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NDP MP for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 36.30% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Agricultural Growth Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, let me say how much I appreciate the kind words from my colleague.
There are a couple of questions I would ask my colleagues opposite, if they were ever to rise to their feet on an issue like this. There are some issues around the whole question of planters' rights that affect research. There is a question of whether small farmers in particular will have access to the research and the support to be able to do research themselves on plant variety and other things.
What confidence can we have in the government and in the minister that the resources will be put in place, whether that be Agriculture Canada or CFIA? What confidence can we or small farmers out there have that the government will back up what it is saying about providing the necessary resources?
It is a key question I have and will continue to have, and I am sure my colleague, the agriculture critic from the NDP, will be able to put that question forward.
Agricultural Growth Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right that there are parts of the bill that have caused some concern among people in the industry.
It is an omnibus bill. There are, as I said, nine pieces of legislation in it. There are some things that we like and some things that we do not like. There are other things that we do not understand, and we will need to consult.
My point is yes, it is an omnibus bill, but at least all of the parts tie together somehow, which is different, which is unique. Usually with the omnibus bills that the government brings in, one part does not have anything to do with the other part. They include everything from soup to nuts, is the expression I use.
The bill is complicated. It does have to be examined very carefully. We do have to make sure that people in our constituencies concerned about food security, concerned about food production, have the opportunity to have their say.
Agricultural Growth Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier for sharing her time with me. With respect to the work she has been doing on this and other issues in her constituency, she easily could have spoken for the full time. Therefore, I appreciate her sharing that time with me.
I will spend a few minutes of my allotted 10 minutes speaking about the leadership they have shown on the whole question of a pan-Canadian food strategy, how important it is for our country and how proud I am as a member of this caucus to have those two critics working on this file.
Let me speak for a minute about Bill C-18. As has been said, it is an omnibus bill but, lo and behold, all of the nine bills it would affect actually have something to do with agriculture, which is unique. Usually we see omnibus bills from the government that cover everything from soup to nuts and have nothing to do with each other. There is no connection whatsoever, no matter how much of an imagination one has. However, this one does.
That having been said, it is very complicated. There are some issues in here with which we agree. Some issues like the plant breeders' rights, farmers' privilege and issues like that are not without controversy. People are concerned with the whole question of how much money would be taken out of the pockets of farmers at the beginning and the end of the day. We need to hear more about that issue.
Other issues, like the advance payment program, that come under the Agriculture Marketing Programs Act are good ideas. However, we look forward to the bill getting to committee so it and our critics can consult with Canadians about what we need to do to ensure the bill would be a benefit to farmers and would benefit food production in our country, rather than be a detriment.
Since the Conservatives have come to office, we have lost over 8,000 small farms in our country? Imagine that. It is phenomenal.
I am from Nova Scotia. I spent a great deal of my young life, from the age of nine up until my early twenties, working on farms, a lot of that time in the fruit tree area. That is an area which Nova Scotia has become well-known, not only across the country but around the world, for our ability to identify not only new technologies in variety, but also in planting, harvesting, marketing apples, in particular, and other areas.
I am very concerned with the direction that the current and previous governments have gone in this area. That is why I am so pleased and proud that my colleagues have come forward with a pan-Canadian food strategy. We call it “Farm to fork”. If anyone is interested in taking a look at it, they can go to my website or to my Facebook page, or they can go to NDP.ca to take a look at that and sign a petition.
We should be ashamed of the fact that Canada is without a comprehensive food policy. We are lagging behind other industrialized countries in the OECD, like England and Australia. The United Nations itself has raised serious concerns about food security in the aboriginal community and the lack of a coordinated food strategy in this country.
New Democrats have picked up on that. We recognize that there is a problem. We recognize that there is a lack of vision. We have come forward with a strategy that deals with our food system, one that connects Canadians from the farm to the fork. We are calling on the Government of Canada to implement a pan-Canadian food strategy that would do the following: promote sustainable agricultural communities, support local agriculture, foster thriving agricultural businesses, ensure safety and transparency, and make healthy food accessible to all Canadians. It is about leadership and it is something that we need to do to move forward.
