- His favourite word was veterans.
Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Don Valley West (Ontario)
Lost his last election, in 2011, with 41.80% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak for the second time to Bill C-473.
There has been an evolution of thought and understanding about the bill since I spoke last April. The process that happened at committee was very enlightening. It reminded me that it is important for us to take seriously that when we pass a bill at second reading and send it to committee for study, it is exactly for that. It is to study a bill, to hear from witnesses, interest groups, stakeholders, Canadians from every walk of life and to ensure their testimony is taken seriously. Committee members heard that testimony and that testimony has convinced me we should not support the bill.
I want to congratulate the member for Perth—Wellington for fostering an important discussion in bringing the bill forward. We have had an interesting discussion with respect to the nature of honours, orders, military insignia and medals. We also had the opportunity to look at the difference between a public story and a private story.
The Royal Canadian Legion, in particular, offered some important testimony that needs to be understood in the House.
Ms. Patricia Varga, who is the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, said, on behalf of a number of groups, that it had serious concerns about the bill. Those groups included the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans Association, the Canadian Naval Air Group, the Royal Canadian Naval Association, the Naval Officers Association of Canada, the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association, the National Aboriginal Veterans Association, the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping and, finally, the Gulf War Veterans Association.
As a result of their testimony, my caucus colleagues are concerned about the bill. We think it is an inadequate bill, which will not actually deal with the problems at hand.
Ms. Varga pointed out two problems with this bill.
First, enacting Bill C-473 would infringe on the rights of Canadians to own and dispose of their private property as they see fit. This is a right that should not be trampled on lightly. This right is already restricted to a degree by the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. If it is not sufficient to retain historically and culturally significant orders, decorations and medals within Canada, then that specific act needs to be amended. Additional overlapping legislation is not the answer.
Second, there is a concern that the bill will simply not be effective. In order for legislation such as this to work, the barn door needs to be fully closed. The bill would leave it partially open so significant orders, decorations and medals would still be able to leave Canada. If enacted, Bill C-473 will likely drive the sale of significant orders, decorations and medals underground and all visibility of transactions will be lost. They will be bought and sold as they are every day in large quantities and in international markets. This can be verified by checking eBay, which tends to handle the run of the mill lots and not the high end items.
A significant number of other problems have been reported and were part of the testimony heard at committee. They have been identified in various forms and they should be addressed in a future bill that would actually be more effective.
There is a problem in the bill with respect to terminology. In common parlance, only orders have insignia. Decorations, such as the Victoria Cross, and medals are simply referred to as medals. We should be discussing orders, decorations and medals.
There is a concern that the government has not been responsive to the interest groups, to the veterans associations themselves, about amendments that they wanted to put forward. Those amendments included the definition of “near relatives”, the transfer of medals “outside of Canada”, the expansion of the list of museums and organizations that awards and medals could be offered to and the addition of the maximum amount for any penalty imposed. There does not appear to have been any follow up to the recommendations of the Royal Canadian Legion.
They also expressed a concern about acceptable museums to receive these awards. Only the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Department of Canadian Heritage are deemed to be acceptable recipients of ODM. This overlooks a large number of provincial, regional and local museums as well as military museums and commands and branches of the Royal Canadian Legion. Other museums or veterans' organizations might very well be interested in acquiring, by purchase or otherwise, such medals falling within the limits of the bill.
There is a concern that even if we were able to do that, the museums have very limited funding for acquiring such medals. To be effective, the bill would need to ensure that there would be a well-funded national medals acquisition budget. Otherwise, medals offered for sale might well leave Canada because there were simply no funds to purchase them anyway.
Most, if not all, museums have limited storage and display space. Just because an offered medal or made available and is historically of cultural significance, a museum should not be obligated to purchase it if it does not fit into its collecting mandate.
There is a perception that such awards and medals do not have much value and therefore would not be affected by legislation such as this. This is incorrect. Should they come into the open market, modern medal groups, especially those with gallantry awards from Afghanistan, would command high prices. This is a concern. It is an observation that has been made to the committee. If this is correct, then the act needs to be changed to reflect this.
