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Liberal MP for Cape Breton—Canso (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 46.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Retirement Income Bill of Rights December 6th, 2013
I certainly hold in high regard the work that the member has done on this particular issue. I know that over the last number of years she has travelled the country and met with numerous stakeholders, many Canadians who have voiced their concerns around the entire pension issue. This bill is an outgrowth from that experience.
The member listened to experts in the field and to a broad range of voices from many sectors, and I am sure she would be able to share that when she has an opportunity to speak herself. I am sure that was her motivation; trying to help Canadians in their later years is certainly what brought this bill to the floor.
To understand the focus of the bill, it is important that we appreciate the changing demographic in this country. Certainly our aging population, where Canadians are living longer and some are retiring sooner, puts a shift in the paradigm as to how many people in this country are contributing and how many are benefiting from investments in pensions.
As a matter of fact, the ratio has changed considerably over the years. If we look back to 1980, the ratio of retirees to workers was at 36% in 1980, and today that ratio is 53%. That is fairly substantive, and it is a shift, so we have to look differently at how we prepare for retirement. That demographic shift alone places many Canadians' retirement at risk.
A recent survey indicates that 30% of Canadians feel they would not be able to retire at the age of 65. We see that more and more now, whether it is from necessity, or that they want to continue to work past the age of 65, which is not uncommon in this day and age. However, among those Canadians who would like to retire at the age of 65, at least 30% of them feel they would not be able to do so. Also, that study identifies that only 14% of seniors believe they are going to be able to retire with any degree of comfort. They have anxiety leading up to the point when they do retire.
What we are seeing is the development of a two-tier retirement in Canada. We have those who get along quite well and are comfortable. They have had a pension plan that they have been able to pay into, or they have earned quite well, and saved and invested well for their retirement. Then we see the people at the other end of the spectrum, who have not had the benefit of a company pension plan and have not made the money they felt was necessary to invest and save. They have spent most of their time trying to get by and raise their family. We are seeing that gap widen between those in retirement who have and those who do not have.
Some additional statistics that came out of that study are that 75% of Canadians working in the private sector do not have a pension plan other than CPP, OAS, or a guaranteed income supplement. Seventy-five per cent of Canadians is certainly a number we should all be concerned about.
Many Canadians expect to depend mostly on those government benefits in retirement. However, together these government plans can pay only up to a maximum of about $27,000. The average is considerably less.
Those who work for the government or a large company will have some type of plan to rely on. I know of some unfortunate cases, which we can find right across this country, of companies that have come up against hard times. One of the first casualties of tough economic times is an investment in the company's pension plan. We know that they do not have to be fully funded. There are laws on the level of funding for company pension plans.
Stora Enso, in my riding of Cape Breton—Canso, is a company that has been a great corporate citizen and has had a great history in the riding. It did newsprint and high-end glossy paper for many years. However, we know where newsprint and the paper industry have gone in this country and globally. When Stora Enso fell upon hard times, it sold to NewPage Corporation. One of the things NewPage did not invest in was topping up the defined benefits pension plan. When the company went into receivership, many people who left the mill years ago all of sudden themselves making 40% less from their pensions than they did before the downturn and the bankruptcy.
People have a particular lifestyle. They think that they will have a guaranteed income going forward into retirement. To have almost half of that pulled away certainly comes as a shock to many. That is what the retirees and pensioners of Stora Enso and NewPage have experienced.
The provinces recognize this, and they have been pushing the federal government to expand the CPP. However, the government has been dragging its heels. We have heard the minister responsible stand in the House and speak against that. However, it is coming in loud and clear from the provinces that changes have to be made. The government's new PRPP retirement plans are voluntary tools. Employers do not have to offer them, and employees do not have to use them.
We know that Canadians are not saving enough for retirement. There are reasons for that. In the last five years, we have seen an increase of 78% in the number of Canadians who are working for minimum wage. People working for minimum wage are doing the best they can to pay the bills. People are doing the best they can to keep the wolves away from the door if they are trying to run a household on minimum wage. Therefore, they are not able to make those types of investments in savings. What they are investing in is food and heat and lights for their homes. That has to be of concern.
CIBC recently did a study that showed that a 35-year-old today saves half of what a 35-year-old saved a generation ago. I think we all know about those experiences.
To sum up, the bill does two things. It gives Canadians the right to contribute to a decent retirement plan and to be provided with up-to-date, unbiased information about their savings plans. That is worthwhile and noble. If we were able to embrace that through this legislation, those principles would serve us well. That is why I would be happy to stand and support my colleague from York West when the opportunity arises to vote on this piece of legislation.