I am looking forward to sharing some of the aspects of this piece of legislation with my friends and former colleagues in Nova Scotia to get some of their insight into this. I will be interested in listening in on some of the hearings that will be held probably next fall, maybe sooner. The committee might do a cross-country tour over the summer, but I am not sure.
Canadians are interested in farms, food production, the kind of resources that farmers have available to them, and the whole issue of food security in aboriginal communities, coastal communities, and smaller communities throughout this country. Urban Canada will have an opportunity to participate in this and provide input. People will be able to look closely at the pan-Canadian strategy that we introduced and will be talking about. I will be talking about it with the people of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. I will certainly share it with people throughout Nova Scotia.
This is an important but complicated piece of legislation. It would bring together nine pieces of legislation. Let me go through those nine pieces of legislation: the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, the Feeds Act, the Fertilizers Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act, the Plant Protection Act, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act including transitional provisions, and the Farm Debt Mediation Act.
These are important issues. We would like to see the government make these issues clearer to Canadians. We would like to see the government connect the dots. A pan-Canadian food strategy would present a vision to Canadians, to farmers, and to people concerned about food security. Canadians would be able to better understand the philosophy behind all of this legislation and the regulations as they affect the farming sector and the whole question of food security.
This is an interesting omnibus bill. It is not like the ones that I have talked about before that the government has presented. It all ties together but it is complicated. I look forward to Bill C-18 going to committee where it will be examined and many Canadians will have an opportunity to provide their input.
Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. Not only has the government failed to deliver, but some nations and experts around the world have suggested that what the government has brought forward in a bill to ratify this convention is the worst they have seen. It is the worst of the lot. It may be the slowest, and it is certainly the worst. It undermines the government's credibility. It undermines all of our credibility on this issue and issues of international importance.
Canadians expect us to reflect their values, that we are a country that stands up for what is right, that we put our money where our mouths are, that we look after our neighbours, and when we say we will do something, we do it. This is not fulfilling that particular value.
Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right that timeliness is extremely important. I know the member understands that because his party has been wanting when it comes to timeliness on some key issues, for instance, the Kyoto protocol, a national day care plan, Kelowna, and investing in education. These are initiatives that the Liberal Party talked about at various points over the past 20 years but never seemed to be able to bite the bullet and get them done.
That is where we are with the government. It has not been able to squeeze its conviction enough to be able to bring legislation forward in a speedy and correct fashion.
Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act June 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise and speak, for a few moments at least, to Bill C-6.
Let me say how proud I am to be part of a caucus whose members have been prepared to stand up, member after member, and voice their values, their principles, their convictions as they relate to an issue like this which affects people around the world. I am extraordinarily proud to be a member of this caucus.
It has been said before, but let me acknowledge the fact that this is a bill meant to implement or to ratify a treaty called the convention on cluster munitions that was adopted in 2008. Here we are in 2014 and we are just now dealing with a piece of legislation to accomplish that, a piece of legislation, by the way, that was introduced in this House and now has had time allocation restrictions placed upon it.
This is extremely important. It is another treaty in a series of treaties followed along by the international treaty on landmines which is meant to deal with a weapon of war that not only has tremendous impact, death and maiming, at the time of its use, but subsequently as well. We have heard members of this caucus give examples of the problems that arise as a result of not being able to properly clear the fields of these ordnances and the destruction and damage that is caused to civilians, including children. That is what this treaty is all about: to end the use of a weapon like this that has been deemed to be reprehensible.
In fact, as the convention entered into force, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of “not only the world's collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons, but also the power of collaboration among governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies on a threat faced by all humankind.”
Subsequently, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said, “These weapons are a relic of the Cold War. They are a legacy that has to be eliminated because they increasingly won't work.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams called the convention “the most important disarmament and humanitarian convention in over a decade.”
The point is, this treaty was adopted by 107 nations around the world, and we are now dealing with a piece of legislation that supposedly implements that treaty.
