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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was bay.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Thunder Bay—Rainy River (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 22% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Agriculture and Agri-Food June 9th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the agriculture committee has been studying the product of Canada labelling issue since early April and is currently finalizing a report that will be presented to Parliament on Wednesday, June 11. With no regard for the study that is under way, on May 21 the Prime Minister announced the onset of new consultations with many of the same stakeholders who were witnesses to the committee study.

The Prime Minister's announcement is an affront to the work of all members of the agriculture committee and to the contributions of the stakeholders who appeared as witnesses to the study. As a result, in an unusual measure, the agriculture committee passed the following motion at its last meeting:

That the Prime Minister recognize and respect the work of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and ensure that the work of the Committee will not be sub voted and that the recommendations based on input from Canadian Stakeholders will be implemented and that the Prime Minister confirm his willingness to accept the work of the Committee.

The members of all committees deserve--

Airline Passenger Bill of Rights June 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for Motion No. 465, an airline passenger bill of rights.

Having attended meetings in his riding, I know very well the esteem in which he is held for his tireless work for all of his constituents. Indeed, it was my privilege as a graduate student in environmental studies to work out of Rocky Harbour at Gros Morne National Park. Those were the early days of site design and ecological inventory, and for me it was a great learning experience.

When we talk about air travel, my very first arrival in Newfoundland was at the same time as one of its most famous citizens was getting off the plane. The security people advised everyone that “he is coming”. Sure enough, to my amazement and delight, it was Joey Smallwood who stopped, shook my hand and asked if it was my first time on the rock and then told me I would love it, which, of course, I did.

I wish all air passengers had it so pleasant. There are two good times to plant the tree: one is 20 years ago, the other is today. This motion is for today.

As the past chair of the Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities, I presided over hearings which heard from many witnesses who attested to their humiliating, degrading and disrespectful treatment by some of the larger airlines. I will immediately clarify this by stating emphatically that the personnel of these airlines should not be blamed. They are left with the very difficult and unpleasant task of telling the blind that their seeing eye dogs must go into a hold, of telling the wheelchair disabled that they will be carried into their seats because of a lack of proper ramping, of telling guardians and health care assistants that they must pay for a second seat.

The recent excellent news that such personal attendants will not be compelled to pay for their seats is a most welcome relief. I applaud the airline industry for understanding the reasonableness of this and understanding how much it adds to the dignity and self-esteem of the disabled.

In my riding there are numerous not for profit organizations that have long championed the rights of the disabled. These include: Persons United For Self-Help, the Handicapped Action Group, Human Rights Northwest, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the George Jeffrey Children's Centre, Superior Greenstone Association for Community Living, Avenue II and Wesway Respite Care, among many others.

Fortunately, I believe we are making progress. Thanks to the efforts of those and similar community-minded groups across Canada whose mottos invariably imply compassion and caring, the message of inclusivity is being heard. An accessible society is a healing society. An airline passenger bill of rights would be a fundamental enhancement to a society where no one is held back by their disability or disabilities, physical or mental.

Once a delegation from a foreign land came to visit Thunder Bay when I was the mayor. They commented facetiously on how poor the drivers must be because there were so many people that they saw out and about in wheelchairs, walkers and with canes moving about freely. When I explained that it was because we had set a goal to have Thunder Bay become known as Canada's most accessible city, they were justifiably impressed.

If a community can show such leadership, then certainly the airline industry can be accepting of a bill of rights for its valued customers.

By and large, I must admit that the airports with which I am most familiar, like Fort Francis, Thunder Bay of course and all of those served by Bearskin Airlines and Wasaya Airlines, the service is excellent. Truly, the number of negative incidents that I have personally incurred are very few.

The number of complaints that have come to my great staff in our four offices, which, incidentally, starts at the Manitoba border and stretches right here to the nation's capital over two time zones, are also few but, regrettably, those are valid.

For the record I will include the mention of a resolution passed during my past role as president of the Association of Municipalities and as an executive member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The FCM passed a resolution which states that the Government of Canada should prepare a national airline passenger bill of rights to be adopted into legislation by this Parliament. Support is coming nationwide for this. Indeed, Sam Barone, the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada, sent correspondence recently that is worthy of including in the record. He states:

...if we are truly serious about addressing customer service challenges, everyone involved in the system needs to be part of the solution. Certainly air carriers do not control the airports, the navigation system, the security screening process or the various regulatory agencies that control passenger movements across borders and through the boarding process.

