House of Commons photo

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

Social Condition September 25th, 2003

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure and privilege to speak to private member's Motion No. 392 put forward by the member for Sherbrooke, which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should add “social condition” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

This would be in addition to the already prohibited grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.

I have to say that this is a very exciting idea. It is an idea whose time has come and in fact is long overdue.

In 1998 the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission said:

Poverty is a serious breach of equality rights which I believe has no place in a country as prosperous as ours. Human rights are indivisible. Economic and social rights cannot be separated from political, legal or equality rights. It is now time to recognize poverty as a human rights issue here at home as well.

She said this in an annual report to Parliament in 1998. That is quite a while ago.

We all know that poverty is one of the greatest barriers to equality in Canada. There is no question when we look at what is happening around us that poor people are losing their rights. Discrimination is growing. We are witnessing a growing homelessness that is now of crisis proportions in Canada. There is an increasing environment of poor-bashing. We are even seeing municipal bylaws that discriminate against poor people, such as anti-panhandling bylaws.

There is a growing environment in the country of discrimination against poor people. What exactly do I mean by this? How does this really look on the ground for the people who are experiencing it? I can think of many examples. I will put out only a few of them right now in terms of my own community.

This means that a landlord denies a single mom an apartment because she is on social assistance or because her family has been on social assistance. This means that a landlord denies a person an apartment because he or she does not have a stellar credit rating or even a credit rating at all.

Many people in my riding are discriminated against every day of their lives because they are poor. Because they are poor, they cannot access housing, credit, banking services, businesses and other services, even some public services such as schools and recreation facilities.

Recently school resumed. Students went back to school across the country. A couple of students in Dartmouth were turned away from a high school because they did not have the registration fee to get into high school. The registration fee pays for lockers and agenda books and a number of other things. I am not sure what the situation was. They may have just forgotten their cheque that day; they may just not have brought the money.

Or they may not have had the money. They may not have had the money to pay this fee that would open the doors of a public institution to them so they could get an education.

It is appalling. It was appalling to people in Dartmouth to realize that young people were in fact apparently being denied access to the school because they could not pay that $25 or $50 fee or whatever the going rate was for their registration. It is things such as this that young people are coming up against.

There are so many user fees now for everything. This is another topic, really, but many children in my community cannot afford to play sports. They cannot afford fees for soccer, basketball, volleyball or hockey. Because these families cannot afford fees, they are in fact being discriminated against because of social condition. They are being excluded from services and privileges that they would benefit and grow from.

These are only a few of the hundreds of examples of discrimination that occur daily for poor people in a community, people who do not have the economic resources to participate in many things.

My colleague from Winnipeg has just found out that the last bank is leaving her community. Why? Because it is a poor community. The money is not there and the bank has decided to leave because it just simply is not making the profits that it wants from that community.

Banks discriminate against poor people all the time; they charge special fees to people who are trying to cash their social assistance cheques. There are many ways that money talks. If we do not have money, we are invisible and we are silent.

There is another very important way in which people are discriminated against because of social condition and unfortunately that is happening at the public policy level in our government.

I will go back to 1989, to a very good day in the House of Commons, when the House unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, something for which all members stood and voted. It was a very noble gesture. People here felt very good about it.

The question is, what happened? In 1993 the federal government abandoned social housing, one of the key issues that determines health and poverty in this country. In 1995 we saw the loss of the Canada assistance plan, which laid out basic rights and conditions in terms of social entitlement. In 1996 we saw the era of the Canada health and social transfer that abandoned and eliminated those universal rights in Canada. For the first time we saw a massive downloading and slashing of social programs, which now has ballooned out of sight.

A debate was just held here, just before this one, on cuts to the employment insurance program. The fact is that years ago I think it was 82% of Canadians who were unemployed who were covered by unemployment insurance and that is now down to something like 42%, so of course poverty is deepening in this country. It is being egged on and has been exacerbated by our federal government. We see it with the cuts to the disability tax credit. We see it with the cuts to the Canada pension disability plan. We see it everywhere we turn and we hear about it in every call we get in our ridings.

These cuts to crucial programs, the changes to eligibility and the changes to base rates for eligibility are deepening the poverty, the inequality and the growing stresses in Canadian families and creating a climate of division, where poor people are unfairly divided into categories such as deserving or undeserving of assistance or compassion. This climate of division creates an environment where poor-bashing is tolerated and even perpetuated by the federal government with such things as means testing.

