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Crucial Fact

NDP MP for St. John's South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 47.90% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, personally, I see this fifth piece omnibus legislation for a budget implementation bill as an affront to democracy.

The hon. member mentions the railway. Indeed, beside the parts of the bill that have to do with budgetary matters, the bill also has to do with the railway, hazardous materials, temporary foreign workers, ACOA, as I have already outlined, and a bridge for the St. Lawrence, and on and on it goes.

We are talking about a single bill that is 350 pages long, with almost 500 clauses, and amends dozens of other bills and has a slew of measures not even mentioned in the budget speech.

There is no way possible for us to do what we are tasked to do by our constituents, which is to keep an eye on these bills and an eye on the government. It is too big. It is too massive.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is no. I do not see any way that rolling the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation into ACOA will actually enhance the services for Cape Breton. I do not see that.

The Conservatives can spin it any way they want, but this is not a good thing.

Another point that I made in my speech is the fact that the Conservatives are taking the ECBC and rolling it into ACOA in advance of a report by the federal Auditor General of Canada on a controversial grant by the ECBC for a marina development. The fact that the Conservatives are getting rid of the ECBC in advance of this report is highly suspicious. I suspect that the AG will find the Conservatives guilty of even more patronage.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I stand in opposition to Bill C-31, the budget implementation act. My opposition comes on two fronts, content and process. The budget bill is not just about the budget; if it were, how simple and straightforward our opposition would be.

The bill is what is known as an omnibus bill. It contains everything but the kitchen sink. It is massive. It is more than 350 pages. It contains almost 500 clauses. It amends dozens of bills and includes a slew of measures that were not even mentioned in the former finance minister's budget speech. The bill touches on tax measures, veterans, railway safety, hazardous materials, temporary foreign workers, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, a new bridge for the St. Lawrence, new Canadians, and access to old age security and guaranteed income supplement. It goes on and on.

Oh yes, it also mentions the budget. The bill is all over the map. It is a monster bill that undermines Parliament because it denies members of Parliament like me with the ability to thoroughly study the bill and its implications. That is because it is so big, so far reaching and all-encompassing.

I cannot shake the feeling of déjà vu, as if I have stood in this very place before and made the very same point. That is because I have. I stood in this place in early December and called out the government for introducing an omnibus bill, the fourth omnibus budget implementation bill. That omnibus bill, back in December, amended 70 laws or regulations in a single bill. Ramming that much legislation into one bill is an easy way to get one past the electorate. It is also an easy way to make a mistake. It is irresponsible. It is bad governance. It is poor management. It is a slap in the face to democracy. We debate legislation in this chamber for a reason. It is to make legislation the best that it can be. We cannot do that with an omnibus bill. We cannot do that with the Conservative government.

Another point is that one day soon in the House, a Conservative member of Parliament will take to his or her feet and criticize Her Majesty's loyal opposition for voting against a particular piece of legislation. However, there is a good chance that legislation was rammed into an omnibus bill, which undoubtedly has some positives guaranteed.

For example, there is a measure within this bill that reverses the Conservative government's previous attempt to tax hospital parking, to tax the poor. That is gone. That is undeniably a good thing. However, the bill also includes horrible legislation that rips into the very fabric of Canada, and we will vote against it. Therefore, when a Conservative MP or minister accuses us of voting against a particular measure in a piece of legislation, there is a good chance that it was in an omnibus bill. There is no way that we can vote for those because they are horrible.

Let me quote columnist Andrew Coyne from the National Post. He had this to say, in 2012, about omnibus legislation, about transparency and accountability. The quote from two years ago is just as relevant today. He said:

Not only does this bill make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill.... It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We've no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet. But there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government's whole legislative agenda at one go.

Yes, it is quite alarming, but it is also old hat for the Conservative government. It is its go-to trick, its old reliable.

I will tackle some of the meat of this budget implementation act.

First, in terms of the economy, this is a do-nothing budget. It basically bides time until 2015, an election year, when the government purse will reopen and the Conservatives will attempt to buy the electorate with their own money. They will try to swing the election in their favour with the changes in the unfair election act and then use taxpayers' own money to sweeten the deal.

I am the official critic for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. It has been a very busy file, with more Conservative patronage than we can shake a stick at.

Where can one start to simplify the issues about patronage?

To simplify and to borrow a description from The Guardian about a story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald: “...hiring rules at ACOA have been twisted into pretzels to accommodate Conservative Party loyalists”.

Awful-tasting pretzels. Patronage at ACOA. And it has been blatant and it has been steady. Patronage at ACOA walks like a duck. It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. It even tastes like a duck. But the Conservatives, who use science more as a political art that science, say that the duck that has been feeding out of the Conservatives' hand right in front of us is a figment of our imagination. Maybe the duck is invisible to Conservatives, the same way that climate change is invisible to Conservatives, or the unemployed, or veterans.

While patronage has run rampant at ACOA, what would the budget implementation act do about it?

