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NDP MP for Welland (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 42.20% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Petitions March 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, in the second petition, the petitioners call upon the government to enact a moratorium on GM alfalfa. As we know, alfalfa simply spreads, and GM alfalfa would contaminate other alfalfa fields where GM is not warranted or welcome, and would indeed do great damage to organic crops across the country.
Petitions March 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am presenting two petitions today.
The first petition is from members of the St. Kevin's parish in my home riding of Welland. It talks about the creation of a mechanism for a legislative extractive sector ombudsman in Canada with the capacity to look at complaints be received from abroad where our extractive industries go. The petitioners are looking to see that this be enacted in legislation.
Agriculture and Agri-Food March 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, farmers have had enough. They are not interested in having another meeting or another study.
Farmers do know why there is a grain backlog. It is because rail companies have a duopoly in this country, and I think the government on that side should actually understand that. It is not a competitive market. Farmers are the ones actually left paying the price.
The mystery really, truly is why the Minister of Transport will not introduce new rules that would get the grain moving. How many more millions must farmers on the Prairies lose because of the government's inaction?
Privilege March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the member quoted the House leader's comments from The Globe and Mail that asked what utility it would serve, that he misspoke and whatever, and what would be the point of going to committee.
The point of going to committee is to actually establish the boundary lines in this place and to suggest to folks and others who may feel as if they want to do the same, that if they do, the consequences are such that they ought not to think about that.
If we do not lay down a consequence, then we will just all do it. Over time there will be one more and one more, and so on. We have to put an end to it. If we do not put an end to it with this one incident, it will simply creep, and the more it creeps, the worse this place will get and ultimately the broader public will look at us and say they cannot trust us.
Privilege March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague. During my remarks I tried to articulate the difference between what I feel is how one might misspeak versus how one might mislead. Unfortunately, I have no other conclusion to come to.
I actually read through the two quotes and I certainly emphasized certain passages in the quotes. They were my emphasis and I actually said that. I could have not said they were my emphasis, and somehow that would be me misspeaking about the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to suggest that they were his emphasis. However, they were not, and I actually said they were my emphasis as I went through his words, because that is to be accurate.
Clearly, one needs to know the difference between whether one misspeaks or misleads. If the Speaker thought the member misspoke, we probably would not be having this discussion.
Privilege March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I actually think he should apologize. If one does get caught, one apologizes. We instinctively do that as individuals. For example, I might have been going the wrong speed in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lights went on behind me and the officer came over. I said, “I missed a speed sign? Sorry”. However, I did not expect not to get a ticket. He wrote the ticket and I thanked him for that because he was doing what he should do. I was not obeying the rules.
There is a consequence for not obeying the rules. It does not mean to say he cannot apologize. That is part of it. Certainly, in my upbringing, in my household, that was how my father approached it. He expected me to apologize if I had bent a rule or broken a rule of the house, which my mother had decided would be the rule for the five of us children. However, there was also a consequence. There was not only an expectation that I would say, “Sorry about that; I didn't mean to do that, but I did”, then my father would have a consequence, like grounding me or those sorts of things. The worst thing, at 16, was that he would not give me the keys to the car for a couple weekends. That was always a really heavy consequence, because then I would have to get the bus. No offence to my friends who take urban transit, but when one lives in the country, buses do not come around. Therefore, that was a real consequence if he did not give me the keys to the car.
Clearly, there are consequences in this place as well. One cannot absolve oneself simply by saying, “mea culpa; I am sorry”. We have to face the consequences of our actions in this place. If the Speaker had simply gotten up and said the member has apologized and it is over, we would not be here. The Speaker ruled otherwise, and that is why we are here. The Speaker, in my view, was asking us to get it to a place, get it resolved for all of us, not just for the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, but all of us. That needs to happen.
I implore the government members to allow it to get to committee and let the work be done. They will get back to Bill C-23. They do not have to worry about it. They have the numbers in the House. One thing this little Scots guy can do is count. There are more on that side than on this side.
Privilege March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Victoria because I know his roots trace back to where I represent folks, back in the Niagara Peninsula. His roots actually come from back there, but we have allowed him to go to Victoria to represent the great folks out there. Let me say that he is a great member. I say to the folks of Victoria that they are lucky to have him and I want to thank him for that opportunity.
