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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is urban.

NDP MP for Beaches—East York (Ontario)

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

Statements in the House

Reducing the Effects of Urban Heat Islands Act December 11th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-579, an act to reduce the effects of urban heat islands on the health of Canadians. I would like to congratulate my colleague for Honoré-Mercier for bringing this bill before us.

As the urban affairs critic for our NDP caucus and also the sponsor of Bill C-619, the climate change accountability act, I am very excited to have a discussion in this place about the impacts of climate change on cities, on the health of Canadians living in urban Canada and about the great opportunities that present themselves to us for mitigating climate change and improving the health of Canadians by focusing attention on Canada's cities.

The discussion is particularly timely as countries gather in Lima, Peru at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change with the goal of putting in place, by next year in Paris, the agreement necessary to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. To succeed, that agreement needs to include the world's largest emitters.

While the Conservative government likes to point to the fact that Canada is responsible for only 2% of global emissions, that places us within the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters globally. Looking globally, there appears to be positive momentum in that direction. Specifically, the recent agreement between the world's largest emitters, China and the U.S., holds out promise that we have turned a corner on this issue.

Only five years ago, in Copenhagen, these two countries pointed fingers at each other, accusing each other of sinking global efforts at mitigation. However, with this agreement, things will change. China has agreed to slow and then halt greenhouse gas emission growth by 2030. The U.S. has agreed to reduce emissions by nearly 30% by the same date.

Therefore, things will change, but it is also worth noting that this agreement stands as a clear sign that things have already changed. The simplistic contradistinction between economic growth and emission reductions no longer stands. There are new energy economies that these countries are engaged in and can profit from.

Last week's report from Clean Energy Canada tells us that things have changed in Canada, too, and will continue to change. In that same five-year period since Copenhagen, Canada, in the absence of federal support I would note, has seen its capacity to produce electricity from renewable energy sources increase sufficiently to power 2.7 million Canadian homes, and the clean energy industry in Canada is still in its infancy.

Also relevant to today's discussion is the impact of the health effects of climate change. As reported recently in the The Guardian newspaper, in China:

Air quality is so far below World Health Organisation standards that a blue sky appears only after it rains, or when the government closes steel mills around Beijing and bans drivers from highways for major summits...

Of particular relevance to the bill before us, it is heartening to see that that U.S.-China agreement acknowledges the role of cities as final-energy users and, consequently, as significant greenhouse gas emitters. The Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities initiative that forms part of that agreement recognizes the great potential of cities as sites of climate change mitigation.

Now, of course, the times do not look particularly propitious for us in Canada in light of the revelation this week that the Conservative government, contrary to its commitment, has no intention of regulating emissions in the oil and gas industry.

However, it is the nature of government that it changes. Governments come and they go, but a government that breaks its commitment on such a significant, indeed, existential issue, one hopes will go quickly, and a government that calls regulating what it had once committed to regulate “crazy”, one hopes will fall harder and faster than most.

Now, as per the bill, we are talking specifically about urban heat islands. The call in the bill is for the Minister of Health to establish a national strategy to reduce the negative effects of heat islands.

Urban heat islands are understood to be urban environments in which the average air temperature is markedly greater as compared to the average or, in particular, that of the surrounding rural environment. The effect is well known and has been well studied, precisely because of the serious impacts of urban heat islands on human health. Annual average temperatures tend to be 3.5° to 4.5° higher in cities than in surrounding rural areas. According to the OECD, this difference—and note that it is in average annual temperature—is expected to increase by 1° per decade to a difference of about 10° in large cities. In other words, the heat island effect is significant presently and anticipated to get significantly worse over time.

