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NDP MP for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 40.90% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply September 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this question because I think it is fundamental to the question of who we are as a nation. The question we are really dealing with is this. Should not those who go to work every day and work hard be able to earn enough to provide a decent life for themselves and their families? It is a simple question.

What we have seen over the last 30 years under the Liberals and Conservatives is increasing income inequality in this country, where the top are paid more and more and the bottom, those who live on the minimum wage, have had no real increase.

The Broadbent Institute, in 2012, clearly demonstrated that 14% of all income now goes to the top 1% in this country, up from only 8% in the 1980s. Therefore, the rich have gotten richer in terms of their incomes and for the poor there has been very little change, 1¢ over the last 30 years in the real value of minimum wages. What that leads to is inequality in wealth. If one does not have the income, then one cannot acquire assets.

In September, the Broadbent Institute issued a report called “Haves and Have-Nots”. I have to say that it is the shame of my province of British Columbia to be the most unequal province in Canada, where the top 10% own 56.2% of all assets, including pensions. That is 10% of the population with over half of all the assets one can own in the province, while the bottom 50%, that is half the people in my province, own only 3.1% of the assets. We clearly have a serious inequality problem in this country.

When Canadian academics like Keith Banting and John Myles have studied this phenomena of increasing inequality, they found there were two factors at work. One was the deliberate cutbacks in social spending and transfers first started by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives. These were programs that originated in a design to help correct the market inequalities that came about. However, they also pointed to something that was even more serious, and that is the increasing divergence in family incomes and especially low family incomes for those stuck at the bottom.

I am also pleased to rise to talk about the issue today because of my own personal long involvement with this issue. As a councillor in the municipality of Esquimalt, I was proud to sponsor a living wage policy, making Esquimalt one of only two living wage communities in British Columbia, the other being New Westminster.

I have to admit that my proposal to adopt a living wage provoked a vigorous debate. Often those opponents focused on the question of who actually deserves more money. I think we are hearing a bit of that from the other side in here today, talking about people who live at home maybe not being deserving of a fair wage, that youths do not need higher wages because they are subsidized by their parents or that seniors going back to work after retirement do not need a decent wage because they are just supplementing their pensions. Though shocking, when confronted with the fact that most of the minimum wage workers are women, we get close to those old pin money arguments, that somehow women do not need to earn a fair wage because they are not really the primary breadwinners.

Opponents locally, at the municipal level, tried to focus on the minimal direct impact. Again, it is scarily consistent with what we have seen here today, both the Liberals and Conservatives are saying that there are only 400 people who would benefit from this, but what we know is that they are both deliberately misunderstanding the statistics. The number that would actually benefit from this is not those who are directly in federal employment, that is admittedly quite small, but those who are in the private sector within federal jurisdiction. We know that, of those workers, 40,000 earn less than $12.49 an hour and 100,000 earn less than $15 an hour.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out some real workers who are dealing with this.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is seeking a first contract with a company called Adecco, which employs people in the customs centres in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. The original contract offer from this private sector employer in the federal jurisdiction is $11.66 an hour by 2017. Therefore, it is not true that this is window dressing. There are more than 100,000 Canadians who would benefit from an increase to $15. That is a lot of people for whom this would make a real difference in their lives.

The question of what is a living wage was also raised locally. Why do we talk about these very large numbers? Some of the Liberals have been asking us today who we consulted with. There has been a broad-based popular movement in British Columbia and other provinces led by community social planning councils who sat down with business, labour and poverty advocates to determine what it takes to support a family.

In greater Victoria, the figure they came to, including business involvement, was that it required $18.93 per hour to provide the basics of food, clothing, shelter, child care and transport, and nothing else: no holidays, no savings for retirement, no savings for kids' educations, no servicing credit cards, and nothing if one has to deal with disabilities or elder care. That is $18.93 per hour when the minimum wage is $10.25. Therefore, more than double the minimum wage is what is required to live with the dignity that people who go to work every day and work hard deserve in this country.