Employment December 6th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the hemorrhaging of jobs for young people in this country is troubling. There are now 70,000 fewer youth employed in this country than when the Conservative government took power eight years ago.
As the minister indicated, the Canada summer jobs program opens today. That program funds fewer jobs now than it did in 2005. Today's job numbers show that we have lost an additional 26,000 youth jobs in the last month. Does the minister even recognize this? Young Canadians do. Does the minister recognize this troubling trend?
Persons with Disabilities November 28th, 2013
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for that. I am new around here.
I will finish the quote, which states:
One-off single issue, one-community measures will simply not get us where we hope to be.
The problem has never been that we do not know enough about the issue to do anything, but it is more a matter of political will to do what is needed. The panel's report brought to light startling myths about employing a disabled person, such as that in 57% of cases there is no cost to accommodate a disabled person, or that in 37% of cases the average cost to accommodate is under $500. When we find out from the report that nearly 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities are able to work but are not working and almost half of those have post-secondary education, obviously we are failing. We are failing as a society, and there is a cost to all of us, socially and economically.
What can we do? The panel's report challenges employers to lead, but we all know that for real substantive and effective change to happen, it has to be the federal government that steps up. We heard some real ideas to help persons with disabilities at committee, just as I had mentioned. One area that was brought up by a number of witnesses was the EI program. Carmela Hutchison, president of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, stated:
People with episodic and chronic illnesses often do not have enough time to qualify for benefits. There's a lack of flexible supports for chronic illnesses not deemed severe enough. Very often we see people who are struggling to maintain employment while undergoing cancer treatment, or they have MS and again they're struggling. If they take a lighter schedule, then their funding for their disability is cut to that lighter schedule. Other people have talked about being considered too disabled for one program or not disabled enough for another.
Laurie Beachell, with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, stated:
EI has a real problem with those people who have episodic disabilities, mental health concerns, MS, those people who are well at periods of time in their life and can work, and then cannot work at certain times.
My office manager was diagnosed with MS eight years ago. I can speak first-hand to the fact that I have never met anybody more inspiring. She has been an incredible staff support person, but it is important that she pays attention to her body, and time is taken on occasion when she has to rest. If employers are able to accommodate, then the benefit is that they can continue to maintain quality staff.
One of the actions this motion calls on the government to take is to focus more on disabled youth through the youth employment strategy. I am glad my colleague included this. However, he should be aware that the number of youth assisted through the skills link program that helps youth with barriers has decreased from 32,000 under the previous Liberal government to just 12,000 at the end of last year. That is a perfect example of how the government is failing not only our youth but the disabled community as well.
I want to thank my colleague from Brant for creating this motion and for his ongoing commitment to help those with disabilities. I do not believe the challenge will be to get support to pass this motion. The real test is whether the government will actually do what is needed to give persons with disabilities a fair and equal opportunity. That will be the true test of success.
I would hate like heck not to mention that, in committee, witness after witness living with a disability said that the one thing all of them see as being a challenge further down the road is the fact that the eligibility for OAS has gone from age 65 to 67.
Many Canadians who have lived with disabilities live their life waiting to turn age 65. Some say it is the most affluent they have been in their entire life, because they struggled to maintain themselves and lived so close to the edge. Now that will evade them again for an additional two years. Certainly that is regrettable.
Hopefully there will be some kind of program or a change of heart or a change of government with a different heart, or a change to a government with a heart, that will recognize this shortcoming and address it.
Persons with Disabilities November 28th, 2013
Mr.Speaker, I thank the member for Brant for his motion.
The report by the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities provided some insightful information on companies that used best practices and as well dispelled many myths about employing people with disabilities.
The Liberal Party does not disagree with any aspect of the report. The member for Brant's motion calls on the government to support a number of the actions to help reduce barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. Neither I nor my party disagrees with any of these ideas. That is why the Liberal Party will be supporting this motion.
I fully expect that my colleague from Brant will get his own government officials to support this as well. I will go out on a limb now and say that maybe he will.
The panel's report said in its concluding remarks, “It's time for Canadian businesses to step up to the challenge of employing more people with disabilities.”
I would submit, and I believe that many in the disabled community would agree, that it is time for the government to step up to the plate and listen and lead when it comes to real and effective policies and initiatives that will make a difference. My concern, and I am not convinced, is that the passing of this motion will not help a great deal in making the government do that.
Ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities are protected from discrimination or respected to be given an equal opportunity to provide for themselves and their families is something Liberals have always fought for. I am proud to be a member of the Liberal Party that gave Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights that guaranteed “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” to individuals in Canada with mental and physical disabilities. I am also proud that our party also was responsible for the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.
