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Liberal MP for Guelph (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 43.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Care for Veterans October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 532 put forward by the hon. member for Edmonton Centre. When it comes to this subject matter, the credentials of the sponsor of this motion are impeccable. It is truly an honour to serve with him on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and I genuinely mean that.
The motion, which calls on the government to examine all possible options to ensure that a fully unified continuum of care is available to our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces and our veterans, is good. It is self-evident to me and to many other members of this House that the elimination of unnecessary or redundant inter-departmental and intra-departmental practices surrounding the delivery of services, assistance to families, and other programming, is necessary for us to deal fairly with the men and women who have sacrificed so much. In fact, I would go even further than it being necessary; I would say it is fundamental to fulfilling our sacred obligation.
It was another Conservative, our then prime minister Sir Robert Borden, who promised Canadians returning from the battlefields of the First World War that there existed a social covenant between the government and veterans. What former prime minister Borden understood, and what this motion underscores, is that the women and men serving in the Canadian Armed Forces serve with the knowledge that they are called upon to accept unlimited liability. There were hundreds of thousands who paid the full limit of that liability with their lives.
When they return from theatre, if they return, these men and women should expect their government to honour their side of the bargain and provide the necessary resources for physical or emotional rehabilitation, further education and skills translation, or adequate, sufficient, and accessible compensation for their disabilities.
While the current government has instructed its lawyers in British Columbia to argue that this covenant is merely a political promise to get votes rather than it being an inalienable right, Liberals believe not only that our sacred obligation is real, but that we must abide by it. In fact, Liberals from across the country gathered in February to pass a resolution to that effect.
We believe that where Canadians have served their country honourably as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, their service requires a personal commitment to put one's life on the line on behalf of their fellow Canadians. Moreover, this service is not only borne by members of the Canadian Armed Forces but also their families. We will live up to Canada's sacred obligation to our Armed Forces and veterans by allowing them and their loved ones to maintain a quality of life worthy of their sacrifice.
Unfortunately, the current Conservative government has wandered away from similar commitments.
To start, the Conservatives have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from Veterans Affairs Canada, tying the hands of the department when it comes to delivering the benefits and supports that veterans rely on. Even more egregiously, the current government has closed nine regional Veterans Affairs offices, making it more difficult for veterans to access these benefits and services in their communities. It is unconscionable that veterans, some of them seniors, might have to drive hours outside of their communities to receive face-to-face help. Conservatives have claimed that veterans can still attend nearby Service Canada centres for services, but front-line staff at Service Canada are not trained to specifically help veterans, and case workers are currently burdened with a four-to-one caseload ratio.
Take for instance the case of veterans in Glace Bay, in the riding of my colleague the honourable member for Cape Breton—Canso. Since the government shut down the Veterans Affairs Canada office in Sydney, volunteer service officers at the Royal Canadian Legion have been working tirelessly in an effort to fill the void created for veterans in the region. Whereas the VAC staff, formerly located in the Sydney office, knew the forms, the veterans, and the benefits to which these veterans might be entitled, the volunteers at the Legion, well intentioned though they are, simply do not have the expertise or training or resources to cope with the workload that the government should be doing.
None of this should take away from the motion before us. I believe that the honourable member, like so many Canadians, also sees gaps in the treatment and availability of resources, which is why he presented this inspired motion.
The motion calls specifically for five things to occur to ensure a fully unified continuum of care: (a) that all unnecessary bureaucratic practices, both within and between departments related to service delivery are eliminated; (b) that all duplication and overlap in the delivery of available services and supports are eliminated; (c) that care and support, in particular for seriously injured veterans be improved; (d) that continuous support is provided to veterans' families during and after their service; and, (e) that connections between the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and Veterans Affairs Canada get stronger.
However, the fact this motion has been brought at all proves that the Conservative government is failing many of our veterans.
