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Liberal MP for York West (Ontario)
Won her last election, in 2011, with 47.00% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are glad that the previous debate is over and that this will be a much quieter period of time.
I am very pleased to rise, both as the representative of the people of York West and the Liberal industry critic, to lend my support to Bill C-626.
I would also like to congratulate my great colleague from Kingston and the Islands for his leadership and perseverance on a matter that is really of the utmost importance to all Canadians.
This is a perfect example of how science does matter in politics. Certainly there are those of us on this side of the House who understand the short-sighted actions of this government when it comes to census cuts. Bill C-626 would go a long way to righting many of those wrongs.
I think most would agree that in order to run a country that is fiscally prudent and socially responsible, which I know is very difficult for the government to understand, governments have to use real science and collect reliable data from the people they hope to serve. That is precisely what Bill C-626 is about.
The bill seeks to restore Canadians' trust in Statistics Canada by strengthening the political independence of the chief statistician over matters related to data sources, methodology, and professional standards.
Politicians need to focus on politics and leave scientists and statisticians to do what they do best. Muzzling and stymieing them serves no one.
In simple terms, Bill C-626 seeks to re-establish the role of internationally recognized best practices for official statistics in guiding the work of StatsCan. This reliability issue strikes to the heart of this discussion and many other discussions like the one we had today.
Census data allows governments to understand and become more aware of vulnerable sectors in Canadian society that require addressing. It allows governments to plan how and where to deliver services such as health care and education. If the information available is incomplete, skewed, or faulty, the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of Canadians is directly impacted. We are already seeing that on a daily basis.
The Liberal Party is committed to evidence-based policy. In order to develop this evidence-based policy, we must have access to reliable and trustworthy data. This is the bottom line and it is the spark that led to Bill C-626 being drafted in the first place.
The government's ill-fated 2010 decision to cancel the long form census was short-sighted and driven by a misinformed ideology again, but true to form this government plunged forward regardless.
Replacing the long form census with the national household survey has already compromised data quality and means that the data cannot be reliably compared with earlier census data. Worse than losing the ability to track population trends, the national household survey will cost taxpayers $22 million more than the census would have. This will not save even one penny for the public purse. Instead, the government is spending more than ever for incomplete and unreliable data.
Perhaps this back-of-the-napkin approach can help to explain why the Conservatives has been so hard-pressed to balance the books. Perhaps it is time to hire a real economist to help them out? In contrast, Liberal Party remains fiscally aware and committed to evidence-based policy.
So what does all of this mean from a public policy perspective? How would Bill C-626 help us to serve Canadians better? Put simply, in order to develop effective, evidence-based policy, governments need access to reliable and trustworthy data, but that is no longer the case and this government cares more about partisan advantage than about helping middle-class families, seniors, and students to get ahead.
Experts agree that the cancellation of the mandatory long form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle-class is faring. It is also making it more difficult for cities to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
Sadly, the impact from the loss of the long form census extends far beyond Parliament Hill and the federal government. Everyone from planners and researchers to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce agree that the government has no idea where to credibly spend taxpayer dollars to best deliver key programs and services.
Worse yet, as the available data become more and more outdated, the problem will get worse. Unfortunately, we have seen the government's economic incompetence, but now the dearth of information promises to compound Conservative fiscal ineptitude even further. Yet again, Canadians of tomorrow will suffer because of decisions the government has made today.
Allow me to be clear. The government's decision to cut the long form census will have an impact in every single community in Canada. The switch to a national household survey has created difficulties in determining income inequality trends, housing needs, and whether low-income families are getting adequate services. I do not think the government cares an awful lot about any of those, though. What this means for a resident living on Jane Street, or Islington Avenue, or Hucknall Road in my Toronto riding is that they will potentially not receive vital government services in the years ahead, because no one will know what they need.
The people living in my riding and every other riding are expected to continue working and paying their taxes, but the government is taking steps to ensure that they will not get the help they need and deserve. Some may have trouble seeing the connection, but we are already witnessing the negative impacts caused by the lack of a mandatory long form census. This will only get worse in the years ahead. Broadly speaking, lack of reliable information has inhibited research on inequality and on identifying winners and losers from economic growth, research into understanding the national problems of the have-nots in the economy, and research into how best to help local government services.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, whose network represents 200,000 businesses across the country, knows this. The chamber is publicly calling on the federal government to restore the mandatory long-form census. I join it in that call.
