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  • Her favourite word is chair.

NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River (Ontario)

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

Statements in the House

Rouge National Urban Park Act December 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, we do not have to pick between farmers or environmentalists. I asked almost every witness who appeared before committee if it was possible to work together. Farmers said that they were already environmentally responsible, that they were environmental activists. Environmentalists said they wanted sustainable farming to continue in the area.

My question for the minister is about something he repeated a few times, and that is ensuring people will enjoy the park and understand its cultural and historical heritage. People already enjoy the park. People are using it and learning about it.

I want to specifically ask him about the history of the park. There is a sacred burial ground and sacred village of the Mississauga, Huron-Wendat and Seneca First Nations peoples within the park right now. We put forward an amendment at committee to create an aboriginal interpretive learning centre on the park grounds. The idea was put forward by aboriginal first nations leaders and elders. Why did the Conservatives vote against it? Why has the minister responsible for this park still not yet spoken to the bill? Why does he keep saying that he wants to help the people learn and enjoy the cultural and historic importance of this park and communities when that is really not true?

Rouge National Urban Park Act December 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am really confused by the minister because he says that the people of Scarborough want this tiny park. No, the people of Scarborough want a 100-square-kilometre. park. What the government is offering is 40-something.

It is already protected right now by a patchwork system of protective measures and by people who have built the park, activists who have stopped development from happening, and people like myself who go and plant trees and bushes and remove invasive species six times a year. The park is protected by us, the people who are there on the ground and who have been working so hard to create it and protect it.

There is a patchwork system of about 12 or 13 different policies and agreements protecting this land. It is not just a piece of land, as the minister says.

Why is it the minister is moving time allocation on the bill when clearly there still needs to be more discussion? Why has the minister responsible not spoken to this bill? Why will they not just do what the community wants and protect the Rouge Park, rather than chopping it up into this tiny piece and not even providing the protective measures that are already in existence with the patchwork system of protective measures that we, the activists on the ground for the last 35 years, have put together?

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for those two points that he mentioned, one about the manufacturer in Germany and the second about the Minister of Health now agreeing to meet with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada.

I will start with the second question, which had to do with my comments about the minister now agreeing to meet with the victims association. The minister is showing a great response today. However, it is important to note that victims have been requesting to meet with the Minister of Health for a long period of time, and now that we have been able to get some media coverage about it, I am glad the minister is now willing to meet with the victims association.

The first question was about the manufacturer in Germany. The member mentioned that he was around when the clinical trials were just starting; I was not even a concept at that time.

I want to point out that the manufacturer, though it is 50 years later, has now finally apologized. It took the manufacturer 50 years to apologize for this drug and the effects it had.

Canada made a mistake, and I hope that we as a country can take the brave step of apologizing to the victims and survivors of thalidomide and do the right thing by meeting with the victims association to ensure that survivors continue to get support for their urgent needs and continue to have some security for the rest of their lives.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, for his question. He shared earlier that he had friends as well who have been affected by thalidomide.

He is right that we all like to live with certainty. Uncertainty creates anxiety, and living with uncertainty all one's life about one's future and future prospects increases anxiety.

I will share one more quote that I had prepared for my speech. It is about job security. It says:

I have had to change jobs at work because of this change [shoulder surgery]. At the rate I am going I will not be able to work within a short amount of time.

This person is trying to work, doing the best they can to contribute to our economy and contribute to the betterment of their lives as well as the lives of the people around them, but because of the impediment the disability has created and because thalidomide was in their systems as a fetus, they are now having to deal with the possibility of employment loss, which means they may not have been able to contribute much to their Canada pension plan and that they also may not have an employer pension program.

We need to make sure that we as a society are looking out for our mistake. I was not even born when this mistake happened, but I take ownership for it because we as a society need to be that way.

We are blessed that Dr. Frances Kelsey is a Canadian, but the Americans are far more blessed than we were, because as a scientist working for the FDA, she prevented that drug from being approved in the U.S. The Americans are far more blessed than we are, because they do not have to deal with it.

However, we as a society have a responsibility to the innocent victims of this drug. We need to make sure that their future security is looked after. There are not a lot of victims. There are fewer than 100 people.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, today we stand as a Parliament to call for support for the survivors of thalidomide and to work with people on the ground and the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force.

For people who might be watching at home or on YouTube later, I will give a quick background on what it is and what happened.

Thalidomide is a drug that was marketed as a safe treatment for nausea during pregnancy in the early 1960s. While it was a sedative, the drug, instead of being helpful, caused miscarriages and severe birth defects, including missing limbs, organs, and deafness and blindness. Approximately 10,000 thalidomide survivors were born worldwide. We cannot really be sure how many people were affected in Canada, but we know that approximately 100 survivors are still living in Canada.