By including social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act we can end this climate of poor-bashing, but I think we can do even more. As I already mentioned, there was a landmark day and a landmark motion in this House in 1989. At that point the House unanimously said no to child poverty. Members voted in favour of a resolution introduced by Ed Broadbent, then the leader of the New Democrats, which sought, unanimously, the elimination of child poverty as an achievable goal in a wealthy society.

We should all think about that for a moment. Eliminating child poverty is an achievable goal in a wealthy society. If ending child poverty is possible, why not all poverty? What a revolutionary thought.

In closing, let me say that any revolution starts with one small action. Adding social condition to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is a small action this House can take to start acting upon the unanimous resolution from 1989.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

It is very shameful.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. We are not looking at a group that is going to get larger. We are looking at a group that is getting smaller. These people are passing away. That is why it is critical to make sure we take care of them in their last years.

I was at the Battle of Britain ceremony in Dartmouth last weekend. I was looking at the veterans and thinking that there were fewer there this year than there were last year and the year before, just as there are fewer widows.

It is not sending a good message at all to this group to say we are not going to be able to look after their mates or their fellows' mates who may have passed away earlier; that we cannot look after them, we have made a decision and that is it and they are either in luck or they are not.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken with family members who are facing the very troubling situation of their mothers or grandmothers who now are having to look at selling the family home. They can no longer maintain the family home. They cannot pay for the heating. They cannot pay rising costs. They literally cannot afford to maintain the normality that they have spent their lives building up and that their husbands or partners also built up.

It seems so terribly unfair that just because people's partners have passed away one day before this absolutely arbitrary cut-off date those people are not able to get the kind of help they need just to maintain their lives. We are not talking about an enormous number of people. We are talking about a very small portion of our population, 28,000 people altogether, aged people who are facing complex health needs who all of their lives have been involved in the military culture, who have in fact given enormously. They have seen their husbands go away for long stretches of time, live in dangerous situations and then come back disabled. They have dealt with complex stress and disability issues all of their lives.

Then, for them to be told at the very end of their lives that there is not anything for them, that in fact a decision was made but unfortunately they are not going to be cared for, it is just not the Canadian way. It is very troubling.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-50 and follow my colleague from Newfoundland on this important matter.

Bill C-50 is an important piece of legislation. It increases the benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans. Some of the things that I appreciate about the bill is it extends compensation for former prisoners of war, and it extends the health programs for war veterans with a pensioned disability regardless of whether their health needs are related to their military service.

The legislation also provides improvements to the veterans independence program and health care benefits to overseas service veterans at home when there is a wait list for a priority access bed. Health care benefits also are available for allied veterans with 10 years post-war residence in Canada. That is also an important point. The bill establishes an education assistance program for the children of deceased Canadian Forces veterans. These are all important things and the NDP is happy to support the bill.

I would like to take a minute to thank the veterans who live in this country and who continue to keep the flame alive about the issues of peace and their contributions to us and the world we live in today.

I come from the Atlantic region. I represent Dartmouth and many veterans live in my riding. They were young men and women when they left our shores many years ago to fight for our freedom, and although they all hoped to come back safe and sound of mind and body, the sad reality is that many of them returned with a disability. Also I would like to thank their spouses, in many cases women, who took on the role of caregivers for these veterans.

My riding of Dartmouth borders on Halifax harbour which was the staging ground for most of our overseas troops in World War I, World War II, the Korean war, and most recently the actions in the gulf. Every opportunity I have I go to see one of the ships that is either leaving on a mission or returning home. It is an awesome sight to see the families waiting for their loved ones to come back. It is a very elevating moment when they come home and a very sad time every time they leave.

In my job as an MP I have learned more about people in my riding at events like that and getting to know the military families than I have learned in any other area. I did not know the extent of their commitment to our country. I did not know the extent of the passion and commitment of our military and its families. That is a gift to me in this job.

One area that we are concerned about in this legislation is around the issue of veterans benefits and the veterans independence program in particular.

Earlier this year the Minister of Veterans Affairs announced regulatory changes to the veterans independence program so that veterans' widows would receive government help to maintain their homes after the death of their husbands with no time limits. Prior to those changes, a widow would be cut off from benefits one year after her husband's death. That part of the program was obviously inadequate and we are glad it was addressed.