I want to echo what some of my colleagues have talked about in comparing clause 11 of Bill C-6 with article 21 of the treaty itself. I have looked at this and I want to talk about it for a second. Clause 11 in the bill creates so many exceptions that it goes well beyond article 21 of the treaty and basically completely undercuts the intention of the convention itself.
I will read what article 21 says. It is pretty straightforward:
Each State Party shall encourage States not party to this Convention to ratify, accept, approve or accede to this Convention....
Each State Party shall notify the governments of all States not party to this Convention....
It goes on to say:
Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 1 of this Convention and in accordance with international law, States Parties, their military personnel or nationals, may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.
In other words, this is the interoperability clause. In other words, the concerns that members opposite have raised, that my goodness if we are at war working with our neighbours to the south, the United States, or other coalition partners, if we do not have the exemptions provided for in clause 11, we might suffer some legal consequences.
What article 21 does is it provides that comfort that, in fact, we commit to the principle and we commit to not allowing domestically the purchase, production or use of these weapons, but that if we are engaged and make our coalition partners aware of our abhorrence to this particular practice, that gives us some safety.
If we go back to the bill, to clause 11, what we will see in subclauses (1), (2) and (3) are the exceptions:
11.(1) Section 6 does not prohibit a person who is subject to the Code of Service Discipline under...in the course of military cooperation or combined military operations involving Canada and a state that is not a party to the Convention, from
(a) directing or authorizing an activity that may involve the use, acquisition, possession, import or export of a cluster munition, explosive submunition or explosive bomblet....
(b) expressly requesting the use of a cluster munition, explosive submunition or explosive bom2t by the armed forces of that state....
(c) acquiring or possessing a cluster munition, explosive submunition or explosive bomblet....
(2) Section 6 does not prohibit a person, in the course of military cooperation or combined military operations involving Canada and a state that is not a party to the Convention, from transporting or engaging in an activity related to the transport of a cluster munition....
(3) Section 6 does not prohibit a person, in the course of military cooperation or combined military operations involving Canada and a state that is not a party to the Convention, from
(a) aiding, abetting or counselling another person to commit any act referred to....
My point is it is here in black and white what has been said by my colleagues and what has been said by experts who appeared at the foreign affairs committee, that in fact, clause 11 completely undercuts the tenets of the treaty itself.
If the government is going to get on its high horse and it is going to beat its chest about its adherence to the principles of the treaty, then it has to do that. It cannot expect to pass legislation that is contrary to that. That is the point we have been trying to make.
The production and use of these weapons is abhorrent. It has to be stopped. As a country, as a nation, as a participant in this world, we need to take strong action. We need to show leadership. This bill does not do that. That is the point we are trying to make.
Why I would even bother to explain that to a government that has been passing pieces of legislation one after the other that are being challenged and thrown out by the courts, I do not know. I guess I am just a bit naive. I think that if we take the time and if we point out the obvious nature of the flaws, the government will see it.
It is important that this House uphold the tenets of the treaty, the convention on cluster munitions. We need to make sure that the legislation that ratifies it does that very thing. Bill C-6 does not do that, and that is why we are opposed.
Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act June 12th, 2014
In fact, just a couple of days ago, I spent some time talking on the phone with a woman from Dartmouth whose husband died recently. She was in the midst of going through some of the problems other members have talked about. She was trying to clarify with the Canada pension plan what was going to happen in terms of her pension and whether there were any spousal benefits. It was a serious problem. She told me that she had some family who were working with her. I did what I am sure any member here would do. I told her that if there was anything my office could do, we would certainly help her.
There is no question that it is far too complicated. There is not enough sharing of information. I understand the privacy issues that have been raised, but surely we can overcome those. We could ensure that there is designated staff to provide this kind of information.
It was cited by others that funeral homes are very good at dealing with some of these issues. The funeral home I have had the unfortunate, yet fortunate, opportunity to work with on far too many occasions, White Family Funeral Home, in Kentville, Nova Scotia, is very helpful in terms of helping families who have lost loved ones work through some of these issues.
The bill, as I say, deals with finalizing all outstanding matters between a deceased person and the Government of Canada. The individual acting on behalf of the deceased person may be required to connect with several different departments. We think, of course, of the Canada Revenue Agency, where a final return must be filed for all deceased Canadian residents and citizens. There are several optional returns.