According to the Thalidomide Victims Association, 62% of the survivors are women and 38% are men. They live across our country: 19% in western Canada, 20% in Ontario, 58% in Quebec, and 3% in eastern Canada. Therefore, Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been affected by this drug, which was thought safe in Canada in the early 1960s.

I will spend most of my speech on the current situation of the survivors.

After about 50 years of attempting to work around their limitations, it has really taken a toll on many of the survivors, who are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear to their bodies. This has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs and to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their ability. They have a limited ability to maintain employment and are dependent upon others for basic tasks, such as using the toilet, and dressing and preparing themselves.

This deterioration of the survivors' health has placed them in a very precarious situation, whether financial or emotional, and quite a few of them suffer from mental health issues as well. I will provide some examples from people who have been courageous in sharing their experiences with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, and I will read excerpts from a report from the association.

In 1992, there was a lump-sum payment. A deal was negotiated and compensation was given to the survivors who were affected by thalidomide in the 1960s. Lump sum payments were made in order to deal with the urgent needs of the survivors, but speaking with people I know, as well as reading reports by the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, we know that the lump-sum payments did not help with long-term investments for these families. Many suffered socioeconomically because of the fact that they could not afford to pursue post-secondary education, and they continue to be affected in the workplace today because of that.

I will speak about the education aspect, including about primary school and undergraduate-level education. Fewer than 5% of thalidomide victims were able to achieve their primary level of education, compared to more than 15% of the Canadian population at the time. At the undergraduate level, significantly fewer thalidomide survivors pursue a post-secondary education. Only 25% were able to complete their post-secondary education at the undergraduate level, compared to 35% of the Canadian population on average.

Another angle to look at is financial security and employment. Today, 31% of thalidomide survivors are afraid to quit or lose their jobs because of the pain and treatment they have to deal with.

As well, 17% cannot work anymore and are now dependent on their pensions, if they have been able to accrue pensions, or are dependent on disability benefits or on family members to take care of them, and 58% are actually afraid to lose their jobs, which would lead to a further deterioration of their situation.

Looking at just these three statistics, we see that a lot of the survivors of thalidomide are living in fear. They fear losing their job and they fear quitting their job if they are in a precarious situation at their workplace. They are afraid to move to other employment because they know they may not be able to find other employment or will be further victimized because of the pain they have to deal with.

Looking at the lump sum compensation that was made to the victims, we see that 20% do not receive any more compensation today, 50% make less than $10,000 a year in the annuities that continue to be paid from the compensation, and 75% receive only $20,000 a year as compensation. We know that $20,000 a year and $10,000 a year are definitely far below the poverty line in this country.

The victims and survivors of thalidomide are living below the poverty line, or that is the compensation they are receiving. That is just not right.

I want to talk about two people in my life who are thalidomide survivors. An example of those in the statistic of 20% who receive no more compensation is Charles. Charles is a friend of the family. He did receive some compensation for his urgent needs at the time. Now he does not receive much compensation anymore. He was able to get a special steering wheel for his vehicle.

Charles is an amazing guy who, though a thalidomide survivor whose arms were affected by the drug, overcame his adversity by getting his 5th degree black belt. Charles is an amazing guy. It goes to show that anything is possible as long as people believe in themselves, and Charles is an amazing example of that.

He has been able to make accommodations. For example, he is able to drive by using a special steering wheel in his vehicle. However, he has sadness. He says that it is really sad that he cannot spread his arms around his kids. It is true. Even though he lives with such optimism and persistence to continue and do well, that is the reality for him. I spoke of fear earlier, but there is also the sadness. This is their reality.

Another example is Daniel, who is a greeter at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, one of the sports arenas in the GTA. His arms and his legs were affected. He cannot drive and is completely reliant on public transit, but Daniel is absolutely another example of beauty and optimism. He has a smile as big as the world. He is always the life of the party. However, privately, he will also share that he lives with a lot of pain. He tries to be optimistic and positive about everything and positive about life, because that is what he has to do to move on with life.

Let us look at some more statistics on daily life: 26% require partial or full assistance of another person in preparing their meals, and 14% require full assistance for showering.

I want to share some more quotes about some of the participants in the report. Here is a quote:

I find it more difficult to manipulate the tools and material necessary to my work; I need help more often.

We are talking about job security.

In talking about mental health, here is another quote:

If I go back approximately 5 years ago, I had suicidal thoughts and had no stable and fulfilling work. The fear of not having enough money and losing my autonomy can make me very anxious.

We are talking about people who continue to live with fear and anxiety.

Here is another one, about future stability and pension:

Can only work part-time hours as a result of my disability. Part-time employees are not allowed to contribute to pension and therefore, despite working for 21 years, I have no pension. I find this very scary for the future.