Yet again we are seeing a government that is entirely out of its depth. It does not understand science, it does not understand long-term planning, and it does not understand the economic impact of its decisions. It only understands what is politically expedient for it to do.
The government may try to blame others, as it does every single day, for its woes, but this issue demonstrates that the government is out of its depth and struggling under its own incompetence.
Business of Supply January 29th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, there was a period of time when I had the good fortune to be a minister in the Paul Martin government. Let me tell the members how beneficial those meetings were.
We sat down with the premiers and the bureaucracy to hear about some of the issues. In advance of that meeting, officials in the bureaucracy, who knew there was a meeting coming up, would be in contact with each other all across the country.
When the meeting actually started, the bureaucracy already knew some of the issues that would be raised and had already started working toward finding solutions. At the end of the meetings, we were always able to come up with recommendations to deal with the pressures that the different premiers or territorial leaders were experiencing, rather than just coming forward with a press release that said there was a meeting and that was it.
We were always able to find solutions to problems, and if we could not find solutions for everything, we could at least commit to working more closely with the premiers of those different provinces to find those solutions.
I am very proud of the record of both the Chrétien government and the Paul Martin government. The relationship we have with the municipalities is the result of the Liberal government. That is how we build a country: by building on a continuous basis, talking to each other, and understanding the pressures that our cities and municipalities and communities are facing. That is how to build a country. It is not by ignoring them, staying in the office, and not meeting with people
Business of Supply January 29th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I really find it quite astonishing that taxpayers' dollars are being used to present messages in the public media that for the most part are 90% false.
I do not recollect exactly what amount of taxpayers' money has been used for advertising programs that have yet to be approved by Parliament. There have been countless times when these programs being used to tell people about all kinds of different issues were close to being complete lies, and taxpayers' money is being used to do it.
What we are asking is why the government is not meeting with the premiers and coming up with some positive results. I think that would be a much better way to win the next election, but clearly the government has its own ideology about what is or is not required.
I very much look forward to the next election, because Canadians are getting tired of being told the outright lies that are being fed to them with their own money by this government.
Business of Supply January 29th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join this very important debate. I am sure that Canadians who are watching understand how important it is to have positive relationships among one another. That is very helpful when it is possible, but it is quite difficult in this environment. Certainly positive relationships with our provinces would be much more helpful.
As members of this House know, one of the unique characteristics of Canada's federal system is something dubbed by many as “summit federalism”. The key component of this kind of federalism is commonly known as the the first ministers conference, which brings together the Prime Minister, provincial premiers, and territorial leaders. This allows the first ministers to tackle collective problems in a collaborative way that is good for every Canadian, regardless of the province of residence.
I think that makes sense to anybody who is watching. That sounds like the kind of Canada that they would want.
Since 1906, Canada's first ministers have been meeting every year to discuss ideas of pressing federal-provincial concern, to exchange notes and best practices, and, most importantly, to avoid misunderstandings or a misallocation of resources and even duplication. In short, they meet to build a consensus, to craft common policy responses, and to work co-operatively to make Canada an even better place in which to live and work. That has been happening since 1906, and we have had a lot of success up until the last eight or nine years.
Most experts agree that it is critical for these deliberations to be chaired by the Prime Minister, the head of our country, the elected official guided on a broader, more national perspective. Sadly, the current Prime Minister's vision for Canada is much smaller and much more inward-looking than all of that.
As evidence of this, the last time the current Prime Minister met with the premiers and territorial leaders was in 2009. There has not been another high-level gathering of all of the premiers and territorial leaders and our Prime Minister for six years, which means that for six years the Prime Minister has hidden in the proverbial closet and abdicated his national leadership responsibilities to others.
I have to wonder what he is so afraid of that he cannot sit down in a room with all of the premiers collectively. Does the Prime Minister lack the confidence? Is that the issue? Is it that he is concerned he will be challenged on his ideological mantra and be rebuked by many of them?
Previous Conservative leaders have not been afraid to meet with the first ministers, and in many cases their meetings have been very fruitful. However, the current Prime Minister continues to hide in his office and avoid working on any kind of pan-Canadian vision for the future of Canada, as is very evident when we talk to the premiers or territorial leaders on a variety of issues and hear their frustration.
