House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was housing.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as NDP MP for Ottawa Centre (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2004, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Citizenship and Immigration December 9th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Prime Minister, and it goes to the root of ministerial responsibility.

In recent weeks the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration have all refused to answer serious allegations in the House about wrongdoing by the minister of immigration and senior members of her staff. They have refused to answer on the grounds that the Ethics Commissioner is looking into this.

Is the Prime Minister aware that yesterday in committee the Ethics Commissioner told us that those questions could be, and he implied ought to be, answered in the House and that there was no contradiction between what he was doing and answering questions?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act December 3rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, there are many definitions of democracy, but the most succinct one and the one which I have tended to prefer over many years is the one offered by Abraham Lincoln. He said that democracy was government of, by and for the people, not just of and by, but for the people. Political power in a democratic society should be used for the benefit of the average and the poor.

This is a concrete example, it seems to me, of a serious desire to use the capacity of the state that already legislates the benefits of financial institutions, the banks and other investors, to redress the balance on the side of working families. We should approach it from that point of view.

Those who have raised questions about it, those who have praised my colleague's intent with the bill, I hope would vote for it to send it to committee. Then we could have a serious examination of the practical problems that have been raised about generating the necessary investment capital and we would know if we are serious or not.

It would be interesting to hear from people from various government departments and even from the banks. I would love to hear them explain why this would be a serious problem. Maybe the banks could also explain why they are making billions of dollars in profits and they do not pay taxes on their offshore investments in the Caribbean at the same time.

The bill says, to use an old slogan, let us for once put the workers first, the men and women who have devoted 30 or 40 years of their lives to a corporation. Many of us think that is the real investment. I am not denigrating the financial investment. I am just saying that they are both investments. One is through human labour and the other is through capital.

The bill wants us, when we have to make choices, to say that the human labour should be given preference over the capital investment, rather than the other way around. Whether in terms of salaries or wages or in terms of pension benefits, the legitimate claims of workers should be taken ahead of the banks and other financial institutions, suppliers, governments and shareholders if a company goes bankrupt.

Frankly, the only serious argument I have heard against this proposal has been the one that this could somehow deter investment capital. That cannot be dismissed out of hand, but as our colleague from the Bloc Québécois has said, most investment institutions, to understate it considerably, have a widely diverse investment pattern.

If a company went broke in a certain category of its investment, the workers would get, under the provisions of this bill if it passed, the first benefit and the bank would lose some money. Under the present circumstances, it is the workers who lose everything. The banks would lose something here. Normally in capital markets with investments going on in real societies, not just investments here in Canada, they have diverse investments abroad. They will make up for the loss here with what they make elsewhere, which are normally fully adequate profits in their other investments. That is the expectation with the bill.

I come back to my colleagues in the other parties who have raised the investment problem. Why not put a clause in the bill? Why not amend the bill? Why not send the bill to committee and put in an amendment which says that after three years or five years the issue would be revisited? We could take a look at the evidence and, to quote Mr. Diefenbaker's old phrase, if the calamitous disaster should occur as some people think would occur by putting workers first, then we could have a look at it.

Let us try this priority. Let us go ahead and let the working families have the legitimate first claim. If there was a major problem in accumulating capital for investment in our society, after five years, we could look at the bill and then reconsider. I appeal to my colleagues to send the bill to committee.

Canada Education Savings Act December 3rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the member is right and I appreciate his comment. We cannot at the federal level control the costs at the other end. At the university level it is administered by the provinces, but with all due respect, that is in one sense beside the point in terms of what we can do and how we can contribute.

Of course we should be interested in controlling costs, but I have seen some evidence and I have spent time, as I have just indicated, at three major universities in the last decade in different parts of the country. Frankly, I do not see our universities wasting money. They have all felt budget pressures for 15 to 20 years now. They are in a big crunch themselves so we cannot control the costs, but what we can do at this level is make sure money goes to help those who need it, both students and universities. Federal money can go and should be going to help them.

Canada Education Savings Act December 3rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak briefly in this important debate. I want to begin with what I think is a salient fact that should be relevant to Canadian decision makers on this subject.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Finland are countries with comparable national incomes to our own. I am speaking now not only as a member of Parliament, but as a man who spent the last few years teaching at universities in the country.

These countries have the lowest child poverty rates in the world, varying between 2% and 5%. What do they provide in their societies? Free child care, free secondary education and free university education. In fact, in a number of these countries, in addition to waiving tuition, they provide money for books and some of them residence costs for students.

Incidentally, this is not only is this social justice. They show the lowest gaps in final income distribution between the rich and the poor of any other societies in the world. They also have, from the point of view of the economy, the most innovative economic systems, if we are to generalize. If we look at productivity increases in these five countries and compare them with Canada in recent years, they either meet or in most cases exceed our productivity increases as an economy.