Unfortunately, an arbitrary timeline has been put on this so that the government will be helping some widows, those whose husbands died after May 2003, but it will not be helping up to 28,000 partners whose husbands or wives died before that arbitrary cutoff date. It is no surprise and we can all understand what this actually means.

We will now see two classes of veterans' widows and widowers. There will be those who ironically I guess were lucky enough to have their partner pass away after that magic date of May 2003. Then there will be those who were unlucky enough, and they are all unlucky obviously, but they were unlucky to have their partner pass away on April 29 or 30 or on March 29 or 30.

If death occurred in April or March, those families are doubly grieving because there will be no support for them through the VIP. This is something that I cannot understand and certainly those people cannot understand.

I have heard from constituents whose fathers and grandfathers have died before May 2003. I know every MP in the House has also heard of this kind of situation. Now those constituents' mothers and grandmothers are struggling to maintain their homes without any help. At the same time they know that there is somebody else, possibly living next door to them, who will be receiving help from the government because their husband died after that cutoff date.

The grandchildren and the children feel that this is unjust and against the mission of Veterans Affairs Canada which promises to respond to the needs of veterans and their families. These regulatory changes could help these women stay in their family homes, maintain their independence and be a practical expression of our gratitude to these families. Instead, it is a slap in the face to up to 28,000 women and men and their families. Veterans Affairs Canada claims to be supporting these women but it is saying that it is too costly to move that date back or to try to accommodate these families.

The government has to be ashamed for telling these people that in fact they are too much of a burden, that there are other priorities, such as reallocating budget funds, and that there are more important things to deal with than elderly widows, widowers and vulnerable citizens. I do not find that acceptable. I do not know anyone in my community who would find that acceptable. I do not think members of the House find it acceptable.

We have to take care of people who have taken care of us and who are in need at this time. It is just as clear to me as the nose on my face. This has to be eradicated. This has to be fixed.

In closing I will read from the introduction to the proposed legislative changes:

Veterans are using services and benefits more extensively as they cope with deteriorating health and increasingly complex care needs.... As war Veterans are now at an average of 80 years, this need for change has become urgent.

The department is absolutely right in recognizing that fact, but it must also recognize the fact that the spouses are also deteriorating in health and experiencing complex care needs.

Veterans Affairs has a moral responsibility to extend the veterans independence program access to widows whose spouses have passed away before that date because they too are in critical need of health care and the kind of care that we have available.

I join with many others here in the House and I join with thousands of people in my riding who say that we cannot put qualifiers on this very important program. We cannot put time qualifiers on it. We have to make sure that this small and vulnerable portion of our population gets the care that they need at this point in time.

Although the NDP is generally supportive of other measures in Bill C-50, without an improvement to the situation of these 28,000 widows and widowers, these changes are simply not good enough.

Parliament of Canada Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly say, yes, the conditions of this person's job would cover all the people in this House. All activities and conduct of MPs would be covered by the work of the ethics commissioner.

I would have to consider the member's final question more carefully. I do not know the details about what that would actually involve in terms of it being one of the five officers, so I would have to look at that more carefully.

Parliament of Canada Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member sits on the committee that has been studying the bill and I appreciate those internal notes on what went on in trying to draft the amendment.

I do not sit on the committee and I am not a parliamentary technician, but I do have some concern over the idea of the Prime Minister consulting with party leaders. I do not think that has the same kind of weight or same kind of public buy-in on the part of parliamentarians across the country. I do not think it is an acceptable alternative. I still hold out for that two-thirds majority vote. I guess the question is to find some mechanism that would make it possible.

Parliament of Canada Act September 25th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak briefly about the bill before us, Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer), and the Canadian Alliance amendment to send it back to committee.

First I want to mention that the NDP has long been a supporter of the concept of a code of ethics for parliamentarians. I am proud to say that one of my early colleagues when I became an MP in 1997, Gordon Earle, the former member for Halifax West, was first to put forward a code of ethics, in the 36th Parliament. I want to talk briefly about that because I think it sets the tone for this.

Gordon Earle, a man of great integrity and a friend, really did see his job here as one of inspiring and strengthening people's confidence and trust in the democratic process. He felt that integrity, honesty and straight talk were the order of the day, that they are what we are here for, and if we cannot do that then we should be somewhere else. Really there was not a day that went by that Gordon Earle did not spend time talking about this.

He put forward a private member's bill on that very issue. I want to read to the House a couple of the thoughts he put within his private members' bill.