Many of these obstacles were highlighted clearly in the testimony before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs by Corporal Mark Fuchko, who when asked upon his return by the parliamentary secretary for Veterans Affairs to elaborate about his experience dealing with the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada, answered the following:
When I first came home, I was not the first amputee from the war in Afghanistan and I constantly ran into hurdles that really affected my quality of life and my family's as well. Things like aids to daily living were almost impossible to obtain. Just to get my house accessible took over a year. That was a really long drawn-out nightmare. I'm not the only one who actually experienced that. There seemed to be kind of a battle with what was covered and what was not and who would cover what. That was quite a challenge, and it seems to me that there was a lot of overlap, but people weren't necessarily sure if Veterans Affairs or the military was going to cover it, and things like lead time, house modifications, and stuff like that were a real challenge for sure. I would say that probably the one common thing is housing, especially for the severely disabled.
The military originally took this on but there is a whole group of caveats that make it difficult for the delivery of this in a timely fashion. For example, some people find themselves severely disabled coming back to houses that they can't physically occupy just because their houses are not wheelchair friendly, wheelchair safe. They essentially require a whole new house to live in.
I ask the House for its indulgence for that lengthy quote because I believe it demonstrates the current experience of Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans so clearly.
Corporal Fuchko lost both legs in Afghanistan. He should not have to fight with individual departments so he can get the bare minimum of living accommodations suitable to his new reality. It is unconscionable, and from the testimony we heard at committee, not an experience that is exclusive to him.
We would support any measure to facilitate this system, instead of presenting veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members with a maze upon their return.
The family is another vital element, if not the cornerstone upon which many of these benefits should be built. In his testimony before committee, former senator, retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, highlighted the enhanced roles that families play in deployments and rehabilitation. He said:
...by the time we come back from those missions, we see a family who has also lived the missions. The families are now living the missions with the members. It is not a separated exercise. It is a marriage.
As with Jenny Migneault, the wife of a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, her advocacy highlights that beyond the medical professionals and past the bureaucrats, there are wives, husbands, and children, among other loved ones, who are shouldering the burden of service in the Canadian Armed Forces but without any of the resources or support.
It is each of these people, and hundreds of thousands more, to whom we owe the obligation to break down the obstacles that currently exist. To them, we owe the passage of this motion. However, more than that, they deserve that this motion receives real and concerted consideration by the Conservative government. They do not deserve the same consideration that saw the Minister of Veterans Affairs respond to 14 unanimous recommendations from the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs that examined the new veterans charter by kicking them down the road to a yet to be determined date, with no concrete action. They deserve the consideration requisite to the severity and significance of the sacrifice made by our men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
I thank the hon. member for Edmonton Centre for raising this important motion and for his advocacy on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans. I hope we can all do the right thing by not only passing this motion but by acting on it now.
Care for Veterans October 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I, too, want to acknowledge the efforts of the member for Edmonton Centre on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We have worked collaboratively and effectively. We do not play politics with issues like this. We do try to get beyond politics and while I have no particular axe to grind, it is not enough to say that we all love our veterans. We have to show them. We have to show a commitment to our sacred covenant.
Yes, the gears of government turn slowly, but the government has known for years the problems our veterans are facing right now. It is not a recent phenomenon or recent awareness. The Conservatives closed nine veterans offices across the country at a cost of $5 million. They spent $4 million on self-promoting advertising on a program that only costs about $200,000 for transitional services. That is $4 million on advertising versus $5 million to keep a veterans office open.
I want to know from the member why the minister has kicked the can down the road yet again. There were unanimous proposals and recommendations that we thought would tie him in because of the unanimity, but he has kicked the can down the road again. Please do not give me that it takes time for government to transition.
Veterans Affairs October 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the government's response to the veterans affairs committee report on the new veterans charter should have been a strong signal to veterans, but instead the minister merely kicked the can further down the road.
After tonight's vote, we shall be engaged in a war in Iraq. That means more members of our forces will someday be veterans without the resources they need and deserve.
Canadian Forces members are willing to put their lives on the line. Why must they return with doubt that they will be cared for by a government more willing to invest in self-promoting advertising than in the well-being of our veterans?
Mental Illness Awareness Week October 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, over the course of their lifetimes, one in five Canadians will experience mental illness. Millions of Canadians, our friends, family and loved ones will suffer a painful, though often invisible and isolating injury.