These important pieces of legislation have created rights for persons with disabilities, but we need to do more to ensure that Canadians with disabilities have equal opportunities to employment to provide for themselves and their families.
Part of the solution is having a rounded approach to the issues that most affect persons with disabilities, such as living in poverty, access to transportation and housing, as we heard from my colleague from the NDP, and a long-term employment plan.
The human resources committee, of which I am a member, concluded a study on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities this spring. Several witnesses spoke to this point that enhancing opportunities of employment for people with disabilities could not be discussed in isolation of other policies and barriers that act as disincentives to work.
Dr. David Lepofsky, chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance said:
Don't think about employment in isolation. We've got to tackle the barriers across the board. Transit, education, and employment must all be tackled together. The same barriers hurt in all contexts.
Laurie Beachell, national coordinator, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, spoke about a long-term employment plan, “We would call on the Government of Canada, and on Minister Finley”, who was then the minister responsible, “specifically, to develop a five-year strategic plan to address employment needs—”
Persons with Disabilities November 28th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the motion put forward by my colleague from Brant.
I share the opinion he expressed in his reply to the last question about the stigma that surrounds and limits opportunities for persons with disabilities. Through the course of our last study, we saw companies like Tim Hortons step up and say that they have not done enough. It is a pool of labour that they have not tapped, and they promise to do a better job with it. That was sort of encouraging.
I want to ask my colleague a question. There are some good things that take place in each of the provinces. A current undertaking by the government is the Canada job grant, and a portion of the LMAs, from which the provinces draw their funding to support these programs, is now profiled so that it has to be used for the Canada job grant.
We are hearing from groups that are concerned about losing some of those opportunities, some of the infrastructure, some of the capacity that they have been building over the last number of years, because this money has been in the system since 2008.
Is the member hearing from those groups about those same concerns?
Ethics November 28th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, just when we think the Conservative spin doctors have reached rock bottom, they create new ways to sink to even deeper depths. In a feeble and shameful attempt to cover up their Senate scandal, they tried to draw a parallel yesterday between the residency requirements of former Liberal senator Sister Peggy Butts and disgraced Conservative senator Mike Duffy.
Sister Peggy was a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame order and lived her life committed to a vow of poverty. As such, she owned no property; she lived in Nova Scotian convents. When called to the Senate, the Catholic Diocese of Antigonish gifted her with a small section of land prior to her appointment so as to meet the residency requirements. She donated every nickel of money she earned to charity.
To have Sister Peggy's situation compared to Mike Duffy's in any way is a shameful exhibition of disrespect and just another example of the moral vacuum in which the current government exists.
Points of Order November 21st, 2013
Mr. Speaker, good luck this weekend with that.
I would be remiss if I did not stand on this point of order. In response to one of his questions, one of the non-answers given by the parliamentary secretary misled the House. He said that our party had not raised the issue of veterans affairs, when, in fact, I stood in the House myself and talked about the closure of the offices in Sydney. I ask—
Political Donations November 19th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives would love to have us forget that Rob Ford, the Prime Minister's fishing buddy, is one of them.
For instance, until a few days ago one could go to their website and download a video of Rob Ford introducing the Prime Minister at a campaign rally in Brampton. Now that has somehow vanished.
What has not vanished is the official record that shows Rob Ford to be a generous Conservative donor. He has given thousands of dollars over the years, including to Conservative members from Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Don Valley East, the government House leader, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Of course, cronyism is reciprocal. Numerous Conservatives have given generously to get Rob Ford elected, including the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of State for Sport, and the Conservative member for Willowdale, just to name a few.
The Ford nation is alive and well, and living across the aisle. I am wondering if they are going to support him in his attempt to be the new Conservative leader.
Petitions November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I too, like my colleague from Malpeque, want to rise on behalf of a number of people who are concerned about the expiration of the contract for the Northumberland Ferries Limited, the ferry that connects the world to Prince Edward Island. The expiry date is March 31, 2014.
We want the government to proceed with negotiations and hopefully look at a contract that is equal to or greater than the previous three-year contract so that this service, which has an impact of about $27 million on the province of Prince Edward Island, is maintained to help this beautiful part of our country.
Veterans Affairs November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, last week over 3,000 people took part in a march to protest the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The march was led by veterans of the Second World War and Korean peacekeepers, some with walkers, others in wheelchairs. These same men and women were proud to march into battles all around the globe for their country, but they know it is wrong now to make them march to Halifax to see a caseworker.
Please do not give us the 600 points of service drivel. Do not insult the veterans with that. All they got was an 800 number and a busy signal.
Will the minister reconsider this wrong-minded decision?