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NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)
Won her last election, in 2011, with 62.80% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Canada Post February 27th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I and my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway recently hosted a community forum, where we heard from hundreds of constituents and concerned citizens about how upset they are about Canada Post ending home delivery. They wanted to know why the Conservative government is not standing up for them.
They applauded that Vancouver City Council has unanimously called on Canada Post to suspend the cancellation of home delivery. We heard loud and clear about the safety concerns and the impact on small businesses, seniors, and people with disabilities. People expressed strong support for their letter carriers, who play a critical role in keeping our neighbourhoods safe. My 93-year-old mother Margaret, who lives alone, supports her letter carrier. Margaret knows there is no evidence to eliminate this important service. It is a further erosion of public services driven by a political agenda.
Our community has joined with many others across Canada who say no to the elimination of home delivery.
The Budget February 25th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the member's comments on the need for a national breakfast program. She might be familiar with the fact that the member for Trinity—Spadina has actually had a motion before the House and has done a lot of work. I know it has been a big issue in Toronto, but of course, it is an issue right across the country. It is something that is very important in terms of educational development and making sure kids are healthy and can participate and utilize their full potential.
There is another aspect of the budget I would like to raise, and that was a glaring omission. A lot of Canadians, particularly low income Canadians, and even those in middle income, are feeling the affordability gap. Whether it is high credit card fees, or ATM fees, or being in debt and not having enough money at the end of the month for very basic necessities, people are feeling very stretched. One of the major factors in that is the cost of housing. Being from Vancouver, and particularly Vancouver East, I know this is an enormous issue. Families, even with double incomes, basically cannot find affordable housing. They are paying way more than 30% of their income for housing. Of course, that starts impacting other things like food, educational requirements, and so on. There was nothing in the budget that really put forward a program for a national strategy around housing, something we worked on for so long.
I wonder if the member would comment on that. I know it is a huge issue in my community, and I have a suspicion that it is probably an issue in her community as well.
Petitions February 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to present a petition calling to members' attention that organic farming prohibits the use of genetic modification and that the organic sector in Canada depends on alfalfa as a high-protein feed for dairy cattle and other livestock. Therefore, they call upon Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa, in order to allow proper review of the impact on farmers in Canada.
Northwest Territories Devolution Act February 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite might not be aware, but I actually specifically mentioned that marathon meeting in Yellowknife of nine and a half hours. That was a lot of work for the members as well as for the witnesses who appeared. What the Premier of the Northwest Territories has to say about the bill is very important, but we believe that there is a partnership with aboriginal people in this country, and it is about government to government. It was those voices that unfortunately were not heard.
It is not about the Premier. If he was satisfied, fine, but the fact is that there were very important voices in the aboriginal community in the Northwest Territories who feel they were not heard, and they are still concerned about the bill. That is all the more reason to make sure that this five-year review period is genuine and that there is a proper review to make sure that when changes need to be made, they will be made.
Northwest Territories Devolution Act February 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. I know she works extremely hard on this committee, as she does generally, and I know that she and other of our members actually did listen to leaders and key stakeholders in the Northwest Territories on the bill. It is very dismaying to see how these concerns are dismissed. Why would the Conservatives basically not bring forward any amendments? Is the bill perfect?
It is a pattern. For any government bill, basically that is it. Even the members at committee from the government side really do not have anything else to do with it.
It is a sad state of affairs for the House, Mr. Speaker. I know you have been here for a while and have seen the progression of how the role of members of Parliament has diminished. The days were when the committee process was healthy and we used to see good amendments coming forward that actually improved bills; that is why they go to committee, but now it is just a formality.
As the member so well outlined, we still take it very seriously, and that is why we do put forward amendments to try to improve a bill based on what we have heard from the witnesses in that community.
Northwest Territories Devolution Act February 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in the House to speak on Bill C-15, an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other acts and certain orders and regulations.
I had the pleasure to speak on this bill at second reading before it went to committee. Although I am not a northerner—I am from the south, from Vancouver, and I represent a very urban community—I must say that I did relate to many of the issues in this bill and the concerns that were expressed about it. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the NDP member for Western Arctic, who has done an incredible amount of work not only on this bill but on the issue generally of the devolution of powers and support of the Northwest Territories. As someone from an urban riding, I appreciate the vastness of the territory that the member represents and all of the communities he has to communicate with to find out what concerns there are on the ground. It is really quite phenomenal, and that I cannot relate to in a geographical sense.
