Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was farmers.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as NDP MP for Palliser (Saskatchewan)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Food and Drugs Act March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-398. I am also pleased that the bill may be going to committee. That is the proper place for the bill to be dealt with.

I must say that I had not really looked at the bill. I do not sit on the health committee. However, as I look at the bill I like what I see. I am pleased that the bill may end up at the health committee and be reported back by the end of September.

As I read the bill, its objectives include the requirement that large chain restaurants, and we are not talking about mom and pop restaurants as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands would have listeners believe, post the number of calories on menu items, together with the saturated and trans fats and sodium contents. In addition, all fresh meat, poultry and seafood would need to be disclosed with full nutritional information. As I further read the bill, it seems to me that with the federal government database available this would be relatively easy for restaurants to include on their menus.

With regard to prepackaged items, multi-ingredient foods would show the percentage by weight of key ingredients, especially with specific relevance to health added items, such as sugars, fruits and vegetables.

A lot of money is being expended in this country, particularly by provinces, to ensure that we have a healthy population. A poor diet contributes significantly to the costs of maintaining good health. The estimates are in the magnitude of $5 billion or $6 billion a year in additional health spending. Unchecked it will result in higher drug costs, higher rates of obesity, diabetes and the like.

The Auditor General has looked at preventive health activities and estimated that, depending on the item, it is somewhere between six and 45 times more effective to deal with health problems before they become problems, to deal with them in a preventive way rather than after the fact. That is why a number of years ago provinces such as Saskatchewan incorporated wellness programs, to try and deal with the rising costs of health care.

Twenty-five thousand deaths annually are related to diet related disease in Canada, including cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes. It is predicted that a new mandatory nutritional label would reduce health care costs and reduce premature deaths and disabilities. That would be a significant return to the economy and that ought to be of concern to members, including the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

I listened with some interest when the member was speaking about going upstairs to the parliamentary restaurant. It is nice that members of the Conservative Party are now taking advantage of the parliamentary restaurant because when they were members of the reform party of course they would not do that. The restaurant does have heart healthy choices, but what does that mean? We do not know what necessarily that entails.

It was interesting for me to read the background material to this bill and to note the difference between the amount of saturated fat in a three ounce top sirloin steak versus a shoulder pork blade steak. The fact is there is four times as much saturated fat in the latter than in the former.

Those are things the average consumer would not be aware of, such as the fact that a small McDonald's milkshake has four times as many calories as a fruit or vegetable shake. These are things that perhaps would make a difference to people when ordering--

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Dartmouth is absolutely right.

I would like to pay tribute to a gentleman by the name of Kevin Hayes who works at the Canadian Labour Congress and who is focused very much on this whole issue of EI and what has happened with the changes in EI. He has documented what my colleague from Dartmouth is saying about money that has been taken out of local economies as a result of the withdrawal and the ineligibility of so many people for employment insurance.

It is absolutely the same in Saskatchewan. Millions of dollars have come out of my riding of Palliser, as in her riding of Dartmouth and everyone else's riding in the country. Money that used to be available is no longer available. We need to make that money available again.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated what the hon. member for Elk Island had to say. I am glad that he too is interested in the fact that so few Canadians actually qualify for EI, even though we all pay into it when we are working.

This gives me an opportunity to expand on that. The member mentioned students and people who go back to school. There are 900,000 Canadians who are in the low paid economy and are trapped there. They are not getting out of that trap. They tend to be older women, people who have generally not received a high school diploma. Almost all of them are not working in a place that is organized by a trade union. They tend to be care workers, nannies and recent immigrants. It is a very bad situation.

I will use the example of Alberta and specifically Calgary which is a booming metropolis as we all know. The minimum wage in Alberta is $5.90 an hour. For a family of four with two adults working it would amount to a little over $28,000 a year. It certainly does not meet the low income cut-off. We do not have a poverty level in this country but we do have low income cut-offs. The average rent in Calgary is some $804 a month. We can see how difficult it would be for a family of four in a city like Calgary. I am not picking on Calgary; it could be any number of cities in this country. That is the reality. With a low minimum wage and a booming economy it is very difficult.

We need training programs. The member for Elk Island is absolutely right. If we could take some of that employment insurance money and drive it into training programs, it would help families like the family I described. It would be to the benefit of this country. It would certainly be to the benefit of families like that one.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

What happened to that promise, indeed? It is gone and now the focus is very much on driving that debt down as quickly as possible. That means Canadians will have to wait for spending on some of the social deficit issues that are so important to them.

I do not think Canadians were impressed at all with last Tuesday's budget. They wanted to see recognition of the Romanow report. They wanted money built it into the base for health care. They wanted to see a national drug agency and national home care. Instead, we heard the re-announcement of the $2 billion. There was no increase in the base funding. We now are in a situation where funding from the federal government for health care, instead of the fifty-fifty funding formula which we used to have for health care, is 16% with the remaining 84% to be found by the provinces.

It is interesting to note that virtually every province in Canada, with the sole exception of resource-rich Alberta, is really struggling and having problems coming in with any kind of a balanced budget because of the emphasis that has been placed on health care; the need to find additional funds to ensure that health care is available for all. The federal finance minister has said that sustainability must be our focus, but in my opinion the budget has not done a thing to ensure sustainability in the health care field.

