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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was farmers.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Huron—Bruce (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House April 19th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present on behalf of the committee, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food entitled “From a Management Crisis to Becoming Better Crisis Managers: The 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia”.

I might just add that this outbreak was a first in Canada, a great learning curve, not only for the industry but for all stakeholders, including the CFIA. I believe the exercise that was undertaken in Abbotsford was a worthwhile one, not only serving government but serving the primary producers in this case, and of getting to the bottom of this issue. The recommendations contained in this report speak very well to the kinds of things we heard on our visit there.

Petitions April 18th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon on behalf of a great number of citizens to draw the attention of the House of the following.

The petitioners believe that the majority of Canadians believe that the fundamental matters of social policy should be decided by elected members of Parliament and not by the unelected judiciary.

They also put forward the argument that the majority of Canadians support the current legal definition of marriage as the voluntary union of a single, that is unmarried male, and a single, that is unmarried female.

They are petitioning Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including invoking section 33 of the charter, the notwithstanding clause if necessary, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Agriculture April 4th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The livestock industry has been devastated since the discovery of BSE in Canada in May 2003 when many countries around the world closed their borders to the Canadian beef and other ruminant industry.

Could the Minister of Agriculture today tell the House what progress he may have made when he was in Cuba last week?

Parliament of Canada Act March 23rd, 2005

Madam Speaker, I wish to be recorded as being in opposition to the motion.

Anglers and Hunters March 23rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, recently I sent a document to all parliamentarians, describing the economic benefits provided to the country by anglers. To put those benefits in perspective, I offer this.

In 1999 anglers and hunters spent $1.3 billion on overnight trips. That is three times the amount of money generated by all performing arts in Canada. Between 1984 and 1999, anglers directly contributed more than $335 million to wildlife habitat conservation efforts. Anglers and hunters support more Canadian jobs than the Bank of Nova Scotia, our third largest publicly traded company. Each year, anglers spend more than $6.7 billion on their sport. That is double the GDP of P.E.I., more than all the restaurant and tavern receipts in Quebec and more than the total retail value of all new vehicles sold in Alberta.

Anglers represent nearly 20% of our population and are some of the most ardent conservationists we have. I would like to thank them for their efforts to make certain that our children enjoy the outdoors as much as we have.

Supply Management March 22nd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, 2005 marks the 40th anniversary of supply management in the chicken broiler, turkey and dairy industries.

Despite the fact that supply managed sectors provide inexpensive yet premium quality food, there are those out there who still do not get it.

Recently, when ordering pizza, one of my constituents was confronted with a sign indicating that the pizza would now cost more because dairy farmers were charging more for milk. Notwithstanding that I have never seen a sign saying that pizza prices have increased because of the cost of hydro, fuel, labour or rent, the information is erroneous.

Canadians must understand that domestic dairy goods are as inexpensive as possible. In fact, if one were to pay $14.24 for a medium pizza in a restaurant, the farmer's share would be only 61¢. Furthermore, if one were to directly compare U.S. dairy prices with ours, one would find that prices here on average are 20% less expensive than similar items in the United States.

Supply management has been a huge success and I congratulate the Government of Canada for officially recognizing this fact.

Civil Marriage Act March 21st, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this matter today. I would like to underscore from the outset that I will not digress into name calling nor will I offer condemnation of others who may not share my views on this topic.

I firmly believe that we should debate ideas in this chamber and that it is both acceptable and expected that people of good faith will from to time have legitimate differences of opinion.

Accordingly, to help succinctly outline my thoughts on this contentious and complex issue, I will endeavour to subdivide my remarks into two categories: first, my personal thoughts; and second, the Supreme Court ruling.

First, let me take a moment to share my personal thoughts. I strongly believe that the institution of marriage should remain confined to opposite sex couples. I strongly support the stand that federal lawyers took in the Ontario court when they said that marriage embodies the complementary of the two human sexes. It is not simply a shopping list of functional attributes but a unique, opposite sex bond that is common across different times, cultures and religions as a virtually universal norm.