I know that the member for Western Arctic has been painstaking in his journey and his consultations with people. When he speaks to us in the House about Bill C-15 and the concerns about it that he took to committee and the amendments that he tried to get, we know that it comes from the grassroots. It comes from consultations with local communities and individual constituents, and that is why we are here: to bring that kind of information and that grassroots approach into the House.
Therefore, when a bill like this comes forward—an historic bill, something that we have been working toward for many decades in terms of devolution, and something that New Democrats have certainly supported for decades to ensure that the Northwest Territories can take over federal responsibilities in the north—it is very disconcerting when local voices are not heard. Unfortunately, I think this is what happened with this bill.
New Democrats supported the bill at second reading. We thought that the bill, in terms of its general principle and its thrust and its journey of devolution, was a very important milestone. We were very hopeful that when the bill went to committee, there would be a thorough examination and that particularly the government members of the committee would come to an understanding that this bill had too much in it. For example, it would make amendments to the Mackenzie Valley agreement that are very problematic and that people in local communities were expressing a lot of concerns about.
I want to thank the NDP members who were on the committee: the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan; the member for Manicouagan; the member for Western Arctic, whom I have spoken about; and the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. These members worked very hard.
There were only four meetings in which the committee looked at the bill, but it is quite interesting to note that one of the meetings was a nine-and-a-half-hour meeting in Yellowknife. That is very telling. It shows that the committee travelled to the north and listened to witnesses who came to the committee. I have never heard of a committee hearing witnesses for nine and a half hours.
The fact that it was done in the local community tells us that there was a lot of interest in the bill. Obviously there were witnesses who wholeheartedly supported the bill without reservation, but, having read some of the transcripts and having spoken to the member for Western Arctic and others, I know there were people in Yellowknife and in the Northwest Territories who expressed their concerns about the consequences and impacts of this bill.
I want to quote one of the witnesses, Mr. David Bob, who is the vice-president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour. When I read his comments, I thought he succinctly outlined some of the problems with this bill.
Bill C-15 should really be split into two distinct bills that can be debated and voted on separately. Combining devolution legislation with amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is a tortured exercise and one not worthy of a government wishing to be transparent and democratic. While some may quibble over the details and outcomes of devolution, that part of the bill will probably earn general consent from the people of the NWT.
The part of the bill that completely disrupts our existing regulatory system, however, is sure to elicit substantial adverse reactions. The intent of devolution is to transfer greater authority over land and resource decisions to the north and northerners, but we do not believe this would be achieved by the proposed changes to the regulatory regime contained in part 4 of the bill.
As I have said, that is a revealing quote from a key witness on this bill that has now come back to the House. I think the NDP submitted 11 amendments. The Conservatives did not submit any amendments. Two of the NDP amendments were approved, but it is really disconcerting to see some of the fundamental questions about the bill covering too much by going into the Mackenzie Valley agreement and that it will cause a lot of negative consequences in the local community.
That is unfortunate. Overall, the NDP is still in support of this bill at report stage. We are going through that debate now and then we will go onto third and final reading, but I hope there will be a measure of thoughtfulness once the bill is passed, as I am sure it will, and that there will be a willingness on the part of the government to review this devolution and listen to the concerns of northerners, and that with the practicalities of implementing the devolution and transfer of those powers, the needs of the community will be heard.
Today I was at the Standing Committee on Health, and this issue came up again. Unfortunately, it is all too familiar to us to see what is happening with devolution. We see the federal government wash its hands and say it does not have anything to do with health care anymore and might transfer its programs and services to the Assembly of First Nations or other organizations, but the resources are not provided.
There is still a responsibility for the federal government to provide those resources once the transfer has been made. We see this in health care. I am sure we will not see an acknowledgement in the budget today that the provinces and territories have been shortchanged $36 billion in health care. It is a provincial delivery system, but there is a federal responsibility.
