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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

Criminal Code November 6th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the amendment to Bill C-20, put forward by my party to delete section 7, which would remove the defence of artistic merit from the child pornography legislation, draft Bill C-20 before the House.

I start by saying the New Democrats and certainly myself are extremely concerned about child pornography and want to see it eradicated from the face of the earth. As parents, as artists, as parliamentarians, we all believe that we need to find many new mechanisms to ensure that child pornography cannot exist and that it gets no sustenance in this society. We believe there is a lot of good in Bill C-20 and some real progress is being made here.

I want to make that point because it is important to make it right off the bat. We are trying to change a bill which is ostensibly about protecting children. To oppose parts of it does not mean we do not want to protect children. Of course we want to protect children.

We want to talk about the fact that clause 7 weakens the whole bill. It weakens the ability to work against child pornographers. We heard witness after witness who came before the committee, from the Toronto Police Association to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, to the Canadian Conference of the Arts to the Canadian Bar Association, indicate that clause 7 was problematic because the language that was used was vague and contradictory.

We do not want that kind of statement or those concerns when we talk about legislation which judges then have to interpret and which police on the street have to interpret and make snap decisions about whether they can take something to court and win. We want to make clear that the defence of public good at this point in time is not clear enough to be of any good in the fight against child pornography.

There are three reasons why clause 7 should be removed from the bill. One is that it does not, in our estimation, in any way further protect children from child pornographers. The law as it stands already criminalizes possessing and distributing child pornography. During the justice committee hearings on Bill C-20, many people brought up the silence around child abuse and how important it was not to return to the time when children and adult survivors of abuse could not talk about it. I want to read a letter from Ian Murray of Current Projects. He said:

The desire to punish those who would bring the abuse of minors to the public view while ignoring the actual victimization of children is a pattern I saw often growing up in the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia, working with abused youth in the Arctic and working as an artist and teacher.

Censorship, like abuse of minors, is an abuse of human rights. It is part of the same power relationship. You are following the pattern of the abuser who says “telling is a sin” while using the silence to continue the abuse.

It would be far more helpful to the protection of children to concentrate on the prosecution of people who abuse minors and those who silence the victims rather than suppressing information about abuse, which is what this law does.

I note that a number of institutions that are currently being sued for or found guilty of aiding and abetting criminal sexual abuse of children, including many churches, schools and the Government of Canada, support this law. Those who have exposed the sexual abuse of children through stories, pictures, plays, film, video, comedy, television programs and songs oppose this law. That should tell us what side the silencers are on. The vicious abuse of children at Mount Cashel is a perfect example of the power of the state and the church working together to silence victims.

As a society we need to deal with the power relations that lead to sexual abuse of minors. We need to talk about it and expose those images and confront the abusers. This law, at the present time with this section in it, makes this illegal.

I would like to move to a second reason why we think it is important that we make an amendment to Bill C-20 and remove section 7, and that is for the protection of artists.

The new defence of public good is too vague and unproven. It would take years of jurisprudence from the courts to decide exactly how to apply this defence in relation to child porn laws. It would literally take years to try to puzzle through it. Will museums be prosecuted for holding classic works of art that depict children in sexual acts? Will libraries, which protect the rights of Canadians to read any and all kinds of literature, have to clear the stacks of any books that might suggest teenagers had sex with adults? This is a slippery slope. Judges and courts should not decide what is for the public good, just as they should not be deciding what has artistic merit.

The third reason why we cannot support this clause in the bill is that it is too vague and leaves both the courts and the police wondering exactly how to prosecute someone and who they can protect.

I want to quote what Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto Police Service said when he came before the justice committee meeting on October 7. He said:

We've seen what happens when police are left to define what is or isn't artistic merit. We'll be fighting about this one for years. Police would simply appreciate laws that are very clear and that will allow us to make better informed decisions at the time we are required to make them. Wording that is very open to speculation and suggestion and not quite clear makes it very difficult for officers to understand exactly what they're supposed to be doing. I can tell you from experience that when officers aren't quite sure of the wording, they don't do anything.

The Canadian Bar Association, representing over 38,000 lawyers in Canada, also found section 7 vague and contradictory. As written, it says the intentions of an accused are both relevant and irrelevant. Its brief to the committee warned this inconsistency may actually attract constitutional scrutiny and should be redressed.

I want to just say something about what I think is a question on everybody's mind or sits beneath all of this debate. That question is: what is the difference between art and pornography? With respect, I believe that one can tell the difference. I do not believe it is quite as murky as some might believe.

