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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

Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party, I lend our support to the creation of this new department. As has been said already in the introductory comments, this is a reconstitution of a department that existed before.

I want to speak very directly to one component of this department and underline why I want to give particular emphasis to its saliency, and that is to say that it will narrow the focus and make someone quite accountable for housing.

Today is National Housing Day and I want to say something about that in the context of this new ministerial responsibility we will get for housing. I want to do it particularly by focusing on the situation in housing in the nation's capital.

I had occasion not long ago to go to the capitals of many Scandinavian countries, to Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. I did not do a systematic tour, but I can say that I did not see the signs of homelessness on the downtown streets of those cities that I do on the streets five minutes away from the House of Commons.

One of the reasons for that is that all of those countries, like the majority of industrial countries, have a national housing program. We are the only one in the G-7 without continuing, coherent, stable funding allocated for affordable housing and that is a national disgrace.

This began in 1993 when Brian Mulroney abolished the federal housing program. The error was compounded and worsened when the province of Ontario elected a neo-Conservative government in Mr. Harris who immediately scrapped provincial programs that disastrously affected Ottawa, the nation's capital.

It should not surprise us that in the 1990s in the nation's capital, and I am not only talking about my riding but I am talking about the whole city, we actually had a decline of some 4,000 rental units in the city precisely at the time when the population was mushrooming. This was an inevitable consequence of two governments, one at the federal level and one at the provincial level, abandoning their responsibility for housing.

I want to say to my federal Liberal colleagues that it was a Liberal government in 1976 when I was here that took on the obligations of an international treaty, the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which has within it the obligation of the federal government to move to ensure that as a matter of right, not option, Canadians are entitled to housing. We have had that obligation since 1976 but it certainly has not been lived up to.

Finally, three years ago, eight years after the Liberals were elected in 1993, a new housing program was brought in with $25,000 per unit put on the table, but for that to go out into the community the provinces had to match the funding. Only three provinces took it up. Needless to say, the Conservative government in Ontario did not. Therefore not a single new housing unit in the affordable category has been built in the nation's capital since that period.

I want to say what is needed and what this new department with the new minister responsible ought to be doing. Here in the nation's capital 13,000 households, most of them with children, are waiting for social housing. The waiting period is six to eight years.

On a typical night here in the nation's capital 1,000 people go to bed in a homeless shelter. There are 250,000 Canadians nationally who are homeless. This, I repeat, for a rich industrial democracy is a national disgrace.

What do we say should be put in its place? The government actually boasts about having $61 billion in surpluses and that it has run surpluses for seven years in a row. We actually have a Minister of Finance who boasts that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7. Is that not incredible? We have 250,000 homeless families, over a million poor kids and 1,000 homeless people who sleep in shelters here in the nation's capital every night and the Minister of Finance has $61 billion in surpluses but has not spent a bloody cent on the housing that we desperately need in the country and in the nation's capital.

I hope the new minister recognizes that our international obligation in housing is a social right, which should lead to other initiatives. For example, we need a 10 year housing program that would include the building of 20,000 new, affordable units, particularly in the co-op and non-profit sector so low income Canadians could then have access to housing.

We should have lots of renewal of existing housing stock that is in virtual slum conditions. Those houses should be rebuilt and re-established. We could have a program for some 100,000 units there.

As a result of the low income position of many Canadians, we should provide rent supplements for all Canadians. My own party has calculated that there are at least 40,000 low income tenants.

I want to comment about my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois. As a Canadian I understand nationalist sentiment very well. I understand that nationalist sentiment and social democratic philosophy can go hand in hand. Although I respect the arguments put forward by my colleague across the way, it deeply disturbs me, as a social democrat, to note that whenever there is a conflict between a nationalist impulse and a social democratic obligation for everyone from coast to coast, it is always, for the Bloc Québécois, the nationalist impulse that wins out. I appeal to those members to once in a while say that surely our social democracy from time to time should transcend old constitutional restrictions that were first put in place on this continent in the 19th century.