There is no better opportunity than this Mental Illness Awareness Week to ensure that those among us suffering from mental illness are not alone. Prejudices and misconceptions, which surround mental health issues, still exist and stigmatize sufferers. It is incumbent upon us to break through and fight stigma. It is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that access to professional care is available to whoever is in need.
We cannot lose another soldier, or veteran, or police officer, or firefighter, or paramedic. We cannot lose another mother, father, brother or sister. We have to let them know that they are not alone.
We must ensure that awareness of mental illness extends beyond a week, or even beyond a year. Let us always keep in mind those among us who are suffering and resolve every day to do better with mental health treatment.
Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act October 2nd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I did give it a great deal of thought before I put forward this bill. Members can sit in this house for quite some time and never have an opportunity to introduce a private member’s bill, debate it, and hopefully see it pass. I wanted to ensure that the bill I put forward would have an impact on the lives of Canadians and also would be something members from all parties could indeed come together on and support. For those reasons, it was my great pleasure to introduce a bill that would establish Service Canada as the single point of contact relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or resident.
The death of a loved one is not an easy time for any of us, so I am certainly glad to put forward a non-partisan bill that would create a practical, compassionate approach to helping Canadians through a very difficult time.
I am grateful to all MPs who contributed so constructively to this debate, especially the Minister of State for Social Development, whose genuine interest and collaboration were essential. Also, I thank the members for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Saint-Lambert, Cape Breton—Canso, Brant, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Don Valley East, Sherbrooke, Charlottetown, Markham—Unionville, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development, and the member for Okanagan—Shuswap.
With reference to the remarks made by the member for Markham—Unionville, indeed, this idea, with all humility, was not my own. It was in fact the idea of Bryon Wilfert, who first brought the idea before Parliament but did not have the opportunity to navigate it through the House.
What I have heard from Canadians, industry stakeholders, and members alike is clear: the existing system for notifying the federal government of the death of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can and must be improved. The program must be made more efficient for the grieving family on the one end, who should only have to tell government once of a death, and in the interests of the government on the other.
The process of notifying all the necessary government authorities when a loved one passes away can be tedious, confusing, and sometimes overwhelming, but it is also an often painful process at a very sensitive time. It is a disservice to everyone when Canadians are unaware of what processes currently exist, preventing them from receiving adequate services and assistance while bereaved.
What the bill would accomplish by establishing a single point of contact at Service Canada would be the removal of uncertainty and confusion for family members and estate administrators. Similarly, as a public policy gain, I believe that it would modernize service delivery and reduce duplication and thereby reduce costs. As was said by the member for Charlottetown, a similar system in the United Kingdom, Tell Us Once, has saved $300 million over 10 years.
What I have heard from my colleagues in their comments here in the House and elsewhere is that these are common sense changes, and this is a common sense piece of legislation that they would like to see succeed, regardless of political stripe. That does not mean there cannot be changes made. Some speakers highlighted areas of the bill that could use some modification, and I am pleased to say that I have begun work with the government on ways we can strengthen the bill to ensure that all parties can support it.
If passed at second reading, I look forward to a full discussion of the bill at committee. I remain open to amendments to ensure that the bill remains consistent with existing legislation while ensuring that the government continues to move forward in implementing a secure process by which government departments are promptly informed and that these departments promptly respond when a Canadian passes away. I have said before that I would like MPs to hear public servants on how they would implement the bill and whether they feel that one year, as stipulated in the legislation, is a reasonable amount of time to implement the required changes or if more time is needed.
In closing, we have before us an opportunity to make a real difference for Canadians. It may not be glamorous, but it is truly important and practical. It is my sincere hope that all members of Parliament will support sending the bill to committee for further review and discussion of any necessary changes. I thank everyone for their participation in the debate of this issue; stakeholders, like the Funeral Service Association of Canada, for its information and intervention; and each of my constituents and Canadians across the country who contacted me with their questions and support of the bill.
Petitions September 29th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, petitioners in southwestern Ontario continue to ask this Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa. The signatories on this petition join the many others presented in this House over the last many years. Canadians remain justifiably worried about cross-contamination, co-existence, transportation, and production and call upon the government to impose a moratorium on its release until such time as a proper comprehensive analysis of the impact on both organic and non-organic alfalfa is done.
