coming from someone who I think has the most credibility of anybody, perhaps, in the country on this subject. He said:
...the proposed...legislation is the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the convention [on cluster munitions] to date.
It fails to fulfill Canada's obligations under international humanitarian law; it fails to protect vulnerable civilians in war-ravaged countries around the world; it betrays the trust of sister states who negotiated this treaty in good faith, and it fails Canadians who expect far better from our nation.
Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada, said this:
Canada should have the best domestic legislation in the world [not the worst]. We need to make it clear that no Canadian will ever be involved with this weapon again but from our reading this legislation falls well short of those standards.
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser said this:
It is a pity the current Canadian government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.
I will pause there for a moment. Canadians have always been proud of Canada's historic position on the world stage, where we have been respected by countries around the world as a country of balance, a country of moderation, a country of peacemaking, a country of peacekeeping, a country that is respected around the world as an honest broker. Yet we have people no less than former prime ministers of other Commonwealth countries like Australia saying that our approach now is timid, inadequate, and regressive.
I would venture to say that the Canadians I talk to, and I would dare say the majority of Canadians, want to see Canadian reassert our historic role on the world stage where we are respected for our fairness, where we are admired for our ability to bring peace, good sense, and responsibility to situations of conflict. We are a middle power, and that is a position on the world stage that we have historically occupied.
Instead, under the government, we are turning into a country that is associated with aggression, violence, and lack of international commitment—for example, the government withdrawing from Kyoto, the only international treaty on climate change. Our lack of standing in this world is demonstrated by a number of objective facts. For the first time in history, Canada did not get our turn at the UN Security Council and in fact had to withdraw our application because we knew Canada would suffer an embarrassing defeat by the United Nations, the other nations of the world.
As I have already said, 98% of all cluster munitions casualties have been civilians. One cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets and typically scatters them over an area the size two to four football fields. Up to 37 countries and territories have been affected by cluster munitions use in armed conflict, 19 countries have used cluster munitions in combat, and 34 countries have at one point produced the weapons. Half of those have since ended production, some as a result of the convention.
While Canada has never used or produced cluster munitions, and I think that is a testament to our international position that I just described, the global stockpile of cluster bombs totals approximately four billion, with a quarter of those in U.S. hands.
I would end by saying that I would urge the government to work with its closest allies, United States and Israel, and use our influence to urge them to sign this treaty and urge them not to use these weapons, so that Canadians can once again reassert our respected, peaceful, and responsible position on the world stage, as Canadians want.
Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I think it is always a difficult question for members of this House when we are presented with a flawed bill, and we have to ask ourselves whether a flawed bill is better than no bill.
I am looking at this bill. All members of this House, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has described cluster bombs as a horrific weapon. There is no question that this weapon is something that all right-minded people in civilized countries of whatever stripe, from the left, right or centre, all agree are weapons that simply should not and cannot be used in this world.
We have agreed as a country in this treaty that Canadian soldiers will not use these weapons. However, my understanding is that, through the loopholes that our government somehow led and negotiated, Canadian soldiers would still be allowed to acquire, possess or transport cluster munitions when they are acting with other non-party states because of the concept of interoperability. In others words, it wants to allow Canadian soldiers when we are working with countries that will not sign this treaty to keep using them.
We have this concept in our law about being an accessory. If using a horrific weapon is wrong, how can being party to transporting or facilitating the use of that weapon by someone else not be equally as wrong?
Committees of the House June 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, New Democrats understand the importance of trade to Canada's economy and believe we must expand and diversify our trade relationships around the world. That is why New Democrats support broader and deeper economic relations with the European Union. We believe a well-negotiated agreement between Canada and the EU would have the potential to benefit citizens of both jurisdictions.
We are pleased to see a report on CETA tabled today and would draw Canadians' attention to the supplemental report drafted by the NDP, appended to the study.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government has mishandled the CETA file egregiously. It has bargained poorly and communicated desperation. It has failed to negotiate with transparency and accountability and ignored vast numbers of important Canadian stakeholders. Serious concerns have been raised about CETA's impact on Canadians' prescription costs, on our dairy industry, on our supply management system, on our provinces' and cities' ability to encourage local economic development and deliver public services, and on our government's ability to legislate in the public interest, especially in the health, environment, and social policy areas.
It is our hope that this supplementary report will help to further inform parliamentarians about the diversity of Canadian perspectives concerning CETA.
