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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is conservatives.

NDP MP for Beaches—East York (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 41.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Respect for Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the minister checked the order paper this evening, but he seems to be addressing a different bill entirely. As well, the problem with his remarks is compounded by the fact that he does not understand what actually happens at the InSite safe injection facility.

What we are talking about, in fact, is doing better by Canadians. As I said, addiction does not disappear because we do not have a safe injection site. These drugs exist and people, unfortunately, become addicted to them.

As the Supreme Court stated in its ruling, “Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernable negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada”.

It continues, and this is important:

The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.

This site is about saving lives and reducing harm. Shame on the minister if he does not understand that is what we are here in the House to do.

Respect for Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise this evening in this quiet chamber where only New Democrats seem to want to talk about how to make a better future for Canada and Canadians.

I am talking tonight about the misguided Bill C-2, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. We are at second reading in the legislative process, but it is certainly early enough to say an unqualified no to this proposed piece of legislation.

It comes to us, into this chamber, in response to the 2011 Supreme Court decision that concluded that the Minister of Health's refusal to grant an extension to InSite's exemption under that act was:

...arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the [Controlled Drugs and Substances Act], which include public health and safety.

Here we have Bill C-2. It is typical legislation from the government in a number of respects. First and foremost, it reflects a government unable to deal with, and unwilling to acknowledge, the complexities of real life. Consequently, it is a government unfit to govern.

It is a government that provides ample evidence of this to us every day, as with Bill C-36, the government's response to the Supreme Court's Bedford ruling, and the monkeying about with judicial appointments in response to the Supreme Court's Nadon ruling. This is a government that does not take advice from, but responds with infantile defiance to, that body in our system of government that is the guardian of basic rights and freedoms for Canadians.

However, there are constraints on its conduct, thankfully. In this particular circumstance, the Supreme Court was clear on the constraints the government had to work within. It was section 7 of the charter in this case. To quote the court on this decision specifically:

...the Minister must exercise discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

There we have it. No clearer an articulation can be imagined, I do not think.

Now, in defiance of that clear statement, we have a bill that will require InSite to reapply for an exemption, but under the new proposed prejudicial criteria, criteria that make no effort to hide the anti-safe injection site animus.

Under this bill:

The Minister may only grant an exemption for a medical purpose under subsection (2) to allow certain activities to take place at a supervised consumption site in exceptional circumstances and after having considered the following principles:

(a) illicit substances may have serious health effects;

(b) adulterated controlled substances may pose health risks;

(c) the risks of overdose are inherent to the use of certain illicit substances;

and so on and so on.

However, nowhere do we find, along with those principles, anything that even remotely resembles the findings of the Supreme Court in its decision, in which they said:

InSite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada.

How does this bill make any effort on the mountain of evidence that has accumulated in support of injection sites, and InSite in particular, as mechanisms for finding a balance between public health and public safety?

The Supreme Court, in its decision, turned its mind to all the facts, to the studies that demonstrate the beneficial impacts of InSite and other like sites around the world. The evidence in favour of safe injection sites is overwhelming. Thirty peer-reviewed studies in deeply respected medical journals, the names of which we all know in this House, are dealing with InSite itself. The studies are supported by findings confirmed by research on the other 70 safe injection sites around the world.

What the studies show, and what the Supreme Court had before it for consideration, was the following: between 1987 and 1993, which is pre-InSite, the rate of overdose deaths in Vancouver increased from 16 to 200 per year. Since InSite opened, the rate of overdose deaths in East Vancouver has dropped by 35%.

One study showed that over a one-year period, there were 273 overdoses, but not a single life was lost. Over a one-year period, 2,171 referrals were made to InSite users to addiction counselling or other support services.

Finally, studies found that those who used InSite services at least once a week were 1.7 times more likely to enrol in a detox program than those who visited infrequently.

There are more studies, but let me point to one more important finding. There was a significant drop in the number of discarded syringes, injection-related litter, and people injecting on the streets one year after InSite opened.

I raise this issue not just because I know it is a particularly compelling finding for parents like me, but also because it stands in complete contradiction to the Conservatives' anti-InSite sloganeering, “Keep heroin out of our backyards”. They call on Canadians to support the bill in order to keep “heroin out of our backyards” as though, by abolishing the safe injection site, they will also abolish heroin, as though it will just disappear somehow, as though it was not there before InSite, as though it would not return if we abolish InSite.

This is ideology in the most pejorative sense of the word, a believe that is held tight, not just in ignorance of the facts but in fact in contravention of all outstanding evidence, evidence that is before the Conservatives in plain site that one cannot miss, that the Supreme Court examined in the process of arriving at its decision. Even beyond that, it is the belief that is fundamentally illogical and irrational. This, being prepared to govern a country this way, is why the Conservatives are unfit to govern.

Governing is not some blue sky project where reality changes just because we wish it is different, where heroin disappears because we close safe injection sites, where addictions go away because we do not have harm reduction programs, or climate change does not happen because we silence scientists, empty the libraries and discard the research. It is not as though the charter disappears because the Conservatives can force legislation in contravention of it through this place.

