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Track Rodger

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  • His favourite word is program.

Liberal MP for Cape Breton—Canso (Nova Scotia)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 46.40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Fiddling Day Act November 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Rodney is our former premier and great friend who runs the Gaelic College, and his buddy, Glenn Graham. His name is Rodney MacDonald. In Cape Breton, it is just Rodney. It is like Elvis; we do not even need the last name.

I am happy to speak to this, and I want to commend the senator for bringing this bill forward.

National Fiddling Day Act November 28th, 2014

We do, Mr. Speaker. The world's largest fiddle is in Cape Breton, at the waterfront in Sydney. It was built in 2005. Tourists from around the world come to have their pictures taken in front of it and enjoy the great fiddle music of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.

I am happy that most members in my party are supporting this bill, because I think it is significant. It is something to be celebrated and it keeps the proud tradition of the fiddle out front.

We cannot always take it for granted. There is a great story that is part of the history passed down from generation to generation back in Mabou, which is the really the epicentre, the cultural soul, of the Celtic spirit in Cape Breton.

The story is that Father Kenneth MacDonald served as the parish priest back in the1860s for a number of years. He was not a big fan of the fiddle. He was not a big fan of a lot things, such as dancing and libations and so on. He thought that the fiddle was a bit evil, so he took it upon himself to go door to door and gather up the fiddles in Mabou.

It may have worked for a short time, but Mabou, as I said, is really seen as the focal point of fiddling, though not just fiddling. We are all very much aware of the Rankin family. A great fiddler with that family is John Morris Rankin. It really becomes a mecca, especially during the Celtic Colours festival every fall.

However, there was a time of decline even after the gathering of the fiddles. CBC ran a documentary in 1972 called The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler. It was produced by Ron MacInnis. It talked about the decline in the number of people playing the fiddle in Cape Breton at the time. Fiddling was thought to be on the verge of distinction, so some key people got together and vowed that they would not let this happen. They were Frank MacInnis from Creignish, Father Eugene Morris from Mabou, Burton Maclntyre from Whycocomagh, Archie Neil Chisholm, Father John Angus Rankin—who was one of the real driving forces behind it—Rod Chisholm, Judge Hugh J. MacPherson, Anne Marie MacDonald, Jeannette Beaton, Joey Beaton, and Ray MacDonald. This group got together and said, “We can't let this happen. We just can't let fiddle music die in Cape Breton”, so they embarked on a plan to pull together an organization.

From that was born the Cape Breton Fiddlers' Association. The Cape Breton Fiddlers' Association, a lot of it under the guidance of my good friend Betty Anne Matheson, puts on a major festival at the Gaelic College in St. Ann's, Cape Breton, year after year, which draws thousands of people and hundreds of fiddlers to come and learn, take workshops, and perform. Even those who have gone on to great careers and have been very successful in the music industry continue to return to this festival each year to be with their fellow fiddlers and to continue to learn and grow and share. As I said, that festival takes place each year.

They understood that they could not be complacent, and many in the fiddling community knew that. Some people have stepped up, guys like Eddie Rogers, who was originally from Guysborough but who has lived in Cape Breton for a number of years. He continues to work with many young fiddlers, inspiring the next generation of fiddlers. It is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation, most times in kitchens but a lot of times in the dance halls and far beyond.

There is a great quote from the late and great John Allan Cameron. He said, “When I was growing up, the most important people in the community were the fiddler and the priest”. Anybody who comes from a rural community can certainly attest to the high esteem that great fiddlers are held in.

When we talk about some of the great fiddlers in Cape Breton, there is Winston Scotty Fitzgerald, who was a bit ahead of his time in recording fiddle music and a lot of the traditional fiddle tunes. He laid the groundwork for future generations.

There is Dan Joe MacInnis, from Big Pond, and Lee Cremo, a famous first nations fiddler from Eskasoni, and Carl MacKenzie. As I had said, from the Rankins, the late John Morris Rankin was an accomplished fiddle player.

This past year, we lost Buddy MacMaster. Although Buddy was born in Timmins, he moved to Judique at an early age. Buddy MacMaster was a phenomenal fiddle player, a beautiful, caring, and sharing man. It was through the commitment of these people that they continue to share and inspire young fiddlers. Of course, Buddy's niece, Natalie, went on and did not have a bad career herself. Natalie is an accomplished musician. She is married to Donnell Leahy, who himself is a fabulous performer. The list goes on, including Jerry Holland. Those are some of the greats.

