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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was saskatchewan.

Last in Parliament March 2008, as Liberal MP for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River (Saskatchewan)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Criminal Code June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, last week my colleagues went through all the studies and the Canadian Bar Association stated in 2005:

Mandatory minimum penalties do not advance the goal of deterrence.

--do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders....

--have a disproportionate impact on minority groups....

--subvert important aspects of Canada’s sentencing regime....

That speaks to his second point, which is that there is a difference between a justice system and a legal system. A justice system upholds the proportionality of the crime and takes into consideration all aspects of what occurred during the process of that crime. A legal system serves to punish. We need to reconcile the two and work very closely with that.

Criminal Code June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I do not think anybody should aspire to get the help they need in a prison system. The whole intent of a justice system is to ensure we provide the necessary social safety net to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

The previous government worked extremely hard to address these issues and initiated a five point strategy: one, tougher laws and proportionate penalties; two, more effective law enforcement; three, recognition of the needs and concerns of victims; four, crime prevention; and five, civic engagement.

We all know for a fact that the Kelowna accord, although not related to Bill C-10, was significant in its impact to focus on prevention and to move toward healthier communities and safer streets.

Criminal Code June 12th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, often the best of intentions go awry. Unintended consequences and terrible results can come from acts that were seemingly simplistic. Such is the case with Bill C-10.

The thinking behind this bill is certainly simplistic enough: jail the bad guy and crime disappears. The unfortunate part of Bill C-10 and its companion piece, Bill C-9, is that this is the only idea the Conservatives have had about justice: the start and the end of crime is prisons and nothing else.

As Canadians, we abhor crime and violence, and rightly so, but we also denounce injustice and inequality. Our concept of Canada as a just society demands nothing less. However, there is injustice in Canada, social injustice, and it is etched in the history of our aboriginal people.

In a response to one of my questions, the Minister of Indian Affairs said that the first agenda he dealt with was the advancement of social justice for aboriginal people. I would suggest that either this is clearly not the case or the rest of cabinet did not get that memo.

Bill C-10 is a case in point. It talks about crime and it hits all the good fear buttons, but the justice minister is not looking at a holistic approach, a consultative approach or a community-building approach to eradicating crime in aboriginal communities.

The bleak numbers in a study released last week by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics have depicted this history as incredibly brutal and harsh for all aboriginal people. Aboriginal Canadians have the terrible distinction of being more likely to be victims and more likely to be jailed than non-aboriginal Canadians.

The study reveals that 40% of aboriginal people over the age of 15 reported being victims of crime in the 12 months prior to being interviewed for the study, which is 12% higher than non-aboriginal Canadians. Aboriginal people were twice as likely to be repeat victims, three times more likely to be robbed, assaulted or raped, and three and a half times more likely to be the victims of spousal assault.

On reserve, the reality for many aboriginal people is even worse. Compared to national averages, aboriginal people on reserve are eight times more likely to be assaulted and seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted.

These are unfortunate realities. Therefore, the first question is this: has incarceration been the solution? Has locking up and throwing away the key been the answer?

These numbers persist despite the fact that aboriginal people have an incredibly higher rate of incarceration. In fact, although aboriginal people make up only 3% of the Canadian population, they made up 20% of the provincial inmates and 18% of the federal inmates.

In Saskatchewan, this number explodes. Although aboriginal people are approximately 11% of the population in the province, they comprise 80% of the people in jails.

The situation is so grim, in fact, as stated by Larry Chartrand, head of the aboriginal governance program at the University of Winnipeg, that young aboriginal people “have a greater chance of landing behind bars than graduating from university”.

Let me repeat that: young Canadian aboriginal people have a greater chance of landing behind bars than graduating from university, and this in Canada, the home of the just society.

There is no mystery to these terrible numbers. These studies lay out stark terms. They list a number of factors that have been associated with higher rates of victimization and offending. On overage, aboriginal people are younger. Their unemployment rates are higher and their incomes lower. They are more likely to be involved in crowded conditions. They have a higher residential mobility. Aboriginal children are more likely to be members of single parent families.

