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Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Business of Supply May 9th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, this problem is not unique to what was in the Auditor General's report, nor is it unique to the period in question. In fact, there is a more recent example in this year's budget.
I am the critic for Veterans Affairs. Within the budget this year, there is an indication that $65 million has been allocated over the next two years for the last post fund. The last post fund spends about $10 million a year, so we know very well that $65 million will not be spent in the next two years. A few years from now, is there going to be another Auditor General's report that says that $40 million cannot be accounted for and that it was not spent when the government said in the budget that it was going to be spent?
Given what is in the Auditor General's report, and this behaviour apparently continuing in this year's budget, how do we stop this from recurring in the future?
Korean War Veterans Day Act May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I begin my speech by acknowledging the work of Senator Yonah Martin, who has championed and introduced the bill in the Senate.
The Korean War and armistice have special meaning for Senator Martin, having been born in Seoul, Korea, and being a recipient of Korea's Order of Civil Merit Moran Medal.
The Liberal Party joins with the government, the New Democrats and the Green Party in support of Bill S-213. The bill would mark each July 27 as a special day to acknowledge the signing of the armistice between South Korea and North Korea, and to honour our soldiers who went there in the service of their country and in support of the United Nations.
Last month, I was included in that delegation that the member for Wetaskiwin referred to, which went to South Korea to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. I was there with 36 veterans and their caregivers. It was a very moving experience. I am grateful to have the opportunity this evening to share with the House some of my thoughts about that trip.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the military forces of North Korea crossed into South Korea. Canada, operating under the United Nations, contributed significant combat forces to defend South Korea, and as the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth pointed out, this was also a very, very important day in the early history of the United Nations. It was the first time that a United Nations force was deployed, fighting under the United Nations flag.
There were many fierce battles during this conflict, and many soldiers paid the ultimate price. Canadians played a critical role during the war and saw action in the Battle of Kapyong in April 1951. During that two-day battle, 10 Canadians were killed and 23 were wounded.
In late October 1952, in a place referred to as Little Gibraltar, Canadians fought bravely, as they did in Kapyong, and held their own against a determined North Korean enemy.
There are many other stories of bravery and heroism. In total, more than 26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War, and 516 young Canadians died in the service of others and in defence against aggression.
Two other stories about the Korean War also stand out. It was an especially sad day on November 21, 1950, when 17 soldiers of the 2nd Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery died in a train crash in British Columbia. These 17 soldiers were on their way to Korea. They were ready to take up the challenge and the call to service that would have taken them into a war zone. We cannot and shall not forget those 17 soldiers so tragically lost on that day.
The second relates to the contribution of Canadian women during the war. Not unlike the Second World War, women once again stepped up and played a vital role in the service of their country and to the war effort. More than 5,000 Canadian women served during the Korean War. They, too, bore witness to the brutality of war, many of them helping to nurse wounded soldiers. We think of them for their courage and sacrifice to Canada.
It is true that there was an armistice in 1953, but hostilities are still evident. While I was there, I was struck that just a mere hour north of Seoul, one is confronted by barbed wire fences that line the waterways. Heavily armed checkpoints are frequent and staffed around the clock. Spiked barrels prevent the easy passage of vehicles.
The demilitarized zone still has minefields and explosives set to destroy bridges and roads literally with the flip of a switch. Observation points continue to monitor movements of the enemy all along the 38th parallel. This is just in South Korea.
A state of alert continues to exist along the border. Not much is known, really, about North Korea, because of the tight control exercised by that regime. What we do know tells us a story of great poverty, human rights abuses and a country intent on continuing its nuclear weapons program.
It is my hope that one day this armistice will lead to a permanent and lasting peace, a peace that will allow for these two proud nations to set aside the past for good, for the good of harmony and prosperity.
Having been there, I can say there are a couple of encouraging signs. There is indeed an industrial park in North Korea that is operated with the cooperation of the two governments, with managers coming from South Korea and workers in the north. There also is a ministry of unification within the South Korean government, strangely enough.