In terms of Bill C-15, which is before us today, unfortunately it is the same old story. Devolution in this circumstance is warranted, it has been asked for, and it is something that we support. However, it is critical that the federal government listen to the local community and not just do the legal transfer. There is more to it than that. The federal government must provide the resources required so that the authority, in this case the Northwest Territories, can carry out its legal responsibility under the agreement.
Those are the observations I have at third reading. I thank my colleagues on the committee who went through the bill, who gave it due diligence, who listened to people, and who made amendments. Unfortunately, most of them were not supported.
We still support the bill, but I can say that we will be vigilant. We will watch this. We will continue to work with northerners and with people in the Northwest Territories, particularly aboriginal first nations people, to make sure the bill is not just a legal document but actually has a positive impact on people in local communities.
Fair Elections Act February 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I do agree. The government has a responsibility to bring in legislation based on the public interest, but here we have a government that has an unfortunate pattern of bringing in legislation based on its own partisan political interests.
Nothing more clearly demonstrates this than this particular legislation. It is not about a fair elections act, it is about voter suppression and undermining Elections Canada.
Fair Elections Act February 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would point out that the former chief electoral officer who gave it an A minus has moved off that now that he has looked at the bill in detail. When he comes to committee, it might be a different story.
However, let us talk about election fraud. There is election fraud. There is fraud everywhere, whether it is in the banks, in the insurance companies, wherever it is. We have systems in place to deal with that. However, when we bring in a sledgehammer and knock out a whole group of people from voting, in effect, then we are not dealing with fraud; we are actually disenfranchising people.
That is the problem. It is something that underlies so much government legislation from the Conservatives. They perceive a problem and they take this sledgehammer approach that ends up causing harm to people's rights and accessibility, whether it is health care, voting, or whatever it might be. That is the problem. There is fraud, but the system is there already to deal with that, and there is nothing wrong with it.
Fair Elections Act February 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, obviously the member has some of the same concerns I have, that the bill is not going to stop the kind of fraud we have seen in terms of robocalls. We hope that it does. The problem is that within the bill there are so many elements that are going to suppress voters. I would agree with the member. Elections Canada has a fantastic international reputation; it does monitor elections around the world. However, we are here undermining the very institution that other people try to model.
Yesterday in the debate some of the Conservatives members said they wanted to have a truly independent commissioner and investigator, as though we do not have that now, as though Elections Canada is not an independent organization. What causes us so much concern is that the bill is designed to give a government, with its conservative ideology, more control over the electoral process. That has to be bad. This is not about a temporary change; this is a permanent change that would to take place in this country in terms of the way Elections Canada operates and the way voting takes place. That is why it is such a serious debate.
Fair Elections Act February 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
I have seen a lot of legislation come and go in this House in almost 17 years. I have participated in vigorous debates in the House where we have opposed legislation, and some occasions where we have supported government legislation.
However, I have to say that this particular bill before us today, Bill C-23, the so-called fair elections act, is something I feel angry about.
First of all, it is being debated under a closure motion. We have now had over 50 different times in this House that the Conservative government has used closure, in effect to limit and gag debate. That, in and of itself, is very offensive.
However, what I find very problematic about the bill is that Canadians are being told that it is a fair elections act and that it would deal with, for example, the election fraud that was so widespread in the last election.
Let us remember that it is the Conservative government and the Conservative Party who have the worst track record on breaking election laws in this country, whether it was the in-and-out scheme, or the robocalls that were designed to suppress opposition votes.
The guise of the bill is to deal with elections fraud. However, when we examine the bill, we can see that there are so many other elements of the bill that are designed to undermine the role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer.
I have dealt with Elections Canada many times over the years, in six different elections. I have often heard criticisms about how the voting worked, particularly in my community, in the Downtown Eastside, where people are sometimes turned away from polls because they do not have ID. I have had an ongoing relationship with Elections Canada and have pointed out concerns about lack of training and issues in my local community. I have always found them to be responsive to those issues when I have raised them after an election.
In fact, Elections Canada has a worldwide reputation as a first-rate organization and is used as a model globally of what an independent electoral organization can be.
It is very dismaying and concerning to see that the bill would in effect undermine the power of the Chief Electoral Officer. It would create a new entity. It would remove general public education.