He goes on to state:

...members [of Parliament must] recognize and support the principle of the supremacy of ensuring safety as the primary aspect of all flight-related decisions. I know Parliamentarians would agree that delays or inconveniences caused as a result of compliance with safety regulations or considerations should not be subject to the constraints of this proposal. ...members [must] consider the impact of weather and other factors outside a carrier's direct control as matters for which the carrier should not bear financial responsibility.

I do not believe that was the intent of the motion, and as it is presented, we have a very balanced and fair motion before us.

In conclusion, I can only attest to the wisdom of hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte in designing such a conciliatory motion. I am quite hopeful that in the positive spirit in which this motion has been presented, it will find unanimous consent to pass this evening.

Forestry Industry June 2nd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, a long awaited meeting of government, industry, labour and research groups recently discussed solutions to the crisis in the forestry industry.

Regrettably, the minister neglected to include environmental, aboriginal, transportation or community representatives on his invite list, and only two labour unions were asked to attend.

Was this a deliberate slight against these groups or just a further indication of the incompetence of the government on the forestry file?

It took five days of discussions and two direct questions in the House to pry the secret invite list out of the minister's office. Perhaps the minister did not want us to know that he had excluded so many important representatives from this meeting.

As the natural resources committee finalizes its report to Parliament on “The Unique Opportunities and Challenges Facing the Forest Products Industry”, I urge the government to heed the wishes of the industry by hosting a national summit on forestry that includes all stakeholders, not just a hand-picked few.

Financial Administration Act May 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).

The great riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River takes 7.5 hours to drive across, over two time zones. It covers 27 communities, of which 16 are municipalities and 11 first nations. The principle of Bill S-201 is certainly something that my constituents would support.

The bill would require crown corporations and the Bank of Canada to submit quarterly financial reports to both the House of Commons and the Senate. I do not see anything wrong with increasing the disclosure and the transparency of these corporations.

In the riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River, there is an expression that there are two times to plant a tree: one is 20 years ago and the other is today. Is this legislation timely? I believe it is, because from time to time in the House, we see an annual report that raises some serious concerns about the administration of one crown corporation or another. Parliamentarians then jump to action to correct the problem, but of course this is typically after the damage has been done.

If crown corporations are required to table reports on a quarterly basis, it will be much easier for parliamentarians to identify any problems early on and move to correct them before they become too serious. In short, it will help parliamentarians to ensure that the government is properly managing public funds through its crown corporations and the Bank of Canada.

Under existing legislation, publicly traded corporations, including our banks, are required to make quarterly reports to their shareholders. It is not beyond reason to expect that our government-run crown corporations can at least match that standard of disclosure.

Let me give one concrete example of how this legislation would be of use to Canadians. One crown corporation that many Canadians frequently want more information from is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. As of right now, the CPPIB, like all other crown corporations, currently tables one report annually. In that report, the CPPIB discloses all of its holdings so that Canadians can see where their pensions are invested.

Unfortunately, if Canadians want an updated version of the CPPIB's holdings, they are out of luck. They have to wait until the spring of each year to see what has been bought or sold. If they call the investment board with a question, they are told to wait for the annual report.

In the aftermath of the government's broken promise never to tax income trusts, many Canadians wanted to know how much exposure their pension plan had to income trusts. They could look at the last year's annual report and see that the CPP held over $1 billion in income trusts seven months ago, but there was no way to know how much it held at the time of the Minister of Finance's income trust massacre.

With Bill S-201, however, Canadians will hopefully be able to see an updated holdings list that is no more than 90 days old.

There is, of course, an administrative cost to increasing to this level of disclosure. Quarterly disclosures at the Bank of Canada and our crown corporations will certainly increase their workload and they will have to dedicate more resources in order to achieve it. As the managers of public funds, we need to ask if the cost-benefit of Bill S-201 is worth it for Canadians. My constituents would certainly argue that it is.

I trust that when the bill proceeds to the appropriate committee, the members there will perform such a cost benefit analysis that the bill can again be supported at third reading, and I would be glad to do so.