Business of Supply September 29th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, as I see it, this place is not unlike a boardroom where board members get to come together and ask questions of the operating officers, the chief financial officer, the chief operating officer, the chief executive officer, and get answers about the operations of the organization or company.
What has happened over the past many years is, as my friend has stated, the reverse is starting to happen. While it did happen in previous parliaments with previous parties, it seemed to accelerate in the last eight years since, in my respectful opinion, the Reform Alliance element kind of took over the Progressive Conservative Party and instead of debating and attacking policy and platform, they started to attack people and parties instead of having sensible conversations about things.
While I will support the motion, and I agree changes should be made, I am wondering if the member does not think more robust changes are required in order to force compliance with what used to be honoured custom, and is now custom being ignored. Things that would have been found in Motion No. 517 from the member—
Petitions September 26th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, across the country, Canadians are disappointed with the government's decision to ignore the social covenant we hold with our Canadian Forces members and veterans.
In recognition of the sacred obligation owed to all Canadian men and women brave enough to accept the ultimate liability in the service of our country, they call on us here to urge the Minister of Veterans Affairs to reopen the nine regional centres he closed; immediately implement the recommendations of the Veterans Ombudsman which are now a year old; fill all open positions for mental health professionals; and finally, act on investigations into military suicides.
Veterans Affairs September 26th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, in response to a question on the order paper, the Department of Justice revealed that the government has spent over half a million dollars on legal fees defending the Equitas lawsuit. This is over half a million dollars that has been spent denying that a social covenant exists with Canadian veterans, which is a stark contrast to the covenant that the Conservatives signed with NATO just last month when they acknowledged that it does exist.
The Conservatives have spent over a half a million dollars to date. Will they tell us how much more they will spend denying the social covenant, or will they finally drop their defence of the lawsuit?
Lincoln Alexander Day Act September 24th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise to speak to the designation of January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day in memory of his myriad contributions to Canada: as a young man who fought for his country, as a lawyer, as Canada's first black member of Parliament and first black cabinet minister, as Her Majesty's representative in Ontario, as chancellor of the University of Guelph, as a husband, and as a father.
It is barely two years since the incomparable Linc, as he was known, passed away, though his legacy lives on as strong as ever.
I thank the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for sponsoring here the bill of his colleague from the other place, to provide a national day to remember his life and legacy.
I also wish to thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for introducing a similar bill, and to all of our colleagues in the last parliament in Ontario, who voted unanimously to recognize January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day in the province of Ontario.
When I first heard of Lincoln Alexander's passing, I thought of the words of another great statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.
For all of the adversity he faced throughout his life, he was never dissuaded from serving his community. Undeterred by discrimination and other obstacles, Lincoln Alexander gave so very much, and his legacy as a great Canadian continues to give to this very day.
Canada in 1922, when Linc was born, was not always a terribly friendly place for black Canadians. He recounted in his memoirs that there were very few other black families and that he was always one of the only black students in his grade when going to school.
From that very early age, Linc faced discrimination, but he made it clear he would not let the blind hatred of others define him. He would be the master of his own destiny. He would not be deterred. So he walked tall and did whatever it took to earn the respect of those around him. That drive and determination would stay with him throughout his life and would become one of his defining features.
Too young to enlist as the Second World War began, Linc took a job helping the Canadian effort as a machinist, helping to assemble anti-aircraft guns in Hamilton, Ontario, until he was old enough to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. During that time, he distinguished himself as a wireless radio operator until his discharge at the end of the war in 1945.
From an early age, his mother instilled in Linc an appreciation for how important an education can be, something that stayed with him throughout his life. Using the resources available to him as a veteran, Linc went back to school and graduated from McMaster in 1949.
Confronted with racism and discrimination when he tried to enter the workforce, Linc went back to law school, determined to blaze his own path if others were more content to prejudge him on the colour of his skin instead of his qualifications as a veteran and top-tier university graduate.
