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Crucial Fact

NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River (Ontario)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 40.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, this is such an important question. I thank my colleague for this question and the statistics that he pointed out.

The government is making it harder for already underprivileged students who have to rely on the student loan program to get themselves through school, like I did. If I had not had access to the OSAP loans and the vehicle exemption tax credit, I would not have been able to afford to go to school. I would not have been able to afford to get a university degree. That is what the government is trying to do. It is trying to make it so that youth who grow up in families that are not privileged do not go to school. It is trying to make it more difficult for students who grow up in poverty or situations where education is the key for them to leave that cycle of poverty, that cycle of discrimination, whatever it might be.

The government is making it more difficult for people like me to get an education, to serve my community and country, and to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. That is not fair. We need to make sure that we are looking out for all students and young people in our country, not just the privileged. It does not make sense that the government would cancel the $5,000 vehicle exemption credit because rural and suburban communities need to ensure that their young people are getting educated as well.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Labour for the comments and questions she put forward. I wish she would open up the omnibus budget bill so that we could actually debate it, so that we could look at each individual part of it.

As I mentioned, there are some parts of the budget that the NDP supports. From day one, we have always been supportive of creating jobs and taking care of the high level of unemployment in this country and the extremely higher level of underemployment in this country.

A quarter of our university graduates with an undergraduate degree are severely unemployed or underemployed, and it was the Conservative government that was in charge of making that happen. The government has been sitting in the driver's seat while we saw a quarter of our university graduates being severely unemployment or underemployed.

Why do the minister and the government all of a sudden care about the youth in this country and say that they are doing something for the young people in this country? They sat there and watched as a quarter of our university graduates became unemployed or severely underemployed.

I talk to young people in my community every day, and they are hoping that they can have jobs in our community. The government sat there and watched as it sent jobs out of this country. The Conservatives are the ones who allowed the temporary foreign worker program to be abused and allowed jobs to be taken away from our young people and Canadians, and the minister now has the audacity to say that we are not fighting for Canadians and for our young people's jobs. Please, I do not need to repeat myself.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it really is a shame that, once again, the Conservatives are pushing through yet another omnibus budget bill. Since 2011, the NDP in opposition has fought to break down government omnibus budgets brought to the House into manageable legislation so that members have the opportunity to consider and debate the new legislation that is being proposed and deliver better results for Canadians.

Omnibus bills have had a bad reputation on Parliament Hill for some time now. No one, other than the Conservatives, seems to really like them. I would like to share some strong words on omnibus bills from a member in the House of Commons from 1994. The member said: the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?

Who said that? Let me tell members. This blast from the past is absolutely right, and I would introduce him to the Prime Minister if they were not already so close, as it was the Prime Minister himself who said this when he was the leader of the opposition.

Let us get back to the budget implementation bill that is before us. It is amazing that the budget implementation bill is over 350 pages long, has almost 500 clauses, would amend dozens of bills, and—this is the best part—includes a variety of measures that were never even mentioned in the budget speech by the Minister of Finance. One would think that measures in the budget implementation bill would also have actually been in the budget, but not so much this time.

I should give credit where credit is due. There are some parts of the bill that the NDP supports. For example, the government is using the budget implementation bill as an opportunity to rectify its previous attempt to levy the GST and HST on hospital parking, a leftover from budget 2013. This, however, does not make up for other measures included in the budget implementation bill or for Conservative attempts to ram this bill through the House.

The truth is that the budget implementation bill includes a large variety of complex measures that deserve thorough consideration and scrutiny. The tabling of such a large and wide-ranging bill in such a short timeframe undermines Parliament, because it denies individual MPs the ability to thoroughly study the bill and its implications. This is one of the most important jobs of an MP. It is one of the reasons the people of Scarborough—Rouge River sent me here to Ottawa.

Unfortunately, the budget implementation bill fails to provide solutions for issues that matter to Canadians and to my constituents in Scarborough—Rouge River, such as jobs and the economy, immigration and family reunification, safety, and retirement. I will talk about a few of those today.

