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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was public.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as NDP MP for Dartmouth (Nova Scotia)

Won her last election, in 2000, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Budget March 30th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in the comments that my colleague has made about employment insurance.

In my community of Dartmouth we lose $20 million a year that was coming into our community to pay workers who had lost their jobs. They lose their jobs and the money is no longer coming into our community. Furthermore they are leaving the community. They are having to move to other parts of the country. Then our population declines and our equalization amounts then decline. There is this vicious circle of people leaving the community which makes the community weaker.

I would like the member's comments on that. I believe it might be the same kind of phenomenon that he experiences in Saskatchewan.

User Fees Act March 26th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Although the bill is intended to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, the NDP would like to remind members of the House that user fees affect individuals. It is individual families who are struggling with the burden of user fees on a daily basis.

Like many other Canadians, I have noted the scourge of user fees creeping across all of the services that my family and I use. As governments cut taxes, user fees have become the de facto method of maintaining services.

User fees are a fact of life in the federal government, at both federal and provincial parks, for example. We find user fees for accessing any documents from the federal government. There are not many places we can turn where services that were once provided as a free function of government are now attached to a user fee.

Over the last 20 years the Conservatives under Mulroney and now the Liberals under the Prime Minister have moved more and more services to the private sector. User fees are a consequence of that. I would like to quote briefly from the Canadian Union of Public Employees which is a body that has watched user fees rise alarmingly.

User fees--individuals and families paying for access to a service that once was freely available--are a common feature of many privatization schemes. The government retreat from funding and delivery of public services has created a new regime, where services once universally funded by taxes and other public revenues are no longer low-cost or free. While many privatized services still receive public funds, private management often levies new fees to supplement that revenue and maximize returns.

The publicly funded service that most Canadians depend on is health care. User fees are often raised as a way of reforming our health care system. As Roy Romanow said in his final report, and I think it is important that we reference Mr. Romanow's report:

There is overwhelming evidence that direct charges such as user fees put the heaviest burden on the poor and impede their access to necessary health care. This is the case even when low income exemptions are in place. The result may be higher costs in the long run because people delay treatment until their condition gets worse. In addition, user fees and co-payments also involve significant administrative costs that directly reduce the modest amount of revenue generated from the fees.

One of the key features of the Canada Health Act was its effective ban on user fees for hospital and physician services. Given what we know about the impact of even relatively low user fees, the Commission feels that this was the right decision then and remains the right decision today.

User fees build and build, and they make it harder and harder for people with low incomes to maintain their health. It is not just the regular health care system, it affects all aspects of health: public health and the dental services that we all need. I am happy that we are seeing some consensus in the House on the bill.

In summary, I would repeat that user fees discriminate against our poorer citizens the most. We need to reconsider the whole concept of charging people an extra fee for services.

Government Expenditures March 26th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Auditor General spoke in committee about the purchase of the two Challenger jets in 2002 and said that the government could not demonstrate that it exercised due diligence in awarding this contract or that it achieved best value.

The Prime Minister, who speaks at great length about fiscal responsibility, was the finance minister at the time the decision was made to spend $100 million for jets that neither National Defence nor Transport Canada needed.

Could the Prime Minister explain why these jets were purchased instead of other much more needed military equipment by our armed forces?

Jacob Daniel Edelson March 26th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, Jacob “Jake” Daniel Edelson passed away in his sleep on March 24, leaving behind his mother, Miriam, his father, Jim, his sister, Emma, and thousands of people who knew him and were touched by him.

In his 13 years of life this young man made a huge difference in the world. He was born with lissencephaly, a condition which presented challenges every hour of the day to his caregivers, his loved ones and of course, to Jake himself.

His mother, Miriam, fought fiercely and publicly for quality care for her son and for recognition of his rights to a dignified life. She spoke out for the need for strong public policies that support families of children with special needs.

Last summer Jake had his bar mitzvah and it was a jubilant occasion for all who attended.

Last weekend his sister, Emma, and his mother visited Jake at Susie's Place, his home away from home, the excellent group home where he lived in Belleville, Ontario.