The progress South Korea has experienced in the last 60 years is nothing short of remarkable. It is now the tenth largest economy in the world. The capital, Seoul, is a world-class, vibrant city of 11 million people, with high-rises and modern infrastructure. It has hosted the Olympics as well as the FIFA World Cup. It is a world leader in electronics and manufacturing. We have all heard of Hyundai and Samsung.
Again, what information we do have from North Korea indicates that this communist country has not fared nearly as well.
There is no question that the Canadian and UN veterans can take pride in and credit for the remarkable progress South Koreans have experienced over the last 60 years. South Korea has gone from being a recipient of foreign aid to a contributor. Canadians have helped a world citizen achieve its potential. It is the international community, not just the South Koreans, that is better for it.
The South Koreans have not forgotten. Everywhere the Canadian delegation went in Seoul, Busan, Kapyong and points in between, there were civilians waving, smiling and thanking us. Those smiling and acknowledging their Canadian heroes did so in a way that movingly broke through the language barrier. That was completely separate from the official, formal and military expressions of gratitude that were extended. Everyday citizens reacted to our veterans in a way that was spontaneous and heartfelt.
I should acknowledge the Minister of Veterans Affairs who led our delegation of Korean War veterans in Korea. We were there, as I indicated, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. The minister included representatives from each of the opposition parties. The bipartisanship he has shown in this and in other commemorative events is a good example for his caucus and his cabinet colleagues.
We do not know when this conflict will finally end. We do hope that one day North Korea, a place of repression and secrecy, will begin to open up and allow more freedom and the protection of human rights.
We also hope that one day the sacrifice made 60 years ago by Canadian soldiers and others in defence of freedom will result in better conditions for the people of North Korea.
I again want to congratulate the government for bringing this bill forward to the House of Commons and, again, thank Senator Martin for her service and dedication to the people of Korea and for efforts to make this special day to mark the end of the Korean War a reality.
Veterans May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the Equitas Society was formed in 2011 to support veterans returning from Afghanistan.
These veterans feel disadvantaged by the new veterans charter. The charter was meant to be a living document, one that is open for review and improvement. Only one such review has taken place in the last seven years, and the Conservatives are now dragging their feet to delay a second one.
Today we are debating a budget bill which allocates funds owing to disabled veterans after the Conservatives lost a five-year court battle. Yet, the Conservatives continue to fight disabled RCMP veterans in court over their disability pensions.
The Equitas Society has sued the government to win equality for injured Afghan vets as compared to individuals receiving workers' compensation benefits. The first day in court is tomorrow.
It does not have to be this way. Instead of digging in, the Conservatives should do the right thing and enter into negotiations with Equitas and settle this lawsuit. They should treat these Afghan veterans with respect.
Equitas representatives will be on the Hill tomorrow. The Liberal Party calls upon the government to sit down with them and resolve the lawsuit.
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Huron—Bruce for his comments. I serve with the member on the veterans committee. He is indeed one of the hard-working members of the committee and someone who I think really does have the interests of veterans at heart. This is why some of his remarks with respect to the government's record on veterans are somewhat troubling. When he trumpets the fact that the government says it has maintained funding for veterans, he forgets that there have been more than 800 job cuts. He forgets that there has been a download of services to Service Canada at the very same time that it is making cuts; cuts of 46% in my province. He forgets about the comments that were made by the Auditor General, highly critical of the case management services provided by Veterans Affairs. I would add that my province is the only one that has no case managers. They were all taken out in the last budget.
However, I want to focus on the last post fund. He trumpets the last post fund. My question for the hon. member is this. There have been improvements made in the budget for the last post fund, but two-thirds of all claims are rejected. Of those two-thirds that were rejected prior to these changes, how many of those two-thirds of veterans who were rejected would now receive help under the fund?