In fact, in questions in the House this week, even today, we heard the minister for democratic reform blaming Elections Canada for a lower voter turnout.
This is a complex issue. To have this simple fix by removing the role of education and talking to voters about voting, whether it is young people, first nations, students, new Canadians, from the role of Chief Electoral Officer, it is inexplicable in terms of the rationale. One can only come to the conclusion that the current government has basically brought forward a bill—it did not even consult the Chief Electoral Officer, by the way—that would undermine the role and mandate and the foundations of Elections Canada.
That is one element in the bill that I think is hugely problematic.
The other element is that the bill would remove a number of provisions whereby people who are not normally on the electors list and have difficulty voting, because they do not have the proper ID, would now find it very difficult, if not near possible, to vote. I am speaking in particular about what is called the “vouching system”.
This is something that various organizations in east Vancouver have used extensively. For example, we had lawyers on East Hastings Street who would help people determine whether they were on the voters list. They would help them figure out whether they had enough ID, and if they did not, they would help them in the process of what was called an “affidavit vote”.
All of that would be removed.
We used to have the vouching system, where somebody who knew somebody in the community who was homeless or on the street but eligible to vote, a Canadian citizen, living in Vancouver, who was 19 years of age, would make sure that information was provided to people.
There were many organizations that did an incredible service in vouching for people, by saying, for example, “Yes, we know that person. They come to the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings every day. We know who that person is, and they should be able to vote”. On that basis, a person was able to demonstrate their eligibility and would be able to vote. Sometimes there were problems, and the deputy returning officers would turn people away. There were issues and we did follow them up. However, the system of vouching has been an important democratic tool for people in my community to be able to vote.
In a previous Parliament, Bill C-31 severely restricted the vouching system. I fought tooth and nail against that. I thought it was a terrible proposition. Again, it was designed to hurt people, particularly those of low income.
Now we get to Bill C-23 and the vouching system is completely eliminated. I feel extremely worried about the impact that will have in the next federal election, in 2015, as there were about 100,000 people who used the vouching system in the last election.
We have just heard from one member that there was a 25% error rate and therefore it is a terrible system that has to be thrown out. However, if one reads the details, one would find that most of the errors occurred because there was a lack of adequate training for poll clerks and deputy returning officers in administering the vouching system. Therefore, it is a question of better training.
The bill would throw out the whole system. I feel we are now setting up an election process that has two-tiers. If one is a property owner, one is guaranteed to be on the voters list, to get a voter card in the mail. A property owner would probably have a driver's licence or some other identification, and there would not be an issue. However, in Vancouver, 50% of residents are not property owners. They are tenants, students, low-income families, seniors, and people who may move because the housing costs are so high people. People are always seeking more affordable housing. Those people end up not being on the voters list, not getting the information they require. Therefore, having provisions that would allow people to be eligible to vote on election day, even if they are not on the list, is extremely important.
I am very distressed about Bill C-23.
If we look at this historically, we have come far on a spectrum of disenfranchising people. I do not know about other members in this House, but I remember the days when people could walk down their street and see the voters list tacked up on the telephone poll. People could look at the list and see if they were on it. I remember the days when an enumerator would come door to door asking who lived in the household, who was eligible to vote. They would go through the criteria and people would get registered. All of that is gone. However, it was not the current government that did that; it was a Liberal government.
I want to make this point because I think it shows us how much our electoral system has been eroded in terms of its primary function, which is to enfranchise people who are eligible to vote, and to make sure they have the information, tools, and the system in place to make that process smooth and as accessible as possible. The key word is “accessible”.
We have come so far along that road. Here we are debating the bill on the opening day of the Olympics. Who the heck is even going to be watching this debate? The Conservatives brought in a closure motion yesterday, so we have a few hours of debate and the bill will be rushed off to committee. Before Canadians even know what is happening, the bill will be approved, yet it would impact every single voter in this country.
I am very glad that as many members of the NDP as possible are taking the opportunity to speak about the bill, to get the information to the public, and alert people that Bill C-23 is not a fair elections act. The bill is actually about voter suppression. It is about gagging the Chief Elector Officer. It is about undermining a democratic election system.
This is a thoroughly bad bill, and we will do everything we can to stop it.