In spite of noticeable improvements to education levels, there is still a noticeable education gap between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people. The gaps in education and employment opportunities are reflected in the aboriginal people who are in these correctional institutions. Three-quarters of incarcerated aboriginal adults have not completed their secondary school education. Also, aboriginal Canadians were less likely to be employed at the time of incarceration.

There is a problem that needs to be responded to. Therefore, we have a second question. Will mandatory minimum penalties and more jail time address or improve these statistics? The answer, very clearly, is no.

My colleagues have surgically dissected the justice minister's sparse evidence rather easily. The reality is that the justice minister has no evidence to support Bill C-10. In fact, various studies have demonstrated that tougher penalties do not deter crime. Evidence suggests they increase reoffending and recidivism by 3%.

Furthermore, as one of my colleagues stated, the law of unintended consequences kicks in, with increased prison populations, an increased aboriginal population in prison, increased prison costs for taxpayers, and decreased spending on other aspects of the justice system, the net effect being no improvement to ensuring safer streets and safer communities.

Saskatchewan's justice minister has voiced his concern that the Conservative measures will result in yet an even higher percentage of aboriginal people in jail. Saskatchewan has worked hard to address this issue. The concern is a reality. The Library of Parliament has noted that Australian studies have shown that mandatory minimums have a disproportionate effect on aboriginal offenders.

The 2003 study by the Northern Territory of Australia showed that 73% of all people subject to certain mandatory terms were indigenous. This study concluded that “the length of the minimum sentence was not an effective deterrent for the population known to have been subject to mandatory sentencing” and that “available data suggests that sentencing policy does not measurably influence levels” of crime. In fact, Australia went as far as to repeal this legislation in 2001.

There are more concerns than the major issue of disproportionate impact that these laws will have on aboriginals.

There are concerns about wrongful conviction through plea bargaining, because some accused individuals may have a fear of being faced with a justice system unfamiliar to them.

There are concerns about an added stress for an already overcrowded and under-resourced legal aid system.

Finally, there is the grim spectre of individuals being hauled to an overcrowded prison that is bursting at the seams with lifelong criminals and thinly stretched correctional service officers.

Saskatchewan's justice minister has called the Conservative approach “not focused or strategic”. He summed up his feelings by saying, “I don't think any of this has been thought out”.

If the federal justice minister were truly interested in dealing with crime and particularly the terrible toll it has taken on aboriginal people, he would do well to reference the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and any number of the over three dozen judicial inquiries, commissions and reports that have been completed over the last two decades. They have all arrived at the same conclusions: focus on the root causes; focus on restorative and rehabilitative measures; and empower aboriginal communities to deal with their own justice issues.

A way to ensure that we can respond to this challenge is to empower aboriginal communities to deal with justice issues at their level. For example, there is the MKO model in northern Manitoba. Aboriginal communities can adapt policies and strategies to build a justice system within the principles and procedures of the existing Canadian system. Aboriginal people have not had experience dealing with the justice system. Rather, they have experienced dealings with the legal system, focusing on punishment and no restorative and preventive resources.

The Conservative government moved further toward a one size fits all approach and “father knows best” attitude that has been the case far too often. Aboriginal communities must be allowed to develop a justice system that respects their culture and history, encourages healing and erases the victimization and exclusion that has occurred for so many years.

Mr. Chartrand, the head of the aboriginal governance program at U of W, whom I quoted earlier, had another suggestion for the government to combat this tragedy: it should rethink its Kelowna accord commitments. When the government heard these numbers of victimization and incarceration, it dismissed the Kelowna accord yet again and said that the government will commit more money and set its own course. The government just does not get it.

Were my people clamouring for the Conservatives to renegotiate Kelowna? I have not heard one word of that. As a matter of fact, we have heard outcries for the government to move forward, but we should not be surprised that the government has taken these actions. Bill C-10 and Bill C-9 unfairly target aboriginal people.