Certainly there are several issues on the federal agenda that would benefit from a national approach. The establishment of a national securities regulator has been talked about a great deal. The government has done quite a job at trying to push that forward, but it requires the co-operation of the provinces and territories.
Infrastructure renewal is a major issue facing Canada. Yes, money has been put into infrastructure, but has it been put down in a collaborative way? Has it been one project versus another? Was it always done in the best interests of Canada as a whole? That is what our job is and that is what the Prime Minister's job is: to do what is best for Canada as a whole and not benefit just one province versus another.
The economic recovery continues to be a significant problem for all of us. That is especially the case in southwestern Ontario, where we are concerned about the manufacturing sector. There has been a lot of emphasis put on the oil industry, much to the detriment of many of the other provinces.
I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be splitting my time with my great new colleague from Trinity—Spadina.
Let us talk about employment and the huge unemployment that is facing many of our young people. They are graduating from universities and colleges with debts of $20,000 or $30,000, and there are no job opportunities. Little investment has been done in that area.
The government can talk about creating 1,200,000 jobs, but it does not talk about the 300,000 that have been lost, especially in southwestern Ontario.
These are issues that could be dealt with much more effectively if the Prime Minister would set aside his personal fears and inadequacies and sit at the same table with the premiers and talk seriously about how we can together get Canada to move forward.
As an Ontario MP, I know that the manufacturing sector alone has bled more than 300,000 jobs since the premiers last met six years ago. Middle-class families are in trouble, and they are looking to government for leadership and help.
Imagine what could have been done to stem the tide if the first ministers, including and led by the Prime Minister, had set their collective minds to stabilizing the manufacturing sector instead of ignoring it for nine years. Instead, the Premier of Ontario was forced to deal with this crisis and many more. Only recently did the Prime Minister squeeze in a brief meeting on the way to a hockey game. It shows how much respect there is for the Province of Ontario.
It is no secret that the Prime Minister does not play well with others. He prefers the bully pulpit over the conference table. However, after six long years of locking the doors of 24 Sussex to the rest of Canada, surely it is time to plan for the collective and long-term success of the nation.
I understand that the Prime Minister detests these meetings because he cannot control conferences or those sitting around the table. One never knows what is going to come out of them, although usually they are very positive things. I understand the preference for absolute and total control over a situation, environment, and message, but that is not the way to move a country as big as Canada forward. It cannot continue in this way without serious harm being caused.
There has been a regrettable inclination on the part of the government and the Prime Minister to rely on reference cases and the Supreme Court of Canada to resolve federal-provincial disagreements, but this is hardly an optimal way of dealing with these disputes and it is hardly the way to manage a country.
As we speak, there are several pressing policy issues on the table that demand a more collective approach. Pension security is one of them. Others include infrastructure spending, the environment, changes to employment insurance, health care funding, and many more, not to mention that the premiers should have the right to speak to the Prime Minister directly on issues such as the status of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, the CETA, with the European Union, which they will all presumably have to ratify at some point. Clearly Newfoundland and Labrador has some very serious concerns that are going to have to be listened to, one way or the other.
The Prime Minister needs to take a leadership role and start working with his provincial and territorial counterparts. By hiding in his office in the Langevin Block or on the Hill, he is undermining the proper functioning of a federal state and weakening the federal government's central role in the process. He is also forcing the premiers to move collectively to fill the gap and to move ahead with their own policy initiatives. For example, on the pension front, Ontario is relegating the national voice to a whisper on the sidelines.
Perhaps this is all part of a well-known firewall strategy. As the Conservatives move deeper and deeper into their bunker, who will speak for Canada as a whole? Why would any political leader not take advantage of the impending first ministers meeting to re-establish the federal government's role and the desire to be part of the process, unless there is no desire to be part of it?
The Prime Minister assumed office by promising open federalism. It is long past due for him to sit down and meet with the premiers and territorial leaders. Refusing to do so is an admission of his own failures and shortcomings and is no way to run a country.