Who earns the minimum wage? It is the same argument today that I heard at the council level, that it is really not very many people and they are mostly young people. The first thing we have to recognize is that it is disproportionately women who earn minimum wage. There are more than one million minimum wage earners in this country and over 60% of those are women. Only a total of 4.3% of men earn the minimum wage, but 7.2% of women workers are at the minimum wage. That rises to 24% of women in the age group between 15 and 24, so one-quarter of young women work at the minimum wage.

A lot of these jobs involve things that we traditionally regard as women's work, so someone who is a cleaner, does cooking or does serving. If they do that at home, their contribution to the economy is not recognized at all, but if they do it in paid work, they get low pay because we think of that as women's work. It does not matter if it is actually a women doing the cleaning or not. Everybody who does cleaning in this country tends to be paid at the minimum wage level.

Youth make up another large group. It is true that over half of all the minimum wage workers are young in this country. That is over 500,000 people. We heard a lot of moralizing about whether youth actually need a living wage or not, the conclusion being that they tend to live in their parents' basements and are subsidized by their parents, forgetting that youth are trying to get a start in life, trying to pay for their educations. They are not all lazy slackers living in their parents' basements by choice. Some of them are forced to live there because they have no other alternative.

As one young woman who testified at our hearings in Esquimalt said, she was still looking for that store that had a student price for milk and a minimum wage price for eggs. They pay the same prices the rest of us pay while earning only a minimum wage.

Most surprising to me, which I learned when I was working on this at the council level, was that workers over the age of 55 make up nearly 10% of all minimum wage workers. That means there are over 100,000 Canadians over the age of 55 working full time and living in poverty; 4.5% of women over 55 who work earn only the minimum wage, and 3.6% of men.

The other argument we heard, and it was just repeated in this chamber and it was repeated at the municipal level, is the false job losses argument. It has been made here today and I am sure we will hear it again and again. Most businesses are in a situation where labour is only one factor in their costs. High rents, high credit card transaction fees, and a host of other costs, not just labour, determine what prices they have to charge in the market.

The real world simply does not support the theory that there will be youth job losses or job losses of any kind. In fact, in the last year, 13 states in the U.S. increased their minimum wages, five through legislation and eight through indexing. Job growth was 1.8% in the 13 states that increased their minimum wage, and 1.5% in the 37 states that did not increase their minimum wage. Therefore, there is higher growth in jobs with a higher minimum wage.

As for wages, let us look at the other part of it. People say it will reduce hours and people will take home less money in the end. In those 13 states in the U.S., wages grew by 1%, and in the 37 states with no increase, 0.1%, so 10 times the wage growth in those states that increased the minimum wage.

What happens if we keep the minimum wage below a living wage? Who actually picks up those costs, because these people are still alive and they are still getting by? Obviously they are costs borne by the workers in terms of living in substandard housing, suffering poor health, or facing poverty in retirement because they are unable to save. However, the public also picks up a lot of those costs, in effect subsidizing those low wages through increased demand for social housing, increased demand for provincial social services.

Charities and faith communities have assumed a large part of those costs in running food banks and shelters, and of course kids pay a big price. British Columbia has the highest child poverty rate at 18%, and one-third of those kids living in poverty are living in a family where at least one parent works full time.

This is not a trivial motion. It is not a housekeeping motion. It is motion about who we are as Canadians and whether we really believe that those who go to work and work hard deserve a living wage.

WorldPride Human Rights Conference June 19th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, next week, members of the LGBTQ community from across the world will assemble in Toronto for WorldPride. Hundreds of LGBTQ leaders and activists will come together for the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, ranging from the world's first openly gay head of government, former Icelandic prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, to activists who bravely struggle against homophobia every day on the front lines. Hundreds of thousands more will attend the WorldPride parade on June 29.

New Democrats want to recognize today the tremendous work of the organizers in putting together WorldPride, and in particular the work of Brenda Cossman and Doug Kerr as co-chairs of the Human Rights Conference.