There is fear and anxiety about the future.

Here is another quote: “I will need to retire earlier than 65”.

This person is living with fear. Knowing that the age of retirement has now been increased to age 67 by our current government, this person, who is living in extreme pain, will now need to wait. This person is already saying they cannot continue working until age 65, yet they will have to work until age 67.

I am thankful for the leadership we are seeing and the cross-party support we are seeing for the motion. I would have loved to speak more about Dr. Frances Kelsey and her bravery, but I am also saying that we need to work together with the thalidomide survivors task force. We are asking for a negotiation that would allow the creation of a program that would provide a one-time payment for urgent needs and ongoing monthly support as well, based on people's levels of disability and their ongoing needs.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to further questions.

Sri Lanka November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as Canadians of Tamil heritage, in November, we commemorate two important events: Remembrance Day and Tamil Heroes Day.

This month symbolizes the beauty of life because we remember all of those who sacrificed their lives for the rest of us to live in peace and freedom. We remember that each and every one of the people who have been caught in the crossfire of war throughout the ages have embraced life over death, but those who made the ultimate sacrifice ensured that we who survived would be able to live with dignity and with liberties.

This month provides us with the occasion not only to remember and pay tribute to the heroes but also to reflect on the lessons of the struggle for justice, peace, and a life free from discrimination.

Sadly, on the island country of Sri Lanka where I was born as a child of war, the discrimination and injustices continue and the ethnic and religious minorities continue to live without peace and in fear.

Let us always work for peace at home and abroad, and let us always support those who put their lives on the line. From the bottom of my heart, I am thankful to all.

Lest we forget.

Rouge National Urban Park Act November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague forgot a few other plans that are already protecting it, like the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plan of 2002, the Duffins Creek watershed plan, and the federal green space preserve. I can go on because there are other pieces or plans that are protecting that land, and it makes no sense that the federal government is creating legislation that would weaken the protections of an existing park. We are creating legislation to create the first ever urban national park in this country, yet the government wants to provide less protection for the parklands. It just makes no sense. That is why Nature Canada, Environmental Defence, CPAWS, the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, Ontario Nature, and the STORM Coalition all came together and asked all hon. members in the House to vote against Bill C-40, which is clearly a flawed bill and is providing less protection for this park.

Rouge National Urban Park Act November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood for his pointed intervention. I think it was a very good one.

My colleague from Halifax mentioned that in the amendment put forward by the NDP to clause 6 of the bill, we had proposed enshrining into legislation the protection of agriculture for farmers as well as the environment, and the need for conservation and ecological health and integrity in Rouge Park. I think the farmers would agree because all of the witnesses who came to committee were reasonable. I took it upon myself to ask all of the witnesses if they felt that farmers and the environmentalists were at opposite ends and whether or not they could work together. They all said that there was common ground and that they could work together.

I want to finish this response with a quote from Ms. Kim Empringham, who was from the York Region Federation of Agriculture. She said:

Two of the guiding principles for the Rouge national urban park are to maintain and improve ecological health and scientific integrity, and to respect and support sustainable agriculture and other compatible land uses.

She was clear that the farmers in York region she represents say that we need to improve ecological health and scientific integrity, as well as maintain sustainable agriculture. The farmers have already said they are environmental stewards of their farms by running them in an environmentally friendly way, and that is what we all want.

Rouge National Urban Park Act November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am really saddened that I will not be able to support this legislation moving forward, because I was one of the people at the very first visioning exercise for the creation of the Rouge national urban park. I was the youngest person in the room, and being the youngest person in the room, I knew that I would be the one to get to enjoy the park the most. I was super excited about it.

I will be sharing my time with a colleague.

While I will not be able to support this legislation brought forward by the government, I do support creating Rouge Park as a nationally protected park. We want this land to be protected. We want it to be a national park that everyone can enjoy for generations to come. This legislation would decrease protection.

I was so excited when I heard in the throne speech that the government planned to make the Rouge Park a nationally protected park.

I went to the day long visioning exercise. For years I have worked for the conservation and protection of the existing Rouge Park. The Rouge River is in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. The largest piece of the current Rouge Park is in my constituency. I am blessed to have this park literally in my backyard.

The Rouge Park is special in being located in an urban setting. Roadways, highways, hydro corridors, railways, and oil pipelines are all within the Rouge Park. It is a special park because most of our national parks do not have all of those things within their protected areas.

People on the ground affected by this park had a vision. We knew we could make it happen. We knew we could make it work. We could envision a nationally protected urban park that would include farmers, conservationists, environmentalists, highways, roadways, railways, and hydro corridors. Obviously these things could not be moved. We all thought there was real potential for a 100 square kilometre national park that would be called Rouge national urban park. We were excited about it because it is designated within the greenbelt natural heritage system. It is the northernmost point of the endangered Carolinian and mixed woodland life zones. The Rouge Park is the largest public park within the southern Ontario region that is close to 25% of the population in the greater Toronto area. A lot of us were excited.