I believe pornography sensationalizes and glorifies. It seeks to deny the truth of what it purports to represent in favour of fantasy or fabrication. Art, on the other hand, seeks truth. Even when art is not a literal depiction of everyday reality, even when it employs fantastical imagery or ideas, it aims to hold up a mirror in which people can see their everyday lives, their emotions and their aspirations reflected. Any legislation in this area should reflect that critical essence of what art is.

Members from the Alliance have already complained about the courts deciding legislation around same sex marriages. Clause 7 would make law the responsibility of the courts to decide how far a bill extends. That is not the role of our judiciary; it is our role as legislators.

In conclusion, we in the New Democratic Party feel section 7 of Bill C-20 is too vague and contradictory and it clearly does not serve the people who are on the streets trying to fight child pornography. It does not serve children. It does not serve the artists and people in the country who have a deep need to express the damage done to them through sexual abuse and violence at the hands of adults.

There are many areas of Bill C-20 that we want to support. It does extend protection for children and other vulnerable people. However, we cannot support treating all work that deals with children and sex as pornography.

It is important that survivors can speak or draw about their experiences without facing prosecution. It is important that artists can explore, not just the virtuous part of society but also its evil side.

The NDP hopes that the rest of the House will agree that section 7 needs more debate and fine tuning and that it should be removed from Bill C-20.

Criminal Code November 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-452. I would like to thank the member for Lakeland for bringing the bill forward. Drinking and driving remains a scourge in this country and I hope the bill will be one way to put it to an end.

The BAC, blood alcohol content, has been a police tool to identify drunk drivers since 1969. Since that time, public awareness campaigns, legislative regulations and a commitment from the police have reduced the incidence of drunk driving. Now most reasonable people choose not to drink and drive, and I think we are all glad to see that working throughout the public to a great extent. People are doing their drinking at home or are certainly not getting behind the wheel, and that is what we are all striving for.

However, a small group of Canadians continues to drive drunk. Over the years, some legal defences have been found that keep those drivers on the road without any penalties. Bill C-452 would close a couple of loopholes that allow those defences to be available to people. Those defences are the so-called Carter defence and the last drink defence. Both of these defences involve the accused arguing that, based on the amount of alcohol they remember consuming, they could not have been intoxicated at the time the police stopped them.

These defences ignore the scientific and evidentiary validity of the BAC, proven through empirical measures. It is because of the extensive testing of the BAC that there is a legislative presumption written into the Criminal Code that the BAC from both breath and blood samples, if tested within two hours of the offence, is evidence of the driver's BAC at the time of the driving offence.

Both the Carter defence and the last drink defence turn that presumption around by allowing a witness's recollection of the drinks they consumed to take precedence over evidentiary tests, even if the witness's testimony cannot be substantiated. I believe that is wrong. It is really quite astounding that this has managed to hold up in court.

The bill would place on the accused the responsibility of proving the evidentiary tests incorrect. Many years of scientific study have proven that these tests are accurate, so it would be up to the accused to prove that a technician administered the tests improperly or the equipment malfunctioned.

Bill C-452 would also give police more time to administer breath or blood sample tests to establish BAC. This would allow more time to monitor the fall in blood alcohol levels to confirm accused drivers' claims that their last drink had not entered their bloodstream at the time of the offence.

We can help to stop drinking and driving by giving police and prosecutors these two simple legislative changes. They build on the work that police and the courts have already done to establish the BAC as an accurate measure of a driver's intoxication at the time of an offence. I believe Bill C-452 deserves the support of the House.

Apparently there are other tricks that drunk drivers use to avoid prosecution, which we will need to address in the future. In urban areas such as my riding of Dartmouth, one trick used by people who refuse to stop drinking and driving is leaving the scene of an accident and going immediately to a bar to down a couple of drinks. Then they can claim that their blood alcohol count happened after the accident when they went to the bar to calm their nerves. I must admit the first time that I heard that argument I was astounded. I could not believe that anyone would try to use that as a defence, but the police say that is a claim they often hear.

That points to the pervasive problem with drinking and driving. It is only 5% of drivers on our roads who commit the majority of impaired driving offences. These people refuse to stop driving drunk even though it is a choice they do not have to make; they have often been stopped by the police before and have learned the defences available to them to avoid being charged by the police.

