House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was food.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for British Columbia Southern Interior (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply Management June 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, our supply management sector is under threat at the current secretive negotiations on the trans-Pacific partnership. Countries such as the U.S. and New Zealand are applying tremendous pressure on Canada to put supply management on the chopping block.

Most recently, the Conservatives buckled under European pressure to allow an additional 17,000 tonnes of subsidized European artisan cheese to flood our markets. Our farmers are taking a direct hit as a result of this CETA sell-out.

Unlike other agricultural sectors, farmers in the supply management sector have been able to survive in difficult times over the years without any government subsidies. Prices to consumers have remained constant and competitive. The price of chicken, for example, has risen by only 3.5% over the past two years, while non-supply managed pork and beef have risen by over 20%, and supply management contributes $20 billion to our gross domestic product.

I call on the Conservatives not to give any additional duty-free access for imported dairy, egg and poultry products. The system is working for Canadians. No further concessions.

Members not seeking re-election to the 42nd Parliament June 9th, 2015

Mr. Chair, as always, when I get up here, there is a standing ovation.

This has been quite a journey, which started during the summer of 2003 while my wife Ann and I were driving across the Prairies. I remember it clearly. It was at dinner in Medicine Hat when I mentioned to Ann that I was thinking of seeking the NDP nomination in the 2004 election. I remember her response, “I think you are crazy, but I support you”. I believe she regrets those words to this day.

My next step was to check with my friends, Ed and Katrine Conroy. Ed was a former MLA and Katrine is currently our MLA. They said, “Go for it”.

My final blessing came from the president of our local riding association, Lily Popoff, who said, “Would you please run?” Although I lost in 2004, I was successful in 2006.

The privilege of serving as an MP has undoubtedly been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. I am extremely fortunate to have known our former leader, Jack Layton, and remember many interesting conversations we had over the years. We even went jogging together during one of my campaigns when he was in Castlegar with Olivia.

I would like to pay tribute to all of my NDP caucus colleagues, both past and present. A number of us remember the days when caucus meetings would take place around a table. I have never worked with such a dedicated and committed group of people. Many have been committed to social justice for decades. I wish all of those who are retiring this year the best of health and happiness as they adjust to what we call a normal life.

I must also admit that it has been and continues to be an honour for me to work with them. As members know, 2011 was a time of great change for our party.

I would like to thank all of my new colleagues, particularly my younger colleagues, for their passion and their commitment to building a better Canada.

My friends from Quebec, I really enjoyed the conversations we had at the parliamentary restaurant after the votes. I will truly miss you.

I would especially like to mention our leader. I really appreciate his leadership and especially the fact that he was always available to listen to me and to read the many articles I sent him over these past few years. I am very happy that he is here.

I also want to thank my MP colleagues from all parties who have treated me with respect over the years. I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of them a little more, for example, during trips with the agriculture committee and during my two trips abroad. We do not do enough of that, getting together and socializing with our colleagues.

I would also like to recognize the government front bench. There have been numerous occasions when I have approached ministers directly here in the House as a last resort on behalf of my constituents when all else had failed. They have been very gracious and respectful of my concerns and have taken the time to follow up with their officials. I thank them for this.

I have enjoyed working here in Parliament. There is a very high degree of professionalism everywhere we look. I would first like to thank our interpreters who are always here for us, not only in the House but at each committee and caucus meeting. They are very good at what they do. As a former interpreter, I understand the difficulty and complexity of their work and hope that all members assist them by giving them copies of their speeches well ahead of time.

I would like to wish all of the pages the best in their future endeavours. These dynamic and fluently bilingual university students are a pleasure to be with. I thank them for their service.

If I may use military terminology, I often liken our position as MPs to being on the front line. However, without our support staff, life here would be impossible. I thank all of the staff here in the House and all who make Parliament function smoothly, the clerks, researchers, recorders, postal workers, library staff, and all other support staff.

As you know, Mr. Chair, the work that you do here in the House is not easy, particularly when the debates get a bit heated. I would therefore like to sincerely thank you, your colleagues and the other speakers for your patience.

As a former schoolteacher, I know what life can be like when we are in front of an unruly class of energized students.

You are very understanding.

Also, in spite of the tragic incident last October, I have always felt safe working here on the Hill. The members of our security staff are very professional and truly amazing in how they are able to recognize each and every one of us by name. I thank them as well as the dedicated RCMP officers for their service.

I have a special place in my heart for all the staff upstairs in our parliamentary restaurant. I will truly miss not being able to go up to the sixth floor after votes and be greeted by what I call true professionals as I partake in the daily evening buffet with my Quebec colleagues. It has been a pleasure spending time in the restaurant with my server friends. I only wish they could be assured of full-time employment even when the House is not in session. It is not a very comfortable position to be in when they lose their job when the House rises. Would it be possible, for example, to keep this great restaurant open to staff and tourists in the summer? It could be a win-win situation. I ask the next government to take a serious look at this possibility.