In conclusion, despite the merits and now the drawbacks of the bill, the larger discussion that needs to be had is why in fact some veterans may be forced to put such medals on the market. Why has the government failed, or is failing, to ensure an appropriate system of compensation for veterans so they do not need to sell awards or medals and instead can simply pass them on to the family as cherished items?
A concern we constantly have on this side of the House is that food banks for veterans still prevail. One can go to Calgary and find one. One can go to a drop-in centre in Calgary and meet homeless veterans who sleep there by night. My concern is the government constantly does not fulfill its obligations to ensure that no veteran faces poverty.
Shahbaz Bhatti March 2nd, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I rise with a heavy heart today to pay tribute to the life of Pakistan's minority affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and to condemn his assassination yesterday.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bhatti and to encourage him in his work protecting the rights of minorities in Pakistan.
Today we stand with all who grieve this loss of a voice of reason, compassion and tolerance.
His brother, my friend Peter, has asked me to call on our government to take concrete actions to compel the government of Pakistan to protect minority communities. He has also asked for special consideration for those whose lives are in grave danger seeking refuge in Canada.
Following the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, Mr. Bhatti acknowledged that he would likely be killed but said that forces of violence and extremism would never stop him. We must now ensure that these forces never win.
The Muslims I represent have shown me the beauty of Islam and taught me that Islam espouses respect among all people. With me, they condemn this atrocity and together we pray for the dignity of every human being regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
Committees of the House March 1st, 2011
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina both for her hard work on this issue and also for the question.
I see no transition plan in place. I see a scrambling at the end of the last calendar year, right at the end of December, where the government had to give three months' notice, but that does not allow people in agencies to actually have an effective transition.
What I am seeing is a government that makes a decision almost by accident, it appears, or perhaps not. Perhaps some of these cuts have been targeted in communities that have traditionally been less able to express their concerns or less able to be active, while they are finding their voice.
I notice in my constituency office that kind of work is happening more, that we are having to do settlement work that would normally be done, graciously funded by the taxpayers of Canada, to make sure that work is done in agencies that are specialists in this kind of work.
I see no transition plan. I see no assistance, except I do need to note that the minister in Ontario responsible for immigration has announced one-time funding of about $500,000, I believe, to help ease some of that transition, so Ontario is stepping up to the plate. British Columbia is also attempting to step up to the plate. That is simply a downloading of services. It is an offloading on to the provinces, which is of equal concern to me.
Committees of the House March 1st, 2011
Madam Speaker, I want to take the minister back in history to 13 years of Liberal government when we inherited the largest deficit in Canadian history. Finance Minister Paul Martin and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took 11 years first and two more years to clean up the mess the Conservatives left behind.
There were of course cuts that were made in that time that were significant and important, but there were also tax cuts that were made in that time to ready ourselves to do the work. At the end of that period of time, there was a rapid expanding of investment in people, whether it was the Kelowna accord for first nations or the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement to make sure that funding was in place.
We put our house in order. We did the work we had to do and we will have to do it again after a record $56 billion deficit that these bandits will leave.
Committees of the House March 1st, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue this debate and to add our concerns to the government's refusal to consider the newcomers to Canada and their need to be ensured of having adequate funding for the settlement services that they both need and deserve.
The fact is that this is not just about newcomers to Canada. It is about ensuring that they have a fair start and have the economic advantage they need to have to contribute to society, but it is also about all Canadians who have a vested interest in the economy, the social fabric of country and to ensure that social cohesion continues.
I want to take us back five or six years to the previous Liberal government which understood that we needed to develop new capacity to help newcomers to this country succeed. The reality is that as the previous government looked at the issue, it recognized that we needed to have new federal-provincial agreements, coast to coast to coast, to ensure that agencies could have the capacity to respond to increasing needs of newcomers to Canada.
We recognized that the numbers of newcomers were increasing but also the newcomers coming to Canada did not have all the language capacity or understand some of the social realities of Canada and needed services to be integrated into the country.