An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights) May 6th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to rise today in the House to speak in support of Bill S-209. I want to applaud the hard work of the Liberal member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. He has worked very hard with other members from all parties and with the mixed martial arts community to make this happen. I am also very pleased that the government is in support of this Liberal initiative in the House of Commons.
The purpose of this bill is to legalize certain combat sports that are currently illegal under the Criminal Code. Mixed martial arts is a growing sport, and its popularity is clear. It is, therefore, critical that we amend the Criminal Code so as to remove any uncertainty regarding the legality of the sport. By way of background, the provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with prizefighting have not been amended since 1934. Much has changed, obviously, since then.
During the early decades of the last century, these sports were primarily boxing and wrestling. Following the conclusion of the Second World War, mixed martial arts and combat sports saw significant growth.
Let me give a few examples of the growth in this industry, in particular the influence of martial arts such as judo, karate and tae kwon do. The influence of Asia in this regard is remarkable and a direct result of our Allied soldiers having been stationed overseas in Asia. Soldiers brought those sports back home, and today we can see how far they have come in becoming mainstream. Young and old, all appreciate these sports. Even more enjoy watching them, either in person or on television. Likewise, these sports are recognized by the Olympic organizing committee.
While these sports are somewhat new and popular, some are still illegal because the only exception to prizefighting set out in the Criminal Code is boxing. There can be a situation then, for example—and this happens—when, let us say, two women trained in the sport of tae kwon do decide to have a match for a prize in a basement. This fight would be only legal so long as they do not use their feet. The definition, therefore, is too restrictive and needs to be expanded. That is why Bill S-209 intends to change the definition to include feet.
As it was established in the Senate committee, adding more descriptors to this definition, such as elbows and knees, is not necessary and could even be counterproductive since contact sports such as hockey could then be considered prizefighting sports. That is why the definition is limited to fists and feet. By modernizing the Criminal Code to permit combative sports such as mixed martial arts and karate, we would go a long way to encouraging wider acceptance of these activities as legitimate and mainstream sports.
One other feature of this bill is to provide greater uniformity and, again, clarity from one jurisdiction to another. Currently, some provinces call mixed martial arts “boxing” to ensure compliance with the Criminal Code. They do so because the code provision specifically references hands and fists. In other provinces, these sports are not permitted simply because those provinces apply a more stringent standard to the application of the Criminal Code.
As a result of this lack of uniformity, many groups organize underground contests that are not governed by provincial commissions. This, as everyone can imagine, is very dangerous. In underground contests, there are seldom any safety standards or, if there are safety standards, they vary from contest to contest. This bill would hopefully lift these underground matches to the public arena where they belong and where they could be properly regulated by the provinces. In fact, the bill would free provinces to construct or develop safety standards as they see fit, and we assume the provinces would look to each other for best practices in this regard.
Likewise, as my colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel noted in an earlier speech, these proposed changes to the Criminal Code would provide amateur and professional level organizations enhanced stature and public approval through appropriate legislative oversight, when needed.
It is true that some Canadians have raised concerns about the perceived violence contained in these sports. Injury in sport is common. We see it time and time again in hockey, when a clean check on an opponent can cause great damage. How often do we see in hockey games concussions and injury resulting from a hard check? We need only recall the Montreal-Ottawa game just this past Thursday, when we saw Lars Eller knocked out, injured as a result of a check. Depending on which team one roots for, that particular check was either clean or dirty. The point is that in most sports, contact sports particularly, the risk of injury exists.
As noted by the mover of the bill, we have heard from experts who appeared at committee and referred to a study from Johns Hopkins University that compared injuries resulting from mixed martial arts to those occurring in other major sports. The rate of injuries is not inconsistent with that of other sports, for example, hockey. In fact, it suggests that the injuries in mixed martial arts are generally less serious than those in boxing.
The reality is that mixed martial arts sports exist and a significant number of Canadians participate in them. These sports should not be confined or relegated to underground contests away from public scrutiny and proper regulations, and that is exactly the point. The sport of mixed martial arts must be regulated, not banned. Prohibition only leads to more underground fights and, as I mentioned, this is dangerous. Prohibition also means that the illegal underground economy is allowed to benefit. Revenues from underground prizefighting go undeclared, which again does not benefit the public nor taxpayers.