Marriage is a relationship that is as old as time itself. It existed prior to our laws and is a core building block of modern society that must be preserved.

All in all, retention of the traditional definition of marriage is not about discrimination against same sex partners. After all, same sex couples already have all the tax and societal benefits extended to opposite sex couples.

Let us for a moment examine the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on the subject. While this particular aspect is complex, I would like to attempt to offer clarity with respect to what the court said and did not say.

Essentially there are two points that should raise concern: the impact that redefinition of marriage could have on religious officials and institutions, and the impact that it could have on non-religious officials who perform civil marriages and issue marriage licences.

Third, the court did not answer the question of whether the opposite sex requirement for marriage is consistent with the charter. The Supreme Court did not say that to maintain the traditional definition of marriage would be unconstitutional. It said that to change the definition would be within the power of the federal government. There is a distinct difference.

Now, to break down the concerns surrounding each of these important points.

Issue number one: Protection of religious officials and institutions from being forced to perform same sex marriages. For many opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages, the main point of contention is the impact this decision could have on religious institutions and officials.

The federal government has most recently, through the statements of the Prime Minister, stated that the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

The clarity with which these assurances have been given was echoed in material circulated by the Liberal Party. Specifically, last December 11, in a document received by my office, the Liberal Party stated that the Supreme Court decision upheld the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the charter. It further stated that the said protection was broad enough to prevent religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that were contrary to their religious beliefs.

What the document omitted was the statement included in the Supreme Court's decision which said that religious freedoms would be protected unless there were unique circumstances with respect to which it would not speculate.

At the same time, the government, again through the Prime Minister, has been stating that the consequences of enshrining same sex marriage will not impact religious institutions or religious officials.

While the court has been emphatic with respect to the generally held right under the charter which will ensure that religious officials cannot be compelled by the state to perform marriage ceremonies against their faith and that the same applies to the use of sacred places, there remains an open question related to unique circumstances.

Also, we have no absolute definition of what constitutes sacred places. I would like to know if that would include a reference to all church or ministry held properties, some of which are made accessible to the general public. This question comes to mind because, even as I speak now, the the Knights of Columbus in B.C. is being forced to defend itself against charges of discrimination.

The Knights of Columbus recently refused to permit a gay couple to use its facility for a same sex wedding and, as a result, it has been called to account for its actions by the B.C. human rights tribunal. It seems that its religious beliefs may not be enough to protect it against a charge of discrimination based upon the sexual orientation of its rejected clients.

Issue number two: Of the individuals duly empowered by the civic authority or provincial governments to perform marriages, would they be able to avail themselves of the charter protection of their religious beliefs?

The court in its opinion has indicated that under certain circumstances there would appear to be limits on religious freedom. In its ruling, the court clearly indicates that where a collision of rights occurs, that collision must be approached on the contextual facts of actual conflicts. The court went on to state that where the rights cannot be reconciled, a true conflict of rights is made out. In such cases, the court will find a limit on religious freedom and go on to balance the interests at stake under section 1 of the charter. The application of this limit was said to apply principally to individuals who are not religious officials but are empowered to perform marriages yet refuse on the grounds of religious freedom.

In essence, the court is saying that it would override the personal religious freedoms of citizens if they came into conflict with other more fundamental rights. In such circumstances, the court felt that it would be improper to assess whether the proposed act, if adopted, would create a collision of rights in otherwise undefined spheres.

Again there is a recognition of as yet unanswered questions which may arise in the future.

The charter states the following with respect to religious freedom:

  1. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

The operative word, of course, is “everyone”.

In response, the attorney general said that the interest engaged and protected by subsection 2(a) of the charter is freedom to hold one's religious beliefs. This freedom has been characterized by this court as the absence of coercion or constraint. If a person is compelled by the state or the will of another to a course of action or inaction which he would not otherwise have chosen, he is not acting of his own volition and he cannot be said to be truly free.

He went on to explain that freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one can be forced to act in a way contrary to his or her beliefs. To me, it would appear this reference would possibly include marriage commissioners and other civil servants expected to perform marriage ceremonies who express opposition on religious grounds to doing so. Even certain ministers and members of the House have said that will be the case.

