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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was mentioned.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Oak Ridges—Markham (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 28% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada Elections Act September 18th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will move on to the business at hand which is the second reading of Bill C-16.

I support the idea of fixed election dates but I am not happy with the way the government has gone about bringing in the legislation and certain parts of it concern me.

I am confident that with further study and amendments at committee fixed election dates can be achieved in a fashion that is sound and well thought out. After all, no reform should ever be taken lightly, especially when our system of government has worked so hard and well, all things considered, since before 1867.

The Westminster system of government that we inherited from the United Kingdom dates back hundreds of years. It is a remarkable system of government in that it has adapted itself to changing times. This system has also adapted itself to a number of countries, such as Singapore, Malta, India and Jamaica. We have a strong system of government that is innovative and flexible. Fixed election dates are yet another reform that is coming along and that, if implemented correctly, can only serve to make our system stronger.

I will speak to why I support the idea of fixed election dates and then I will raise my concerns with the government's course of action on this file.

Canadian history was made on May 17, 2005, when British Columbia had the first election date set in law.

In December 2005, the McGuinty government in Ontario passed a bill that set fixed election dates for Ontario. This means that the next election in Ontario will be on October 4, my birthday, 2007, and subsequent elections will be held on the first Thursday of October every four years.

Other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, have considered fixed dates as well.

This is not a novel move at all. We tend to take fixed election dates at the municipal level for granted. Why should things be any different at the provincial or federal level? There has been a movement toward reforming assemblies that use the Westminster system of government.

When the British Parliament created new assemblies in Scotland and Wales in 1998, the acts proclaimed that elections were to take place on the first Thursday in May every four years.

In 2005, the New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark, voiced support for fixed election dates in that country. It is time that we consider such a move here in Canada.

On balance, the fairness and administrative efficiency of fixed elections outweighs the added cost due to potentially longer campaigns. With the financing laws and third party advertisement laws we have in Canada, the nightmare scenario of a four year election campaign should be avoided.

Fixed election dates can actually be more efficient in that since everyone knows when the election is coming there may be more cooperation to get bills passed in Parliament. Bills that enjoy the support of most parties in the House may be prioritized and there may be agreement to extend sitting hours to get bills of common interest passed. I think here of the animal cruelty legislation that has been constantly removed from the order papers for the past few Parliaments.

There have been examples in Canadian history when everyone thought there would be an election but one turned out not to be called at all. Party workers prepared signs, pamphlets and databases and then all of a sudden there was no election.

This would be a waste of resources in that all the campaign material would need to be updated at a later date. There has to be a leaner, more efficient way.

Moreover, the duration of the formal campaign could be shortened under the fixed election date system since the work of the electoral office could begin before the election was called. This could save money and result in better planning all around. Similarly, unnecessary byelections could be avoided.

There have been examples in Canadian politics where election campaigns have been underway when a writ was dropped for a national election. Also, there have been examples of byelections held just before the writ was dropped for a national vote. In both cases there was an inefficient use of resources, both financial and human. This sort of waste and inefficiency could be avoided if the date of the national election were known and a determination could be made on whether a byelection is necessary or it could wait until the national election.

There are examples in Canadian history of premiers and prime ministers trying to avoid the electorate by waiting five years before having an election called. The playing field must be level so all may participate fairly.

Another reason to consider a fixed election date is for convenience. I do not think anyone in the House wants to go through another winter campaign any time soon. With the fixed date, everyone is on the same page and, with an election date fixed at a convenient time of the year, headaches could be avoided.

While there were no serious glitches in the 2006 election other than the outcome, this does not mean that a winter date does not cause headaches and inconveniences for senior citizens, those with disabilities and the snowbirds.

A number of my constituents, both men and women, have raised concerns about the lack of representation of women in the House of Commons. In January's election, only 64 women were elected, which is actually one fewer than in the 2004 election. A number of ways exist to address this but one way is to ensure adequate child care spaces so that women are more able to pursue a career in a field such as politics. We all know the government's record on child care. Its child care initiative has proven to be a poorly thought out plan but I will discuss that a bit more in a few minutes.