He plowed ahead, graduated, and practised law in Hamilton until first trying his hand in politics. While he was not elected his first time in 1965, he managed to be elected as the Progressive Conservative member of Parliament for Hamilton West in 1968. With that, he became the first black Canadian member of Parliament, a clear message to all Canadians that race would not be allowed to impede the call to service. In fact, he said at that time:
...I accept the responsibility of speaking for...all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.
Before retiring from the House of Commons after 12 years as an MP, Linc went on to be the first black Canadian cabinet minister, serving as labour minister under then prime minister Joe Clark.
Though he retired from politics in 1980, he was not nearly done with firsts. In 1985, on the advice of then prime minister Brian Mulroney, Linc was appointed the 24th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the first black Canadian to hold a vice-regal post in Canada.
Over the course of his six years in this post, he demonstrated to all Ontarians his determination and work ethic.
In its obituary of the legendary man, the Toronto Star highlighted that as lieutenant governor, Alexander visited 672 communities, visited 230 schools, received 75,000 guests at 675 receptions, and more, and shook nearly 240,000 hands.
Serving the people of Ontario and Canada drove him. He left an imprint wherever he went and on whomever he met. He always made people feel unique, important and in the moment that one shared with him, that person was the centre of his world. There was such depth of character and integrity there.
When he left Queen's Park and the lieutenant governor's office in 1991, Linc was invested as chancellor of the University of Guelph, where his contributions over an astounding 5 term, 15-year tenure led him to be named chancellor emeritus when he retired in 2007. The appreciation for education his mother had given him as a young boy in Toronto and a young man finding his way in Hamilton held strong and was fundamental to how he approached his position as chancellor. He made an indelible impression on our community in Guelph in that time.
As recent as a couple of years ago, I can recall speaking to Linc at the rededication of the new Lincoln Alexander Hall at the University of Guelph. As always, he was warm and disarmingly charming. At the opening of the hall which now bears his name, I said this:
“The key to the university's engagement in our community as a collaborator and innovator was in part due to the vision and perseverance of the University of Guelph's longest standing chancellor, Chancellor Emeritus Lincoln Alexander”.
“We live in Canada's safest community and enjoy one of the highest rates of volunteerism across our country. Regularly, we are ranked as Canada's most compassionate community and one of the best Canadian cities in which to live - a ranking, due in no small part to the leadership generated by the University of Guelph. A new generation of leaders is being created here in Guelph at this university; a generation that will lead Canada and the world for years to come - a generation that will indeed change lives and improve life - with no better a mentor and role model than that found in Chancellor Emeritus Lincoln Alexander”.
I believe it is wholly fitting that his time in Guelph served as a bookend to his time in public life and as a leader. He had come so far from a time when he fought continually for the respect he deserved. He beat a path for generations of young men and women, black or otherwise, to reach their fullest potentials.
Alastair Summerlee, who just recently ended his tenure as president of the University of Guelph, saw Linc's impact on the community very similarly. He stated:
“Linc was an inspiration to thousands of students, alumni, staff and faculty at the University of Guelph. He had a special word for everybody he met. In an instant, as he talked to you, he made you feel that you were special - a talent that no-one I've ever met can match so elegantly”.
Bill Winegard, a predecessor of mine, put it this way when I asked him to share his thoughts on Linc. He said:
“I knew Lincoln Alexander for many years. I remember joking around with him when he was the minister of labour in the Clark government and when I became a minister, he said, “We both made it, Bill”. He did many great things, which I'm sure many other people took credit for. He was a lovely citizen and I am glad to have called him a friend”.
He broke barriers that, while broken, still exist. His life is a reminder that we must each continue the effort to eliminate prejudice and discrimination whatever the source may be. A dedication of a day in his memory will present us an opportunity to remind ourselves that we must continue his efforts on that day and every day of the year.
He was a friend, a leader, a teacher, a trailblazer, a public servant, and a great man. His loss remains significant, but so long as we live well and foster the values of determination, excellence and inclusivity, we will honour his legacy and he will live on.
It is only fitting that we honour that legacy by commemorating it through Lincoln Alexander Day each January 21.