We know that when we watch a UFC contest, we are watching athletes. We are watching individuals who take their sport seriously. We are watching athletes who train hard. We are watching athletes who respect each other. We also know that every precaution is taken to limit injury. However, when injury does occur, medical teams are ready to intervene. My colleagues will know that Canada is the home of the world's most accomplished mixed martial arts athlete. Quebec's Georges St-Pierre is a world champion and an example of professionalism. He is a true athlete.
Bill S-209 would support both fans and organizers, which will in turn help improve the Canadian economy. Expanding the scope of what is permissible under the Criminal Code is important.
For all these reasons, I support the bill and congratulate my Liberal colleague for his efforts to modernize the Criminal Code to reflect the new realities of these popular sports.
Veterans Affairs May 3rd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, budget 2013 falsely claims to commit $65 million over the next two years for veterans' funeral and burial expenses. However, the minister knows full well that this $65 million will not be spent over the next two years but will be spread out over some undefined, indeterminate period. It is a ruse. Further, every single veteran who is presently ineligible under the program will not be helped by this budget.
When will the government stop misleading veterans?
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 May 2nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I again want to address my question to the comments made by the member for Ottawa—Orléans with respect to the measures in the budget for veterans and his specific reference to the doubling of the amount of support that is available for funeral and burial expenses.
The chair of the Last Post Fund testified at the veterans committee a year and a half ago, as follows:
For more than a decade, the Last Post Fund has advocated that the program be extended to modern-day veterans in the same way it was offered to traditional veterans. Unfortunately, the governments of Canada during this period have declined to do so, despite the urging of all veterans organizations.
That wrong has still not been righted by this budget. This budget has increased the amount available to those who are eligible, but it has not changed the eligibility criteria. Not one additional veteran will benefit. Is this really the best we can do?
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 May 2nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, it will come as no surprise that, as the Veterans Affairs critic for the Liberal Party, I do not share the minister's view with respect to the impact of this budget on veterans.
With respect to the Last Post Fund, first, the budget trumpets a $65 million increase over the next two years. The minister knows, and I would like him to admit it, that this $65 million would not be spent over the next two years, in spite of the announcement in the budget.
Second, that increase to the Last Post Fund would not help one more veteran. The veterans who qualify would get more money, but not one more veteran would qualify, because the criteria have not changed.
The last thing I will say is that there is much trumpeting over the fact that the government has been beaten into submission by disabled veterans in court and now it is paying up. The exact same day as that lawsuit was launched, there was another lawsuit launched by disabled RCMP veterans. The government has refused to include them in the settlement discussions.
Therefore, does the minister really believe this budget has gone far enough to address the serious problems that exist in the veterans community?
Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 May 2nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I was interested to hear my colleague talk about how good the economic policies of the Conservative government have been for the province of Saskatchewan, where the unemployment rate is 3.7%. The government decimated the economy of my province with the disproportionate civil service cuts and the gutting of employment insurance.
My question relates to the super credit for first-time donors. Here we have a bill that does absolutely nothing for the youth of this country. It does nothing to address the outlandishly high rates of youth unemployment in this country, and the government is patting itself on the back for developing a philanthropic gene among our youth.
I would suggest that for our youth to develop a sense of philanthropy, they would have to have something to give, which would involve having a job. The government has done absolutely nothing in this bill in that respect.
I would like to have my colleague respond to the contradiction in giving a credit for donating money that, under these circumstances, they undoubtedly will not have.
Petitions May 2nd, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of several residents of Atlantic Canada who are concerned about the decision with respect to the Experimental Lakes Area.
These petitioners call on the government to recognize the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area to the government's mandate to study, preserve and protect aquatic ecosystems, and to reverse the decision to close the ELA research station.