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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
Veterans Hiring Act November 25th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-27 at third reading. However, like my colleague from Windsor West, who just finished speaking, I regard it as a positive, but also largely a missed opportunity.
My riding in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is what most would call a military riding. Together, the base and shipyards make up the largest employment site in my riding. I do not want to neglect to mention that health care and education are also large employers, and in those areas the provincial government is the main employer. I should also mention the very vibrant small business dominated tourism industry. My point here is that the base and shipyards are at the heart of my riding.
As the home of Canada's Pacific fleet, we have 4,000 active members stationed at CFB Esquimalt and there are an additional 2,000 civilian employees at the base. When we add on another 600 and soon to be 1,000 people working in the shipyards, we have nearly 7,000 people commuting to work everyday in the centre of my riding.
I do not want to veer off-track here. I will save for another day the discussion of ensuring the federal government and VIA Rail keep their promise to get the E&N railway up and running again so we can help get those people to work. Another day, we can talk about things like HOV lanes to help with the traffic.
What the employment structure of my riding means in terms of this bill is that I have a riding with lots of veterans. Many of them served at CFB Esquimalt, coming originally from all over the country and then staying on after leaving the forces, either for better job prospects than at home or maybe in some cases because it does not snow very often in my riding, but most often because their spouses and families have put down roots in Victoria. It also means we have a lot of injured and disabled veterans in greater Victoria, again both because of the availability of medical services and also, for those with mobility challenges, the lack of snow is a significant factor.
Unfortunately, it is a fact that the federal government is now a shrinking employer in my riding. With nearly 37,000 jobs already lost across the country, we are only going to see more shrinkage in federal employment. I say “unfortunately” for two reasons.
One is that almost all of these were good, family supporting jobs that contributed to a healthy community, and those jobs will no longer be available to veterans in my community.
The other reason is the loss of federal jobs almost always means a loss of federal services locally, like my colleague from Windsor West was discussing with the closure of the veterans office. In fact, in my riding we have just learned that we are about to be the next to lose more federal jobs, as home delivery of mail is up for elimination early in the next year in my riding. When Canada Post officials say that no jobs will be lost, what it means is it will do its best to ensure it keeps its existing employees. The positions, those good-paying, stable jobs will be lost in my community and, again, they are jobs that were often very valuable to veterans who wanted to stay in greater Victoria.
The result of the shrinking public service combined with the shrinking employment in crown corporations, like Canada Post, creates what economists like to call a more competitive job market. In plain English, that means it is tougher for everyone to find a job. It will be tougher for veterans in my riding, but especially for injured veterans, and it will be tougher for everyone to find a full-time, permanent job that pays a living wage.
Let me be clear. Before I begin talking about some of the concerns I have about Bill C-27, I do support this bill, even if the result ends up being just one more injured vet getting a good job in my riding. I hoped this bill would do more than that, but I fear its results will be quite limited.
The bill is in fact quite narrow in its proposed impact. Not only will the bill's potential impact be limited to those who want to work in the public service, but its impact is further limited to those who already have the qualifications often required for public service employment, like post-secondary degrees. There is no provision in this bill for those who might want to retrain to get those better jobs in the public service, and the length of the qualification period for being on the priority list also works against those veterans who want to retrain.
While I would like to believe that public service employers already place a high value on veterans' military experience in providing good employees with positive qualities like an understanding of the value of discipline and the value of teamwork, clearly this is not always the case. I accept that this bill will help bridge that gap by giving explicit priority to injured veterans.
We hope the Conservative government's intention with this bill is not simply to mask the general shortcomings of its programs for veterans and, even more specifically, the limited success of its career transition services. The minister has already received useful advice on how to improve transition services for veterans from both the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General. There are many good recommendations from both of these officers of Parliament: the Veterans' Ombudsman's report in 2013 and the Auditor General's report in the fall of 2012. Unfortunately, these good recommendations are still awaiting adoption by the government.
Today, Auditor General Michael Ferguson released his report on mental health services for veterans, something that is very closely related to the ability to get good family-supporting jobs. His conclusion is that there are too many barriers to veterans receiving mental health services, and that waits for both assessments and services are far too long.
Some of the things he talked about seem like they should be easily fixable. I hope that the Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Minister of Defence will act quickly to end the delays in transferring records from the Canadian Forces and DND to Veterans Affairs. Ferguson noted that it still takes 16 weeks to get records transferred and that nothing can happen on a file in terms of getting veterans services until those records are transferred.
He also criticized the application process for disability benefits at Veterans Affairs as too slow and unnecessarily complicated. I hope the minister will act quickly on the recommendation to simplify the application process. Ferguson noted that the wait for an assessment, once records have already been transferred, can take another four months. Therefore, the average wait time for a referral is three months, not the three weeks the department set as its own service standard.