It is our duty as legislators to create laws that our enforcement arm, the police, can actually enforce. Instead, we have the unenviable situation of police officers believing that their work will not matter since the drunk drivers they stop will not be convicted with our present laws.

Research from Mothers Against Drunk Driving proves that legislative measures reduce driving and drinking. This bill would give police and prosecutors more tools to deal with driving and drinking and would send a message to drunk drivers that this House continues its battle to get them off Canadian roads.

I am very pleased to say that I will be supporting this bill. It is an advancement in our cause to stop drinking and driving in this country.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act October 31st, 2003

Madam Speaker, $30 million has come out of my community this year because of EI payments that have not gone to workers who have been laid off.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act October 31st, 2003

Madam Speaker, it is clear that the whole issue around the use of the surplus is one that is very controversial. As far as I can see in the region that I come from, it is unfathomable that some of the surplus would not be spent on some of the very critical expenditures that need to happen.

We need our military equipment replaced. We need the Sea Kings replaced. That was needed 10 years ago and it is needed now.

Cape Bretoners who live on North America's largest toxic waste dump need that issue resolved. They need it cleaned up.

There are the widows of the veterans who are now being nickel and dimed by the government. Twenty-five thousand spouses of brave veterans of our country are being told sorry, too bad so sad, they are not eligible for the tiny pittance of money that would allow them to stay in their homes, help them shovel their snow and just look after themselves.

It is intolerable to think that the federal government would not use the surplus, which is based on the taxes of the country, for things that obviously would improve the quality of life of Canadians.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act October 31st, 2003

Madam Speaker, for one thing it would be quite in violation of the country's Constitution if the government clawed back moneys. It is absolutely required right in the Constitution to provide some level of reasonably comparable levels of public service at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

I mentioned already that in our region, taxation and the costs of health care and post-secondary education are higher than anywhere else in the country. At a time when these are the realities for people living in the east, it would be unfathomable that the federal government which is sitting on this enormous surplus at this point in time would think it would be any kind of fair treatment for a major part of the confederation.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act October 31st, 2003

Madam Speaker, I wish members on the other side of the House and the government could actually see the wisdom of that kind of measure.

The Nova Scotia government, the NDP members of Parliament and members from the other side of the House from Nova Scotia have made that point. We need to have some kind of fair accounting and a method by which we can keep some of the wealth that is now being generated.

The size of this potential clawback that is going to be visited upon the Atlantic region, because of the re-figuring of the census, could be as high as $500 million. That is a figure that Bernard Lord, the Premier of New Brunswick, has mentioned. It is an astounding figure. Half a billion dollars would keep a lot of schools and hospitals going across Atlantic Canada. In fact, it amounts to over 70% of the spending on public schools in Nova Scotia. It is almost equal to the budget of the capital district health authority, which I mentioned earlier.

We are talking about money that could absolutely cripple society and life as we know it in the place that we come from. This is at a time when we have already fallen way back in terms of our standard of living and the ability to keep our young people in the region with the hope of a good life in the future.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act October 31st, 2003

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-54, an act to amend the federal-provincial fiscal arrangements with regard to equalization payments.

From the debate in the House today, we all know that the equalization program is an essential component of fiscal arrangements in Canada and it needs to be strengthened to fulfill its constitutional mandate.

The growing fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provinces and territories raises concerns over the adequacy of fiscal arrangements between the different levels of government.

The equalization program enables all regions to offer more comparable levels of public services and narrows the differences in tax burdens for Canadians across the country. It is certainly not simply the NDP that believes this. In fact, this is entrenched in the Constitution.

The importance of equalization has been acknowledged in subsection 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982. It stipulates:

Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

This is a critical part of our Constitution. It is certainly a critical part that regions like the one I come from, Atlantic Canada, hold onto and believe in deeply.

In its current structure, the equalization program is becoming more inadequate in its ability to achieve these constitutional commitments. Since the beginning of the nineties, equalization entitlements have been declining as a proportion of GDP while fiscal disparities in Canada have not been significantly reduced.

I would like to focus on the concept of adequacy and equity in this program of equalization.

I had a chance to look at the Finance Canada website recently, under transfers to provinces. I worked with the figures that were posted, showing total major transfers by provinces for the years 2000-01 to 2003-04.

Numbers are not necessarily my forte, but I do have access to a Radio Shack calculator. After crunching a few numbers from the Finance Canada website, I found some pretty disturbing things.