Another way to improve the representation of women in the House might be through fixed election dates. If women were able to know ahead of time the date of the election they could better prepare, plan and make all necessary arrangements. It is certainly something worth considering. The same approach might also encourage more ethnic minorities and new Canadians to run for Parliament.

I have spent the last few minutes discussing why I support fixed election dates. As a result, I support sending the bill to committee where members will be able to analyze it, debate and discuss it.

The bill could be improved in a number of areas so that it could truly accomplish fixed election dates. First, I cannot help but think that the bill was introduced in a hasty and rushed fashion. We have Bill C-16 before us but the Prime Minister also has proposals for Senate reform.

The Prime Minister should know that the functioning of Canada's Parliament has not changed much since 1867.

Reform in this country can be slow and rather than take this sloppy, misguided and unfocused approach to parliamentary reform, he should better focus his proposals. I support reform. Fixed election dates is an example, but only if it is carried out in a responsible manner. This ensures that the reforms can be well implemented and bring forth results.

Bill C-16 was introduced on May 30, less than two months after the opening of Parliament. I wish the government would have truly considered fixed election dates, then we might have a better bill than we have here today.

In the bill, the prime minister still retains the ability to advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at any time he believes he has lost the confidence of the House. This is understandable if the vote he has lost is a true confidence one, but what if the bill is only one that the government deemed to be a vote of confidence? This sort of confidence out of convenience could defeat fears of fixed election. I am apprehensive that an over-zealous prime minister could purposefully lose a vote; deem it one of confidence, even if it is not, and then have an election called. This is one example of how the bill was introduced in a sloppy fashion.

I am confident that with the hard work of the official opposition, the bill can be made into a good one that will serve the purpose and bring Canadians fixed election dates. However, the way the government has proceeded with the bill is indicative of how it has handled most of its files since taking office.

The government has boasted that it has worked hard on a handful of priorities, but in reality it has only left a trail of disillusionment and deception. The GST cut is a prime example. It came into effect as promised on July 1, but Canadians also noticed an increase in their income tax as of that date. The government gave with one hand and took even more with the other, especially for low and middle income Canadians. Cuts to sales taxes are not the best kinds of tax cuts to introduce as they do nothing to encourage people to enter the workforce or to invest more money from their paycheques. The GST cut only benefited wealthy Canadians to spend more money on consumer goods.

Of course, child care, as I mentioned before, is a file that the government has not handled well at all. It is with great glee that the Prime Minister cancelled signed child care agreements. The Conservatives have eliminated the national child care program and distributed monetary gifts. In so doing, it fails to build more social policies that will benefit Canadians for generations to come. Moreover, the payment to parents is taxable, so families are not even receiving the full amount they were promised. Again, bad policy was carried out in a hasty and sloppy fashion.

What about the health care guarantee? Where is that? How does the Prime Minister plan to accomplish his wait times guarantee? How will he improve health care for Canadians? Unfortunately, the government has once against introduced government policy on the fly, out of pure politics.

Bill C-16 is yet another hastily drawn piece of legislation. I support fixed election dates, but it needs to be worked at in committee to truly bring democratic change to this institution and to help us realize fixed election dates.

Some of the members across have mentioned that I had a different speech. Yes, I wanted to speak about my riding a bit more and talk about Oak Ridges—Markham, what we are doing there and what I am hearing from people on fixed election dates.

This was not something that was drawn up by the Conservative Party. This legislation has been in front of us a number of times in the House in private members' bills. I was also thinking of putting a bill forward at the beginning of the year, but I had other priorities in my riding such as rural mail delivery, which was ceased by the current government.

When I spoke with my constituents about a fixed date for elections, I was torn between the two bills. My constituents convinced me that rural mail delivery was more important. Since the current Prime Minister had put this forth as a private members' bill in the previous Parliament, I knew that it would come up one way or another. I wanted to ensure that I commented on that in my speech.