This should properly be the role of government, not to be receiving applications as though we lived in a country without section 7 charter rights, as though the issue of harm reduction was not otherwise a matter of active government concern.

For these reasons, I stand against Bill C-2.

Youth of the Month Award June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, across my riding, there are kids doing extraordinary things. They model the way not only for their peers, but for us. In recognition of what they do and in an effort to encourage them and to encourage others to follow their lead, I created some time ago the Beaches—East York Youth of the Month Award.

For the month of June, that award goes to the kids of DeSantos Martial Arts, who participated in this year's 140 kilometre walk from Toronto to Niagara Falls. It was a journey of self-discovery, but it was also a journey to raise money for both local and international school breakfast programs. We all know there are many kinds of personal journeys, but the best are those that lead us to others who need help.

A special mention goes to Marisol, Ayoka, Allison, Tristan and Victor, who, over four long days, completed the entire journey this year. For Kwan Jan Nim De Santos, Ma'am Toni and all of the instructors at the school, thanks for teaching our kids that a black belt is just a white belt that never quit.

Petitions June 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has to do with the government's proposal to build an airport on the federal lands in Durham region, which are class one farmlands. The petitioners call upon the government to rescind all plans for an airport and non-agricultural uses on the federal lands in Durham region, and to act instead to preserve the watersheds and agricultural land of this irreplaceable natural resource for the long-term benefit of all Canadians.

Petitions June 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present two petitions to the House.

The first is with respect to the proposal to reverse the flow of the 40-year-old pipeline that runs between Sarnia and Montreal, known as line 9. The petitioners consider this pipeline and the reversal of that flow to be an urgent threat to the city of Toronto and its watershed, and call upon the Government of Canada to intervene immediately to stop the development of the Sarnia-Montreal line 9 pipeline.

Climate Change Accountability Act June 16th, 2014

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-619, an act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great privilege to reintroduce into the House, seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, a bill originally put forward by Jack Layton, the climate change accountability act.

Every day in this place we put ideas and different visions of our future in opposition to each other, and that is fair enough. We imagine and hope for very different things on either side of this aisle. However, on this issue, at this time in our history, it must be different.

We have before us the challenge of climate change, a challenge that calls upon us to look beyond ourselves, beyond this time and place.

Arresting climate change is the world's struggle. Everybody must play their part. However, we in here must lead. To fail to do so would be a failing beyond us as politicians and ours as a political system, a failing more fundamental.

All of us are entrusted with the care of the earth we inhabit and the well-being of all those who inhabit it. We need, now, to act upon that responsibility.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port Severn June 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today and speak to Motion No. 502, which calls on the government to consider the advisability of measures to strengthen and deepen the vessel navigation channel that provides access from Georgian Bay to the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway at Port Severn. What the motion is attempting to address is a bit of a hazardous part of the trip through the 386 kilometre waterway. The channel these folks are having to go through is rock-faced, quite narrow, and subject to swift currents from the operation of the locks and also from winds. The boats that travel through that narrow channel often get shifted around by both the currents and winds into rock faces and experience problems.

I am very pleased to speak to the motion for a couple of reasons. First, I spent three happy summers on the Trent-Severn Waterway as a summer student and another year on the Rideau Canal, again as a summer student. These were great jobs. Students, frankly, could not ask for better work. It was outside. It was well paid. That work went a long way in helping me through those years of university.

I have to acknowledge that I was not lock staff. I was an interpretive guide. On the Trent-Severn, I spent most of my time in Peterborough at the lift lock, the highest lift lock in the world, as I am sure all of us in the House know. However, I did get the opportunity to see the full length of the waterway, sometimes dressed as Boomer the beaver, sometimes just in my Parks Canada uniform. It was amazing.

I got to see the Kirkfield lift lock too, which is the second highest lift lock in the world. Who knew? I also got to see the marine railway up at Big Chute. These are engineering marvels, top to bottom, on the Trent-Severn.

My time on the Rideau was similarly spent as an interpretive guide and split between the blockhouse at Kingston Mills and the blacksmith shop up at Jones Falls, where, by the end of the summer, I became pretty handy at bashing out a few standard household items over the forge.

Neither of these jobs had the cool factor of lock staff, it goes without saying, since I had to dress as Boomer the beaver from time to time and run around in militia uniform firing off muskets in the dark. However, they did afford me the opportunity as a young person to get some insight into the history of our country, and indeed, into the history of the first nations and how they lived on these lands and used the natural waterways before the canals actually linked them. There are a couple of lessons in all of this that stand out for me.

We have before us a relatively modest motion. I think the member has priced it at $600,000 and change. Of course, given the numbers we deal with in the House, that strikes us as relatively small.