Let us look at the record. On child care, there is no provision for aboriginal child care or early learning. On taxation, there is increased income tax for those with the lowest incomes, which is the case for most aboriginal people. As for health wait times, aboriginal people cannot even get access to primary health care. On accountability, Bill C-2 promotes the stereotype that first nations are not accountable. On safer streets, we see the evidence that this will increase incarceration rates for aboriginal people and will provide no support for preventive measures.

I call upon the government to live up to our reputation as a just society.

Government Policies June 7th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, who would have thought that we could find more “harpocracy” from the government? Alas, there is.

Day 101, paying $624 million to lease the former JDS Uniphase campus, which was purchased for $30 million by a real estate company on the advice of Mulroney Airbus lobbyists.

Day 102, the Minister of the Environment cancels a speech before the Canadian Federation of Municipalities at the last minute because the mayors support Kyoto.

Day 103, the Minister of the Environment learns from opposition that the funding for the Asia-Pacific partnership she touts as a made in Canada replacement for Kyoto has been cut by the United States Congress.

Day 104, walking away from Kashechewan leaders who demanded that the government uphold its commitments.

Day 105, and the saga continues.

Day 106, abandoning the Liberal funding commitment to move Kashechewan residents and improve housing.

Day 107, taking steps to expose Canadian business to foreign takeovers.

Day 108, endorsing secret testing of biometric identification tools on Canadian immigrants.

Day 109, cancelling a deal on hopper cars that would have benefited farmers.

Day 110, backtracking on election promises to purchase icebreakers, upholding Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

I ask members to stay tuned.

Agriculture May 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, when does the government plan to start treating the crisis in farm income as an immediate crisis, one that needs action today?

First, farmers demanded direct, immediate assistance for spring seeding but what did they get? Nothing. All the government is offering is double-talk, claiming that money delivered in the fall is somehow money put into the hands of farmers today and encouraging farmers to borrow themselves out of debt by offering no other immediate assistance.

Producers deserve a real plan and real action, not a whole lot of nothing. The hon. member for Malpeque saw through this ruse and I join him in demanding the government to stop this deception and to start acting.

Second, there is nothing on delivering a national renewable fuel strategy, nothing on the opportunities that ethanol and biodiesel offer farmers and forestry.

I call upon the government to support farmers across Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is odd at all to talk about aboriginal issues. They are very critical to be addressed at any point in time in the life of this and future Parliaments.

Child care is something that we are extremely concerned about, but let me back up a bit. The current government has not promised $450 million for water. It has talked about $150 million this year, and $300 million next year for housing and for education, which we do not know anything about yet because there is no plan.

What we see is a government that has no plan on child care for aboriginals, that is building more jails, that has made no education investment and no health investment. It is an atrocity to see no government response to the TB outbreak in Garden Hill, for example.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, an investment in aboriginal people is an investment from which residents in Saskatchewan and all of Canada could benefit. Success in that demographic means success for all. It is absolutely critical at least in the Saskatchewan context and by extension across the country that there be investment in post-secondary education. It is key.

A small study which was done in Saskatchewan determined that approximately 585 young people needed to be trained for transition into the workforce just to get to a 50% employment rate in northern Saskatchewan. That speaks volumes to the need for investment, an investment that begins in early childhood. Early childhood learning opportunities are absolutely essential to framing the future success of individual youth. Education is the key to addressing many other issues.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

To begin with, I must provide some context so members of the House can begin to understand how the Conservative government's budget is failing the people of Saskatchewan.

First, the population of Saskatchewan is approximately one million. Second, approximately 200,000 of the total population are aboriginal people, first nations on and off reserve and Métis. That is approximately 20% of the total population. Dr. Eric Howe, a University of Saskatchewan professor, and others have stated that by 2040 approximately 50% of Saskatchewan's population will be aboriginal. The aboriginal population is booming.

What is more, in the short and medium term the percentage of aboriginal people poised to enter the labour force will increase much more dramatically. Labour force planning in the next five to ten years will be absolutely critical, with aboriginal youth being a key ingredient in the planning.