Canada Elections Act September 18th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act. The bill would institute fixed election dates for Canadians. This is an item that has interested me for a long time and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the bill with the House.

However, before I do that, I hope I will be allowed to mention a couple of other activities that I have been involved in that are worth sharing with the House.

First, I want to acknowledge my constituents in the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. I attended a number of events during the summer in every corner of the riding and it is always a pleasure to meet and talk with my constituents.

On October 11 in Oak Ridges—Markham, Public Works and Government Services Canada will be giving a seminar presentation on how to do business with the Government of Canada. This seminar presentation--

Myanmar September 18th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, a number of my constituents, particularly an Amnesty International group in my riding, are concerned about the human rights situation in Myanmar, previously Burma.

Human rights abuses, violence against women, the holding of political prisoners and military rule are only a few of the main concerns.

Just this spring, the opposition leader's house arrest was extended by a year. The military regime is so desperate to hang on to power that it is even now cracking down on stand-up comics who poke fun at it.

I know Parliament has expressed its concern in the past. I call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to keep Canada active on this file.

I have added my name to a letter from the Canadian Friends of Burma to Kofi Annan calling on him to seek a resolution to the crisis. We must do what we can to promote the establishment of an open and transparent democracy that respects and enshrines human rights.

Rural Mail Delivery June 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, it has been discussed by Canada Post officials that this would be a larger expense for Canada Post. It also admittedly said that it would be a larger increased expense initially and maybe subsequently the carrying charges would decrease for it.

Rural Mail Delivery June 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this was discussed extensively at our meetings with the residents and Canada Post.

In terms of the right-hand drive, we heard, in our discussions with the residents, that mail delivery people were driving the wrong way on the shoulder so they could deliver the mail out of their window as opposed to the passenger side window. When we travel across the world or in some parts of Europe or the United States, we notice immediately that they have rural delivery trucks that are somewhat narrower with right-hand drive. This allows the drivers to put the mail into somebody's box.

In terms of relocation of the boxes and safety, that responsibility falls squarely on Canada Post to ensure that it enters into discussions with municipalities. Municipalities must work with Canada Post to suggest locations that would be safe enough. This means they must be far enough from the road or the curb, or in areas where there may be a dead-end road or on a side road as opposed to a major road. Officials of Canada Post have indicated they are modernizing their community boxes or super mailboxes. Now there is a gazebo style that would fit in with the local beauty, which may be different across the country. I like their thinking on that and I support them on that issue.

On the safety and relocation of mailboxes, when the temporary boxes in my riding were first installed, Canada Post employees put them wherever they could. We started receiving faxes from constituents. We alerted Canada Post, which removed them and placed them somewhere else. They then obstructed the view of a church by placing 12 mailboxes in front of it. They were the green temporary boxes, which are not very attractive in front of anyone's home or any church.

Rural Mail Delivery June 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, that is a great question. That question has been debated by the constituents in my riding and Canada Post officials. When we received the temporary boxes initially, they came banged up and with a lot of dust on top. The tops of them were cleaned up, but when the mail boxes were opened, there was all kinds of dust and perhaps hazardous stuff insides.

In my opinion, in speaking with Canada Post officials, I do not think that they will have enough mail boxes to place temporary boxes while the court hearings or the appeals are being dealt with.

Rural Mail Delivery June 9th, 2006

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities should use his power to direct Canada Post to maintain traditional rural mail delivery and protect public safety when rural constituents are required to collect mail at designated group mailbox locations, long distances from their homes.

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the occasion to bring this motion on rural route delivery before the House of Commons this afternoon on behalf of the people of Oak Ridges--Markham. The timing could not be better as rural mail delivery is quickly becoming more and more of an issue right across Canada.