A number of agreements were established. I am obviously most familiar with the one that affects Ontario, the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, that established some very noble but also ambitious goals to ensure that settlement funding was increased.
That agreement was over a five-year period and it expanded broadly. We recognize that the government did see the legal responsibility and the contractual understanding that we had to make sure that those funds were adequately disbursed.
In Ontario though, as we have analyzed those funds, we do know that the government fell some $207 million short in that agreement for funding that was promised. It said it fell short because it simply did not have the capacity in the agencies to actually spend the money well. We think part of that money should have been spent ensuring the capacity was there.
When the agreement came to an end, when the minister had the first chance, the first ability to actually strike out in new territory in a new and ambitious way, what we heard first was some $53 million would be cut nationally. The minister has stated that this is a rebalancing, a reflecting of the geographic changes in immigration patterns, but that simply does not wash because the whole envelope has been decreased some $53 million. The lion's share of that has been targeted in Ontario and the lion's share of the Ontario target has happened in the GTA. That is a concern.
It is $53 million of the whole envelope that is being dropped and $44 million of that is happening in Ontario. These funding cuts come on the heels of the government announcing the record number of newcomers coming to Canada. Of course we support the record number of newcomers coming to Canada.
We have a situation in Canada with the changing demographics, with an impending labour shortage, and we know that we need the best and the brightest newcomers coming into this country. They also need a chance to ensure that they are going to succeed. That is what settlement funding is about.
The reality is settlement funding, integration, and language training are all key factors in ensuring that newcomers to Canada are integrated and can succeed. Recent statistics are showing that in fact there is a problem that newcomers are still earning less on the dollar than long-established Canadians. We are trying to ensure that does not happen, that people, no matter where they come from, are able to succeed. That is what those settlement programs are doing.
Over the last several months, and it was not new to me, I spent time visiting some of the agencies that are affected. They are often smaller agencies that have lost between 50% and 100% of their funding, targeted by the Conservative government, which is bothersome to us.
This includes the Ethiopian centre in Toronto. I was speaking with its members on Saturday, this past weekend. This whole community of Ethiopians are very concerned about being able to fulfill very niche market targeting that they are attempting to do to ensure that their newcomers, their sisters and brothers, cousins, friends and neighbours who are coming to Canada have adequate support.
I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be splitting my time with the member for Parkdale—High Park. I apologize to the House. I also apologize to the hon. member who has taken great pains to be up on the numbers on this issue. He has presented some of his concerns statistically about how to ensure that Toronto, the GTA and all of Ontario are not left behind on this.
Earlier in the week the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, the member for Beaches—East York and I toured the main facility of COSTI in the west end of Toronto. We were impressed with the classes, the groups, the employment readiness functions that were being offered. It was extremely important that our leader and other caucus members saw the work that is being done on the ground to help newcomers not only survive but flourish.
This story is repeated across the GTA and around the province of Ontario. The reality is that newcomers need every chance they can get to be serviced in a way that will make them succeed.
We are talking about a cut of 10% to newcomer settlement organizations, which will reduce budgets by up to 70% in many cases. The organizations were concentrated in Ontario, but Nova Scotia and British Columbia also took a huge cut. Our concern is not just Ontario-centric, we are also concerned about people outside of the GTA.
I have concern not only about the absolute cuts, the programs that will not be funded and the newcomers who will suffer, but I also have concerns about the government's tendency to bully people in these agencies who might actually raise a concern about the cuts.
It was reported in the Toronto Star that one particular organization had received a recommendation, or perhaps advice, or perhaps stronger words, to not raise this issue while it was in negotiations. Did it fear being critical of the government and having its services cut?
From the agency standpoint this is not criticism of the government. It is a positive expression of concern from the clients these agencies are attempting to serve and that means being critical of a government that is cutting funding, that is failing to respond to newcomers' needs in large and small cities alike.
This is not just about Toronto and Ontario. This is also about places like Guelph. At committee we heard of an agency in Guelph that is losing all its funding. These are smaller centres that do not necessarily have natural organic organizations that flow to help newcomers in Canada, to help people get acclimatized to Canada. That funding is intrinsic in making sure that people are linked up with others and with services.
The Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services and the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office are two significant agencies in my riding. FNS put in an application on this last round and received zero funding. It would have been a new agency responding to changing immigration patterns in that community. Flemingdon is a priority neighbourhood in Toronto.
Some 12 or 13 neighbourhoods in Toronto have been identified as having high poverty rates and relatively high crime rates. These neighbourhoods try to ensure that newcomers have a chance. Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services is a small but efficient organization that multiplies its dollars to help. Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, still in negotiations on this, is an equally large organization which responds to newcomers mainly from South Asia. It needs to expand its programs, not have them threatened.
The government needs to stop boasting about huge immigration numbers while cutting away at the edges. The Conservatives claim that newcomers are not coming to Ontario in the same numbers but that is not the case. Ontario is in fact still receiving a significant number of newcomers and Toronto is still particularly underfunded in doing this work.
March of Dimes Conductive Education Day February 17th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to commend March of Dimes Canada and recognize next Thursday, February 24, as March of Dimes Conductive Education Day.
March of Dimes, headquartered in Don Valley West, has been delivering programs and services to Canadians with disabilities since 1951. This is its 60th anniversary of working to improve the lives and livelihoods of Canadians with disabilities, advancing accessibility and creating a society inclusive of people with disabilities.
Conductive education is an innovative learning system that maximizes the independence and mobility of children and adults with neurological motor disorders like cerebral palsy, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and those who have had a stroke or brain injury. The conductive education program has the potential to make a life-changing impact on the mobility and independence of close to nine million people in North America.
I ask all members to please join me in congratulating March of Dimes Canada and recognizing and supporting the conductive education program, a cornerstone of our ongoing efforts in Canada to achieve full inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.
Points of Order February 11th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order arising out of question period with regard to the answer I received from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation.
She would be well aware that her predecessor had to issue an apology for having misled the House of Commons. He had to apologize because he stated that the government's priorities had not been met by the application made by KAIROS for funding its 23 projects. He said that he did not know and was not aware that the priorities had actually been met.
We now know that the priorities of the government were stated to CIDA. KAIROS put in an application, they were approved for funding by the officials and now the parliamentary secretary, once again, has indicated that this application did not meet the priorities.
This is the second time that a member on that side of the House has attempted to mislead us by stating that the government was not made aware of the priorities. It was made aware; it is on the record.
A previous parliamentary secretary has been shuffled out and, once again, the House is being misled. I think the House deserves an explanation.
International Co-operation February 11th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary obviously did not see the Globe and Mail this morning.
Reasonable people want a reasonable answer. We know officials from CIDA gave KAIROS the green light. It met all the stated criteria for funding. It is effective and efficient at delivering international aid.
I will reiterate. We know why this cut was made. KAIROS is committed to the things the government cannot abide. Its ministers have confirmed that.
What exactly can it not abide: equality of women, economic development, clean water, democracy building, human rights or peace? Could the government tell us?
International Co-operation February 11th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I believe all members here to be reasonable people. In your words, then, of yesterday, we must all be “extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes” of the government.
We know experts at CIDA were over-ridden with the stroke of a pen, cutting funding to 23 well-established projects supported by the Canadian church body, KAIROS.
We know why this decision was, political, but will the minister come clean and tell us the what, where, when and how of the decision to cut this funding?
Child Soldiers February 11th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in recognition that tomorrow, February 12, is International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers or Red Hand Day. This day serves to commemorate those children who have been coerced into the conflict of war, and it is a global peace initiative.
On February 12, 2002, the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict came into force as an addition to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. By failing to recognize the horrific plight of child soldiers, such as in the case of Omar Khadr, the government has failed to live up to Canada's international obligations.
Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire has worked tirelessly to stop the abuse of children as soldiers. He says that Khadr's situation is, “--dead against the [Geneva] Conventions we have agreed to.... We’ve been tested with one of our own, and we have failed flagrantly--”.
The government should listen to the message of this day, it should hear the cries of children used by adults in war, and should lead the world in protecting the young. Even one child soldier is too many.