Until veterans get the services they need to deal with their physical disabilities or with their stress-related injuries, they cannot really get started on these employment placement programs. Certainly, we can all agree that taking eight months for the assessment that establishes that a veteran is even eligible for services, before any treatment can actually start, is far too long.
Even once that assessment is finished, the delays are not over. The wait for treatment at the operational and trauma stress support centres, where mental health services for conditions such as PTSD are delivered is nearly two months at more than half the centres.
Therefore, I was glad to hear the government announce additional funding for mental health services for veterans yesterday, but I am sorry to see that it was done only in the face of the impending report from the Auditor General that points out the lack of services and the failings of the government in this area.
While I do support the bill, limited as it is, it remains clear that the government could have gone much further. It could have looked beyond the small number of veterans in transition who have the qualifications, training, and experience necessary to pursue a job in the public service.
The bill does, however, contain a flaw that we in the NDP have opposed wherever it has appeared. Specifically, the the bill creates several categories of veterans depending on where and how long they have served. It even creates separate categories of surviving spouses, with differential benefits and qualifications, based on where and how long their spouses served. This violates what should be a basic principle. We in the NDP have always argued that a veteran is a veteran, and we will continue to do so. Also, the bill excludes ex-RCMP members. We can see very little reason for treating ex-RCMP members differently from Canadian Forces veterans.
However, I do not want to lose sight of the chief virtue of the bill, which is giving the highest priority to injured vets for public service jobs. Nor do I wish to diminish the importance of lengthening the eligibility period for placements from two to five years. These are significant improvements. However, we also have to remember that the existing priority hiring program has managed to find jobs for only a little over half of those added to the priority list each year. Between 50% and 80% of those hired each year were hired by DND. In my riding that is significant, because there are a lot of civilian employees of DND, but most other government departments have hired fewer than 10 vets under this program. The government can and must do better.
When I talk with veterans about employment for injured vets, they have a lot of other concerns on their minds before the priority placement program. That became very clear when the NDP leader and I sat down at the Esquimalt Legion last year to talk face to face with injured vets. The vets started with a condemnation of the unseemly rush to get injured Canadian Forces members out of the forces. Also, they always touched on the number of homeless vets in my riding who are either couch surfing or living in basements or garages of family and friends, or living in tents in the bush in rural parts of my riding.
My recent conversations with injured vets have included questions about how the Conservative minister could have returned $1.1 billion to the treasury last year, unexpended.
Let me just make one last statement on Bill C-27. I hope that we will honour our veterans by giving them the assistance they need and deserve in return for their service to Canada, whether it is injured vets getting back to work or those who have left us getting the respect they deserve with assistance for a dignified burial.
Public Safety November 25th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, this is getting absurd. The minister flat out refused to answer in committee yesterday when he was asked the simple question: “Was the constitutionality of Bill C-44 reviewed by justice department lawyers?” His answer: “Just trust us”.
How can Canadians be expected to just trust the Conservative government when it has already weakened CSIS' oversight, and when it is limiting the study of Bill C-44 in committee to just four hours and three opposition witnesses? How can Canadians trust the government when the minister cannot or will not even answer basic questions about his own bill?
Trans Day of Remembrance November 20th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to recognize November 20 as the Trans Day of Remembrance. People in communities across Canada and around the world are marking today by remembering victims of transphobic violence and rededicating themselves to working to end discrimination against transgender, transsexual, and gender-variant people.
Last year, there were 83 murders of trans people, and countless more were victims of violence and discrimination.
On this Trans Day of Remembrance, we should also look forward and ask how we can make things better. The past year has seen some progress on trans rights in places as diverse as Dallas, Texas, and Mexico City. Five Canadian provinces have recently added to their human rights codes explicit protection against discrimination, but it is clear that much more remains to be done to build a more inclusive Canada where transgender and gender-variant Canadians can participate fully and live without fear.
At the federal level, the Senate remains the last obstacle to full legal equality for the trans community. It has now held up passage of Bill C-279 for nearly two years after its approval by the House of Commons.
Once again on this Trans Day of Remembrance, we urge the Senate to pass this legislation without further delay.
Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act November 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech. He raised a really essential point about this bill: if we are expanding CSIS' powers when the organization was established because of abuses of authority, then we certainly have to be looking at increasing accountability for CSIS.
I wonder if the member has any remarks about the current system of accountability in CSIS, especially in view of the annual report this year in which SIRC said that CSIS did not provide full and complete information in a timely manner to allow it to exercise its responsibilities for oversight.