Despite the cries from the Conservative benches that they are the best managers of the economy, the budget implementation bill would fail to help the leading drivers of our economy: the small and medium-sized businesses. We know that small and medium-sized businesses provide 70% of new jobs in the Canadian labour market. Unfortunately, the budget implementation bill would fail to renew the small business job creation tax credit first proposed by the NDP in 2011.

When 300,000 Canadians are struggling to find work, would we not want to make it easier for small businesses to hire more workers? Unfortunately, the budget implementation bill fails to do this and would fail to help these employers.

It would also fail the struggling Canadian worker. There is nothing in the budget or this bill to get the almost 300,000 unemployed back to work or to help replace the 400,000 manufacturing jobs that were lost under the Prime Minister's watch.

The cruel joke is that while 300,000 unemployed Canadians are looking for work, the Conservatives have failed to stop abusing the temporary foreign worker program. The Conservatives promised two years ago to create a blacklist of employers who had broken the rules of the temporary foreign worker program. Today, two years later, there are still no names. Let me repeat that. There are no names on the list, despite Alberta, one province, identifying over 100 cases in which employers broke the rules, and that is just one province. We have ten provinces and three territories.

Why should Canadians take the Conservatives' promise to address the abuse of the temporary foreign program seriously? Why should we trust them now?

The truth is that there is not a lot of trust between Canadians and the government. Many Canadians who may have cast their vote for the Conservatives found out the hard way how flimsy that trust is when the government announced changes to the GIS and old age security. Many of my constituents in Scarborough—Rouge River are concerned about their livelihood and future with regard to these changes.

The budget implementation bill would stop payment of the guaranteed income supplement and the old age security survivor allowance to sponsored immigrants, even those who have lived in Canada for 10 years and even if they are still within the sponsorship period during which their families are financially responsible for them, which of course the Conservatives doubled from 10 years to 20 years just last year. This means that immigrants who arrived under the family reunification program may have to wait up to 20 years to be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement and survivor allowance. Does this seem fair to new Canadians? Let me repeat that so it is very clear. This bill would change the rules so that there would be no more guaranteed income supplement or old age security survivor allowance for sponsored immigrants during the entire sponsorship period, a waiting period of up to 20 years. That is unbelievable.

It is just as unbelievable as yesterday's announcement from the Transportation Safety Board that revealed that Canadian rail companies are not reporting all derailments. My constituents are very concerned about rail safety in our community. Scarborough—Rouge River is a densely populated community. Trains run through our community, and we have the large eastern Toronto rail yard right in the centre of our community. There is a great concern about our safety and our environment. These concerns have crossed the minds of many Canadians, not only my constituents of Scarborough—Rouge River but any Canadians who live by the rails.

This is what makes the Conservatives' unwillingness to open the omnibus budget implementation bill to allow independent study of all of the important parts so dangerous. The budget implementation act would allow the government to change and repeal a wide variety of railway safety regulations without informing the public. Those include the standards for engineering, worker training, hours of work, maintenance, and performance. Cabinet decisions changing safety requirements for the transport of dangerous goods would also be a secret, including changes to the classification of dangerous goods, the training and qualifications of inspectors, and rules regarding importation and transportation of these goods.

These changes would prevent the public from knowing when Conservatives weaken safety measures and would prevent experts from advising the minister before the changes would come into effect. It would not be a change that would make our railways and communities safer. Why are the Conservatives regressing on railway safety and trying to move the results of government decisions on railway safety behind closed doors?

This raises another, larger, question: why are the Conservatives against opening the door to transparency? We see it time and again. The Conservatives want to keep the changes to railway safety regulations closed. The Conservatives do not want to open this omnibus bill because they do not want members to tell them what Canadians really think. They do not want the 308 of us to tell them what Canadians think is really going on in the country.

However, the omnibus budget does not need to be opened for me to share what the New Democrats would like to do. We must invest in economic development and high-quality middle-class jobs. That is a priority for the NDP. We can do this by working with the private sector to help Canadian businesses strengthen, grow, and create jobs. We should continue to build on the existing job creation tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses to help the true drivers of our economy, the SMEs, to grow.

We need to make more jobs available to Canadians by stopping the abuse of the temporary foreign worker program. The Government of Canada should work with the provinces to improve monitoring. Employment and Skills Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration must be able to deny employers' labour market opinions and withdraw work permits from employers who abuse the program. We should also set out a path for citizenship for temporary foreign workers to encourage skilled workers to stay in Canada and continue to contribute to the economy.