Committees of the House June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I happily withdraw the comment “hypocrite” and stand by my comment that the government is marked by hypocrisy.
Committees of the House June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, there was no unparliamentary language used whatsoever. I used the word “hypocrisy” in the House and if I did use the word “hypocrite”, I stand by it.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely true. One of the anti-democratic features of omnibus bills, which the current government has become addicted to, is that it means there are many provisions of a bill that are rammed through this House in committee that never are studied in any detail at all. Regardless of whether they are from the right, the left or the centre, it does not matter; that means poor governance.
It is the duty of representatives of this House. The Canadian public sent members of Parliament here as our primary duty to be a watchdog on government spending. That is the essential role of parliamentarians in this place. That means that we should be able to scrutinize and have time to look at and review every single proposal of the government. A government that is afraid of scrutiny, as is the current government, is a government that is afraid of the Canadian people.
I would point out one other thing. It is a fact in this country, and the Bank of Canada governors have pointed out, that there is some $600 billion of corporate money sitting idly on the sidelines that is not being invested productively in our country, not being used for job creation. If it is true that cutting corporate taxes, as the Conservatives have said, would unleash the power of the corporate sector to stimulate the Canadian economy, they have some explaining to do as to why there is $600 billion of idle capital on the side while there are more Canadians unemployed today than there were when the Conservatives came to office and household debt is at the highest level in Canadian history.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, cherry-picking figures has been a hallmark of the current government. I noticed that the minister picked corporate revenues from 2008, just when the recession was about to hit and compared them to projected numbers in 2018, as if that is a fair comparison.
The second point I would make is that the minister just admitted that he has slapped $18 billion of extra income tax on corporations in this country, which seems to fly in the face of the Conservatives' claim that they have cut taxes for businesses.
Finally, what I would point out is that the Conservatives still believe in the discredited theories of Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman, that the way to get more revenue is to cut taxes. Trickle-down economics does not work, cutting taxes does not work in terms of raising revenue. That is why the government is in trouble revenue-side and has had to slash services to Canadians. Canadians are not buying it.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, they may not be clapping when they hear the conclusion. It cost the federal government coffers an estimated further $20 billion. What the Conservatives did was put Canada into a structural deficit. If there had been no recession whatsoever, with no requirement for special stimulus spending whatsoever, their poor policy-making and poor economic planning put the Canadian federal budget into structural deficit, which required what the government has done, which is slash services.
How has the government responded? What has it done? It has closed Coast Guard stations. It has closed Service Canada offices. It has closed veterans services and offices. It has sold foreign embassies and properties. It has slashed funding to the CBC. It has sold off Canada's coin collection. It has eliminated the small business job creation tax credit, the engine of Canada's economy that creates eight to nine out of every ten jobs in this country. It has eliminated support for small business in this country. It has obliterated environmental impact assessments. It has closed the Experimental Lakes program. It has cut scientists and public servants of all kinds. It has even allowed the sale of the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada.
That is what the government has done to make up for its poor economic planning and the fact that it cannot manage the federal budget and has put us in a structural deficit. What it has done is basically slash services to Canadians.
What has the government done here? It has come back with another 360-page omnibus bill that has 500 clauses that would amend 60 acts, because it knows that if it put the discrete portions of this act before this House for scrutiny, Canadians would not tolerate many of the changes that exist in this bill. That is why the government does not have the courage to have each part of this act exposed to democratic scrutiny and the Canadian public. However, the Canadian public knows what is going on.
Do members know what? The biggest myth that is going around the House, and what always precedes the fall of a government, is the hubris with which they think everything is going well.
In Vancouver Kingsway, I can tell members that if we ask Canadians if they are better off today than they were in 2006, they would say no. If we talked to young people who are 22 or 24 years old and asked them if they are able to find the kind of job they dreamed of, start their career, and get a well-paid, family-sustaining job, they would say no. If we asked couples in their 30s in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland if they are able to buy a house, start their family, or find affordable housing, they would say no. If we asked single parents or retirees how comfortable they are, they would say that they are very worried. The Conservative government has increased the retirement age to receive old age security benefits from 65 to 67. It has made Canadians less secure.
In 2015, when we ask Canadians what their economic experience is under the Conservative government and whether these budgets have made their lives better, I do not think the Conservatives will be laughing then as loudly as they are tonight.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
We are talking about Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures. We have heard a lot of talk by all members of the House today about Canada's economy and our fiscal performance over the years.