That is a key of the hon. member's speech and of the essence of this bill.
Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act November 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the parliamentary secretary's speech on this legislation.
We on this side of the House have said that we support the bill in principle, but we have concerns about the details in the bill, in particular its granting of additional powers to CSIS without strengthening accountability measures.
My question to the parliamentary secretary goes along with the question I asked the minister earlier. Since we are under time allocation, and the minister has said that the committee is the proper place to deal with our concerns, will the parliamentary secretary commit now to allowing the committee to have a full range of witnesses appear and a full debate of possible amendments to the bill?
Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act November 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the minister, I think there are a couple of things in his statement that may inadvertently mislead the public. One is that the government likes to talk about six hours of debate. How many people does that actually accommodate in the House of Commons? It is 16. Sixteen people means that about 5% of the members of the House of Commons have actually been able to debate the bill. Six hours sounds long until we actually look at the number of people participating.
The second way I think he might inadvertently mislead the public is the question of committees being the masters of their own houses. His parliamentary secretary came to the public safety committee on Bill C-2 the last time with very severe limits on the debate, limiting the opposition to four witnesses and actually limiting the time we could spend debating each clause of the bill to one and a half minutes per member. This was obviously a travesty of a debate in committee.
Again, I am asking the minister for a commitment from the government that it will not use its majority on the committee to restrict debate in the committee on this important bill.
Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act November 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, once again I am disappointed in the government's attitude. As I have said before in this House, it seems that the government regards debate as something it has to suffer through until it gets its way, instead of an exchange of ideas that are important not only to improve legislation but also to let Canadians know what issues are at stake here in the House of Commons.
My question for the minister has to do with the fact that he has referred to the committee as the right place to examine this bill. What I would like to hear from him now is a commitment that the government will not impose time allocation and severely limit the number of witnesses at committee, because although it is a short bill, it is quite an important bill in terms of national security. Will the minister give a commitment today that the government will not impose time allocation in committee or try to limit the number of witnesses who appear?
Energy Safety and Security Act November 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the fact that there are only two and a half minutes remaining to debate this bill really does illustrate the point that many members have made on our side.
The government has now used time allocation 80 times. It shows that what I want to say about this bill will not get into the record today. I cannot possibly deal with this matter in two and a half minutes. Other members of our caucus will not be allowed to speak at all on this very important bill.
Previously the member for Gatineau was talking about how this bill was considered when it was in committee. There were only two days of hearings, in which only nine witnesses called, and on the second day those hearings were cut short, and understandably, by bells in the House. Then time allocation and scheduling that were forced on the House and on its committees by the government meant that the committee was not able to complete its consideration of the bill.
Then only one day was given to deal with possible amendments to the bill. There were 32 amendments submitted from the opposition. If we think about the amount of time, namely two hours, with 32 amendments and four opposition members, it is clear that the government was not interested in hearing what people had to say, because they were allowed about one minute each to explain these amendments. Obviously, on a very technical and important bill, one minute per amendment is not taking Parliament and democracy seriously.
It is an indication that the government is not prepared to listen to anything that people have to say on this side of the House. It is indicative of what I would say is the Conservatives' attitude toward democracy. For them it seems to be all about winning and only about winning.
Lately we have seen yet another Conservative member who took that idea way too far. He was forced to leave the House because of his disrespect for the rules about making politics fair.
Time allocation is also indicative of the government's attitude toward debate. It seems to believe that debate is something it has to sit through until it gets its way. For me, debate is very important here. I was elected by my constituents to bring their concerns to the House of Commons, and those concerns will vary from member to member. I represent a riding on Vancouver Island. There are people who represent an entire country. On the same bill, the interests of our constituents will be different, even if we are in the same party. The government seems to view all of this as a needless process because it won the election. I have a much higher view of democracy than that.
Veterans Affairs November 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the relationship between Conservatives and veterans has deteriorated dramatically, precisely because of the government's ongoing failures when it comes to veterans. Most serious is the systematic failure to deal fairly with disabled veterans.
The Canadian Coalition of Veterans says that members will not participate in government photo ops or be quoted in news releases until veterans are better treated by Ottawa.
Why does the government not fully implement the report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and provide quality benefits to those who serve Canada so greatly instead of fighting them?
Energy Safety and Security November 7th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments on this bill. I know that he and his party are great advocates of the free market. I wonder why, in this case, they are putting forward a bill that relieves the nuclear industry of some of the pressures of the free market by, in a sense, subsidizing the risks involved in that industry. Why should the nuclear industry, just like any other industry, not bear the full cost of the risk? Why should the public pick up this expense for the nuclear industry?