Jake gave back so much to the world around him. Today in the House we wish to celebrate his birth and his short precious life.

Employment Insurance Program March 25th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise tonight to speak to Motion No. 475. It states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

I am pleased to support the motion. We need to modify the EI system to recognize seasonal workers. Our EI system needs a major overhaul as our colleague from Acadie--Bathurst has said many times in the House.

The Liberals have created a system that only protects workers who match a long gone version of what employment is: the same job from high school to retirement with two weeks vacation every year and a bonus at Christmas. We all know that is no longer the model we are working under.

There are fewer and fewer workers who match this definition of employment today. Most people will have a new job every three to five years. Many will move in and out of traditional employment as they raise their family or care for an ill relative, as they go back to training or school to improve their skills, and as they use those skills to become entrepreneurs and create more jobs.

The EI system created by the Liberals does not protect seasonal workers or casual workers. It does not protect women. My own personal criticism is that the system does not protect workers who work for themselves, particularly artists who cobble together a living with contracts, royalties, and part time jobs.

Yesterday, the NDP caucus had the opportunity to speak at length about EI with Mr. Ken Georgetti and several other representatives from the Canadian Labour Congress. We had a very interesting conversation about the issue of seasonal workers.

What we must realize is that seasonal workers are spread across the entire nation. This comes right from the CLC which represents hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada. It represents a huge percentage of Canadian workers at this point in time in such industries as forestry, fisheries, tourism, and agriculture. The motion speaks to that very important point made by the CLC yesterday.

Another point that the CLC made which I find horrifying is the fact that 66% of unemployed workers, people who have been working but are now unemployed, never had the opportunity to collect on the money they paid into the EI system.

The whole concept of insurance is the fact that it is there when it is needed. That is why it is called insurance. There is something wrong with any insurance program which most workers pay into but never benefit from. That is how this plan has changed and metamorphosed over the last 10 years.

The EI account has built a premium surplus of close to $50 billion since 1994. The system started to change in 1994 and the government started cutting back on the number of people who were able to collect on claims that they felt were legitimate.

Our economy depends on the work of all of these seasonal workers, people in the tourism industry, agriculture, mining and fisheries. If there were no tourism industry, Canada would lose $55 billion industry that contributes over $9 billion in taxes to the federal government. It is time to pause and think about the impact of these so-called seasonal workers. They are fueling one of the biggest industries that we have in this country.

Without the men and women willing to work part time in the fishing industry, there would be no seafood restaurants, no canned fish available, and no fish oil supplements.

Public safety and health crises like the SARS outbreak in Toronto, hurricane Juan in Nova Scotia, and the avian flu epidemic in B.C. have all affected workers in a negative way. There is no provision for EI to cover short term breaks in employment and, at the present time, to cover these kinds of extreme crises that have arisen over this last year in our workforce. Even in areas of relatively low unemployment like Toronto, workers need that safety net that EI is supposed to provide but rarely does.

The most frustrating aspect of this for many workers is that they pay for this protection. Seasonal workers still have to pay EI premiums even when it is clear from the start of their jobs that they will not be able to make a claim when their employment ends. When they hear that the surplus in the EI account is $45 billion, or whatever incredible figure we are hearing now, these workers know that the Liberal government does not care about them.

I heard an expression the other day which I found pretty funny in a way but it is also pretty pathetic. It is a new syndrome called COWS. It means Canadian outraged workers' syndrome. Thousands of Canadian workers pay into the EI system knowing full well that they are not going to be able to collect when their jobs come to an end. It is kind of a catchy expression, but it is a pretty chilling idea.

For communities, the surplus comes down to the difference between the money its residents pay to the EI fund and how little its residents receive back. We hear about these huge surpluses ballooning in the EI fund but what does it really mean to our communities? I can tell members quite clearly what it means to my community.

In my riding of Dartmouth we lose $30.3 million to the EI surplus every year. In Vancouver East the residents lose $48 million. This is money that used to go to unemployed workers in our communities at an earlier time when this system was working for workers as opposed to against workers. When they were without work, they were able to access this money. It was coming into Dartmouth or Vancouver East. It was fueling the economy. It was going to pay for groceries, school supplies, and clothing for our kids and medicine. That money was part of our economy. It is now collecting within the surplus in the federal coffers and it is not going back into our communities.