Issue number three: What does it mean if the court has not answered the fourth question related to whether opposite sex marriages are consistent with the charter?

As to the need to answer the question, the court explained that the government's stated position is that it will proceed with legislative enactment regardless of what answer we give to this question. The court felt that the government had clearly accepted the rulings of lower courts and had adopted their position as its own. Justices believed that, given the government's stated commitment, an opinion on the constitutionality of an opposite sex requirement for marriage serves no legal purpose.

Again what this means is that the Supreme Court did not rule on whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional because, by not appealing the lower court decisions on the matter, the government had already indicated that it intended to make same sex marriage legal.

At a minimum, the points to which I have referred have given rise to more questions. I believe that in the absence of clarification from either the courts or the Department of Justice, we as legislators must step to the plate and make certain that no stone is left unturned on this matter.

If the points raised have any substance, there is no blanket protection for religious institutions or officials. If the points raised are accurate, there certainly will be no protection provided to civil officials who are currently empowered to perform marriages who attempt to use the provisions of subsection 2(a) of the charter.

Until these points are given further clarity or there is an adequate explanation as to why the concerns outlined above are without merit, it would be impossible for me to support the proposed legislation as I now understand it.

Let me be crystal clear. I support the charter but, while I believe the charter is a fine document with lofty ideals, I do not accept that it is being interpreted by the courts in a manner consistent with its intended premise.

On the matter of rights, I should also point out that there is not an authority in the world, including the United Nations or the Supreme Court of Canada, that has declared the right to marry to be a basic right or has suggested that maintaining the opposite sex only definition of marriage is discriminatory. I point this out only to show that this is not a matter of discrimination but rather a public policy debate that has been selected for advancement.

In closing, I am not prepared to vote in favour of same sex marriage for the reasons I have set upon the table today. Moreover, when I surveyed each household in Huron--Bruce with the question “Should same sex marriage be legalized?”, a resounding 83% told me no. As the representative of the people and as a man of faith, I have no alternative but to vote against this particular bill.

Canadian Livestock Industry March 8th, 2005

Madam Speaker, many of us probably witnessed the response of a number of members of R-CALF as they left the courtroom that day in jubilation over what they believed was a victory for them in terms of their pocketbooks.

It is hard to believe that a country with the power that the Americans have, and recognized as a superpower in the world, could be subjected to the powers of a court in the state of Montana. It is hard to believe that the President of the United States, who has veto power over the senate and congress, is unable to overpower a judge's decision in a state. That is hard for me to understand.

Justice was not served in this case by the way this was handled. It will not be served until the border is opened based on the merit of the science that has been done. It will not be served until it is proven that beef products and all animal products in Canada and the United States are safe for human consumption.

Canadian Livestock Industry March 8th, 2005

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's question is well premised. It is important that we have good relationships. I trust that my comments this evening did not give the impression that we should not have good relationships. Whether it is with our United States neighbours or the Japanese, we have had longstanding relationships with these countries for many years.

As we all know, the Japanese were invited to be part of the team of scientists in Canada when the first case of BSE was discovered on our soil. Why they were not here I cannot speak to because I do not have the answer, but certainly they were invited.

On the issue of Japan's cases of BSE, there is a total misunderstanding even among the Japanese as to what degree BSE has overtaken the industry in that country. Today Japan is still not free of BSE. It is still finding the odd case from time to time. Do the people in Japan know that? I am told they do not. I am told every animal is tested. I am also told that in certain areas of that country, there are certain states, provinces or territories, every animal is tested, but in other areas they are not. Indeed they are walking around that.

We ought to know the full truth before we can really make a determination on some of these issues. Certainly, it is important to have good relationships, but I do not buy into the premise that we have failed in opening our borders simply because we made a decision on our northern strategic air defence systems. I do not believe that. If we believe the Americans and take them at their word, they have said this is an issue of science. It must be science based and the borders will be opened based on that decision.

Canadian Livestock Industry March 8th, 2005

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time this evening with the member for Edmonton--Mill Woods--Beaumont .