Let me turn to another area that deserves some focus, and that is employment insurance. Prior to the budget, Canadians called for investment of full federal fiscal surplus in programs to create a fairer society. They wanted to see a more productive economy and job creation to offset an economy now struggling with slower growth and rising unemployment. Instead, a budget appeared that was obsessively focussed on fiscal prudence.

The problem with employment insurance is not that the premiums are too high, as the members of the Conservative Party say. The problem is very few people are eligible to receive employment insurance. This is a universal program where every Canadian who works pays into an EI program. Yet according to the numbers, less than 40% of people are actually eligible to receive employment benefits. Some do not work enough hours. It depends where one lives. In some provinces and territories it takes 910 hours of work and in others 410 hours. It is a makeshift operation, and it simply is not meeting the needs of Canadians in a changing work life. People who are adversely affected by being ineligible for employment insurance are woman, younger workers and immigrants.

Something is very askew when only 38% receive employment insurance benefits. Since 1994, the government changed the rules on employment insurance. It used to be that more than 75% of people would apply for EI. That is now down to 38%, and $50 billion has been taken out of the EI surplus. It has essentially paid for all the surpluses that the government has been running for the last several years. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, calls it theft, and he is absolutely right. Employers and employees have paid into that fund, and it has simply been taken over by the government and driven into its bottom line to pay down debt and deficit. It is leaving part time workers, particularly women, seriously shortchanged.

These are two of the areas that I wanted to talk about today; the lack of money for health care as well as for employment insurance. There are a number of other issues, but I am confident that my colleague from Vancouver East will deal with these in the time that is allotted to her.

Suffice it to say, this is not a budget that will gladden the hearts of Canadian working men and women or their families, certainly not in the region of the country where I have the privilege of representing constituents.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the budget debate this afternoon. I want to indicate at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver East.

I have been amused to listen to members on the government side say that this must be a good budget because the opposition and Canadians do not want to talk about it. It is kind of like a grey, overcast day. There is really not very much to be said about it. It is a conservative budget that focuses very much on debt reduction and not on urgent social needs, such as health care. I want to focus on some of that during the time that I have available.

At the outset, I recognize and applaud the government for stepping in and providing some additional assistance to farmers who have been so badly affected by the BSE crisis. It has been desperately needed, and it is a good thing the money was provided a week ago Monday, the day before the budget was introduced.

People who I spoke to in my riding and across the country were looking for changes in issues like health care and reducing wait times for elective surgery. As members know, wait times across the country are up to 18 months. These people will get no comfort from the budget of last week. There is no reduction because there is no significant additional money to reduce waiting times. The $2 billion announcement was made yet again, and there was a commitment about first ministers meeting later on this year.

I note that the government of Manitoba expects it will require another $106 million in order to keep abreast of health care issues in that province. The premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, has said that if the federal government has money, let it spend it now. He has said that the province needs it now, not in August or September. There is a crisis now, and I am sure premiers across the country would echo the statement of the premier of Manitoba.

People are beginning to wonder whether the Prime Minister is starving the health care system in order to create a crisis, allowing him to bring in the corporate side with the public-private privatization plan. It is still on the radar screen.

Yes, there is a bit more money for infrastructure this year, but again it is tied to the P3 investments, the public-private partnerships in water, transit and highways. We think that is basically a licence to print money for those private entrepreneurs.

Yes, there was a GST exemption for the cities, but why was there not one for schools, universities, hospitals and indeed for social services? In the throne speech in February promises were made to patients, parents, students and aboriginal Canadians. We expected, reasonably, to see some of those details rolled out in the budget. We know throne speeches are an opportunity to create a good feeling without needing to put a lot of data to it. However, we saw none of that for those groups in last Tuesday's budget.

What there is, though, is a fixation on the debt. As many other noted economists have indicated, Canadian debt is already among the lowest of any major economy in the world. However, the budget of the newly minted finance minister from Saskatchewan, and kudos to him, focuses on reducing the debt from 42% of gross national product to 25% over a 10 year period. We can remember that there used to be a commitment by the government to have a fifty-fifty arrangement on any surpluses, that 50% of the additional surpluses would go to social spending and 50% would go to debt reduction.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Those small business companies that pay those high union wages, yes of course they do.

We need to be aware that there are a lot of people working extremely hard in this country who are paying what they feel is too much tax. They would like some of that tax burden to be shared with the corporations that are doing extremely well.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, for the record because it was never read in, 46% of federal income tax now comes through personal income tax and the amount from corporations is a meagre 12.5%. I am old enough to remember when there was a royal commission on taxation in this country and at that time it was approximately fifty-fifty between corporate and personal income tax. We can see what has happened in the interim.

When the member for Toronto—Danforth talks about hard work and achievers, let us think about working people who work hard and are being--

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I have question for the member for Toronto--Danforth. I was reading the budget yesterday en route here and noted that 45% of the federal government's revenue comes from personal income tax.

I wonder if the member for Toronto--Danforth would be able to provide us with the information--because it was not contained in the budget documents, it may be buried somewhere but I could not find it--as to what percentage of the federal budget is made up of corporate income taxes in this country?

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Not true.

The Budget March 30th, 2004

I am an uncle not an auntie.