The future of Saskatchewan's economy is dependent on all levels of government working together to invest in the booming aboriginal population to ensure the successful transition into the labour force in Saskatchewan. All of Saskatchewan is watching and wanting to work together to ensure the future viability of that great province.

The Saskatchewan legislature, aboriginal leaders and people, and Saskatchewan businesses are upset at the federal government's lack of vision and depth of understanding regarding Saskatchewan's needs.

Let us look a little deeper into how Saskatchewan has been left out. I will begin with child care.

Last week over 100 protesters showed up at the office of the Minister of National Revenue in Saskatoon calling upon the government to respect and build child care spaces. There are 168,000 children under the age of 12 in Saskatchewan, 110,000 working moms and only 8,000 spaces. The lowest income earners have the least amount of choice when it comes to working. They often have no choice but to work and are the most in need for child care spaces.

Saskatchewan's average income is about $35,000 per year. The $1,200 per child under age six payment is taxable. The income tax hike affects the lowest income earners the most. The lowest income earners will lose their child tax benefit. When we put all of this together, the net impact is that the most vulnerable low income and hard-working families will only get 55¢ a day.

Let us look a little deeper yet. The government is proposing to utilize a tax credit system to build child care spaces. Questions immediately arise about this proposal. Which big businesses will build these spaces in Saskatchewan? With most businesses in Saskatchewan employing less than 10 people, how can they build spaces? How will spaces be built in inner city neighbourhoods? How will spaces be built in rural Saskatchewan? How will the tax credit system work on reserve? The answer is it will not.

Switching gears to the tax situation, the disappointment with the Conservative plan is also felt in the business community. At an annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce in North Battleford, the chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Russel Marcoux, CEO of Saskatoon's Yanke Group of Companies, said that income tax cuts are one of the best ways to improve the standard of living for Canadians. However, the Conservatives have taken the exact opposite approach. They threw more of Canada's poorest on to the tax rolls by lowering the basic personal exemption and hiked up taxes for workers earning up to $36,000 from 15% to 15.5%. Remember that the average full time income in Saskatchewan is $35,000. These tax hikes directly hit the Saskatchewan people like they had a big target on their backs.

Moreover, most of the government's tax measures require money to be spent on certain things and not others. For example, it offers a tax credit for sports, but what about parents who cannot afford equipment or fees to participate? What about kids interested in the arts and music, kids who want to paint, play a guitar or a piano? What about kids who want to celebrate their culture by participating in powwows or Ukrainian dancing? Are those parents and children less deserving? Why can we not build community, recreational and cultural facilities?

Moreover, why do all these tax measures require money to be spent? Why can people not just have more of their own money in their pockets?

Switching gears to forestry, it is also no secret that Saskatchewan will be hurt by the softwood agreement. The province has stated that Saskatchewan could lose up to 50% of our export market and is disappointed that the government gave up $15 million owed to the Saskatchewan forestry industry by the Americans. Not only that but the government will tax heavily the Saskatchewan forestry companies that get their refunds on the money that was illegally held by the Americans in the first place.

What is worse is that the government is not offering any help to this struggling industry. It has allotted $400 million for pine beetles, which is a serious concern, but has left Saskatchewan out in the cold, even while mills in Big River and Prince Albert are shutting down and the mill in Meadow Lake is struggling. Even worse is that the government may have cut $300,000 from research grants for the Saskatchewan Forest Centre in Prince Albert resulting in research and innovation being lost at an incredibly vulnerable time for this industry.

The lack of concern that this budget and the government show for Saskatchewan's forestry industry, communities and workers is the worst thing to happen at the worst possible time.

Switching to agriculture, it is now apparent that the government will not offer any direct immediate assistance for farmers. We have seen the massive protests but still farmers are being offered nothing this spring. This happens at a terrible time. Severe flooding in Saskatchewan's northeast grain belt is keeping farmers off the fields, or they are getting stuck in them. Farmers across Saskatchewan need help to pay creditors and high input costs, costs like high fuel prices, to which the Prime Minister has only said, “Get used to it”.