We do have to recognize the input that has already gone into this from the senators, which has been positive, thoughtful and comprehensive. It included many important amendments and ideas.

Regarding the income trust scandal, many people were hurt. And many people here are trying to remember which scandal this is because we have had a few of them and it looks like the record of the present government will pass the previous record of the last Conservative government.

In my riding there was an astonishing number of people who formerly supported the Conservative Party who just could not believe that the Prime Minister would actually break that campaign promise with such devastation to their long time savings.

I was actually not the one who reminded them of the string of broken promises. It was my constituents, again former Conservatives, who have seen the light and who reminded me that it was the current Prime Minister who promised to eliminate the double taxation on gasoline pricing and eliminate the taxation after 85¢ a litre.

I just received correspondence the other day reminding me that since January 2006, gas prices have almost doubled, so hon. members can draw the correlation.

The bill could perhaps reassure people, give them some faith in government, and hopefully recognize in our discourse today that the government will actually take heed.

There was a question from another opposition member about how this would be implemented and how we would actually see the results of it.

I am hoping that the people from crown corporations and the Bank of Canada, who are watching this debate, and are perhaps concerned about their own workload and quarterly reporting will know that for us, who really want to restore people's faith in democracy, we want them to know that the Canadian public service and its crown corporation divisions are of the highest standards of accountability and transparency. That we, as elected representatives, have the utmost faith in their ability and competence, and that those of us in the opposition ranks have a duty to ensure that the government maintains those high standards.

I am hoping that as we proceed through this debate, the bill will succeed. I believe that it should, and that those people who want their faith restored, those elected representatives who want a quicker turnaround in this rapid age of communications to review changes that can still affect pricing and changes in people's investments, we can do this. We can do this in the spirit of understanding that without a strong public service and strong set of Crown corporations, even at arm's length, this is a nation that is built on people who hold the highest of standards.

To that end, I would hope that we could all support Bill S-201.

Economic Development May 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor.

The record shows that I have been asking for a straight answer on FedNor from the government in numerous parliamentary debates and committee hearings.

The usual Conservative spin over substance has been the sad response. The government's own records show that the funding for FedNor was cut by $6.4 million in the 2006 budget but it continues to deny the facts.

Will the minister now commit to restore FedNor's funding to $51.9 million per year, no spin, yes or no?

National Day of Action May 29th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, for this year's National Day of Action, the Assembly of First Nations is putting a strong, clear focus on the plight of first nations children.

Sadly, children are paying a very high price for this government's failures. First nations children receive less funding for education per capita than many other Canadian children. First nations child welfare systems are underfunded, compared to provincial child welfare systems.

The national chief has put these issues in context, saying there are more first nations children in care today than there were students at the height of the residential school era.

Today's National Day of Action is about getting this minority Conservative government to acknowledge that the status quo is not acceptable. We call on this Conservative government to act immediately to address the real needs of first nations children and their communities. It is the very least that this government can do.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act May 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I can only hope that such will happen. If not, there are always the two clean coal plants in Thunder Bay and Atikokan that we could probably use to carry us through.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act May 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I believe the policy of shooting the messenger as opposed to addressing the solution is probably not the right course. It undermines again the confidence in the nuclear industry, in particular, and in government processes in general.

As a member of the committee, when we see that first-hand, where a thoroughly professional person is meant to carry the burden and has to take the fall when clearly the leadership has to come from the government, it has to be the minister's responsibility.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act May 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, as someone who was fortunate to have a private member's motion pass for buy Canada content for public transit, my bias to supporting national industries is pretty much a public concern here. I understand that the provincial government has included a 25% buy Canada component but I do not know if it extends to the nuclear industry.

The question is an interesting one because even here in our nation's capital, its bid for light rail transit had no Canadian content requirements at all. I am not privy to the way the provincial government awarded those things, especially with my bias to clean coal, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, and my hope that the two coal plants would be--

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act May 28th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Mississauga—Erindale. As a member of the committee and as the lead on this issue, his work has been quite stellar and inspirational to all members from all parties in terms of the depth of his knowledge and his ability to get to the point, and make those points objectively and incisively.