As to the question, if we allow the matter to stand, it clearly means that all of us can stand in our place, misspeak, and then come back tomorrow and say, “Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct my misstatement from yesterday. While I am here, I apologize to everyone in the House and to all Canadians. Thank you very much.” Then we would leave.
You, sir, would then say, “I guess that is what they want in the House, because that is how they dealt with it, so it doesn't matter what they say anymore.” Members could get up and say whatever they liked, whether truthful, anecdotal, or not truthful. No one would care, just as long as we came back within a reasonable amount of time, a couple of weeks or a month, and said, “Sorry, I did not mean it. I misspoke. I just misspoke. I really wanted not to misspeak, but somehow it happened to me. I got caught up in a long-winded conversation I was having and I misspoke.”
If we get to that place where we all just misspeak, which is what we have called it, and we can apologize the next day, I would never envy you, sir, sitting in the chair and trying to referee the issue of who has misspoken today and who has not. We would be lined up on a million points of order, saying to you, sir, “I would like to retract my misspoken words from two weeks ago.” The place would not function any more.
Only our words are our bond. When we give them across the way in the sense of saying what we believe and what we believe to be true, the other side must accept the fact that it is, and as soon as they cannot, there is no longer debate or dialogue in this House and the system does not function appropriately any more.
Privilege March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, usually I would rise and say that I am pleased to join the debate, but I have a sense of trepidation about doing this. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville is someone I have come to know and quite like, so it becomes difficult when one has to stand and talk about his actions in the House.
My preference would have been for the government to simply allow this to go to committee, in which case the committee could have dealt with it a long time ago and dispensed with it. The committee could have ruled on it and brought back a recommendation. This way we would not be, as the government House leader has said, spending two days talking about this particular issue, which the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has ended up being the centre of.
Of course, this is public. It is televised. CPAC carries it. People can watch it on the Internet. Committees can be watched on the Internet, but they are less public than this forum.
Would it not have been collegial of the government, of which he is a member, to send it to committee to have it dispensed with? That is what the Speaker's ruling was intended to do. The Speaker believed that there was a case to have it resolved somewhere else and to have us look at it.
Here we are, looking at it here and throwing all the information out over and over again. It does not help the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have it recast over and over again, but the government has given us no other opportunity. It has left us with this as the only outlet.
One of the government members said earlier that one may misspeak in the House. I started to think about when that happens. Has it happened to me as a member? It actually happened to me on Monday, during the debate on Bill C-18, the government's bill on agriculture.
It came to my attention in two ways. I did not actually know that I had misspoken. In relation to what is called UPOV '91, I actually talked about 1929, which is actually an international convention on plant protection. I interchanged 91 and 29.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, when questioning me during the debate, said that I had gotten it wrong and was talking about something that had happened a long time ago. It dawned on me that I had misspoken and that I had used the wrong date. That is misspeaking. That is how one actually misspeaks.
The staff at Hansard then emailed me. I have the email here. It said that they would like to clarify the text. The email said:
Can you please confirm whether [the member for Welland] was referring to the 1929 International Convention for the Protection of Plants (Rome), or if he meant to say otherwise (UPOV 91)? Can you advise...?
Clearly we were debating UPOV '91, which is from 1991, not the International Convention for the Protection of Plants of 1929. That was dispensed with long before we were born. We may think that we are long in the tooth sometimes, but we are certainly not that long in the tooth.
That was an example of someone getting a date wrong and misspeaking. There needed to be a correction but not an apology. It was simply the wrong date that needed to be corrected to reflect what we were actually discussing and what the debate was really about, which was Bill C-18, of which UPOV '91 was a part.
Therefore, when the government rises to defend its colleague, which is admirable and I understand why it does that, to suggest that he misspoke, it makes it extremely difficult to comprehend. It stretches credibility, to be truthful.
Here is what the member actually said. I will quote it, because I have highlighted a couple of pieces that I want to put emphasis on to show how it could not have been someone misspeaking.