Today, we also acknowledge the willingness of the government to work with us and conference organizers to secure visas for participants whose applications were initially denied. I want to recognize in particular the effective behind-the-scenes work by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth on these files.

While Canada has moved a long way down the road to full equality for the LGBTQ community, there is more Canada can do both at home and abroad. However, for today, I would like to ask all hon. members to join me in welcoming WorldPride to Canada.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would start by saying in my experience in Afghanistan, I was able to travel around the country because of very brave people who had done the mine clearing ahead of where I needed to travel. I have seen first-hand the effects on civilian populations, not just in the injuries, but in the constrictions it places on everybody's life, and the very valuable work that people do who support trying to remove the aftermath of land mines and cluster bombs.

I will say again, I would really hope that Canada would lend our full moral weight to the movement to ban these kinds of weapons forever. The only way to do that, I think, is to remove section 11 from the bill so that we are very clearly saying, even to our closest allies, these are not acceptable weapons.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, of course I am quite mystified by the government's sense of priority and timing. When we bring things forward, things are introduced and then they make no progress. Then suddenly they have to go through immediately and they have to be subject to time allocation.

I think there has been some speculation that having signed the treaty, the government spent a lot of time consulting with the Canadian defence forces, which at that time had as chief of staff Rick Hillier, who had spent a lot of his time embedded with U.S. forces. I suspect they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how they would solve the problem of interoperability and its obvious contradiction with the land mine treaty.

I would say it must have taken them quite a while to come up with a solution, which I think is no solution at all.

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by letting members know that I will be splitting my time with the member for Hull—Aylmer.

Despite the late hour, I will try to do justice to what I think is a very important topic before us this evening, Bill C-6.

I have to say that it is strange to be starting a speech in the dark of the night on something that could have been before us, and should have been before us, much sooner. This convention was agreed to in Dublin in May of 2008. It was signed in Canada on December 3, 2008. It actually entered into force in 2010, when I think 30 nations had ratified it. However, the first version of this bill was only tabled in the House of Commons in December 2012, which was 18 months ago.

We are now debating the bill under time allocation, suddenly, and I am not sure which time allocation it is, as there have been several since then. However, we are now up to about 75 time allocations. Again, it is a strange sense of priorities from the government.

What we have in front of us is a bill to implement an international treaty. The bill, now at third reading, is still very much in the same form as when it first came to the House. There has been only one small amendment, but I agree that it was an important amendment. Unfortunately, what we still have before us is a bill that contradicts and undermines the very international treaty it is supposed to implement.

Our official opposition foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre, has tried very diligently to work with the government on this implementation legislation, all the way back to its original iteration as a Senate bill. He has been trying to make sure that it actually matches the treaty that we signed.

The member had a very practical suggestion, which was to take article 21 from the convention, the clause dealing with interoperability with non-party states, and get agreement to substitute it for clause 11 in the bill before us. It is clause 11, for me, that is the main problem with this legislation. However, it is less of a problem after the amendment than it was previously, because before that amendment there was a very serious problem.

The initial problem with clause 11 was that it would have allowed Canadian Forces to use cluster munitions in some circumstances. Therefore, I am thankful for the amendment, which the government agreed to, to remove that explicit permission for the use of cluster munitions. It is an important change. However, I have to say that when we think about the treaty we signed, it is hard to imagine how that ever got into the original draft of an implementation bill, because it was so clearly contradictory of the intent of the convention.

Still, even after the small amendment that took out “use”, the bill, under clause 11, would still allow Canadians to participate in and even command operations using cluster munitions as part of joint operations. To my mind, and I think to most observers, this clause still undermines the treaty, the purpose of which was to ban the use of cluster munitions.

Of course, New Democrats are not the only ones raising these concerns. They have been raised by international civil society groups, by Canadian civil society groups, and perhaps most tellingly, by the Canadian who negotiated the treaty on our behalf. The head of the Canadian delegation negotiating this convention, Earl Turcotte, resigned from DFAIT and has subsequently called the proposed legislation “...the worst of any country that has ratified or acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions”.