Our party was happy to push the bill to committee at second reading. We believed that the government would have good faith at committee. We thought we would be able to put forward amendments that would strengthen the legislation now in front of the House.

I will talk about three items: ecological integrity; maintaining or exceeded the current protections already afforded within Rouge Park; and the 100 square kilometres. First, I will speak about ecological integrity.

The Canada National Parks Act states:

Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.

Clause 6 in Bill C-40 states:

The Minister must, in the management of the Park, [and here is the catch] take into consideration the protection of its natural ecosystems and cultural landscapes and the maintenance of its native wildlife and of the health of those ecosystems

The difference is the strong piece that already exists in the Canada National Parks Act, which says that maintenance and restoration and protection of our natural resources should be the first priority of the minister.

In contrast, the new legislation put forward by the government would water it down so much that although the minister must take it into consideration and think about it, he does not have to do anything about it.

Let us look at it as people on the ground who love this park would. I am in the park at least once a week or, if not, once every two weeks. It is part of my life. We want to see it protected. We want to make sure that it can last for generations to come. This bill would significantly water down the protection of the ecosystems and would not really help in maintaining the ecological health or integrity of the park.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the NDP supports the creation of a Rouge national urban park, but not if it means that the protection of its ecological integrity is risked. That is what would happen with this bill, and that is why, sadly, I cannot support it moving forward as the Conservatives have outlined it.

I know that I only have 10 minutes, so I will move to my next topic, that of meeting or exceeding the existing protections. My colleague who spoke on this bill earlier mentioned the memorandum of understanding between the Province of Ontario and the federal government that was signed in January, 2013. The federal government signed this memorandum of agreement to “meet or exceed” Ontario's existing policies, which included the greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine conservation plans, during the drafting of the legislation and management plan for the Rouge national urban park.

The provincial greenbelt plan provides provincial policy status to the Rouge park and watershed plans. I know that the current protection for the park is a patchwork of about 11 different policies and plans. The federal government agreed to meet all of those existing plans. I agree that they are patchwork, but the federal government agreed that it would ensure that the new legislation, Bill C-40, would meet or exceed the protections provided for this park.

The provincial minister sent a letter to the federal minister, who, I must add, has not yet spoken on this bill once. We have reached third reading, the last stage of this bill, and the current minister of the environment who is responsible for this has not even spoken on the bill once, which I think is absolutely shameful. I have digressed a little.

I will paraphrase a letter that the provincial minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure wrote to the federal minister, as I do not have time to quote it. He basically said that the protections for the park in Bill C-40 are much less than what already exist in Ontario through the existing provincial policies and plans. The current state would enhance the ecological integrity of the proposed Rouge national urban park. The provincial minister said that he would not be able to transfer the 5,400 acres of lands currently owned by the provincial government for the creation of the Rouge national urban park.

That takes us right to my third point of the 100 square kilometre park. The community dreamed of a 100 square kilometre park, which would be absolutely amazing, but then the government proposed a study area of 58 square kilometres. Now, with the provincial government not willing to transfer more than 25 square kilometres of land, this new national park would be less than one quarter of the size all of us on the ground had dreamed of for decades.

I am going to read a little bit from a letter that was sent to all members of Parliament from seven different environmental organizations. They asked us not to support Bill C-40 at third reading. They said that they had attempted to make it better, to work with the agricultural community, environmentalists, and the government. They opposed passage of this flawed bill, saying that it would not be good for the Rouge national urban park.

Mr. Speaker, that is why I am giving you and all the people who care about the Rouge park my word today that I will be working on writing a new private member's bill that would improve this bill. I look forward to being able to table that in the House and eventually seeing it become legislation once we have an NDP government.

Rouge National Urban Park Act November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague spoke about the importance of heritage and cultural experiences for the people around the park. My question for my hon. colleague is with respect to the creation of an aboriginal education centre, considering the fact that the traditional lands of the Mississauga, Huron-Wendat, and Seneca first nations people are within Rouge Park. They include a sacred burial site as well as an ancient village site.

There have been many activists on the ground. David Grey Eagle is one of the leading indigenous people who has been fighting to protect these lands to ensure that there is no development and that the sacred burial ground as well as the village site is protected. To ensure that the public would have the opportunity to learn the history, experience the cultural heritage, and be more educated about the land and the indigenous people's historical and cultural background in the area, he proposed creating an aboriginal education centre within Rouge Park.

That was one proposal I brought forward as an amendment at committee. If culture, heritage, and experience are so important, why did his colleagues in the Conservative Party vote against that amendment?