It is even more shocking in rural areas like Acadie—Bathurst where the residents lose $81 million annually. No wonder our rural areas are hurting. If those hundreds of millions of dollars had stayed in the community, the spinoff benefits would have been enormous.

More sales in stores result in more jobs. More opportunities for skilled training keep local schools busy, more money spent on community charity initiatives improve local conditions, and more entrepreneurs starting up businesses keep residents living in their community. All of these are the spinoffs and are the direct result of having that money being channeled into the communities.

A few weeks ago I spoke on how the problem with the equalization formula for have less provinces has left me less optimistic about where we are at now in the Maritimes. The numbers that the Canadian Labour Congress provided us with regard to the money that is being taken out of our community saddens me even more.

How can we keep our young people from going down the road if the federal government siphons money out of our provinces through the EI surplus? How can we keep our small communities strong if we punish citizens for living there? That is what the EI system does. It punishes people for working in seasonal industries and it punishes people for working on a part time or casual basis.

Those communities lost hundreds of millions of dollars because the EI system did not protect the majority of workers, especially casual, part time and seasonal workers. We need a revolution in thinking about employment that recognizes that many workers have episodic employment and that they should be supported between those jobs.

We all benefit from having a workforce that is able to respond when we need them to take on jobs that will only last a few weeks or will not be full time. That is the reality of industries today. That is where our productivity suffers because we do not support the workers we need to keep our industries and communities strong.

I want to thank the member beside me for bringing forward this motion. It is an important step in trying to fix this system that is a lifeblood for our employees in the country. We will be supporting it.

The Budget March 25th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member across the way.

I have some very major concerns about the budget in what it has not said. It has not said anything about culture. I read it very carefully to see what it had to say about culture. There is some band-aid money for the Canadian television fund, and that is great.

The Auditor General's report that came out recently was extremely damning about the government's record around built heritage, around published heritage, about how we are in fact keeping the cultural record of this country.

I am not seeing in the budget a recommitment to the CBC, to public broadcasting, to the artists in this country. I would like the hon. member's comments on that.

Dairy Terms Act March 12th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate today and to listen to the comments made by members.

It is a very interesting topic to think about such things as milk and dairy products. These are products that are the stuff of life that we have all grown up with, and to realize that there is a discrepancy and confusion sometimes about what terms are being used and what the foods really are that we are seeing in the grocery stores.

I just read a book called Fast Food Nation . It is an interesting look at fast foods, but also the whole flavouring industry, and the chemical creation of taste, flavours and scents that are overtaking our food industry. Therefore, it is not at all unreasonable for us to be asking, what is it that we are eating? I think that is the question that the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin is trying to get at and I support his efforts in that respect.

My colleagues and I in the NDP believe that fair labelling practices are important for today's Canadian families who have a bewildering array of products facing them during every trip to the supermarket. The average supermarket today has over 35,000 products, which is an incredible number.

Whether we actually benefit from that enormous choice and whether the quality of our lives has been improved by the kind of choice is another debate and we are not going to talk about it here. However, it does lead families and shoppers to want to have accurate labelling on products so that they can make decisions about what foods they are buying. With so many products, the average shopper cannot hope to scan each and every one of them before making their purchasing decisions.

This bill would provide consumers with accurate information on the ingredients of the products they choose. Consumers depend on the name of a product to decide if it is something they want since most lists of ingredients are small and written in common terms using words like hydrogenated and disodium phosphate. These are confusing technical terms that people do not understand. They want to have faith in the labelling and do not want to be misled.

New Democrats are also concerned about the impact that labelling can have on Canadians with low literacy skills. Misleading product names can prove especially confusing for people who are not able to get through the language as easily. They depend on words they know to make purchasing decisions. Also, seniors and other Canadians with low vision depend on the larger fonts of product names instead of the smaller fonts of ingredient listings to make their decisions.