The website starts off telling us that between 2000-01 and 2003-04, total major transfers from the federal government to the provinces, mainly equalization and CHST, increased from $42.8 billion to $49.2 billion. That is an increase of almost 15% in just three years. That sounds good. The trouble is that not every province managed to get a seat on the gravy train.

For New Brunswick, total major transfers over the three year period increased, not 15% but a mere 3.6%. For Prince Edward Island, the increase was only 1.6%.

However, even those two provinces were better off than Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. Unlike P.E.I. and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have some revenue from offshore oil and gas. Instead of getting a minor increase in major transfers, they got a major decrease in major transfers. Nova Scotia's transfers dropped 1.3%. Newfoundland and Labrador's dropped more than 10 times that, at 14%.

For the Atlantic region, overall total major transfers from the federal government dropped by 3.3%, from 2001 to 2004, for a total decrease of $200 million. For the country as a whole, total major transfers from the federal government to the provinces increased by 15%, or more than $5 billion.

The Atlantic region is the poorest part of the country. It has the highest rates of unemployment, taxation, and post-secondary tuition, and the lowest per capita rate of expenditure on social programs. For this region, major federal transfers dropped by 3.3%, or about $200 million. There is something wrong with this picture.

If the purpose of these federal transfer programs is to provide a level playing field for Canadians from coast to coast to coast, why are the poorest provinces being cut back before they get anywhere near that level playing field?

Under our Constitution, Canadians have the right to reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. It is time the government started taking the constitutional obligations seriously.

The NDP is calling on the government not only to forgive the census related costs it has calculated in the recent census measurements but to accept a great deal of the responsibility for those losses. We are asking the government to work with Nova Scotians to make the province again a place that will sustain families and their hope for a better life.

We found out recently, this week in fact, that another funding crisis is hitting Nova Scotia's health care system. It is in the form of the largest health care district, the capital district health authority, being forced to cancel overtime for nurses.

Despite the difficulties our province is having in paying for our health care services, education services and what I have just been talking about, the Liberal government is threatening to claw back over $80 million in equalization payments based on the recent census figures.

It took the federal government nearly seven years to realize that its failed economic development programs were forcing young Atlantic Canadians to leave. Its first response was not to determine what went wrong. Its first response was to demand money back. That is an astounding thing to me.

Changes in the employment insurance program meant fewer people could earn a living in Nova Scotia through seasonal employment. The federal government could have fixed that. Instead, it chose not to. A lot of people went down the road.

Cuts to funding for education and health care through the CHST have sent more people down the road. The incredible cost of post-secondary education in my part of the country has made it impossible for young people to carry those debts. Again, we have seen a decrease in our population due to the government's punitive economic measures. We are now being asked to pay back money that in fact is not coming our way.

The offshore oil and gas industry was supposed to be a saviour for Atlantic Canadians, a cash cow like the one Albertans have enjoyed for many years. However, the promise of increased revenue from our offshore has not come true and there are no signs that it will ever be a viable industry that will provide a great deal of revenue for our province.

The Nova Scotia offshore accord, signed by the province and the federal government, was supposed to provide an equalization holiday for Nova Scotia once oil and gas started flowing.

Unfortunately, the accord was signed and came into effect before the member for LaSalle—Émard brought in his infamous 1995 budget which dropped the Canada assistance plan for the new Canada health and social transfer and put in a new set of rules for the provinces. In addition, the transition period for offshore revenues was only set for 10 years. It runs out this year. I know our colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador also face difficulties with revenue earned from the offshore and its impact on equalization payments.

Although it is not actually a part of equalization, under the CHST brought in by the member for LaSalle—Émard, health care funding to provinces is inequitable. It is based only on population, not on need.

The provinces with the lowest overall levels of health get the same level of money for health care per person as provinces with much healthier populations. For the Atlantic provinces, it is a double edged sword. Failed economic policies mean younger, healthier people are leaving our region, as I already mentioned. The result is an aging population in poor health which means we have higher health care costs per person.

Everyone in the House should be aware that a low socio-economic standing poorly affects health outcomes. Poorer provinces automatically have higher health care needs to offset that. The current Canada health and social transfer does not reflect that reality and the new separate transfer for health is based on previous spending. Again, it is not on need.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that we need to review how equalization payments are calculated so that they can truly be a tool for poorer provinces to provide a comparable level of care to that of our wealthier neighbours. We should not wait for another year and force provinces to scramble around to meet their budget priorities with such a flawed agreement.