It has been estimated, for example, that maximum average temperatures in my city of Toronto will rise by 7° by mid-century. That means that the extreme climate events, such as heat waves, which we are experiencing as a result of generalized global warming, will also become worse in urban areas as a result of the heat island effect, or more properly the conditions that give rise to the heat island effect. Those conditions relate, in the main, to the type of infrastructure we find in urban environments and the particular materials it is made of, as well as the colour of those materials. Surface materials such as concrete and asphalt, including asphalt roofing shingles, are particularly problematic. This kind of infrastructure tends to absorb large amounts of solar radiation and release it in the form of heat, thus creating heat islands. The increasing daytime temperature, in turn, tends to trigger a vicious circle as it interferes with natural nighttime cooling processes, but it also triggers artificial cooling efforts, such as air conditioning, that add to the heat island effect.

There are well-documented health implications of extreme heat and heat islands. It is fair to say that, around the world, the effects of urban heat islands on human health are being documented by health and environmental agencies. The health outcomes vary from simply heat fatigue to death.

According to studies conducted by the American Ernest O. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, every 1°C increase in warm weather temperature increases the pollution caused by smog by some 5%. Smog generally forms above urban areas and heat islands, and adds to water pollution and air pollution. Smog is one of the main causes of the increase in the number of cases of asthma, throat irritation, and even premature death.

It is worth noting that not all are affected equally by heat island effects. Some people are more vulnerable to health impacts than others. Seniors and youth are particularly vulnerable, but so also are the poor, the disabled, shut-ins, the homeless, and those unable to afford or without access to air-conditioned shelter. There is clearly and notably a social equity issue. This is a matter of climate justice and not just a generalized matter of human health.

Let me end with what I think is some good news. About 80% of Canadians live in urban Canada. Urban Canada is responsible for a commensurate percentage of final energy use and consequently a commensurate percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. Not the current government, obviously, but people around the world who are concerned about the future of this planet, people committed to halting global warming so as to avoid dangerous levels, are alive to the issue of urban heat islands and their health impacts and dangers. They are also alive to the great climate change mitigation potential of cities. That is why this bill and its focus on urban Canada and urban Canadians, and the need to deal with these issues, holds out such great promise for us and should receive the support of all in this House.

I again thank my colleague for bringing it forward.

The Environment December 11th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in the 39th, 40th and again in this 41st Parliament, this party has tabled legislation, the climate change accountability act, that would commit Canada to emission reduction targets. That is a consistent determination to preserve this planet for our kids.

Contrast that with a Prime Minister who once called meeting emission targets “an important objective”, but now, having missed every target, he calls emission regulation “crazy”.

How did it happen that the Prime Minister's once important objective became crazy?

Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree. It is true of everything that we do in the House. It is worth taking the time to get it right. However, continuing the theme of contradictions with the government, on this of all issues one would have thought it would have taken the time to get it right and to ensure there was ample study and expertise allowed to inform the bill.

On that same issue of contradiction, the government says that this is an incredibly important issue and yet over the last three years, it has cut almost $700 million from security agencies in Canada. Those cuts will continue into next year with respect to CSIS in particular, another $25 million or so.

The government purports to have great concern for the security and safety of Canadians and yet the process for this bill betrays its other interests. The way it budgets for security agencies also suggests that, indeed, it is not a priority for the government.

Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. There are some stark contradictions between identifying this issue of national security and intelligence services as one of great importance to Canadians and to the House, yet not providing the House and the public safety committee with sufficient time to discuss the matter, given the importance that it warrants.

There are a number of contradictions. The government, in fact, tracks a risky course by assuming that it has the correct answers on these matters. There are committees and committee processes for some very good reasons, and that is to allow outside expertise into this process to provide the benefit of its experience and expertise. By not giving sufficient time to allow people to comment on the bill before us, it puts this process at great risk, and that too is a contradiction to the importance the government says it provides to this issue of national security.

Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other acts.

In a sense, this bill has been a long time coming. It has been 30 years since this place turned its mind to the CSIS act. Much has changed. It makes sense to update or modernize this legislation.

We, on this side of the House, supported this bill at second reading, not because it was perfect, far from it, but out of recognition that there are many issues swirling around this and through the courts on matters of national security and intelligence services.