What is even more mystifying is that the government has really no details on a strategy going forward for agriculture. I hear the environment minister talking about how her hands are tied in moving forward in accomplishing anything and about needing to take planes, trains and automobiles off the road and a made in Canada solution. I will give her a hint. If 35% of gasoline in Canada contained 10% ethanol, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 1.8 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of removing more than 400,000 vehicles from the road.

Building a real biofuel strategy would be a great move forward. It would provide a real solution that would be made in Canada, right in Saskatchewan's towns, giving value added opportunities for a high quality product from our producers in Saskatchewan.

Switching gears again to aboriginal issues, rooted within the aboriginal communities is great disappointment with the government. Aboriginal leaders and premiers have slammed the government for killing the Kelowna accord, an accord which provided $5.3 billion for various initiatives on and off reserve.

The late Harold Cardinal, who wrote the book The Unjust Society, talked about how hard aboriginal Canadians worked to get the attention of the government over the years. He stated:

“Well, boys, what you have to say is good and you must be commended for the intelligence you have shown through your extremely good presentation”...“but we know your problems and what should be done, and we're certain that you will be pleased with our carefully considered decisions”.

Kelowna was the joint intelligence that all parties came up with. The government has thrown that away with its “we know what is good for you” attitude. This is very problematic to the aboriginal people. A real credibility gap has emerged where aboriginal people are very wary of the government's intentions.

By killing the accord, all of Saskatchewan is hurt by the loss of opportunity. A targeted investment in first nations Métis on and off reserve education and post-secondary skills training would have created new opportunities for an emerging youthful Saskatchewan labour force, keeping in mind the context I opened with.

Economic development funding would have leveraged millions in business activities. Aboriginal businesses are one of the fastest growing tax bases in Saskatchewan, with exceptionally high rates of returns on strategic business investments. Housing would have pumped millions into the industry and provided more training opportunities.

The budget also completely excludes the Métis people and leaves out survivors of the Ile-à-la-Crosse boarding school despite campaign commitments from the Prime Minister and the previous member of Parliament in my riding.

As I stated earlier, Saskatchewan people have worked hard to re-establish the province as a place full of promise, optimism and pride. All residents of Saskatchewan realize that by betraying the Kelowna accord and ignoring forestry, agriculture, child care and higher education and by raising taxes, our work as proud Saskatchewan people is made even tougher. The government cannot ignore us in Saskatchewan. The budget falls far short of what Saskatchewan people need.

Hockey May 11th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to talk about a very important issue to all Canadians: hockey.

First, there is a fever spreading through Meadow Lake, Hockeyville fever. On April 19, 500 hockey fans shook the roof at Carpenter High School when it was announced that their community qualified for the top 25 CBC Kraft Hockeyville competition.

Meadow Lake has proclaimed this week, May 7-13, as Hockeyville Week. Congratulations to the people of Meadow Lake. Meadow Lake is indeed Hockeyville.

I also congratulate two other great achievements. I congratulate the young men of Team Saskatchewan for winning the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships with a 4-2 win over Ontario on May 6.

I also congratulate Jonathan Cheechoo, pride of Moose Factory, Ontario, the first aboriginal to win the NHL's Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for top goal scorer.

These events show hockey in its best light. Hockey unites communities and provides great role models and inspiration. I ask everyone to join me in congratulating these achievements.

Aboriginal Affairs May 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could count the ways how that is not true. However, the views expressed by the chair of the aboriginal affairs committee were abhorrent.

At a conference held in Regina entitled “The Race/Culture Divide in Education, Law and the Helping Professions”, a speaker stated racism hurts, it kills, it destroys, it numbs, it creates poverty and assails human dignity, and it impairs human relationships.

Will the Prime Minister insist that the first agenda item at the aboriginal affairs committee this afternoon be the resignation of the anointed chair?