Therefore, when they see the word dairy, milk or cheese, they get a comfort level from that and that helps them make a decision. In fact, we must ensure that they are not being bamboozled and that, in fact, it is a true representation of what they are buying.

My colleague from Winnipeg North Centre has a private member's bill before the House on food labelling. That bill's intent is to ensure that consumers will know whether a product has genetically modified ingredients before they make purchasing decisions. It is another fair practice that Canadians want so that they can trust in the product that they are buying.

As the member who brought forward the bill has mentioned, at the present time federal legislation does not have adequate protection for the use of dairy terms and that is just not acceptable. For example, the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act prohibit false and misleading labels, but what constitutes false and misleading labels in the dairy context is not fleshed out.

The dairy products regulations made under the Canada Agricultural Products Act do contain labelling requirements, but these only apply to standardized dairy products, for example what has to be on the label of cheddar cheese once it has met the standard. Federal legislation does not deal with the issue of the improper use of dairy terms and images on imitations or on substitutes.

Each year, Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy products. The good reputation and nutritional value of dairy products is being usurped by products which claim to have the same qualities as dairy products but which do not.

As I understand from my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, the dairy terms act embodies the principles that were adopted at the international level by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1999 in the general standard for the use of dairy terms. Canada supported this standard at the international level. Canada should provide that same level of protection for dairy terms at the domestic level. It seems very straightforward to me.

Most important, the bill prohibits a dairy term from being used when a food or an ingredient in a food is intended to replace a dairy product or a dairy ingredient. It prohibits using a dairy term in conjunction with the words “flavour” or “taste” when the food is not milk, a milk product or a composite milk product.

The dairy terms act deals with the correct use of dairy terms in the marketing of food. It does not prohibit food from being made.

I support this bill. I support efforts always to clarify language and clarify the meaning of language. I support any efforts to make it easier, not more difficult, for citizens to understand the nutritional value of the foods and beverages that they are buying in the supermarket. I will be supporting this bill when it comes to a vote.

Child Benefits March 12th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Social Development. Nova Scotia has the lowest number of subsidized day care spaces in the country. Two non-profit day cares have closed in Halifax and Dartmouth in the last month, leaving 100 families scrambling for child care. The situation in B.C. and Ontario and Quebec is no better.

There is no accountability for the federal dollars that have been transferred to the provinces. In Halifax and Dartmouth, subsidized day cares will see an increase of only $11 a month instead of the $11 a day that they need.

Today's families want to know this. When will this government commit to a national day care program and enforce national standards to help families in need?

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act February 27th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying about Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, at this time the federal government is saying that it is going to cut some kind of a deal with those provinces to try to give them some fairer return on their offshore. I can only speak for that situation at the present time.

I feel that in fact until we have a sustainable industry, one that can withstand the vagaries of this exploration that is going on right now, it is impossible to start changing our equalization situation based on possible pie in the sky later. I think we need to be cautious about that. We have to make sure we are not making changes that are going to have a negative effect down the road.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act February 27th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I would be glad to address that. I am astounded to hear the depopulation figures for Nova Scotia. Recently I heard that for Cape Breton the number of people leaving is astounding. It is losing 10% of its population even in one year. They are seeing young people leave.

For New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, we are not seeing the infrastructure, the health care system and the post-secondary education system that we need. We are seeing young people who have to leave their province. The cost of our infrastructure is so high that our tuition fees are higher than they are anywhere else in the country. We are being penalized to live in the region. We are not seeing the same level of health care or post-secondary education and education available for our people as might be available in Ontario or Alberta.

That goes against the idea of our Constitution, the idea that we live in a Confederation where there is a reasonably equal access to all services that we deem acceptable for Canadians.

To base an equalization formula on population and at the same time not safeguard that the population can remain more or less stable in a region by sensitive economic policies for that region, regions where people want to live, we are setting them up for failure and we are setting up our families for the inability to maintain their lives and children in the communities that they love.

It is a tragedy that we are able to sit in this chamber and talk so clinically about this situation when in fact we are talking about Canadian families that want to build their lives in certain regions and are finding it impossible to do so.