The bill has been returned to us, however, from committee unamended, in spite of the age of the current legislation and the issues confronting us on matters related to intelligence and national security. The bill had but four hours of scrutiny at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. True to form, amendments put forward by the opposition, recommendations put forward by expert witnesses, and cautions issued by experts were all turned aside, dismissed, and defeated.

We have before us a flawed bill, one not worthy of support. What this bill betrays is a government unprepared, unable, or incapable of doing the difficult but necessary work of ensuring that Canadians have both security and their civil liberties. Indeed, in this bill, and in the government's world view it would seem, civil liberties must wait for security.

It is arguable that in this bill and all that the government does, it tends to see civil liberty itself as a security risk. This would explain why the government so unflinchingly tramples over the rule of law, our own as well as that of others, and has such little concern about and does so little to provide civilian oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here is my case for this. First, the bill provides blanket protection of identity for all CSIS human sources in legal proceedings, including criminal and immigration cases. There is no opportunity provided for the accused or respondent to confront the accuser and test the evidence. Such an opportunity is considered a fundamental part of our justice system.

How courts respond to such a denial in practice is left to be determined. It is unclear from here. Will the courts respond so that this becomes an obstacle to successful prosecution, will they allow this to enhance their probability of successful prosecution, or will the courts challenge the constitutionality of this provision? All of this is to be determined.

Second, the practical implications and, indeed, the threat of this amendment, become clear when one notes that this bill amends the Canadian Citizenship Act by accelerating the timeline for the revocation of citizenship for dual citizens found to be engaged in terrorist activities and other serious crimes.

It is out of our deep concern for the expedited revocation of citizenship in the broader context of this bill that we have proposed amendments before the House at this stage relating to these provisions.

Third, this bill tries to escape the views expressed by the courts starting in 2007 with respect to CSIS actions and surveillance abroad. Those views were eventually set out in a decision by the Federal Court in 2013 that declared illegal the practices of CSIS for obtaining warrants for conducting surveillance of Canadians abroad.

The response by this government through this bill comes in the form of essentially continuing its practices under the cover of the following language in the bill: “Without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state...”.

Fourth, and perhaps most tellingly, while the bill gives CSIS new powers, it does nothing to enhance civilian oversight of the organization. More than that, it does nothing even to repair existing age-old shortcomings in civilian oversight of CSIS. The Arar commission concluded in 2006 that improved civilian oversight of CSIS was needed, but was ignored.

Privacy and information commissioners of Canada have asked the government to ensure that effective oversight be included in any legislation establishing additional powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as this one. That too has been ignored.

We echo their call. Civilian oversight is our means of ensuring that security and intelligence services can do their part to provide for the security and safety of Canadians without diminishing our civil liberties.

Under the bill, the government gives civilian oversight not even secondary consideration. It gets no consideration. Under Bill C-44, civilian oversight, such as it is, staggers forward. The current review agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, is a part-time committee of the Prime Minister's appointees. We have been through Chuck Strahl and Arthur Porter as chairs. Now we have former Reform MP Deborah Grey as interim chair. Two of the five vacancies on the committee have in fact been vacant for months.

In the 2012 budget, the Conservatives eliminated the position of inspector general of CSIS. The inspector general was the internal monitoring unit within the service, responsible for checking all CSIS activities for compliance with the law. The inspector general's responsibilities were passed along to the Security Intelligence Review Committee with its rotating chair and vacant seats.

NDP members of the public safety and national security committee proposed three very reasonable amendments to enhance civilian oversight of CSIS. The first of these flowed from the recent SIRC report. It called simply for a requirement that CSIS provide complete and accurate information to SIRC in a timely manner in order to facilitate proper oversight of the service.

The second proposed amendment would have ensured that those appointed to SIRC had the expertise necessary for the role, such as in the administration of justice and national security and so on.