We could not talk about fiddlers from the Cape Breton area unless we gave a shout-out to Ashley MacIsaac. I remember, in 2010, when we watched the opening of the Olympics in Vancouver, and we saw k.d. lang doing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and just how inspiring that was. Then out came Ashley doing his rendition of Devil in the Kitchen. He not only lit up the opening ceremonies for the people in the place, but he lit up the airwaves as well. I had the great opportunity to see both Ashley and his cousin Wendy MacIsaac perform at the Celtic Colours opening gala early in October, and it was an incredible performance.

Hosting these events, and certainly having a day that recognizes fiddling, can only continue to help grow the art. I commend Senator Libbe Hubley for putting this bill forward. She is an accomplished fiddler herself. It will be embraced and enjoyed by many, far beyond the fiddling community. When we look at the impact of Celtic Colours on our community, and the thousands of people who come from around the world to enjoy Celtic Colours, we can see opportunities like that.

I was warned by a good friend of mine that I cannot be talking about fiddlers unless I give a shout-out to people like Hilda Chiasson, Dougie MacPhee, Tracy MacNeil, and Billy McPhee. It is like the pitcher and the catcher; they have to have a piano player too. We have to give a shout-out to the piano players. I do not know if there is going to be a piano players bill coming forward.

National Fiddling Day Act November 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I too am very excited about being able to join in this debate.

Tourism Awards November 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, this week, I was pleased to attend the Tourism Industry Association of Canada's annual awards night, where three organizations from my riding received nominations, including Cabot Links golf course, the Fortress of Louisbourg, and the Celtic Heart of North America marketing group.

Congratulations to Cabot Links for winning the Visa Canada Traveller Experience of the Year Award. Cabot Links is recognized as one of Canada's top golf courses and is ranked as the 82nd-best golf course in the world by Golf Digest magazine. Cabot Links runs along the breathtaking shoreline of Cape Breton and provides golfers with a true links experience, with panoramic views, fabulous accommodations, and a five-star menu.

To the incredible Ben Cowan-Dewar, his wife Allie, and their staff of almost 200, congratulations on this prestigious national award. Congratulations as well to the people of Inverness, and particularly to those members of the Inverness Development Association whose vision and determination were the impetus for this world-class project.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge November 19th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, every day, more than three Canadians will die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gherig's disease.

Many of its victims are in the prime of their life, such as Bill Corbett, the former Clerk of the House, and my former chief of staff, Richard Wackid, from the Liberal whip's office. We miss them dearly, as do many Canadians whose loved ones have succumbed to this disease.

Today, ALS Canada is in Ottawa to announce the result of the ice bucket challenge fundraiser in support of research.

We have seen television personalities, politicians, athletes and many other Canadians take up the challenge, including my own leader, the member for Papineau, who was very helpful in dumping a bucket of water over my head and my colleague's head, the member for Charlottetown.

I know many MPs in this House have also had water dumped over their heads to raise awareness and funds to fight this disease.

On behalf of my Liberal colleagues, and indeed all of us in the House, I congratulate ALS Canada for a job well done, and Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you for hosting this dedicated group of Canadians today.

Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act November 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated the intervention by my colleague, the member for Ottawa South. It shed a great deal of light on many of the issues around the legislation.

However, getting back to his earlier question for the member for Yukon, I did not quite get the essence of the answer, or even if there were an answer by the member in response to the fair question posed about whether the senseless tragedy that took place here on the Hill recently could have been averted with changes to the regulations and laws.

I wonder if he has any sense as to where that rationale would come from?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns November 17th, 2014

With regard to government funding, for each fiscal year since 2007-2008 inclusive: (a) what are the details of all grants, contributions, and loans to any organization, body, or group in the electoral district of Cape Breton—Canso, providing for each (i) the name of the recipient, (ii) the location of the recipient, indicating the municipality, (iii) the date, (iv) the amount, (v) the department or agency providing it, (vi) the program under which the grant, contribution, or loan was made, (vii) the nature or purpose; and (b) for each grant, contribution and loan identified in (a), was a press release issued to announce it and, if so, what is the (i) date, (ii) headline, (iii) file number of the press release?

Child Poverty November 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I get some “hear, hear”s from the government benches. That would be like saying “no hospital is a good hospital” or “no highway is a good highway”. It is just asinine.

The Conservatives say that the best approach to poverty is for everyone to have a job. Having a job is a big part of it for them. However, it is tough having a job if people do not have a roof over their head., if they do not know where their next meal is coming from, or if they do not know what is going to happen with their children when they go to work at that job. It is tough to have a quality job if they do not have access to post-secondary education or some type of training. If people do not have that security around themselves, then it is difficult to have that job.

That is part of our effort to address the complex issues that weigh on as to why it is such a great challenge and why there has to be a concerted effort and a plan to address poverty in this nation and to bring those numbers down. It is unbelievable that it is the 25th anniversary of the unanimous motion by this chamber in 1989. However, the fact is that there are still almost one million children who live in poverty in this country. Almost one in seven children continues to live in poverty in Canada.

