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  • His favourite word is food.

Liberal MP for Guelph (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 43.40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today to speak for the first time as the Liberal critic for veterans affairs.

Over the years, as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Guelph branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, I have spent a considerable amount of time speaking with veterans, new and old, listening to their concerns, and I am certainly glad to now have the opportunity to hear from them across the country.

When deliberating legislation that will have an impact on our veterans, I think something the Veterans Ombudsman has written is particularly relevant and necessary for the adequate consideration of any veterans policy. The Veterans Ombudsman has written that he measures fairness of veterans policy in terms of, first, adequacy of the program; second, the sufficiency of resources supporting it; and third, accessibility of a program to those seeking assistance.

I have to say that it takes my breath away to hear the member for Brampton—Springdale stand in the House and fill this room with rhetoric and bluster on how much the government is actually doing for our veterans when he, as a member of the committee, has heard time and time again of the inadequate resources that are given to veterans and the issues that are ailing them.

On its face, Bill C-568 would require the government to create regulations that would extend health care benefits to former members of the Canadian Forces who meet the necessary requirements and have been honourably discharged; so we know who would access these programs. Adequacy of a program to care for these men and women is a difficult metric to meet and so it is a particularly sensitive consideration.

Throughout the generations, we as a Parliament and as Canadians have asked a select number of men and women to go at a moment's notice to places across the world to protect not just ourselves but others. When we make this request, there is the understanding that what we are asking of them is not always fair, it is not ever pleasant, and it will likely have long-lasting and serious repercussions, both physical and emotional, on them and their families. Their service requires members to make an incredibly personal and potentially life-altering commitment to place themselves in harm's way virtually anywhere the nation believes necessary.

What we ask of them is extraordinary. What we owe them is without measure. That said, there are things we must offer to acknowledge the significance of their sacrifice: responsiveness to the health care and financial needs of former Canadian Forces members.

Of late, the Conservative government has not been good about being responsive to the diverse needs of Canadian veterans, not when it shuts down nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices throughout the country, and certainly not when it shows an utter disregard for the social covenant that is owed to veterans by mounting a defence against the lawsuit seeking fairness for former Canadian Forces members in a B.C. court room.

I read an article this week in the Chronicle Herald about the uphill battle being faced by Cape Breton veterans Duncan McKeigan, Terry Collins, Charlie Palmer, Dan McNeil, and Ron Clarke, who are still trying to cope with the closure of the Sydney office. The article states:

There, at the Sydney office, caseworkers knew them by name, they say. Came to their homes to assess what the estimated 4,200 area vets needed. Gave them the kind of one-on-one services and personal support they still need while facing everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to the ailments of age.

Just yesterday at the veterans committee, we heard from Corporal Mark Fuchko who suffered the loss of both legs while in Afghanistan. He, too, suffers the same fate as Duncan, Terry, and Charlie, facing inadequate responses from government staff who have merely directed him to a 1-800 number where he is forced again and again to leave a message and hope someone calls him back.

I am struck, while watching many of these veterans fight for the benefits they deserve, by something I have heard many veterans say to me recently: “You break it; you buy it”. It was the things we asked them to do in the service of their country that broke them. How is it then that we can just turn our heads as if we never saw it happen in the first place and hope someone else comes to clean it up?

Another veteran, in an emotional closed session in Guelph, said it felt as if they went over as heroes and came back as zeroes.

I rose on Monday and asked the government how it could turn its back on a promise made a century ago to honour the sacrifice made by soldiers returning from the First World War. I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs how it was still possible for him to support the defence of the lawsuit brought in that B.C. court room on behalf of veterans, a defence based on the denial of the existence of a social covenant owed to our veterans, when only weeks ago he finally admitted that “Some have called the work done by Veterans Affairs to be a duty, a responsibility, a commitment, a social contract or a sacred obligation”. He also said, “I believe it is all of those things”. How hypocritical.

That is the same social contract that Sir Robert Borden believed it to be in 1914. It is the same covenant that is the very basis upon which these veterans are now before the court seeking justice.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Veterans Affairs Canada continue to argue that the social contract, the sacred obligation we owe, is simply political language used by politicians to get votes, which really confirms that messaging and votes are the only reasons the current Conservative government feigns support for our veterans.

On this side of the House, we believe that the social covenant is real and tangible. In fact, just weeks ago, after extensive consultation at our own policy convention in Montreal, a resolution was passed with overwhelming support resolving that Liberals would uphold the principles of that social covenant in the policies of both the Department of Defence and Veterans Affairs. We will live up to our country's sacred obligation to care for veterans and their families throughout their lives, allowing them to maintain a quality of life that is worthy of their great sacrifice. I believe that the bill before us proposed by the hon. member for Saint-Jean captures this spirit.

Serving members of the Canadian Forces, non-commissioned members and officers alike, have access to a range of health care through Canadian Forces health services. However, once these members have completed their military occupational classification requirements, and then, eventually, their time in the forces and are discharged honourably, these men and women will have access, regardless of being a pensioner or not, to the health services provided under the regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs. One would assume that includes additional benefits beyond those covered under various provincial health care plans. That being said, I am under the impression that most Veterans Affairs clients are already under the public service health care plan, and so this extends primarily to long-term care and dental services.