The third proposed amendment called for appointments to SIRC to have the support of the Leader of the Opposition so as to extract ourselves from this process of partisan appointments to such critically important oversight roles.

These are all simple, reasonable amendments to a very important component of the security intelligence services, all rejected by the Conservatives, leaving civil liberties at risk, easily and unnecessarily sacrificed under a government that seems not to believe that civil liberties and national security ought, indeed, co-exist if we are to live in the kind of Canada that we desire.

Our democratic values must not be compromised in the pursuit of enhanced public safety. They need not be compromised. Protecting civil liberties and public safety are both core Canadian values, and improvements to one must never, and should not and need not, come at the expense of the other.

As Privacy Commissioner Daniel Carrion put it, it is understandable that the government would want to consider boosting the powers of law enforcement and national security agencies to address potential gaps, but any new tools should be accompanied by a beefed up role for the watchdogs who keep an eye on spies and police.

The fact is that despite all its shortcomings, this bill could have been improved when it went through committee, a process by which we can arrive at well-informed policy. Instead of giving the bill the careful study it deserved, it was rammed through committee, which only heard four hours of testimony from independent experts.

The Conservatives have once again rushed legislation through the House with total disregard for any recommendations for improvement. This, unfortunately, has become a defining characteristic of the government.

Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit confused about the hon. member's position. It sounded like a fine and thorough analysis of the bill, yet he ends up saying that we really need certain types of oversight. When one uses that type of language, about needing certain oversight of CSIS and yet the bill does not provide that oversight, I am left wondering how it is that he ends up reconciling that requirement for oversight with his support of a bill that does not have it.

Petitions December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today with respect to the interim federal health program. The petitioners wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that refugees fleeing war-torn areas such as Afghanistan have been denied medical care upon arrival in Canada and that pregnant women and children have been unable to access care because of a lack of health insurance.

The petitioners believe that all people in Canada deserve access to health care services. Therefore, they call upon the House of Commons to rescind the federal government's cuts to the interim federal health program and end this barrier to care for refugees.

Social Development December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in Beaches—East York, legions of volunteers are gearing up to pack and deliver holiday hampers to thousands of neighbours, thanks to the Neighbourhood Centre north of the Danforth and Community Centre 55 to the south. We all have gifts to give, and I thank all of my constituents for giving of themselves so generously at this time of year.

However, we in this place have the opportunity give much more than anyone else. We can create a more generous and compassionate Canada. Instead, successive governments have left gaps and traps for Canadians to fall into everywhere, fully aware that many will fall into them, fully aware that many will not be able to get out of them.

We do this to ourselves and we do it to each other, in areas from from child care to seniors' health care to veterans' care to supporting women and children caught up in abusive and violent relationships. We will never replace the need for family, good neighbours, and a supportive community, but we in this place ought not to be standing by while so many Canadians struggle and are in need of our help.

National Health and Fitness Day Act December 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's speech. I am a bit concerned about the claims he has made for the fitness tax credits. In this day and age, certainly in my riding, a lot of constituents simply cannot afford to put their kids in sports programs. The leagues, while run very efficiently by volunteers, are expensive. The government has proposed to put pennies in the pockets of people who actually need dollars in order to put their kids in sports programs and reap all the benefits.

I worry about a bill of this nature. The member has talked of extravaganza and tax credits that, frankly, are not meaningful to a large proportion of Canadians. If we are serious about getting kids engaged in sports for all the great health and social reasons that flow from that, why is the government not doing something more meaningful to put real dollars back into the pockets of people these days who do not have them so their kids can participate?

Poverty November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, not every Canadian family benefits. Income inequality has become a hallmark of Canadian cities.

The new report from TD Bank says that it is stunting our economic growth and threatening our long-term prosperity. The report identifies the damage done by the Liberal-Conservative tag team, together making the poor poorer and the rich richer. There are too many young people struggling for a foothold and too many families struggling to provide.

When economists around the world are advising governments to “lean against income inequality”, why are these guys always leaning the wrong way?