It is important for the government to have a plan in place and then to work that plan. A plan would give focus to the issue. It would also allow federal agencies to go about their business and be able to view whatever initiatives they might be taking through a lens of wanting to address the issue of poverty. It would refocus our ability to work with the provinces, some of whom have had very successful and worthwhile initiatives. To have the federal government there as a partner and in support would be of great benefit. I do not think any Canadians take a great deal of pride in the fact that a nation as rich as Canada remains 20th in child poverty among the 41 wealthiest countries in the world. I do not think any Canadian thinks that is right and, obviously, we believe that we are better as a nation than to be 20th out of 41 nations.

Depending on what measurement we use, relative or absolute poverty, whatever the measurement might be, poverty rates or the number of Canadians being poor ranges from about 8.5% to 12.5% according to statistics from 2011. That is between three million and five million Canadians, including almost one million children. Research has shown that children from low-income families score lower than children from high-income families on various measures of school readiness, cognitive development, and school achievement, and that this gap increases over time with children of low-income families being less likely to attend post-secondary education and gain meaningful employment.

In the House last week, we talked about unpaid internships and how those are tilted toward wealthier families. There are children who have the support of their parents and have access to some type of support to take on an internship. However, the field is being tilted to the haves and the have-mores, as opposed to those who are struggling to make ends meet, who cannot afford to take those internships, so they miss a great training opportunity.

Children living in poverty have more behavioural problems later in life, such as drug abuse, early pregnancy, and increased criminality. Economic hardship in childhood has been linked to premature mortality and chronic disease in adulthood.

The depth of the problem with poverty is reflected in income, food, and housing insecurity. Addressing these factors will be key to reducing child poverty.

If will make some comments on income security. Children obviously remain poor when their parents remain poor. Income does matter. That means that any solution for child poverty must include efforts to increase the income, as well as employment opportunities, of parents, in particular single parents.

The current Conservative government loves to boast that the best plan for poverty is jobs, as I said earlier. However, the jobs being created are increasingly low-paying, low-quality jobs that hinder, not help, people from escaping the cycle of poverty. Forty-four per cent of poor households in Canada had at least one member working in 2011. That is, forty-four percent of those living in poverty had jobs. That could partly be attributed to the rise in precarious low-wage employment. Temporary employment continues to increase while high-quality, full-time jobs are becoming increasingly scarce.

Since the current government took office—and I have said this in the House before—there has been a 66% increase in the number of Canadians working for minimum wage. Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs among the world's wealthiest countries, according to a recent Morgan Stanley report. Food Bank Canada's annual study, entitled “HungerCount 2014”, found that one in six households using food banks is working or recently just lost their jobs.

Affordable child care allowing parents to be active participants in the workforce is an essential component of a child poverty reduction plan. If a parent cannot secure it, it is unlikely he or she could sustain sufficient or meaningful employment.

Food security is also essential. Almost 850,000 people used food banks in 2014. That is a 25% increase since 2008.

In the recent study tabled, “HungerCount 2014”, 37% or almost 300,000 people helped by food banks are children, and 45% of households that use food banks are families with children, with nearly half of those being two-parent families. First nations, Metis, and Inuit account for 4% of the population and make up 14% of those who use food banks.

Wrapping up, I will reference the human resources committee study tabled in 2010, “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”, which recommended:

...that the federal government immediately commit to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada that would see, during its first phase, the implementation of the recommendations in this report.

It is a complex issue, but it is one that we as a nation as wealthy as Canada have to work toward.

There are so many components to it, but it is essential that the current government—and if not the current government, the next government—must be seized with this issue so that we can help lift Canadians out of poverty and break that cycle.

Child Poverty November 17th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to joining this debate and putting some comments on the record with regard to the motion before us today.

I remain astounded that the government is supporting the motion and patting itself on the back for taking great measures. I will refer to a number of measures within the body of my speech here telling us that we have not been doing a good job. Certainly poverty is a complex issue. It is an incredibly difficult issue to deal with, and I do not think the government does a good job on complex issues. If they cannot fit it on a bumper sticker, the Conservatives do not do a good job. “No tax is a good tax” is the one they like to refer to.

The Environment November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the government has said it would only help with the cleanup of the MV Miner should the hulking wreck off Scaterie Island present a navigational or environmental threat.

Two years ago the minister presented the Province of Nova Scotia with a baseline assessment of 6.6 tonnes of asbestos and no fuel on board. The reality is that they have already taken off 30 tonnes of asbestos and are aware of a significant amount of fuel still on board.

The government has signed off on the towing permits and the towing approvals. Does the government now understand that with this environmental threat it has a responsibility to assist?