Business of Supply January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, no matter what you put out there and put on the table, I do not think anybody will believe the numbers anyway, because for the most part, the numbers put forward are inaccurate. You are making faulty assumptions. When you got into power, you got a $13 billion surplus and blew it trying to buy votes all over the country. That is completely incompetent when it comes to running a country. No matter what budget you put forward, I doubt any of us would believe your numbers anyway.
Business of Supply January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, could you please tell those folks across the aisle? I guess they do not like what I am saying because they are very noisy. Anyway, they will not get up and I will continue.
We have very positive ideas and plans of where we are going and what is needed to build our country, and it means a solid fiscal framework and new ideas. We will show members opposite those ideas when we get into an election campaign.
Business of Supply January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, the member should have a little patience.
As to what our leader has said and not said, when we are looking at a manufacturing sector that is in trouble and needing change, it is about how we put things together. What is the strategy for moving forward the manufacturing in our country? How do we help the auto sector?
If the member listens properly to what the leader of the Liberal Party was saying—
Business of Supply January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to get up and speak to this important motion on the table. I would like to congratulate my colleague, who did a super job with her comments, both in English and in French. As nervous as she was, she did a fine job, and I applaud her for being able to do that.
I am on my feet today to speak to the NDP motion, but I have to say with profound disappointment that instead of discussing the budget, we are discussing why we do not have a budget. I really do find it quite shameful that the government is refusing to conduct itself with even the slightest degree of fiscal prudence and transparency. A government that campaigned on accountability and transparency 10 years ago is now in a position where we are talking about passing motions to force it to table a budget. It really does not make a lot of sense when we look back at what the message was.
Canadians know that the fiscal situation has changed since the fall economic update. The government owes all Canadians an honest answer to hard economic questions. Level with Canadians and let them know what the situation is. I can see no reason why they would not just understand it, accept it, or disagree with it as they might, but they at least have the right to know.
The facts are clear, yet the Conservatives are smugly refusing to deal with the true fiscal reality, and their head in the sand approach is beyond contempt.
This is what we know so far. The most recent fiscal update made a series of assumptions about economic variables, including what the price of a barrel of oil would be over the next several months. The last time the minister did his math, oil was trading at $81 U.S. a barrel. At $81 a barrel, the minister figured, rightly, that there would be a surplus this year, the first since 2008, of about $1.9 billion. Now, however, sources such as those at the Bank of Canada say that oil will trade well below that $81 a barrel average. In fact, TD Bank said earlier this month that $50 a barrel oil would result in a $3.2 billion deficit. We did not say that. The Parliamentary Budget Officer did not say that. It was Toronto-Dominion Bank's expert economists. At $40 a barrel, which is not too far from where we are now, it would result in a deficit of $4.7 billion.
I think that Canadians would understand this if the government came forth and explained it, but no, the government continues to put its head in the sand in trying to figure out how it is going to do all of the things that it promised, even though we clearly cannot afford them.
Why can the government not just admit this and ask for help? Why can it not be honest with Canadians and parliamentarians and say this is a serious situation and ask how we can solve it in a non-political and positive way?
Rather than giving honest and forthright answers, the government has promised a spending spree totalling billions of dollars. It has steadfastly promised to ignore the facts because it claims it can increase expenditures, decrease revenues, and balance the budget simultaneously. The Conservatives must be real magicians to do that, and all of it would be done just in time for an election.
As appealing as all of this would seem when expressed as a sound bite in a taxpayer funded Conservative ad, it is just not believable. Canadians are not swallowing it. They do not believe it. They run their own households and businesses, and they know that the serious impact on oil revenue will have a huge effect on the government's ability to deliver a balanced budget.
I operated a small business for 30 years, and my banker would never have accepted a financial plan like the one the government is talking about. Most Canadians know that we cannot budget like this. It does not work in a household. It does not work in business. It certainly does not work in government, as least if we are being honest with people.
Liberals want to see the updated numbers. Let us have some transparency and some honesty so that Parliament can make the decisions necessary to get past this crisis.
Canada needs a coherent economic growth plan. Instead, the Prime Minister is making it up as he goes along. The Conservatives have put all of Canada's eggs into one basket, and when that basket crumbled, they lost their footing and had nothing to fall back on.
The Prime Minister is addicted to high oil prices and now that the economic situation has changed, he is unable to cope with adverse economic developments. He is retreating to a bunker with the hope that no one will notice and that somehow, when he gets up the next morning, everything with be fine.