This leads to a concern I have after reading the bill, that there is very little by way of detail. It is not clear where the responsibility for delivery of care lies or what services are being added to the provision of care for most former Canadian Forces members, although the member for Saint-Jean did give some clarity to these issues during his speech today. I find it worrisome, however, that when dealing with veterans' issues, so much is left up to the legislative discretion of the government, which I already believe to be unable to deal adequately with veterans policy.

With that in mind, in large part I agree that the member for Saint-Jean has sought out the principle of adequacy in his attempt to ensure that the right programs are in place to meet the needs of all of our veterans. I believe it moves to broaden the applicability of health services and duly removes barriers to accessibility, although I think that we need to look more closely at ensuring that the program can be sufficiently resourced.

While I would like to have seen more specifics so that there might be more certainty for applicable former members of the Canadian Forces, it is paramount that we guarantee the health benefits, along with the well-being, of our serving and former Canadian Forces members.

I thank the member for bringing the bill forward and hope that we will have more opportunity to discuss it in greater depth at committee.

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, you have heard members from the NDP and the Liberal Party up several times in the last number of weeks, questioning the minister about the government's real commitment to our veterans.

The member speaks of a social covenant, a sacred obligation inside the House, and yet the government is denying the existence of that covenant or obligation in its defence against a lawsuit brought by veterans through Equitas in British Columbia right now.

I am wondering if the member for Saint-Jean sees the hypocrisy in this, the government's saying one thing, that it feels it has this sacred obligation, this covenant, with our veterans to care for them, and on the other hand doing very little to honour that contract. It takes members' bills like this to fulfill that obligation.

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party will be supporting the member's private member's bill.

I just want to ask him a question. You have heard members of your party, the NDP, and the Liberal Party up many times in the past—

Veterans Affairs April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, when Corporal Mark Fuchko, who lost his legs in Afghanistan, phones the 1-800 number that the government replaced Veterans Affairs offices with, he cannot get anyone to answer his calls, so he has to leave messages. The caseworkers who knew Cape Breton vets, Duncan McKeigan, Terry Collins, Charlie Palmer, Dan McNeil, and Ron Clarke by name are gone, replaced by a non-responsive hotline.

The government acknowledges a social covenant here, but denies it in court. If the government will not honour our sacred obligation to our vets, could it at least pick up the phone when they call?

Canada Post April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, across the country, Canadians are reeling in the wake of Canada Post's five-point action plan to make it more difficult to get their mail, but in Guelph, the changes appear to have come early.

We know that the end of door-to-door mail delivery, to be phased out gradually over the next couple of years, will have a drastic impact on business and, particularly, vulnerable populations like seniors and those with disabilities. Still, before these changes even take place in Guelph, residents went weeks this winter without any mail delivery to homes or businesses. Many tried to access superboxes that were so badly covered in snow that they could not get to them.

Seniors already concerned about the icy walk to their community box now have the additional worry of whether they will even be able to open their mail box once they get there.

This breakdown in the wake of the decision to stop home delivery cannot continue. Canada Post and this government must do something to reassure businesses and residents of Guelph and across Canada that their mail service is consistent and safe.

Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act March 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House since 2008. I have listened to the member for Malpeque, and there are very few people in this House who understand the trade file and the agricultural file more than that man.

While I have been on the agriculture committee, I have heard many comments about the incredible quality of Canadian agricultural products, livestock, grains, oilseeds, and the rest. However, in international discussions, the complaint is that while we produce good stuff we can never get it delivered to market. That is evident in what we are facing right now, with the inability to get our wheat to market.

I wonder if the member for Malpeque would comment on whether he believes it is the fault of the current government, or the railroad, or both.

Veterans Affairs March 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in the century since Robert Borden established our social covenant with brave Canadians who risk their lives in the service of our country, it has been the job of the government to hold up its end of that deal. Yet veterans seeking fairness in a B.C. courtroom are told by government lawyers that this social covenant was only a political statement. Imagine.

The minister finally acknowledged that a social covenant and sacred obligation does exist. Does the minister actually believe in the social covenant and will he drop his defence of the suit, or his new-found faith in our sacred obligation just a political statement only intended to get votes?

Veterans Affairs March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, some have called the work done by Veterans Affairs a duty, a responsibility, a commitment, a social contract, or a sacred obligation. If it is possible to agree with the Minister of Veterans Affairs on anything he has said, it is those words spoken by him last Thursday.

However, government lawyers deny the existence of a social contract in response to the suit brought by Equitas Society, arguing no further compensation is due to those veterans seeking fairness after their years of service. Will the minister now do the principled thing and instruct his lawyers to withdraw their defence?

Main Estimates 2014-15 March 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I understand that the agreement was on votes 1 and 5, and I am asking if the House leader for the government side could confirm that it is not 1 and 9, but 1 and 5.

University of Guelph March 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to recognize the 50th anniversary year of the University of Guelph. Founded in 1964, the U of G came together through uniting the long-standing Ontario Agricultural College, the Ontario Veterinary College, and the Macdonald Institute into a premier academic institution whose mission is to change lives and improve life.

The university's exceptional reputation of academic and research excellence lives on through the outstanding work of more than 30 Canada Research Chairs, groundbreaking programs like the barcode of life, and the many experts who appear before our parliamentary committees who hail from the University of Guelph.

This great university is a cornerstone of our community in Guelph. Its staff and students and the residents of our community have created a co-operative and caring environment, fostering a spirit of compassion and intellect and making our community one of the best in the country.

I congratulate the students, staff, faculty, and alumni on 50 incredible years as we look forward to an even brighter future.