We need an equalization program that treats provinces equally, that treats all citizens across this country equally, and that does not punish a province for the results of the federal programs that have been very hard on many of our provinces.

Equalization Payments October 31st, 2003

Mr. Speaker, this week we learned that another funding crisis has hit the health care system in Nova Scotia. The largest health district, the Capital District Health Authority, has been forced to cancel overtime for nurses in order to save money, yet despite the difficulties the province is having in providing acceptable levels of health care, the Liberal government is threatening to claw back over $80 million in equalization payments.

Will the Minister of Finance guarantee that Nova Scotia will not be forced to cough up these funds instead of paying for vital services like health, education and disaster relief?

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation October 28th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals broke their promise to the CBC by cutting $10 million this year on top of the hundreds of millions of cuts since this government took over. Ten million dollars could produce a program like Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion , which over one million Canadians watched last weekend.

I could ask the government to commit today to stable multi-year funding as the heritage committee recommended, but the member for LaSalle—Émard could nix it.

The CBC operates three to four years ahead in programming. What guarantees can the Minister of Finance give that the CBC will receive the funding it needs to carry out its mandate?

Income Tax Act October 10th, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have been able to turn the attention of the House to the issue of the artists in the country. It has been a privilege. We heard some interesting things in the course of the debate.

I think that we heard from all sides that there is a sincere concern about the continuance of real support for people in the arts. My motion is quite symbolic. It simply says let us now look at the economic state that people in the arts face in the country.

I appreciate the comments by my colleague from the Bloc who in fact is an artist herself. She is an eloquent spokesperson for persons with disabilities and also for culture.

I also appreciate the comments that have been made about the need to really examine our tax system to see who it is in fact it represents and examine the idea that people who are making under $15,000 are there. We have to make sure that we are not taxing the wrong people. All of these things are excellent ideas.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts has put forward some strong suggestions on how we can support people in the arts. One of the them is tax breaks for copyright income. Another one is an income averaging system. The third one is really careful fine tuning of the employment insurance system which would allow artists to be part of that and get some security.

The point has been made that the artist is no different from the mechanic or many other people in the country who work and are critical to the existence of the country. The point was made that an artist can in fact work at something for years on end and not find any financial benefit until three or four years down the line. It is very different. It is not a wage situation. They do not get a paycheque at the end of every two weeks and that makes a big difference.

Everything has been said today. I have received some wonderful comments from artists from across the country. I want to take the last few minutes to put a couple of things on the record.

Ingrid Jenkner, the curator of the Mount St. Vincent Gallery in Halifax, wrote:

Artists do not constitute a “special interest group” comparable to powerful corporate lobbies. They are neither wealthy nor well-organized. They are undersupported, period. The incomes of visual artists are especially pitiful. I am speaking as a Dartmouth constituent and as a public art gallery director who has worked with visual artists for 25 years. Let's get this motion passed and prove that Canada is a civilized country.

Emily Bickell of Globe Studios wrote:

It is a constant struggle for artists to meet financial requirements while making a serious attempt to have a professional arts career. Emerging artists in particular have a very difficult road ahead as they strive to create artwork without financial support or a body of work as “stock” which they could sell to finance future endeavours.

Leslie Smith wrote:

As president of the Toronto Chapter of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, PWAC, I can tell you that things have gotten worse for the freelance writers who provide so much content for Canadian newspapers and magazines. Media convergence, the rise of the Internet and just plain stinginess on the part of publishers have meant that our real incomes have nosedived over the past 50 years.

I will read something from Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, Lois Hole, which I think is really germane to the argument. She said:

The contributions of artists are as vital as those of the entrepreneur, the police officer, the doctor, the custodian, the child care provider and the construction worker. Artists are just as important because they are our greatest teachers and questioners. They give us the means to think critically, with a keen eye for both the smallest details and the big picture.

She asked us to imagine how different the world would be if we did not have our singers, painters, writers and sculptors serving as our eyes. She went on to say, “Frankly, I think we would enjoy a more saner, more compassionate society, one that keeps a better eye on the details that can make or break a culture”.

We have an opportunity today to support the arts in many ways. We can support them by putting more money into the Canada film fund, into the CBC; by funding our Canada council better; and by putting some special mechanisms into the unemployment insurance system that would take into account the needs of people working in the arts. We could do this through some kind of tax relief for copyright income for artists, and with things like income averaging.

What we have to do is say that it is art that legislates the heart of a nation. That is where we have to begin and that is where we will end.