Let us see. Instead of increasing accountability and addressing patronage, the Conservatives are gutting it. The act would eliminate the need for the president of ACOA to table a report to Parliament every five years showing the impact of the agency's work on regional disparities. In other words, there will be no more report card. ACOA's board of directors would also be out the door. In theory, the board of directors could have blocked ACOA patronage. Only it did not do that.

I asked the federal Auditor General last year to investigate the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, a branch of ACOA, after it gave a $4.8-million grant to build a controversial marina. The Auditor General agreed to investigate.

What did the Conservatives do in advance of that report from the Auditor General? They folded the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation into ACOA. How convenient.

So, to tackle the blatant, out-of-control patronage, the current government actually gives more power to itself.

The budget should have been about making life more affordable and reducing household debt. The budget should have been about making credit rates reasonable. It should have been about capping ATM fees, cracking down on abusive practices of payday lenders, and providing services that Canadians rely upon.

Instead, the budget is about sidestepping democracy with yet another omnibus bill, the Conservatives' fifth attempt to evade parliamentary scrutiny.

I will end with a series of two questions posed by the current Prime Minister in 1995 when the Liberals pushed through an omnibus bill: the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns? We can agree with some measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?

That is a good question.

So what is the answer?

The answer is that we cannot represent our constituents in dealing with such massive omnibus legislation.

What is the solution?

The solution is to show this arrogant, entitled, out-of-touch Conservative government, a government that has forgotten right from wrong, a government that is trying desperately to cling to power by changing the rules in its favour, the door.

Fisheries and Oceans April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, what Newfoundland inshore fishermen and their families need to hear is a commitment to protecting their livelihoods.

Everyone agrees that the shrimp stock needs to be responsibly managed, but what DFO is proposing fails to do that and unfairly targets the inshore sector. It is not just fishermen and their families who will take a hit. It is also local processing plants that are supplied by their shrimp catch.

Will the minister commit to working with inshore fishermen to protect their industry, to protect what little they have left?

Newfoundland and Labrador April 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, today Newfoundland and Labrador marks the 65th anniversary of Confederation. Canada joined Newfoundland at one minute before midnight, March 31, 1949, Ottawa time, which would have made it 1:29 a.m. Newfoundland time, April 1, 1949, April Fool's Day.

A national story from that day read: “Today a country dies, not as they die in Europe by enemy fire and sword, or by aggressive annexation, but by its own hand, the democratic choice of the people”.

The question today is whether we are further ahead because of the death of Newfoundland, the country.

I have travelled the world as an MP to Africa, Japan, and the Middle East. Canada is in so many ways the envy of the world, but here at home, our commercial fisheries are in tatters. Shrimp is now in trouble. The lack of a fair energy policy has held us back for decades. Gulf ferry rates are too high, search and rescue is not up to snuff, and the environment is under threat. The face of Canada is changing under the current Conservative government.

Conservatives and Liberals have failed us. It is time for Canada to work for all provinces.

Regional Development March 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are once again ducking accountability at ACOA.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will no longer prepare reports on regional disparity, hiding any negative impact of eliminating the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation.

Conservatives also used their monster budget bill to scrap ACOA's board. The board had guaranteed regional representation and could have been fixed, because it is broken, to provide proper oversight.

The real problem at ACOA is obvious: rampant Conservative patronage.

Why is the government mismanaging ACOA and reducing oversight even further?

Questions on the Order Paper March 27th, 2014

With regard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard: (a) have there been any reports written on the oil leak of the Manolis L. since it sunk in 1985; (b) how much has the government spent on cleaning up the oil spill since 1985; and (c) has there been any study done on developing a long-term solution for the oil spill?

Energy Safety and Security Act March 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member across the way for the question. The hon. member is a lucky man to have landed on the Hibernia platform. I have not done that myself, but it is on my bucket list. The name “Hibernia”, by the way, means “Ireland”. The hon. member for St. John's East would know that as well. It means Ireland, in Gaelic.

What I do like about this bill is that it would raise the absolute liability from $30 million to $1 billion. That is an increase of $970 million. That is a great thing. However, when we look at environmental catastrophes, like the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, we are talking compensation, so far, that is $42 billion U.S. Unfortunately, it is possible that we could have that kind of catastrophe off the east coast. That is possible.

If we look at $42 billion and rising to clean up that mess in the United States versus $1 billion that has been set aside for unlimited liability in Canada, we can see that it is not nearly enough. Again, I say that there are some good things and that this is a step. However, to reference the last line in my speech, this is a step, but we should be taking a leap.

Energy Safety and Security Act March 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. “Live in hope, die in despair” is a saying that we have back home.

Again, it is a good thing the absolute liability is being raised to $1 billion. However, I would like to think that when we bring up good points, like the fact that the absolute liability in the United States is $12.6 billion U.S. versus $1 billion in Canada, the Conservatives would see how far below the global standards we are. I would like to think the Conservatives would see how sensible that is and how far below the world standards we are. Again, we live in hope, die in despair.

Energy Safety and Security Act March 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of Bill C-22, the energy safety and security act. It is measured support. The act deals with both offshore oil and gas operations and the nuclear liability and compensation act, but I am only prepared to speak on oil and gas.

My riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador is not exactly known for its nuclear industry, although the word “nuclear” could be used to describe my province's dislike of the Conservative government, a nuclear dislike that will redline in 2015. I could not pass that up, Mr. Speaker.

The issues surrounding oil and gas development are paramount in Newfoundland and Labrador. Oil and gas have made us a rich province, a have province. For too long, Newfoundland and Labrador was seen as a drain on Confederation, although that was never the case. The contribution of our ore, our fish, our hydro, our forestry, and our people to the rest of Canada and the world are practically immeasurable.

Today, officially on paper, we are a net contributor to Confederation and are proud of it. That is due, in large part, to offshore oil fields such as Hibernia, Terra Nova, and White Rose. The $14-billion Hebron development is due to come on stream in 2017.

Then there is the potential, the incredible, massive potential. This past September, the news broke of a major oil find off Newfoundland, a reservoir of light crude believed to hold as much as 600 million barrels of recoverable oil, the 12th largest oil discovery in the world in the past four years. That discovery, which happened in August, is the third recent find in the Flemish Pass basin in the North Atlantic in recent years.

The potential for oil off Labrador, which is practically frontier, virgin territory, is through the roof, and the exploration is not nearly what it is in the North Sea.

I had a meeting just a couple of weeks ago with the head of Nalcor, the crown corporation in Newfoundland and Labrador responsible for energy development. The member for St. John's East and I met with the head of Nalcor, and I can tell the House that the future of oil and gas in my province is incredibly exciting. Ed Martin, the CEO of Nalcor, had a hard time containing his excitement, and it was good to see on his face.

As parliamentarians, we must ensure that worker health and safety and the environment are first and foremost, front and centre, and protected at all costs. Bill C-22 maintains unlimited operator liability for fault or negligence. In other words, if there is an oil spill and a company is found negligent and responsible, the blame is 100% theirs. There is no limit on the liability, no cap on the liability, and that is the way it should be.

In the case of no fault, the bill increases absolute liability in the Atlantic to $1 billion from $30 million. That is an increase of $970 million. That may sound huge, and there is no doubt that it is huge, but is it enough? That is the question. Is a $1-billion cap on no fault enough to cover the damage from an environmental catastrophe?

The United States has an absolute liability cap of $12.6 billion U.S. versus, again, our absolute liability cap of $1 billion Canadian. That is a difference of more than $12 billion Canadian. I would say that the absolute liability amount is not enough, certainly not compared to the United States. Do Canadians, do Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, deserve at least the same amount of liability protection as the United States? Yes, we do. The answer is obvious. Of course we do.

The 2010 British Petroleum spill in the Gulf Mexico was expected to cost as much as $42 billion for total cleanup, criminal penalties, and civil claims. British Petroleum is reported to have already spent $25 billion on cleanup and compensation.

In addition, it faces hundreds of new lawsuits that were launched this spring, along with penalties under the Clean Water Act that could reach $17 billion. Therefore, how far would our absolute liability cap of $1 billion go? It would not go very far. It would be a drop in the oil barrel. A $1 billion liability cap is not enough. It is a start, but it is not enough. It is not nearly enough.

This bill references the polluter pay principle explicitly in legislation, to establish clearly and formally that polluters will be held accountable. This bill is most definitely an improvement upon the current liability regime, but it is not enough to protect Canadians or the environment. In fact, it continues to put Canadians at risk. More specifically, it continues to put Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at risk.

The reality is that the $1 billion cap is not enough. It is not sufficient. The artificial cap actually acts as a subsidy to energy companies by reducing the cost of insuring the risks that they create. Energy companies make a fortune. They make billions of dollars a year, and yet we would be subsidizing them and increasing the risks to ourselves. That does not make sense. If this were truly polluter pay, the polluter would be responsible, period.

Norway and Greenland have unlimited absolute financial liability for oil spills. To point out the irony, Norway has unlimited liability for a spill in its own waters, but as the owner of Statoil, the company that made the recent oil discovery off Newfoundland, it would have a cap in our waters. Does everyone see the difference?

What is most scary about Bill C-22, the energy safety and security act, is that it provides for ministerial discretion to reduce absolute liability levels to below the legislated level of $1 billion. That discretionary provision could undercut the advantages of the legislated cap. It leaves the door open for reduction of absolute liability levels for certain projects as a form of economic incentive for oil and gas development that the government wants to encourage. Therefore, if the government of the day wants to lower the $1 billion cap, it can. That is where the word “scary” comes in, especially when the $1 billion liability cap is not nearly enough to deal with a massive spill.

To conclude, New Democrats support this bill at second reading, but we would also push for expanded liability and the implementation of global best practices. Worker health and safety and the environment should be first and foremost in our oil and gas industry, and certainly not left to ministerial discretion to potentially lower what is already inadequate liability. Why can this country not lead the way in environmental protection? Why are the Conservatives accepting anything less?

This is a step forward; make no mistake, this is a step forward. However, why should we expect anything less than elite?