On February 6, 2014, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated, “Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again. I know the minister represents an urban city. I am from a semi-urban area of Mississauga”, and this is what I want to emphasize, “where there are many high-rise apartment buildings”.
He was adamant about it. He knew that he was from a place where there are lots of apartment buildings.
He further stated:
On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box.
He knew it was one or the other. He went on to state:
I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
I want to highlight that he said that he witnessed it personally and knew that the cards went in either the garbage can or the grey box, because here in Ontario it is the grey box for paper. He said that he saw it at that level of detail and knew the people who took the cards out of the boxes. They were not strangers but campaign workers. I admit that he does not say if they were Conservative campaign workers, Liberal campaign workers, or other campaign workers. He just said “campaign workers”. We did not get any definitive information on that. The committee might be able to ask him who the campaign workers were and what he actually saw.
He then knew that these people went to the polling stations eventually. People vouched for those folks and they voted. He knew all of those things. That is hugely different from what I described earlier about my misspeaking in the debate on Bill C-18 when I got the date wrong. It is important to get the date right, but it was not misleading the House that the agreement actually happened in 1929 when it truly happened in 1991. The two situations are not even the same.
To bring the point home even more clearly, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said it again. He said it slightly differently but basically with the same intent. He stated:
Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding.
I emphasize his next words:
I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.
That will be stopped based on Bill C-23. It would put an end to vouching and it would not happen again. People could pick up as many of those cards as they wanted, because it would not matter. They would not be able to vouch for people. We would get rid of the cards and it would not matter any more.
The story was not misspoken, in my view. It was made up, because the member subsequently decided that he should come back to the House and say that he never witnessed it and did not see it. He did not come back to the House to say that he misspoke and that it was not in the apartment building but somewhere else. That would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I didn't know they were campaign workers, but I saw it”, that would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I'm not sure if they were in the garbage can or the grey box, but they discarded them”, that would be misspeaking. He literally laid it out and itemized it. He highlighted that it was in apartment buildings at the mailboxes on mail day, and people discarded them.
The member said he witnessed it, actually saw it with his own eyes, and that means he was actually there. He had to physically be in that place on mail day to see those residents, which meant he had to spend some time there.
After the member said it the first time, one would have thought that if he had truly misspoken, he would have said to himself that it was not really, wholly accurate, so why would he do it again? Well, if he reinforced the story again by saying almost the same thing verbatim, there are only two things that could be.
One is to suggest that one has some sense of speaking notes, and this is not to suggest that one party over another does not do this. Lots of us have notes.
If the member was allowed to go to committee, one could ask if the speaking notes were given to him by someone in the PMO, who told him to relate the story as if it was his when it really was not. Perhaps the member then realized that he had told a story that was not really his, but it was in his speaking notes, and he later knew that he had to retract it because it was not his story. The member might have felt contrite thinking it was something he should not have done, and he decided to retract the story.
I think that is a valid question to ask the member. However, we are not going to get that opportunity because we are here debating it, and the government thinks this is enough.
This brings me to the position of the government House leader. He talked about how telling this story was not misleading in the sense that someone was not being deliberately misled, but it somehow came to that at the conclusion of the story.
It really boils down to what the government House leader said in the House. He said:
It is quite common for us to misspeak in the nature of conversation...
—and I think I have articulated that—
...and I can understand the error made by the hon. member on the question of voting cards, because I think there are probably very few members in this House who have not, at second- or third-hand, heard anecdotes exactly to that effect.
Here we have the government House leader saying that everybody has heard those anecdotal stories about these cards that someone picks up and takes. Everybody has heard it.
He goes on to say:
—meaning the minister, the government House leader—
...have heard anecdotes from others, not having witnessed it myself. It is different from having heard an anecdote, but having heard it quite regularly, it becomes part of the normal discourse that “this is what happens out there”.
So the fact that we have heard an anecdotal story over and over again now makes it true. It must be true, because we have heard it more than once. If only that were true, because then if my friends across the way said, “We know you are six feet tall. We know you are six feet tall”, then I could actually believe I am six feet tall.
Well, it is not true. The fact that it is an anecdote will not make it true no matter how many times it is said. To base legislation on anecdotes is the worst type of legislation one could craft, by pretending the anecdotes are true and that we must change the legislation because we know this is what happens because we were told a story. Someone told a story that this is what happens, so therefore we must ban that practice altogether because, Heaven knows, we were told a story.