The government needs to fulfill its commitment to help Canadians save and invest for their retirement. The NDP will continue to fight for the immediate reversal of the federal government's plan to raise the retirement age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 67.

I could continue, but I do not want to give it all away. I would rather share it with my colleagues across the floor after we open up the omnibus budget bill. However, I fear that the Conservatives will not budge.

The Conservative government will continue to cry out otherwise, but Canadians recognize that this is just another omnibus budget bill designed to ram through the House hundreds of changes with as little study and as little oversight as possible, and that is just not fair. Canadians deserve better, and that is why the NDP is here to be the real eyes and ears for Canadians and to hold the government to account.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2014

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. There will be far more Canadians who will be disenfranchised from voting.

We are in a situation in this country where voter turnout continues to decrease. My constituency had the second-lowest voter turnout in the 2008 election. As a result of local community members taking it upon themselves to create voter education campaigns between the 2008 election and the 2011 election, voter turnout increased by 18% in Scarborough—Rouge River. Local community members educated the people. Elections Canada had the opportunity to educate Canadians and ensure that young people were enumerated. It had the opportunity to make sure that new Canadians knew how to vote and when to vote. Because of that, voter turnout increased by 18% in one federal election.

That is the type of thing that should be happening across this country. It is an absolute shame that less than 60% of Canadians are voting. More Canadians need to make sure their voices are heard. Their voice is their vote, and Canadians need to be using it.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, in many situations people have difficulty getting their hands on ID. Young people who will be voting for the first time may not have driver's licences, other identification, or utility bills in their names because they live with their parents. They may not have any form of identification and may need their parents to vouch for them, saying, “This is my child, who is 18 years old and a Canadian citizen, and who should be able to vote because they live with me in my home.” Seniors living in residences traditionally do not have identification cards, driver's licences, or some sort of ID with an address on it. Aboriginal people wait weeks or months for their treaty cards to arrive.

On the topic of young people, 15% said they could not provide proof of ID and 16% said they could not provide proof of address. These barriers to voting for young people are particularly pronounced among aboriginal youth, 20% of whom said that they could not vote because they did not have ID and 23% of whom said they lacked proof of address. Of youth with disabilities, 28% could not vote because of lack of ID and 33% could not vote because they lacked proof of address. Finally, of unemployed youth, 21% could not vote because of lack of ID and 22% could not vote because they lacked proof of address.

We know that under the Conservative government, the number of young people who are unemployed or underemployed is continuously rising. If 21% and 22% of young unemployed people cannot vote, that is a significant portion of our population that the Conservatives are making sure are not participating, not voting, and not exercising their franchise, a franchise that so many people who came before us made sure to fight for so that we could vote.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Bill C-23 has been criticized as undemocratic by academics, elections officials, and, more importantly, by many Canadian citizens. Just this morning, on my trip to Ottawa, I had a chance to read The Globe and Mail. It has been editorializing on Bill C-23 for over six days now, sharing more information on this unfair elections act than the government is with Canadians.

I thank The Globe and Mail. In today's piece, it decried the bill, saying to kill this bill for the good of the country. I could not agree more with what the The Globe and Mail's editorial said.

I would like to share some more of what I read today:

The government has touted the bill’s changes to voting rules as needed to prevent voter fraud. That’s a red herring. There is no evidence that vouching, a process the bill eliminates, led to widespread fraud. The government has resorted to defending itself with out of context citations from experts, whose conclusions are the opposite of what the government pretends. Tightening the rules will prevent many eligible Canadians from voting; those affected are mostly not Conservative voters.

Other changes create a giant, partisan loophole in campaign spending laws, to the advantage of the Conservatives. Why? The bill gives incumbent parties in each riding the power to name key election officials, instead of leaving the job to an impartial Elections Canada. Why? Bill C-23 also takes direct aim at Elections Canada in other ways – neutering its ability to conduct public outreach campaigns and encourage voting. Why? It also meddles with Elections Canada’s ability to investigate wrongdoing or communicate the results of investigations. Why?