Most interesting to me is to remember the role of Canada at these negotiations. This role was in great contrast to our previous traditional leadership role when it came to negotiating weapons treaties. In this case, Canada's role was to try and get article 21 added to the treaty. This is the article that provides for interoperability with non-party states. Since Canada succeeded in getting that added to the convention, it is hard for me to imagine why the government finds itself in a position of creating even larger loopholes through clause 11 in the bill. Let us remember that 113 countries have signed the convention and 84 have ratified it.

Why is clause 11 there? I believe it has come out of an inordinate concern about interoperability with the United States and subsequently from a parallel concern about the protection of Canadian Forces members from liability when participating in joint operations that use cluster munitions.

There would be two ways to solve this problem. The way the government has decided to do it is to create a loophole that would let Canada out of its legal responsibilities. The other way would have been to conduct negotiations with the United States about joint operations to make sure that Canadians did not place themselves in a situation in which they would be in violation of the convention.

If we entered those negotiations, we would actually advance the goals of the convention and help try to bring the United States, or any other country that is not a signatory, under the convention. Instead, as I said, the government has chosen to create a larger loophole.

There is a list of 84 countries that have ratified this convention without seeing the need for loopholes like those in clause 11. This includes NATO countries like Spain, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy. It includes traditional allies of Canada like Australia and New Zealand. It includes countries like Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

As members on the other side have pointed out, some of these countries do have interoperability clauses in their own legislation. However, those clauses are consistent with article 21 of the treaty, and that means that their interoperability clauses allow participation in joint operations only when that participation does not involve assistance with acts explicitly prohibited by the convention.

What kind of weapons are we talking about here? These are weapons that can be delivered by a variety of means, by aircraft, artillery, or rockets, but what is most pernicious about them is that they release hundreds of small explosives over a very broad area. These devices individually are often as small as a battery. They are devices with a very high failure rate, up to 30%, which leaves a large unexploded ordnance problem behind. We know that 98% of the recorded casualties from cluster munitions have been civilians. This makes cluster munitions most similar in their impact to the problems left behind by land mines.

Land mines are phenomena that I had occasion to become personally familiar with some time ago. When I went to Afghanistan in 2002 as a human rights investigator, I was required to complete a high-risk personal security training course conducted by the British military. At that time, I learned how to recognize land mines and how to extricate myself from a minefield.

That was all theory until I actually arrived in Afghanistan. What struck me most was the very large number of people on the streets each day missing a limb, most of them children. Almost every day that I was there, we ran across more examples of civilians losing limbs as a result of those land mines.

Land mines later became a more personal reality for me when I was travelling across the country and we stopped to heed the call of nature. I went to step off to the side of the road, but luckily and helpfully our driver pointed to two lines of rocks on either side of the road delineating the boundaries of where mine clearing had taken place. Despite the hard work Canada had done to bring the world together to ban anti-personnel mines in the Ottawa treaty signed in 1997, five years later I found myself on the side of a road about to take a step too far.

As an international observer, I had the luxury of going home at the end of a four-month tour and not having to live every day with the threat and the impact of land mines.

I also had the privilege of going home very proud to be a Canadian whose country had played such a prominent role and such a positive role in trying to end the scourge of land mines.

Here I am late at night a decade later in a debate on cluster munitions that makes me much less proud to be a Canadian.

Let me be clear. I am not accusing members on the other side of favouring the use of cluster munitions, but I do think that their excessive concern with U.S. interoperability has led them to introduce legislation that leaves the door open to that use. It is not just about the use of cluster munitions by others, but it also leaves the door open to Canadian complicity in the use of these weapons.

It is bad enough, in my mind, to have worked so hard to get an interoperability clause into the convention itself, but it is still worse to provide larger loopholes like those provided in the language in clause 11 of the current bill.