On a regular basis we are receiving word of more health and safety complaints and of more routes being affected. As late as 11 o'clock this very morning, I was informed that another rural route in my riding, specifically Gormley, will not be receiving mail today the way it did yesterday. Recent news reports cite affected routes in rural parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada.

In total there are more than 6,600 rural mail carriers across Canada delivering at some 840,000 points of mailbox delivery. The latest figures I have seen show that approximately 300 rural mail carriers have made health and safety complaints.

Before I discuss the motion and the circumstances in my riding, I want to outline just how fundamental this matter is. Aside from speech, mail delivery is the most fundamental means of communication between human beings. In an age where we have a whole host of choices for communicating, mail is still the most official and the most enduring. Indeed, we are all familiar with the classic slogan for postal delivery, “Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.

Mail delivery is much too important. Seniors depend on timely mail delivery for their pension cheques. Consumers who order products online depend on mail delivery for their packages. In this day of instantaneous communication and quick sound bites, who does not cherish the handwritten letter? Who could imagine receiving a wedding invitation by electronic mail?

Mail delivery is fundamental to our national identity and is as important now as it ever was.

Constituents in my riding of Oak Ridges--Markham experienced a cessation in their rural mail delivery at the end of January, right in the dead of winter. The three routes in my riding were among the first to be affected in the whole country. Residents ceased receiving their mail because of a road safety complaint lodged by a Canada Post rural mail carrier and a subsequent ruling by Human Resources and Skills Development. The affected rural routes include Kettleby, Whitchurch-Stouffville and other areas out of the Newmarket postal station. I commend Canada Post for immediately taking action. Temporary mailboxes were installed and residents received all of their outstanding mail.

As this is a federal issue, residents immediately contacted my riding office in Markham to let us know what was happening and to voice their displeasure at the interruption in their mail delivery. It is important for me to state that no notice was given to my constituents. They woke up one morning and there was suddenly no mail delivery. It was just that quick. I understand that other affected areas in Canada have not received proper notice either.

The situation now is that residents who were accustomed to home delivery for decades are now inconvenienced by having to drive to get their mail. Some residents in Oak Ridges--Markham have to drive long distances while others do not have vehicles.

This is not good enough for rural residents in Oak Ridges--Markham and it is not good enough for all rural Canadians. This situation presents safety concerns for rural constituents. On top of that, instead of just a few rural route carriers on the roadways, there are now thousands more people and vehicles on the roads.

This stoppage in mail delivery has been particularly troublesome for a visually impaired customer who can no longer walk to the end of his driveway to get his mail. Another customer is physically disabled and it was not easy for him to retrieve his mail because his temporary mailbox was too high for him to reach. As well, as if it is not bad enough for the elderly, some of their temporary boxes are at ankle level. This presents a safety hazard in itself as they bend to get their mail.

I took action on this file immediately. I wrote to the minister responsible for Canada Post on two occasions. I wrote to the Prime Minister. I organized a public meeting in my riding so that Canada Post officials could hear from the residents and vice versa.

I appreciate that Canada Post officials attended the meeting and communicated with affected residents. This was the first town hall meeting that Canada Post held to explain what occurred. Canada Post now routinely holds these meetings in affected areas.

Still the situation is unresolved and will be so until traditional rural route delivery is restored and the safety of customers and employees is protected.

I recognize that unsafe work conditions exist for rural mail carriers. Some rural routes are unsafe and carriers are forced to endanger themselves on speedy roadways. As well there are ergonomic concerns in that some carriers may experience physical strain or repetitive stress injuries from continuously leaning over to put mail in the mailboxes.

These conditions existed before, but this is a fairly new issue as rural mail carriers only became employees of Canada Post in 2004. This means that they are unionized workers and in a position to refuse unsafe working conditions. It is crucial that Canada Post deal with these concerns. No one should be in danger in his or her place of work. This is not an ideal situation for anyone. It is inconvenient and unsafe for residents and no one dismisses the dangers that exist for employees.