I am also pleased to speak this evening to this most critical issue affecting our primary agricultural producers. Sadly, we have seen a lot of numbers thrown about on all sides of the House this evening, but clearly the bottom line of the equation is that our producers are hurting and they are hurting badly.

This is not a numbers game. This is about our farmers and their families. It is also about the devastating impact that the BSE crisis is having on rural economies in general. To put it simply, when farmers hurt, all of rural Canada hurts. There is a great deal of pain out there in rural Canada tonight.

When I first began drafting this speech for this evening's debate, I considered talking about the repositioning strategy announced by the Minister of Agriculture last September. I strongly believe that his plan is forward looking and positive for the long term. I also believe that this made in Canada solution focuses on returning the Canadian livestock sector to profitability with or without a border opening. One must acknowledge that the repositioning strategy is a result of close collaboration with industry and with the provinces. It clearly aims to address both the immediate needs of ruminant producers and to reposition the sector for the longer term, whether or not the border opens.

I understand the importance of the three main objectives announced in the September plan. Enhancing slaughter capacity, helping producers transition and expanding in diversifying markets are all lofty, important and necessary goals. In fact, the agriculture committee has been calling for these measures for some time and I am glad to see that Agriculture Canada is also now responding.

That said, tonight I plan to talk about four things that do not revolve around the repositioning strategy. They are: first, the fact that we are moving live U.S. cattle through Canada into the continental United States; second, the allegations made by a former USDA veterinarian that the U.S. is hiding its cases of BSE; third, the need for an immediate and substantial injection of funds to help support our farmers; and fourth, the fact that the only science keeping the border closed to Canadian beef is U.S.-based political science.

I know I may sound a little less than diplomatic when I talk about these things this evening but many of my constituents were holding out until the border opened yesterday. However, as all members know, that did not happen. Moreover, it did not happen because of reasons that escape the understanding of most rational individuals. That missed date represents a huge psychological defeat for our farmers and I would be remiss if I failed to address this during the course of debate this evening.

Permit me to declare that I firmly believe that the Government of Canada, the CFIA and the Minister of Agriculture are doing all they can. However I believe t the language of diplomacy is obscuring the facts somewhat in this instance.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that the Bush administration is appealing the recent decision of the United States district court of Montana that prevented the border from opening as planned. This support is appreciated by our producers but, regrettably, the fact is that the border remains closed.

With that said I would like to cite an article that appeared in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen entitled “Agriculture minister pushes for ban on Hawaiian cattle: Shipments transit Vancouver on way to continental U.S.” The article went on to say that the B.C. Minister of Agriculture was calling upon the federal government to stop permitting U.S. cattle to be shipped through our ports. I would have to add that if, according to the U.S. senate, the U.S. district court of Montana and the lobby group R-CALF, Canada is so wrought with risk, why would they want to have their cattle touch our soil?

The truth is that there is no more risk here than in the U.S and the U.S. senate, the U.S. district court of Montana and the lobby group R-CALF know that full well. They are simply playing games in an attempt to use the BSE crisis as a mechanism to pummel their Canadian competitors into the dust.

In getting back to the article, it is time to take off our kid gloves and fight fire with fire. I know our minister wants to encourage the international community to adopt rational, justified trade responses to BSE, but what are we to do if our concerted messages are being ignored and thwarted by certain elements of the U.S. beef industry? I am not suggesting that we should shoot ourselves in the foot by introducing measures that are irrational or haphazard, but our industry is taking on water. We are down to the brass tacks and our farmers need immediate and substantial help.

I know that this government is committed to supporting our producers in this their time of need. If there was any doubt on this front I would simply point out that over the past two years record payments have gone out to producers across this country: $4.8 billion in 2003, projected $4.9 billion in 2004, and $2.6 billion in direct BSE assistance, of which the federal share was almost $2 billion. That is the kind of initial support that I am talking about. Again, this is the initial support to which I refer. It is now time for much more.