There are Quebeckers and Canadians in the other provinces who are poor. They all have to work together from time to time to benefit everyone.

We have money. We have an accumulated surplus of $61 billion. This has gone on for seven years. We have another surplus now. We now have an obligation to get on with the job of creating affordable housing units that thousands of Canadians, many of them here in the national capital, badly need.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to obtain the consent of the House to share my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

National Child Day November 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, Canadians honour their children on National Child Day. It is also a day to emphasize their rights as found in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

All children have the inherent right to live and grow with dignity as human beings. For example, children have rights to adequate food, clothes, housing and education. While other countries have virtually abolished child poverty, here in Canada, under the Liberals, we still have over one million children at the poverty level. That is an increase since this House unanimously passed a motion in 1989 calling for the eradication of child poverty.

The demand at food banks has doubled in the past 10 years and almost 40% of those who depend on food banks are under 18. We must be serious. We must invest in childhood education, child care, national housing and an innovative job program. These are needed, and needed now.

Supply November 18th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made a fine contribution to this debate. I have learned more about Voortman's in 20 minutes than I ever thought I would. I benefit from that. I am pleased she mentioned the company, even if it is in her own constituency, quite appropriate, that has done the right thing by getting rid of trans fats.

I want to ask the member to respond to the point that some people on the other side of the House have made about letting market forces resolve this entirely for us. It seems to me that the market forces are good for resolving a number of things but when it comes to health and safety, we as legislators have an obligation to intervene at some point.

I do not want this to be simply a rhetorical question but to be a serious question. By relying simply on competitive forces, does this not put at a disadvantage, in a number of instances, companies that are doing the right thing, in terms of their production costs, if they get rid of trans fats, notwithstanding that there may be a market niche for that, for that minority of people who consciously go out and look for it, but picking up on the point the member herself made, that trans fats were put in there for good market reasons of making higher profits by having the foods last longer?

If we rely on market forces does this not mean that the good guys, so to speak, will be paying higher costs and have a disadvantage compared to the companies that do not do the right thing?

Supply November 18th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, let me take what I think is a parallel. Market forces are something to be taken seriously. There are pressures on companies. One of the effects of this is that they do not readily respond on a voluntary basis if profits are to be more readily made in another way or markets dictate other tastes.

The perfect example is in my hometown of Oshawa. The automotive industry in recent years did not act on a single major reform, whether it was on auto safety or pollution control, without being legislated into such action. Notably the state of California years ago took such steps and as a consequence we have much safer automobiles and cars that produce less pollution.

The final point I would make, Mr. Speaker, before you get up is that the good companies that have already made the decision to get rid of trans fats are being punished because the other ones do not have to. We should make it a uniform--

Supply November 18th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would say that we do have laws now that protect children from tobacco. Tobacco products cannot be sold directly to children. That is one point. The kids, by the way, have to eat and in many circumstances they have to buy food from stores that have nothing available except foods containing trans fats. That is a rather important distinction between cigarettes and food, it seems to me.

Second, I take quite seriously the kinds of concerns that have been raised about tobacco. It is the case that many thousands of Canadians die from the poison that comes from tobacco every year. However, one of the things we have to do when we talk about legislating is to be practical. In this case we are obviously taking into account a society, not just Canada, but virtually every country around the world. The fact is that people have become addicted to cigarettes and that is a serious problem. In fact, it is one of the most serious addictions, compared to other substances, as has been widely recognized by experts and lay people alike.

We cannot just abolish tobacco products overnight. We can have education programs. We can stop advertising. We could stop tobacco products from being sold directly to kids, but it would be a serious social mistake to ban cigarettes outright. It is a practical decision and I think so far our society has made the right one on that by not banning them.

Here we have something that we can get rid of and there is a ready substitute for it. It can be put in the marketplace. By acting we protect not only children, but we protect adults. There is virtually no downside to taking the course of action that the motion puts in place.