What I want to talk about is the issue of ambition, and this is why I support even this smaller proposal in the motion. It is the ambition required of nation builders and the ambition Canada once had to build the infrastructure that makes a nation. These waterways were carved out of some very difficult and unforgiving land, and they remain marvels, national historic sites, both the Rideau and the Trent-Severn. Of course, the Rideau has the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as well. They remain, among other things, marvels of engineering. The lift locks along the Trent-Severn still captivate and perplex people. It is so simple, yet people stand at the bottom wondering how these things work and how they were built.

The waterways are but two examples, albeit outstanding ones, of an infrastructure that built our country. Laying railroad track across the country, across beautiful but hostile territory, through equally difficult and often deadly summers and winters, was no less a feat of course.

It is not just about the rural and remote infrastructure that built this country; it is also about urban infrastructure in Toronto. One need only look at the Bloor Street viaduct built almost 100 years ago. It was designed to facilitate mass transit at the beginning of the 20th century, long before we needed mass transit. Its upper deck was built to accommodate streetcars while the lower deck was built for rail transportation. It was controversial at the time because of the high additional costs. However, the bridge's designer and the commissioner of public works for Toronto at the time, R.C. Harris, were able to have their way, and the lower deck on that Bloor Street viaduct proved to save millions upon millions of dollars when the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission, ultimately opened the Bloor-Danforth subway almost half a century later and they were able to use that bridge with no major structural changes.

Just down the road from my home in Toronto, and ever so slightly outside my riding, unfortunately, because I would like to call it my own, is the R.C. Harris water filtration plant. It tells a similar story. Early in the 20th century, Toronto was plagued with water shortages and unclean drinking water, so a plant was built in the 1930s to purify water. That is the R.C. Harris water filtration plant. It still functions today, providing almost half the water to Toronto and York Region all these years later.

It is interesting that Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin of a Lion tells the story of how in the 1930s water intakes were built more than 2.5 kilometres out under the lake, offshore, in 15 metres of water, and connected to the plant through pipes running under the bed of the lake. These were the kinds of ambitions we had at one time to build the infrastructure upon which we built great cities and a great country. It is forward looking, it is courageous, and it understands that infrastructure needs to be built now to serve as the foundation for a prosperous future. We are falling short on this. I talk all the time in this House about the impact of the lack of ambition of successive federal governments on our cities, but here let me restrict my comments to our waterways.

Recent estimates suggest that Parks Canada is letting our cultural, economic, and environmental assets go. Recent reports on Parks Canada and its assets suggests that there has been poor stewardship of its vast holdings, estimated in 2012 to require some $2.9 billion in deferred repairs. Deferred work on the Trent-Severn Waterway alone is estimated to be worth almost $700 million.

In a recent letter made public by retired managers of both the Trent-Severn and the Rideau Canal, they point to many problems emerging from the cuts made in the 2012 budget. Some of those cuts have been restored, but they have left a devastating impact on these two canals. The managers speak to the natural and cultural resources of the two waterways. They speak to all the complexity of uses of these waterways and the complexity of the watershed the waterways run through, and all the recreational uses. They challenge the government to ask itself whether it is really paying attention and respecting the heritage we have here.

The second point, just to conclude, is a more modern one. This letter points to this issue that these waterways are not remote anymore. They serve many functions and many people and fall under the jurisdiction of more than one government. That is to say that management is always a complex issue, and many important interests need to be served. The cuts to the hours of operation of these canals that flowed from the 2012 budget have had a devastating impact. As someone who worked on the waterway at one point in time, I know that the rolling crews through these locks is devastating to the economies along the waterway.

To support the motion, one thing I would like to see come out of it is greater consultation with all the competing and many complementary interests that exist along the waterway.

Georgian Bay Channel to Lock 45 – Port Severn June 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Simcoe North for his speech and for bringing this motion forward to the House.

Having visited that area, I concur that the northern part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, up around Port Severn, is indeed stunning. I think that all MPs who represent people along the 380 kilometres of the Trent-Severn Waterway would agree that it is quite stunning, with each part of the waterway offering its own particular landscape and engineering marvels.

In light of the member's description of the waterway as a whole and the complexity of the watershed and interests that are involved along the Trent-Severn Waterway, from the different types of recreational use to the natural environment, can he tell the House what kind of assessments and consultations have been done to support the motion? For example, have economic and environmental assessments been done? Have first nations been consulted?

Petitions June 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition in the House today that arises out of the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh. When it collapsed it killed 1,135 workers and injured another 2,500.

The petitioners draw the attention of the House to the fundamental right of all workers all over the world to work without fear for their safety and their lives.

Because the accord on fire and safety in Bangladesh is a critical mechanism for the safety of garment workers in Bangladesh, the petitioners call on the Government of Canada to endorse the accord--

Public Works and Government Services June 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I did listen to the answer but the thing is, I have heard that answer many times, in fact, years ago. The parliamentary secretary had to blow the dust off his paperwork.

The results of the Canadian government's study have already been reported in Washington. Government and industry officials have been leaking their version of events here in Canada. If Conservative spinners are willing to leak the report to the media and industry, why are Conservative ministers not willing to answer questions here, to stand by their decisions, to stand to account to Canadians here in the House?