It is quite beyond belief, to be truthful, that somehow the government would come forward with legislation based on anecdotal evidence and that somehow that evidence must be clear, concise, and true. This is a government that will quite often say to us, especially in the agricultural sector, that something is based on sound science. Now it will be based on sound anecdotes. Now, as long as it is a sound anecdote and as long as it is said often enough, it will be taken as a true story.
Aesop's fables, even if told over and over again, will always be fables. They will not be true. They will be fables. Myths, whether urban myths or old-time myths, are simply myths. No matter how many times we repeat the myth, whether it be an urban myth, whether it be another myth, it will be a myth; it will never be true.
As for the member apologizing, I must admit that I do congratulate him for apologizing, but that apology will not take away from the fact that he came in the House and literally laid out a case in detail of what he said he saw and personally witnessed, not once but twice. He stood by it. He did not retract it that day, did not say, “Oh, my goodness. I think I have actually told an anecdotal story here. I should go back to the House and say that it is not a true story. I actually did not see it. It is what I heard.”
He did much later. It is commendable that he did retract, but it does not negate what he did the first time.
Many of us are quite often sorry for actions we have taken, but if we take actions, there are consequences for our actions.
The government always says to us, when it comes to criminal legislation, that it is about people taking responsibility for their actions, and if their actions are such that people deserve some form of punishment, then that is what is deserved by those people. There are times when I have to nod in agreement, although not always, of course. Sometimes there are mitigating factors.
In this particular case, the member should appear before committee. It is what the Speaker expects us to do. It is what the Speaker suggested that we probably should do, in my humble opinion. I will not put words in the Speaker's mouth and would never do that, but in my humble opinion, that is what I think he was trying to say to us, because it is only about what we say to each other and what we say to Canadians.
It pains me to say this, but when professions are put on a scale, unfortunately we are not near the top with the Canadian public. Quite often, unfortunately, the reason we are not at the top is because of what we see here.
Some of it is question period. Quite often it is just question period. However, now it is about misleading the House, which we are now debating. How exactly does that affect those who are watching and those who are looking at it? They shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what do you expect from them? That's what they do. They don't really tell you the truth anyway.”
Words are what we use. Those are the tools of our trade. The words that we give to one another and share with one another are the tools of our trade. There is only way this place can function, which is for the partisanship and the back-and-forth to be acceptable. That is why the Speaker is sitting in the chair, refereeing: to ensure we stay within those boundaries so that repartee back and forth is acceptable.
What is not acceptable is coming into the House and misleading it. That is why there are rules. They are there for good reason. They are there to ensure that we do not actually do that and have legislation come before us that is backed up by myths, mistruths, anecdotes, or stories of some description that do not exist in real life, stories that we just simply make up, and then say, “We must do this because this is the story”.
The government prides itself on saying it bases a lot of its policies upon sound science, which is evidence-based and all about truthfulness to the best of one's ability and measuring, quantifying, and qualifying. Unfortunately, when it came to qualifying the member for Mississauga—Streetsville's words, they came up short, and the Speaker was very clear about how short they came up.
Now it is incumbent upon us, as difficult and as unpleasant as it may be for our colleague and for us, to send it to committee, where our colleague will then have to face whatever repercussions and decisions are made based upon his, not our, conduct that started this process. Those repercussions and decisions will come back for ratification.
We did not start this process. It is his words in this place that started us on this path, and the path can only come to its final destination, not its hoped-for destination, when indeed we go to committee, where he will have his opportunity to answer questions. From the committee will come some form of resolution. Only then, I think, can this be put to a final conclusion.
Agriculture and Agri-Food March 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure why they would laugh at the Premier of Saskatchewan, but that is their choice.
Farmers in Saskatchewan still have not been able to sell last year's crop because rail companies will not take it to market.
When will the Minister of Transport listen to western farmers and to the western premiers and introduce rules to fix this, or are the Conservatives simply going to have another meeting just like the one the Minister of Agriculture suggested we will do again. One more meeting. Action is required. When will the government take it?