What is the moral of this? The moral is, and it goes to the root of social democratic philosophy, that it is not only correct to invest our resources as a society in our children in principle, but to ensure equality of the right to development. The real opportunity for a young boy or young girl to maximize his or her potential as a human being is the ethical impulse of social democracy. The economic spin-off is immense. If we put these resources in early on, then the whole society benefits later on. That is the point.

For me, it is not accidental that almost 90% of those who appeared before the committee on the bill opposed it.

I heard a young Conservative a minute ago ask a question of my colleague. He made a point that these so-called radical student associations often did not speak for their students as a whole. I taught students recently. I taught in British Columbia at SFU, at Queen's University in Kingston and most recently at McGill in Montreal, for three years. I can tell the member that overwhelmingly the students, whether they are in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia, would condemn the bill.

As for the associations that came before the committee, it was not just student associations. Student associations in English Canada were there. The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec was there. As well, the Canadian Association of University Teachers was there. Is that a radical group? The Canadian Council on Social Development and the National Anti-Poverty Organization opposed the bill. These groups are concerned about the well-being in the context of average and low income students. They are not out furthering some so-called radical agenda.

Why are they opposed? What is the problem? I saw it with my students in these universities. Working class kids, if they get into university, had to spend up to half their time working outside the classroom to pay the cost of tuition.

I came from a working class family in the 1950s. I did not have to spend all my time working while I was at university. I worked at Christmas, I worked in the summer. On some weekends, I had a part time job. However, I spent most of my time learning. That is what university students should be free to do. They should not have to spend all their time working, I had students who spent up to 30 hours a week, because they could not afford the tuition or the costs to live at university.

The problem is existing students have a burden on them out of all disproportion compared to what we had when we were growing up. My students, upon graduating, correspond to the statistics of a $30,000 debt burden to the statistics of having a $30,000 debt burden. I ran into one of them two weeks ago on the streets of Ottawa. It is outrageous that a young person should start out in life with a $30,000 debt. We used to buy a house for that.

The problem is students cannot afford to go to university, particularly low income kids. We are now seeing the data. The poorest income kids are starting to be deterred from even considering it because of the fee levels. The bill will not help them.

There is a shortage in university funding that cannot be ignored either. As one of my colleagues pointed out, universities are literally crumbling, and the bill does not help that.

As for the learning bonds, as has been pointed out by all these associations, low income families barely have enough money to pay the rent and buy food for their kids, let alone buy bonds for some long term investment strategy. I can afford to do this. Indeed, I can afford to do it for my grandchildren. I am doing it because I can afford it, but I can tell members that most low income families cannot afford it, particularly the low income families that produced a lot of the students I taught at university. They will not get it.

In fact, we know that most of the money disproportionately is going to families earning over $70,000, who will get much more than families below $35,000, so this is not going to meet the needs--I repeat, it is not going to meet the needs--of low income kids in this country.

If a democracy means anything in the real world, it should mean that we are allocating resources, whether it is at the child care level, in our health care system or for education, and from the bottom up. We have to concentrate on those citizens who most need assistance to develop their capacities and talents in society. That ought to be the primary objective of a government. This bill totally fails in meeting that objective.

In the past seven years we have accumulated over $61 billion in surpluses. In the 1990s, there were cutbacks not only in post-secondary funding but across the board, cutbacks in housing and in other social dimensions of policy. No one faulted the government for dealing with the deficit issue in the early 1990s, but in the last seven budgets we have had surpluses, considerable surpluses.

It boggles the mind. Of the five countries I mentioned that provide free university and free child care and have the lowest poverty rates, not one of those countries would have a Minister of Finance who would go around boasting that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7 when we have child poverty at the level we have or student debt burdens at the level we have. He should be ashamed of that. He should not be boasting at this time.

And I do not want my argument to be misunderstood: I am not talking about going into deficit financing. I am talking about using the more than $61 billion in surplus we have had in the past seven budgets in a better distribution. Yes, we should bring down the debt somewhat, but as some of my colleagues have already said, if we bring it down we have several billions of dollars that could be otherwise used.

Across this country we have thousands of low income kids in every province who deserve financial assistance. We should scrap the existing programs and scrap this bill and replace it with a system of income-based grants to students right across the country. On the other hand, we should provide to the universities the funding they need. Second, we should work with the provinces and put a freeze on the fee structure. Third, we should provide money to the provinces on the condition that they put a freeze on the fees to help rebuild the universities themselves to make up for the money they will not get once they freeze tuition fees.

We are opposed to this bill because we believe in social justice. We believe in genuine equality for kids wherever they live in this country.

Tommy Douglas November 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, there are few human beings whose particular mix in qualities make us all stand and say “This is greatness”. Such was the incredible Tommy Douglas.