As an extension of the above, in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen there was an article that was entitled “U.S. Hiding Mad Cow Cases”. There has been talk in the countryside for months that the U.S. has adopted King Ralph's “shoot, shovel and shut up” approach. According to this article we now have a whistleblower.

The article references a former USDA veterinarian who formerly supervised meat inspectors south of the border. He outlined how he oversaw the processing and/or disposal of hundreds of downer and suspect animals. He claimed that he had no doubt that there were instances of BSE in the U.S. and that it was simply dealt with outside of the public eye.

This veterinarian outlined how false positives were not followed up on and how the United States testing program may be subverted as a result of longstanding systemic deceptions of this nature.

I submit that from a purely scientific perspective it is difficult, if not impossible, to accept that the U.S. is free of BSE. While our state of knowledge with respect to this disease is incomplete, we do understand that spontaneous cases are generated at a rate of about one in a million. That said, the United States, with its millions of cattle, could not possibly be 100% free of BSE. It is not realistic in any sense of the word.

I am not looking to bash our American friends, but I am tired of getting kicked around for no reason. If there was a problem with the quality of Canadian beef, I would be the first to support embargos and other forms of corrective action, but this is not the case. I eat Canadian beef and feed it to my family because I know it to be of the highest quality available in the world.

Our farmers need money now. I can barely listen to any more of this debate. We all know the problems and we should stop playing politics with this issue. The minister has done a stellar job so far and he should be commended for that. We need action if our farmers are going to survive.

In health care, the Prime Minister determined that we were going to fix the problem for a generation. He took immediate and decisive action to do just that. Under his leadership the provinces were brought together and a deal was struck that placed our health care system on a stable footing for the next 10 years. I would urge every member of this House to take that kind of approach on this issue.

I do not know what will fix this problem entirely, but I have several actions that could be taken, and once added together they could provide substantial assistance to our farmers, their families, and all of rural Canada. I would love to hear what other members have to say on this front.

Increasing our domestic slaughter capacity through producer owned cooperatives would be an important first step. Governments could provide access to start-up capital and streamline the red tape.

Governments must also get money into the hands of our farmers and not into the hands of packing plants. Let us hear members tell us how they believe this can be done and accomplished effectively. Simply writing cheques will not solve these problems if they are written without a long-term plan. Let us move agriculture beyond crisis management and on to a stable foundation for the next generation.

I will again restate my belief that the only science keeping the U.S. border closed to our beef is political science. The OIE said that there was no reason to close the border because Canada's beef is not a health risk. Our tracing system prevented the public from eating the BSE contaminated beef, unlike the U.S. system that permitted a cow to be placed on supermarket shelves.

Canada has taken measures to remove SRMs from the food supply. SRMs are the only part of the animal that contain the BSE prion and hence, there is no possibility for contamination of the human food supply.

For these reasons and more, I submit that our neighbours to the south are still playing games. I heard a media interview with a U.S. senator that said he believed that Canadian beef was safe, but he had to vote against reopening the border because he needed to get re-elected in 2006.

Worse yet, after the R-CALF victory in the Montana court, the media interviewed R-CALF members and they all said that they would eat Canadian beef. I find this astonishing. If they believed that our beef was not safe, then why would they consume it? The fact is that they do not feel that our beef is at risk. They are simply playing games that are hurting our farmers.

I should point out that even the United States President ate beef when he visited Canada a short time ago. To his credit though, he at least has the courage to admit that he feels our beef is safe. I would suggest that our American friends remember that one day the proverbial chickens may come home to roost.

If and when the U.S. BSE case is discovered, I would sincerely hope that the U.S. will not look to this Canadian MP for a lot of sympathy. I would be prepared to offer the same level of compassion and logic that the U.S. senate offered to us. If we were indeed friends, then I would call upon the United States to act accordingly. Unless it is actually able to produce some science in support of this continued border closure, then it should stop its actions. Failure to do so should be looked at by Canada as nothing more than unwarranted trade sanctions and we should take action accordingly.

I congratulate the minister for the efforts he has made in terms of bringing some relief to our farming community. I also thank the member opposite for encouraging this debate this evening.