It is not just me or The Globe and Mail; many Canadians are asking the same questions. Why are the Conservatives trying to stop voters, stop Canadians, from actually participating in our general elections? Time and time again, experts have been saying that Bill C-23 aims to fix problems that are not really there.

The bill is actually exacerbating the real problem with Canada's electoral system, which is low voter engagement. Voter participation is low, and engaging new voters in a time when Canadians are cynical about government is an uphill battle. Why are the Conservatives trying to make voting harder, when we should be making it easier and as accessible as possible? The answer is simple, and very discouraging: it is because the unfair elections bill makes it easier for the Conservatives to win. They want to make it harder for people who do not vote Conservative to vote at all.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians rely on vouching and voter identification cards to prove that they have the right to vote. This is especially true for young people, new Canadians, aboriginal people, and seniors living in residence. Bill C-23 would put an end to vouching practices. Vouching has long been an accepted practice; not everyone has the financial means to secure an ID, and not everyone in Canada is wealthy.

Aboriginal people, university students living away from home, the homeless, and seniors in residence are all groups that are less likely to have eligible ID or mail on hand, thus requiring someone to vouch for them. In the last election, approximately 100,000 people used vouching to exercise their right to vote.

In addition, voter cards will no longer be accepted to confirm identification. The use of voter ID cards, the notice of registration on the electoral list that is sent to voters, benefits those who face challenges in establishing their address when it is time to vote. Examples are youth on campus, seniors, and aboriginal people. Many aboriginal people wait months to get their treaty cards. They may not have access to alternative forms of ID. Elderly couples may need to have a spouse vouch for them, because only one of their names was on the registered mail.

The rate of error is very small when using voter ID cards, and the allowance worked to enfranchise many, so why get rid of it? The only reason I can see is to disenfranchise voters.

My riding of Scarborough—Rouge River is large and diverse. We have a high population of new Canadians who may face some difficulties when they go to the polls next election. For some, the 2015 election will be their first opportunity to vote federally. What a warm welcome to their new home to be told they cannot vote.

We also have the highest youth-to-population ratio in the greater Toronto area in Scarborough—Rouge River. There are approximately 32,000 people between the ages of 18 and 34. The national youth survey conducted by Elections Canada after the 2011 election found that among Canadians aged 18 to 34 who did not vote, 15% said that their decision was influenced by their inability to provide proof of identification, while another 16% indicated that they were influenced by their inability to provide proof of address.

However, members need not take my word for it. Although the Conservatives did not feel the need to consult the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, he had more than enough to say about vouching in testimony that he provided at the procedure and House affairs committee that we know the Conservatives wish they could forget. Luckily for us and for all of Canada, it is on the public record.

The Chief Electoral Officer, when he spoke at the committee, had this to say on vouching:

It has been pointed out that vouching is a complex procedure and that numerous procedural irregularities were found to have been committed at the last general election in connection with vouching. It is critical to understand that, as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, the vast majority of these were strictly record-keeping errors by poll workers documenting the vouching process, and not fraud or even irregularities that could compromise an election. There is no evidence tying these errors to ineligible electors being allowed to vote.

That is a fairly clear demonstration that vouching is not leading to election fraud.

When asked publicly about why they would ban vouching and the use of voter information cards, Conservatives say that it is because they are trying to cut down on fraud. However, that does not make sense. We know they are not cracking down on fraud. Elections Canada has been clear that there is no evidence to suggest that vouching or the use of voter information cards has actually led to fraud. There is no evidence to suggest vouching or voter information cards are connected to electoral fraud. There is no evidence to show that this legislation would be justified in ending vouching and ending the use of voter information cards.

The only example of voter fraud using voter ID cards that the Conservatives could give us was, of course, the statement by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville that he had witnessed with his own two eyes that voter fraud was happening using voter ID cards. Of course, as the House knows now, this was not the case, which invites the question of why the member for Mississauga—Streetsville brought it up if he knew it was not true.