Instead of, at minimum, sticking to the language that we already had inserted into the convention, we have, as I said, created a larger problem. That is why on this side of the House we worked very hard to try to get an agreement from the government to amend the bill to conform with the language of the convention.

Let us remember that cluster munitions do not just harm civilians. In 2006 in Afghanistan, 22 Canadian Forces members were killed and 112 were wounded by land mines, cluster bombs, and other explosive devices.

I look forward to the day when Canada returns to its traditional leadership role in weapons reduction and when we lend our weight to the total abolition of cluster munitions, instead of trying to tunnel loopholes through the convention.

We have here two competing values. On the government side the value of continuing co-operation with the United States and interoperability, and our common goal of trying to eliminate the use of cluster munitions. I believe the government has clearly placed the wrong priority on one of these over the other. For that reason, members on this side of the House will have to vote against a bill that otherwise might help advance a very worthy cause.

Victims Bill of Rights Act June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, here we have what I believe is the 75th use of time allocation in this House. We have the Conservatives applauding because of their limited grasp of representative democracy. We know we have members from more than 300 ridings who represent all different kinds of people in this country and all different kinds of ridings; so when the Conservatives have heard from two or three people, they already have their mind made up and are ready to go on to whatever they want to do. They are not willing to listen to good ideas. Even on bills like this one, where we are actually supportive in principle, they insist on time allocation.

My question to whoever is handling this debate at this time—we seem to have a variety of ministers who stand up; I hope it is the Minister of Justice—is this. Why are the Conservatives not willing to listen to additional good ideas on this topic and things that we might be able to offer to improve this bill?

Human Rights June 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, two years ago I raised the problem of airport screening requirements that can result in transgender and gender variant individuals being banned from flying. The Conservatives ignored and even scoffed at these concerns about requiring a traveller's appearance to match the gender listed on their ID, something that has nothing to do with security.

Again, given the imminent opening of WorldPride in Toronto, what measures has the Minister of Transport taken to make sure this discriminatory policy does not interfere with the ability of those attending WorldPride to travel to, from, or within Canada?

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, what we have going on is a bit of a pretence, with the minister talking about what happens if they are next to schools or in our neighbourhoods. We know from the experience of the safe injection in Vancouver East that crime rates go down. The number of needles found in alleyways goes down. The whole community becomes safer. There is amazing community support for the one existing safe injection in Vancouver East. We have a bit of fear-mongering from the other side.

Again, I would like to come back to the question of the committee. We are going to the public safety committee. We know that with the study of marijuana that has been commissioned, the government has said that we can only talk about the harms in committee and that we cannot talk about anything else that might happen.

I want reassurance from the government that the Conservatives will not use their majority on the public safety committee to limit the scope of the debate so as to exclude the health benefits, which was the primary reason that the Supreme Court made its decision. Could we get assurance that the government will not use its majority to prevent the discussion of the health benefits of safe injection sites?

Respect For Communities Act June 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence demonstrates a somewhat shaky grasp of parliamentary democracy: first, with his reference to the Magna Carta, which of course preceded Parliament; and second, in talking about how much debate is enough debate. It misunderstands representative democracy. The idea that people come here and represent their ridings seems completely foreign to the members on the other side.

When we get to referring a bill to committee, I have my biggest concern. I sit on the public safety committee and I will be happy to debate this bill there, but what we have seen lately is that it is of course going to the wrong committee because it is a health question. However, I hope we are not going to see this, and this is my question. Can the minister give us the assurance that he will not try to limit the debate on this bill in committee to only the public safety aspects, so that we can have a full examination of its health aspects in the public safety committee?

Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act June 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will say to the member for Edmonton—Strathcona the same thing I said earlier. I want to avoid the dramatic today. I want to avoid the other parallels and just say that I am not claiming to have done great work with the PEERS organization myself. I am claiming to benefit from the great work that they have done in my community and from their advice in saying to me very clearly that they believe that the bill puts their lives at risk. For that reason, I will be voting against the bill.