He prefaced his remarks by saying that over the years people have become so cynical and pessimistic concerning their elected officials, and we all know that is true, and that elected officials must not only conduct themselves in a manner befitting of trust but they also “must be seen to be carrying out their responsibilities beyond reproach and free from conflict of interest”.

His bill was based on the following principles, which I think are really central to this debate today. He said:

Parliamentarians should have the highest ethical standards so as to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of parliamentarians and Parliament.

Parliamentarians should perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny.

Parliamentarians should avoid placing themselves under any financial or other obligations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

Parliamentarians upon entering office should arrange their private affairs to prevent real or apparent conflict of interest. If such does arise, it should be resolved in a way that protects the public interest.

Parliamentarians should not accept any gifts or personal benefit in connection with their office that may reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity. Parliamentarians would not accept any gift other than those received as a normal expression of protocol and courtesy.

No parliamentarian would be permitted to be a party to a contract with the Government of Canada under which the parliamentarian receives a benefit.

Parliamentarians would be required to make a disclosure of all assets once every calendar year and would be required to make public disclosure of the nature, although not the value, of all assets each year.

Finally, to ensure that public interest and the highest standards are upheld, there would be an ethics counsellor to advise parliamentarians on any question relating to conduct.

So now here we are back to the ethics counsellor, six years later. I am happy to say that the NDP is very much in support of this concept. After Gordon Earle put forward that private member's bill, we saw it reintroduced in this Parliament's first session by the then NDP leader, the member for Halifax.

That bill of the member for Halifax asked for a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons for a vote in favour of an ethics commissioner. That is the central point I want to address here and now. It goes back to the idea that we must have complete confidence in the choice, in the person selected.

That means we have to be above politics. We have to make sure that not just 50 plus one but a large majority of people in the House from all parties are willing to say, “Yes, this is a person we can trust to carry forth the idea of ethics in the House”. That is an amendment we are very strongly putting forward.

The amendment before the House of Commons today calls for sending the bill back to committee to have “an all party for those persons who would be most suitably qualified and fit to hold the office of Ethics Commissioner”. We support that amendment.

The NDP supports having an ethics commissioner for all parliamentarians. We support a code of conduct which would oversee a regime for the disclosure of the private interests of MPs and senators, including those of their immediate families. We support having an ethics commissioner who gives advice to parliamentarians on issues of ethics and conflicts of interest.

The NDP also feels that the public should have access to the complaint process. The ethics commissioner should have the power to receive and investigate complaints made by the public about improper behaviour. The public should be able to make complaints directly to the ethics commissioner and not just to a member of Parliament. It goes without saying that frivolous accusations should not progress to grievances; this process must be taken seriously. We must look for assurances from the government that complaints from the public will be treated seriously by an ethics commissioner.

A vote in the House of Commons to accept the appointment of an ethics commissioner should require a two-thirds majority of the House, as I have already stated. The NDP made an amendment at committee on this issue and unfortunately the government side voted it down. In our estimation, a simple majority vote of the House to support an ethics commissioner would not go the distance in giving parliamentarians and the Canadian public confidence in this office. Again, the ethics commissioner must have the trust and support of all members of Parliament to have the confidence of the House of Commons.

In conclusion, we support the bill in principle. As I have noted and am proud to say again, a couple of our members have been instrumental in bringing forward the language and principles of the bill. I was proud to read some of the references from the former member for Halifax West, Gordon Earle, in the 36th Parliament. We support the principles of the bill. We believe that the amendments improve the selection process of the ethics commissioner and we support them. However, we remain adamant that this process must be backed up by a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons in terms of the approval of the actual ethics commissioner.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation September 24th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, after yesterday's announcement that the government slashed CBC funding by $10 million, staff are already preparing for layoffs and cuts to programming, especially on top of earlier cuts this year to the CTF.

In February the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that new funding for the CBC was in the budget, but maybe that was used to cover lunches at fancy restaurants.

When will the government follow the call of the heritage committee's broadcasting report and implement secure multi-year funding for the CBC?

Supply September 16th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the hon. member a question which has come to me after listening to the debate today.

Several members on all sides of the House and somebody from the Conservative Party quite eloquently asked what it was about the idea of same sex relationships and their impact on heterosexual relationships? How will someone who has a longstanding, loving relationship with someone of the same sex dilute in any way impact on your own relationship which I gather is with someone of the opposite sex. I clearly do not understand why you have that problem seeing as we are talking about tolerance and loving relationships.