Unfortunately, this unfair elections act is not just an attack on voter access but also on education. Bill C-23 would strip the Chief Electoral Officer's power to engage in public education. Under the unfair elections act, the Chief Electoral Officer would be limited to discussing only certain aspects of the electoral process: when, where, and how to vote. That is literally the least amount of information that the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada could give to Canadians. That is all they would be allowed to say. This is absolutely not a way to increase voter participation. This is very much a departure from many western democracies.

Traditionally, bodies that oversee elections have the mandate to educate the public on how to vote. If Elections Canada is not allowed to do the job, then who will? The Conservatives are counting on the probability that nobody will. The Conservatives would rather change the rules of the game than play by the rules. We know that with their majority government, the Conservatives have been writing their own rules, making them up as they go along.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives have a track record of breaking election laws with their in-and-out scheme, robocalls designed to suppress opposition votes, and rule-breaking overspending by Conservatives ministers, not to mention charges against the Prime Minister's former ethics spokesperson, the MP for Peterborough.

The Conservatives had a chance with Bill C-23 to do the right thing and introduce a bill to crack down on real electoral fraud, but they could not stop themselves from tacking on cynical measures designed to tilt the playing field in their favour and make it harder for some groups of Canadians to vote. As I said before, those include young people, seniors, aboriginal people, and homeless people.

I want to say one last thing. As The Globe and Mail's editorial said this morning, for the good of this country, let us kill this bill.

Democratic Reform March 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government tried its best today to prevent committee members from hearing testimony from Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, just like it has been trying to prevent Canadians from having their say on this bill.

It is clear that Conservatives are afraid of consultation. However, that is no surprise after hearing Mr. Mayrand's critique of this unfair bill. He has delivered a point-by-point rebuttal of almost everything that the minister has claimed. Mayrand warned that this bill focuses on voter fraud that does not exist, instead of voter participation, which is a growing problem.

The government refuses to take people at their word and treats law-abiding Canadians like criminals. Meanwhile, Conservatives are happy for millions of dollars to be paid out to political parties without a single receipt.

This bill is an affront to our democracy. New Democrats know it. Canadians know it. In 2015, we will start fixing what is broken in Ottawa.

International Women's Day March 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, this International Women's Day I look forward to attending events in my riding and celebrating the contributions of the women of Scarborough to our community.

It is also important to raise awareness about the barriers that women continue to face. Since 2006, when the Conservative government came into office, we have seen the slashing of funding for local women's organizations, no funding initiatives for child care, the closure of 16 Status of Women Canada offices, and the abolition of the court challenges program.

Some of the women hardest hit by the Conservatives are immigrants, who bear the lioness' share when caring for children and older loved ones. Backlogs at Citizenship and Immigration Canada continue to keep families separated, adding strain to new Canadian women caring for loved ones at home, here in Canada, and around the world.

With the Conservative government, we are not seeing any fair plan to eliminate the backlogs in both citizenship and immigration. There are no plans to make life better for new Canadian women.

This International Women's Day, I am proud to work with the women and men of our caucus to continue the NDP's fight for gender equality and to break down barriers for all Canadian women.

Petitions February 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of constituents in my riding for the creation of Rouge national park. The current Rouge Park is home to the endangered Carolinian forest, mixed woodland, and plain life zones of Canada. It is also home to the ancestral home of the Mississauga, Huron-Wendat, and Seneca first nations, and their sacred burial and village sites.

This is the last chance that we have to create a large national park in southern Ontario, an area with 34% of Canada's population. Roughly 77% of its land and agriculture and human settlement uses only 1/400 of its land protected in national parks.

The petitioners are requesting that the Government of Canada protects the irreplaceable 100 square kilometres of public land assembly within a healthy and sustainable Rouge national park. They are calling on the government to protect and restore the 600 metre-wide wooded main ecological corridor linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine in Rouge national park, and to conduct a rational, scientific, and transparent public planning process to create Rouge national park's boundaries, which would include consultations with first nations communities, residents, and activist groups in the community.

Canada Post February 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, after the ice storm, Toronto experienced widespread mail delivery delays. It took Canada Post weeks to respond. Constituents from across my riding are still reporting mail delays. I am not alone. MPs from all over Toronto are fielding complaints. When a two-day delivery turns into a six-day delivery, cheques arrive late and bills do not get paid.

What is the minister doing to fix the mail delivery delays in Toronto?