As I said, instead of reaching out to Canadians to show leadership and build confidence, the Prime Minister has punted the federal budget, which is normally delivered in February, into April or later. It might mean a June budget being introduced without any analysis, which means we will not have any time to discuss or debate it, and roll right into an election. By the time Canadians find out the real picture, it will be well after the election, and by that time it might be too late.
It means that Canada will go without a budget for more than this entire fiscal year. Granted, Conservative budgets are only slightly better than nothing, but it would be nice to have some accurate numbers, and even if they are not really accurate, at least it is something with which we can deal.
Let us remember that the government did not get us into this situation overnight.
In 2006, the Prime Minister was handed a steadily growing economy, which had generated 3.5 million net new jobs, declining debt and taxes, a decade of balanced budgets, annual surpluses of about $13 billion and fiscal flexibility projected ahead five years totalling $100 billion. This is what the Prime Minister had to work with, the most robust fiscal situation in the world, but he blew it in less than three years.
He overspent by three times the rate of inflation, eliminated all the financial shock absorbers that had been built into Canada's budgetary framework to protect against adverse events, and he put our country back into deficit again, a structural deficit, before and not because of the recession which arrived in late 2008.
The Prime Minister failed to anticipate that recession. We all remember his great words that there would be no recession and that we were in great shape. However, six months later, we had a recession.
As the recession began, the Prime Minister dismissed it as just a good buying opportunity. When he could not deny reality any longer, his belated stimulus plan was slow, convoluted, intensely partisan and tainted with boondoggles like fake lakes in Toronto and multimillion dollar misappropriations for ornamental gazebos and sidewalks to nowhere in Muskoka. He used the stimulus package as a mathematically-challenged excuse to cover up what was horrific and short-sighted fiscal management. In effect, he went on a spending spree with the nation's credit cards, and he has no plan now to pay the bills, not even the minimum balance.
The Prime Minister thinks he should not be required to report to Parliament. He just expects that people will trust him, despite his personal legacy of fiscal failure. However, Canadians are weary of the fiscal failures that characterize the current tired government. The Conservatives expect us to lower expectations and settle for less. “Just trust us” they say, whether it is the Iraqi war or the budget. That is the exact opposite of what any of us should be doing.
Unfortunately the bill for Conservative blunders is being shouldered by Canada's middle class and the children of that middle class. Middle-class incomes have been flat for years, while living costs and household debt have ballooned. Of those employed in the private sector, 70% cannot count on a company pension, 60% of middle-class parents worry about affording any kind of higher education for their kids, youth unemployment remains near recession-like levels and a whole generation of young Canadians have put their lives on hold. Let us not forget the attack on income trusts and old age pensions. Is this what the Prime Minister means when he talks about prosperity? I do not think so.
Today's motion is about transparency and accountability, and Canadians deserve a fiscally competent government, just not this one.
Manufacturing Industry January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, for years the government has sat back and watched as manufacturing jobs bled from a sector desperate for help. Over 350,000 families suffered through the worst sector meltdown in a generation. Just today, St. Thomas, Ontario, lost another 1,500 jobs. Canada's manufacturing exports have plunged 7% since 2005, while U.S. exports have increased by 70%. Clearly, the only thing the government is good at manufacturing is empty rhetoric.
Instead of manufacturing false blame, will the Conservatives commit to a real plan to help our families?
Black History Month January 27th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, next month is Black History Month, and, as a nation, we should mark the occasion by exploring and celebrating the proud traditions of African Canadians.
In 1995, at the request of Hon. Jean Augustine, Prime Minister Chrétien established Black History Month to highlight the countless contributions made by people African descent to the Canadian mosaic.
Today, as we reflect, we must remember the influences of people like Hon. Lincoln Alexander, Hon. Jean Augustine, Carrie Best, and dozens of others who pushed aside outdated boundaries.
In this spirit, I am proud to welcome a group of young leaders to Ottawa today. These young Canadians from the Children's Breakfast Clubs represent hope and change for tomorrow.
In the month ahead, I encourage all Canadians to celebrate the many offerings made by our friends and neighbours of African descent. Certainly we are all better off for their work, their generosity, and their spirit of giving.
I welcome them to Ottawa.