First for the people of Saskatchewan, then for all Canadians, he brought to public life integrity, courage, humour and most of all, to use a phrase appropriate to his generation, a passionate commitment to the common man.

More than any other he led in transforming a nation. Tommy showed how political power in a democracy should be used, not to keep the people down but to raise them up. His political firsts were many, among them: workers' rights, pensions, and of course health care as a right of citizenship.

As premier and then here as leader of the New Democratic Party, his respect for the dignity of others brought him the affection of his political opponents. It earned him the admiration of all Canadians. Last night, on the CBC, a grateful nation paid homage to his greatness.

Excise Tax Act November 26th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, all the arguments in favour of the bill, notably by the mover himself, have already been made and I will be brief in reasserting a number of those to explain why my party gives its support, as it did at the committee stage, for the bill.

As has been pointed out, this tax was first introduced in 1918 and, as my colleague from the Bloc has just said, it remains an anomaly. With the tax system now it is the only luxury tax left in the country. As a result of this tax, diamonds mined in Canada cost more here in our country than anywhere else in the world, which is ridiculous. We have become recently the world's third largest supplier in value of rough gem quality diamonds.

In the Northwest Territories a boom is going on. Currently some 47 different mining exploration projects are going on in that part of the country alone. It is an important basic industry for us.

Our jewellery industry employs some 40,000 people in over 5,000 businesses, many of which are small businesses and a number of which are cottage industries in small communities that are disadvantaged by this tax.

In short, we support the bill because removing the tax simply makes sense for Canadians, Canadians who mine diamonds, small businesses that sell jewellery and Canadian consumers wherever they may live.

Child Poverty November 24th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, during the 1990s, when this government continued with its cutbacks in spite of building surpluses, countries including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and a couple of others acted on child poverty and virtually eliminated it.

Will the government put an end to the hypocrisy and commit itself today to targeted reductions in child poverty in the years ahead?

Child Poverty November 24th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, in 1989 the Prime Minister joined with other Liberals in voting to put an end to child poverty in Canada. During the 1990s, despite growing surpluses which now total some $61 billion, the government did virtually nothing about it.

My question is for the Deputy Prime Minister. How can the government justify the shameful fact that today a million of our kids are in poverty even more than in 1989?

Ukraine November 23rd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the people of Ukraine are committed to a path of democratic reform.

However, we now have reports from neutral international monitors, including Canadians, stating that Sunday's election was neither fair nor transparent. The problems cited by observers include voter harassment, intimidation, biased television coverage by state owned stations, vote rigging and ballot box switching.

Despite this intimidation, exit polls show that opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko was winning the election. However, the final so-called results placed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as the winner.

Canada must condemn this election and join with the majority of the Ukrainian people in continuing to work for democratic reform in that country.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is a serious one and I will try to give a serious answer. I think that the approach to housing has to be multi-faceted, as the member suggests.

The reality is that every industrial country has recognized that for roughly 85% of a population the market serves, the market provides housing. Whether we are talking about western European countries or North American countries, the market can serve most of us with above average incomes, or as I say, the top 85% of income. Then there is the other 15%, including, as the member alluded to, the working poor. We are talking about the working poor and other people who may need social housing. I think we need a mix of low income housing, non-profits and co-op housing. We need social housing and it can be provided in an esthetically and functionally attractive way. It is quite acceptable.

In the city of Ottawa we have the LeBreton flats project, a major project in the centre of the city. It happens to be in my riding. I have worked with the NCC on this. There will be a combination of housing in this project.

The member asked if, in effect, we should have all the low income people move out of the centres of the cities. I say no. Any decent city, any good city, ought to have a mix of all income and occupational groups. What we are doing on federal land in the LeBreton flats housing project is that 75% will be marketable housing, housing according to market prices, another 25% will be affordable housing, for the bottom 30% or so of income earners, and then within that there will be an additional 9% or 10% social housing. They will all be able to live as they ought to be able to live.

The people who lived in LeBreton flats before this were low income people, so rather than ostracize them to the suburbs where they do not necessarily want to go, we can accommodate all income groups in an urban development, as we should. But in addition to providing different kinds of housing, as I have said, this also will require, and let us face it, income rent supplements for a lot of low income Canadians to enable them to get by.

Men and women working in the city as couples, if they are at minimum wage, cannot afford things. They have to make decisions. “Do we pay our rent or do we buy food?”, they have to ask. The only way we will be able to deal in a sensible and civilized way with people like that who are working hard is to have some kind of rent supplement program like other industrial countries have.

The member is right. We need a multi-faceted approach to resolving this over time. It is exactly this kind of approach that our party favours and which, I will say with all due respect, his own party has abandoned for the past dozen years.