I want to emphasize that in terms of its application it is a phased in action over a few years. There will be time for markets to adjust, for companies to adjust, for parts of the agriculture community to adjust. Incidentally, there will be positive benefits, as my colleagues have pointed out, to the agricultural sector as well.

Supply November 18th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make my contribution to this very important debate that profoundly affects the health of Canadians. I have a text which I have labelled “Ten facts and a conclusion”. I will go through the facts. I am claiming they are facts, not arguments. It is evidence in each case beyond which I think there is no dispute.

First, trans fats are technically speaking and scientifically defined as poison. They have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other diseases.

Second, they are found in all processed foods, baby food, cookies, cereals, most hamburgers, and hot dogs. In fact, they are found in most of the food that people eat every day. In total, 40% of the products in supermarkets have trans fats in them.

Third, Canadians, regrettably, eat more trans fats than anyone else in the world, averaging over 10 grams a day. What is the reason for that? I do not know. That we should be dealing with it is another question.

Fourth, one in three Canadian children is overweight. A good part of the reason for this is the trans fats in our diet which children disproportionately consume.

Fifth, poor families eat more trans fats than others. This means we have a higher incidence of bad health in poor families, poor kids, and as has been mentioned many times, not only by my colleagues in this debate but by members of other parties on both sides of the House, many families, particularly low income families, have no choice in their neighbourhoods except to buy food with trans fats in them.

Sixth, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the World Health Organization, and leading doctors and scientists all over the world have all condemned trans fats. They have all said we have to get trans fats out of our diets.

Seventh, there are substitutes available for trans fats, so those producers that already are including trans fats in their products have alternatives available to them. In terms of the timing of this motion, there would be a phase in period in which the transition could be made.

Eighth, a number of responsible companies have acted and recognized the problem with trans fats. They have taken the correct decision. Oreo cookies, Becel margarine, New York Fries, and there have been a number of others that have been mentioned in this debate.

We do not normally wait for volunteerism to deal with other important social responsibility issues. We do not wait for people to voluntarily drive on the right side of the road. It would be a rather bizarre incident in society if we did. We pass laws to ensure that all of us, most of the time at least, drive on the right side of the road.

Ninth, Canadians want healthy food and they want regulations to ensure that we have healthy food. They do not want to have to read the small print, and often for lay people to make impossible calculations as to whether or not the food that they are eating is healthy or not. They expect governments and legislators to protect the food supply, whether it is right at the farm gate or whether it is food that they buy at the supermarket. That is a political obligation to ensure Canadians that they get healthy food.

Finally, fact number ten, we as parliamentarians in the House of Commons today can do something about it. Most Canadians in most parts of this country cannot do anything about it immediately, but we can. We can make a decision here today that will profoundly affect the lives of all Canadians.

My conclusion as has been put forward by other members of my party today in supporting this important motion is that we should act. This is no time for specious debate or specious forms of volunteerism. We as parliamentarians have the responsibility to take the health of all Canadians seriously. We should recognize that this is a practical matter. It is a necessary matter and let us get on with it and do it now.

Electoral Reform November 15th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, due course is normally the kiss of doom. I hope that is not the case.

Considering that Australia has changed, New Zealand has changed, Scotland has changed, and Wales has changed, will he commit the government to an action plan so that we in this Parliament can make change before the next election?

Electoral Reform November 15th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for Democratic Reform. In the throne speech, the government committed itself to embarking on a system of electoral reform. This was repeated by the Prime Minister subsequently in the House. Today in the Globe and Mail there is the contention that the government has developed a plan for this.

Will the minister assure the House that this plan will be submitted to the relevant committee before Christmas so we will have time to deal with this before the next election?

Industry October 29th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, considering that since 1985 over 1,100 takeover bids have been allowed to go through without serious review, and considering that the foreign minister of China himself has announced his intention to take over much more of our resources, will the minister refer the Foreign Investment Review Act to the industry committee for examination and toughening?

Canadians are not abused at work in Canada and do not expect to be associated with the abuse of workers abroad.