I was also very proud to be a member of the natural resources committee. When we worked through this process, it actually was quite positive. I believe our common goal to protect Canadians and enhance protection on this issue was really foremost in our minds and indeed the world. There is no doubt that when legislation is proposed on nuclear viability, many people are watching to see what our nation is going to do and how effective it will be. When there is a chance to make better legislation, we always hope that it is.

What happened during the course of this debate is probably quite strange to many of us because it seems that the government has been reluctant to provide the confidence needed to satisfy Canadians that our reactors are completely safe. I am hoping the reactor isotope scandal has not forced the government to cocoon or muzzle its members.

When the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca asked if the Canadian public can have the confidence that there is public safety oversight, so that plain and simply we know that our reactors are safe, I believe the response from the government should have been unequivocal, prompt and clear. I certainly believe that the mechanisms, structures and processes for safety are in place, and that the Canadian nuclear industry provides the highest standard of safety. Indeed, it is a selling point for us internationally.

I am hoping, as the viewing public watches this debate, that the isotope shortage scandal does not confuse the public in terms of the goals and objectives of this bill. Clearly, the industry needs and wants this. We went through a very long and comprehensive list of witnesses, scientific groups, citizen representatives, environmental organizations, people who understand the industry from many components, and communities which are affected directly. When we make legislation such as this, we want to make sure that people are consulted.

Indeed, on the question of the adequacy of limits, as someone who has a background in commercial insurance, it is always an interesting question about how much insurance could one really have. From a sales standpoint, many people would think that we are always encouraging people to buy more just for its own sake, but eventually we have to get to a point where we can set a limit and feel confident that in the very remotest possibility of an accident that the compensation level would be adequate and that people would be in the situation they were before the accident.

It was a fascinating debate when other components were added: offshore, water transportation, airborne contaminants, and transportation disruptions. My impression from those witnesses observing the legislation, as they compared our proposed legislation to other countries, was that this bill would come out very good compared to much of the rest of the planet where others have actually gone to the stage of providing such liability. After all the intensive questioning it seemed that as we tried to address this, it was to a large extent overshadowed by the isotope shortage issue.

We on the committee realized that it could have been averted. With proper planning and arrangements internationally with other countries, there would not have been the need for a knee-jerk reaction, which of course disturbs the entire country and everyone feels it was the industry that was at fault as opposed to the government. Was it handled incompetently? It is now pretty obvious. The vast majority of Canadians would agree with that.

Were there people making presentations who had a partisan bias? That of course clouded the issue to some extent. As it continues, we know that the isotope issue has to be addressed in a much more open and consultative process. Here we are close to June. We had the hearings in January and the report to Parliament has been delayed through some other work but also because of an extremely long process for a forestry report.

Parliament should have had the report on the isotope issue already. Hopefully there will be enough time to address that and table it in Parliament before the summer adjournment. Otherwise, it appears that the committee may be meeting during the humidity days of July. Can we get to that report in common cause for the common good? I truly hope that all members of the committee are on the same wavelength for that. I am speaking in good faith.

Rainy River, of course, is part of Thunder Bay—Rainy River. For those who may not be aware, my riding is seven and a half hours long over two time zones. Imagine driving to a community such as that over the Victoria Day weekend and hearing an announcement that there is going to be a shutdown of the program. I ask, as many people do who are tuned in to this, why would the government do it on the Victoria Day weekend? What confidence should I get from this? Is this not strange?

The media reaction, of course, was that it was very shocked. It undermines public faith. When we tell them we are striving to have the highest possible standards for an industry, it certainly gives fuel to critics who may have their own biases about the nuclear industry, so that we actually undermine confidence as opposed to some form of open media or press release at a time when people can respond to it. It is hard to imagine that something would happen at that time of day over that kind of weekend and people would not suspect a hidden agenda.

When Canadians want to know what lies in the future for the nuclear industry, we should be able to overcome unfair reaction. We should be able to debate the entire future of energy, energy supply, energy demand, and how Canadians will meet their needs in the future.

Where does nuclear fit in all of this? In my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, there are two coal plants. I want to let people know that we want clean coal as an alternative energy. We want to be part of the program for energy where nuclear fits. This is where this bill helps. Do we need a national plan? I believe we do. It is only fair. Canadians need the reassurance. It is needed internationally for our sales of Candu products and it means that not only Canadians but the entire world has to feel confident in us.