It is appropriate to start my speech by going over some metrics, some actual numbers that tell Canadians what the performance of the government has been since Conservatives took office in 2006 until the end of 2013, which is where we have our most recent numbers.
The amount spent by the Conservative government on advertising since 2009, touting its economic action plans, is $113 million. The national unemployment rate in Canada in 2006, just before the government took office, was 6.6%. Today it is 7.2%. The national unemployment rate of youth in 2006 at the time the Conservatives took office was 12.2%. Today it is over 14%.
Among 34 OECD nations in employment creation in the 2006-13 time period, Canada ranks 20th. The number of annual consecutive deficits filed by the government is six. The number of budget deficit targets hit by Conservative finance ministers since 2006 is zero.
The amount added to Canada's national federal debt since the Conservative government came to power in 2006 is $123.5 billion. The portion of total federal debt that we have in Canada today, accumulated just since the government came to power in 2006, is one-fifth.
The per cent increase in the real average hourly wage of Canadians in 2006-13 is zero. The percentage drop in productivity, that is the GDP per employee in our country from 2006-13, is negative 1.9%.
In terms of trade, which is the area of my responsibility to watch and critique the government on, when the government came to power in 2006, Canada had a current account surplus of $20.4 billion. That is the total of all goods, services and investments going in and out of the country. At the end of 2013, we had a deficit of $60.4 billion. That is an $80 billion swing to the negative in the last seven years, over $10 billion of lost goods, services and investment in our country for each and every year that the government has been in power.
The merchandise trade deficit that exists in Canada today is a staggering $110.4 billion. That means that we import $110.4 billion more of manufactured items, the kind of items that characterize modern industrial economies, than we export. That is not surprising because under the current government, since 2006, the percentage of Canada's exports that are raw resources has gone up by 50%.
Quantitatively and qualitatively the trade performance of the government has been a disaster, no less a figure than former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney said that the single biggest drag on the Canadian economy had been the government's underperformance in trade.
My hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who is our finance critic now, talked about 2008 and what the real state of affairs was then. I happen to be fortunate enough to be sent here by the good people of Vancouver Kingsway at that time, so I was in the House in October 2008 as well, and I campaigned in that election.
I remember the Prime Minister, who was touted as an economist, during the campaign in September 2008 when asked if there was a recession coming, said that a recession was a “ridiculous hypothetical”.
I was in the House with many other members in October 2008, when the finance minister tabled an economic update that projected a surplus for the next year and projected an austerity budget, only to be hit within a matter of weeks with the biggest recession to hit this country since the Great Depression. Neither the Prime Minister, through his economics training, nor the finance minister, with the full resources of the Department of Finance, with all of the tools at their disposal, could forecast that Canada was headed for a massive recession.
I want to talk about the deficit position of this country. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they inherited seven consecutive budget surpluses that averaged $12 billion. From 2006 to 2008, the government cut the GST by two percentage points. With each percentage point cut, federal government revenue was reduced by $6 billion. With that one move alone, the government had essentially eliminated the budgetary surplus, and it would have put Canada at balanced budget with just that one move.
However, the Conservatives did more. They made a policy decision to carry on with the Liberals' orgy of corporate tax cuts to go from 27% down to 21%. The Conservative government took corporate tax rates from 21% down to 15%—
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, here are some numbers that are actually factual about the government's term since 2006. When it came into office, Canada's national debt was about $480 billion. Today it is $620 billion. One-fifth of the total debt of Canada was accumulated in the last seven years under the Conservative government. We know that the unemployment figures are high. We know that there have been seven successive deficit budgets, and we know that there has been a massive slash of services to Canadians.
I want to focus on the comments by my hon. colleague from Vancouver. He talked about a tax credit for search and rescue. This is the place where the government closed the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. In Vancouver and on the B.C. coast, people's lives and health are now in danger because the government cannot even see fit to fund search and rescue operations.
However, my question is about FATCA. We have a million Canadians in this country who have to now report their own personal financial information, which will go to the U.S. government, and they are subject to fines and penalties because they now have to file taxes there. These are people who have lived in Canada for 50 or 60 years, and they just happen to have American citizenship by birth.
Can the member tell the million Canadians with dual citizenship that they will not be subject to fines and penalties for not complying with filing U.S. tax returns when they did not feel that they had to do that?