Employment and Social Development Canada is another place where somebody might need to go for termination of the Canada pension plan and old age security benefits.
If the deceased was a veteran or a member of the Canadian Forces, then Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence would need to be dealt with. It could be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Each one of these different areas, depending on a person's circumstances, is a government department a person would have to deal with to clear up the affairs of a deceased person.
I recognize how important the bill is, and I recognize the value of the intent. However, I am concerned about the services that Service Canada personnel are already required to provide and the challenges they have in meeting those responsibilities, whether it is EI or dealing with Veterans Affairs files, or whatever it is. The staff in that department have been reduced. I am finding that people trying to reach Service Canada offices by phone, because we are not able to walk into Service Canada centres anymore and have to reach them by phone or through the Internet, are waiting days, often, to get a reply from a person.
In terms of providing service for people who have filed EI claims, the department says that it will get back to them and resolve the claim in 28 days. That is just a fantasy. That does not happen anymore. It does not happen, because there are not enough people working on these files to deal with the great demand. Waiting times for EI now, for example, are upwards of 40 days.
In Nova Scotia, the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney was recently shut down, one of the eight or nine offices across the country that were shut down, and all the files from that office were sent to the Halifax-Dartmouth area. That is more work put on an already stressed staff, an already depleted staff. The government has taken something in the area of $243 million out of the budget of Service Canada over the past few years and has cut hundreds of employees from Service Canada.
My point is that I very much support the idea of there being one point of entry, one point of contact, for a family that is trying to clear up these kinds of matters, but I am concerned that unless the government is prepared to assign some resources to get this done, all we will be doing is adding more burdens to an already stressed out and overburdened staff of that particular department. We will be adding more problems to an already difficult situation. That is my point.
We will be supporting the bill. We agree with the intention, but I make those points and I hope they will be received well. There needs to be more specificity in the bill about what departments have to be involved. Right now it just says, “including—but not limited to—” Canada Revenue Agency, old age security, et cetera. However, there are other departments. I have cited a few. I think it should indicate all of the places and all of the services that are necessary to make sure it is all encompassing, because surely we recognize that for many people, the places they need to go differ, but surely we can list that in the bill to make sure it is clear.
However, I would say again to the sponsor of the bill that we need to have a serious discussion with the government about what it will do with resources, what it will do in terms of ensuring that not only money but staff is assigned to departments.
Rather than just seeing the Conservatives agree and lay on more responsibilities without putting in the resources, they will first need to decide how best to deal with the privacy issues and how best to ensure that each department is talking to the others and is sharing that information in a way that makes sense, because it will cost money to get that done. Second, they will have to ensure that Service Canada is supplemented with the necessary resources and the necessary staff for the extra mandate.
I think all members will agree. We all deal, undoubtedly, with the kind of problems the bill is trying to address and recognize. We all need to support it, but it is not enough to say that it is important. We actually have to sit down and make sure that the government commits the resources to make sure that what we commit to actually gets done.
My time has drawn to a close. I want to thank the member for Guelph for introducing the bill and to indicate to him that I will certainly be supporting it as we move forward. We would be more than happy to work with him to try to make it as good and as effective a piece of legislation as it can be.
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 12th, 2014
With regard to applications made under the Employment Insurance Program: (a) what was the volume of applications for Employment Insurance, Special Benefits, that have been received by Service Canada in 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014, broken down by (i) year, (ii) province/region; (b) how many of the cases in (a) waited longer than 28 days for a response, broken down by (i) year, (ii) province/region; (c) what was the volume of applications for Employment Insurance, Regular Benefits, that have been received by Service Canada in 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014, broken down by (i) year, (ii) province/region; and (d) how many of the cases in (b) have waited longer than 28 days for a response, broken down by (i) year, (ii) province/region?
Petitions June 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the second petition calls on the government to back off on the cuts to home delivery by Canada Post. Again, it is signed by hundreds of my constituents and other Nova Scotians.