Beyond that, employees who make a grievance can often face contempt from their customers or may fear making a complaint in the first place due to public vilification.

The minister has to address all of these issues in his capacity as minister responsible for Canada Post. Indeed, in a letter to me dated March 28, the minister wrote that his “role as the minister responsible for Canada Post Corporation is to determine the broad policy direction of the corporation”. Rural route delivery certainly involves a matter of policy for the corporation.

Last Wednesday the minister told the House that he and the Prime Minister would be meeting with the head of Canada Post. He did not tell us when this meeting would occur, but we learned from media reports and committee transcripts that the meeting was held the very next day, on Thursday. Why was the government not more transparent? Why did the minister not tell us when the meeting would occur? What was the result of the meeting? What was discussed? We have not seen an official statement on this meeting.

This is not good enough for affected Canada Post customers. Why is the government so secretive about such a public issue? The minister knows that this concerns members on both sides of the House. Perhaps I missed something, and if I did, I hope I will be corrected, but why has the minister not reported back on this matter?

My motion urges the minister to use his power to direct Canada Post to restore traditional rural route delivery and protect public safety.

The minister has several options. He should propose that Canada Post, one, have a vehicle equipped with a steering wheel on the right, the opposite side; two, move problematic mail boxes to better locations; three, have two employees so one can get out of the vehicle. I understand this has already been undertaken, but perhaps this arrangement should be made permanent. He should proposed that Canada Post, four, have vehicles pull into the driveways; five, have employees get out of their vehicles to drop off the mail; six, ensure all vehicles have reflective strips and lights on them; seven, work with the provinces and municipalities to address particular road safety hazards; eight, ensure adequate training for the drivers in manoeuvring rural roadways.

These are just some ideas. Some might work better than others in certain areas. Canada Post must work carefully with affected communities and with residents to find an appropriate solution that is tailored to each mail route.

Residents expect action. It seems that every year the price of stamps increases. The net income for Canada Post in 2005 was $199 million. This represents a $52 million increase over the 2004 figure of $147 million. Indeed, 2005 represents the 11th year of consecutive profits for Canada Post.

There is no question that cutting rural route deliveries helps Canada Post cut costs. Having community mail boxes means that the corporation does not need to pay as many staff members and does not need to worry about mileage costs or about health and safety issues associated with rural route deliveries. Cutting rural route delivery is in Canada Post's best interests from a financial perspective. I sincerely hope that we will not see an attempt by Canada Post to use workers' safety complaints as an excuse to cut rural route deliveries and save money.

The corporation has the means and the money. It must safeguard the safety, convenience and rights of all customers and employees. Rural Canadians pay their postage costs and they pay their taxes. They deserve better than having to get their mail at community mail boxes.

Now is the time for the government to stand up for rural customers in Oak Ridges--Markham and right across Canada. I urge the minister and the government to support the motion.

The Budget May 17th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my statement on the budget, I wish to welcome residents from my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham who are in Ottawa celebrating Asian Heritage Month.

Tax measures in the Conservative budget do very little to truly help my constituents.

First, the lowest tax rate for Canadians will increase to 15.5% and the basic exemption will decrease by $200. While raising the taxes we pay, the Conservatives are implementing a GST cut that only benefits the wealthy who spend more money on luxury goods.

Also, the transit tax credit of 15.5% does very little, if I may say, to benefit the transportation needs of my riding. Commuters in my riding benefit when money is pooled and goes toward such projects as light rail, subway extension and improved bus services. These are what encourage people to use the transit system, not the paltry tax cut for those that already use it.

The Budget May 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that there will be thousands of Canadians taken off the tax rolls. I would be interested in hearing how this will be done when the Conservative government is proposing to increase income tax.

The Budget May 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the contradiction is not on this side of the House. The contradiction is that once the Crown enters into an agreement and another government comes into power within a few weeks or months, the new government can cut the commitments made by the previous government. Canadians can see right through this. They know that this sort of action will not be very good for the future of Canada and Canadians.