I would also like to recognize the work of the staff in our whip's office and in our leader's office. They are extremely knowledgeable and professional. I really enjoyed working with them during my time here in Parliament. I hope that they will continue their work after the election, but that this time they will be working for the government.

I also want to thank all those who work in our cafeterias, particularly in the Confederation Building. It was very nice to see them every week.

I want to thank all of the support staff, those who keep our workplace clean and in good repair.

Finally, all of us are here because of the support we have received in our ridings. My sincere thanks go out to all members and supporters who have made it possible for me to have this honour. It is truly amazing to observe the behind-the-scenes work that goes on during election campaigns. It is quite a humbling experience to see the efforts that go on to elect us to office. Democracy is alive and well.

It has truly been an honour to serve all constituents of British Columbia Southern Interior, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, after the election, I made it a point to forget who belongs to which party. I would like to single out my provincial and local government colleagues for all their co-operation as we have worked together for the benefit of our constituents. I have always attempted to consult them prior to advancing federal issues on their behalf, or sometimes even wading in on provincial and municipal issues. I wish them all the best as they continue to work on behalf of those they represent.

I would like to take this time to pay tribute to the former mayor of Osoyoos and MLA, John Slater. It was always a pleasure to work with him. He will be missed. May his soul rest in peace.

Sometimes people ask me how I put up with all the nonsense in the House. First, I say that just as in teaching high school, a good night's sleep and a sense of humour certainly help. However, most important of all it is all those committed people who are fighting for social justice right across the country. When I meet with them, it is as if I recharge my batteries. It has truly been an honour to represent their views in Parliament. I have met with citizens concerned about world peace, Canada's involvement in war, protection of the environment, food sovereignty, poverty, Canada Post, smart metres, women's rights, international development and many other issues. It is amazing to see how many people, both in my riding and across the country, are consistently engaged in working to improve the lives of others.

When I was the Agriculture critic for our party, I was in regular contact with many organizations representing farmers as well as those concerned about GMOs, horse slaughter, international trade and food sovereignty. It was always a pleasure to meet with their representatives and to listen to their concerns.

Finally, I would like to recognize my staff, those dynamic women who point me in the right direction and tell me what to say: Jennifer Ratz in Ottawa; Lilly Zekanovic in Oliver; and Margaret Tessman, Gina Petrakos, and Gail Hunnisett in Castlegar. Thanks to their dedication and persistent efforts, my office has been able to assist many constituents over the course of the past nine years. It will be sad not to be able to spend time with these dedicated individuals when I retire.

I would also like to thank others who have worked in my office since I was first elected in 2006. I wish them all the very best in their future endeavours.

A number of people have asked me what I plan to do when I retire. My answer is, nothing. It is my plan to spend time at home with my wife Ann, our two cats and hopefully a new dog. There is wood to chop, flowers to plant and music to play. I guess that is what retirement is all about.

I wish everyone here in Ottawa all the best.

I thank the people of British Columbia Southern Interior for having given me the honour to serve my country as their representative for the past nine years.

Petitions May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have over 300 names from Trail, Castlegar, and the Beaver Valley of folks who are upset about paying additional fees so that they can pay their bills. This especially hits seniors unfairly.

The petitioners are calling on the Government of Canada, its agencies, ministries, and departments to employ the measures at their disposal, appropriate to their jurisdiction, to prohibit the charging of customers for receiving a monthly bill or statement in the mail.

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act May 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal colleague for his excellent question. I have notes here that I have not had a chance to talk about, such as various stakeholders who believe that this consensus, this consultation, did not take place. One of them is Mr. Felix Geithner, director, Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon. He said:

The most pertinent question isn't why Bill S-6 should be prevented from being passed but why was it ever put forward in the first place, in its current form?

He goes on to say:

The reason he provided for introducing a bill that proposes sweeping changes to a fundamental part of this regulatory regime was the need to involve and maintain a competitive and predictable regulatory system.

However, this is not what is taking place. In fact, it is just the opposite.

We have already heard what Ms. Allison Rippin Armstrong of Kaminak Gold Corporation said. I did not have a chance to talk about Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, or Ms. Wendy Randall, chair and executive committee member of the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board, or Chief Angela Demit, and we could go on and on.

There is a groundswell of opposition to these amendments and this bill, so why on earth would the current government even consider putting this legislation forward?

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act May 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, that is a logical question. However, if we look at the process and see that one group of people, namely the first nations in Yukon, do not agree with that, then in my mind that should trigger that there is something wrong. It then becomes another top-heavy federal government decision that people are not supporting. There is something wrong with it.

Obviously the protection should be there, but it should be worked out and agreed upon by all stakeholders. In reading my notes and discussing the bill, my conclusion is that has not happened, and that is one of the flaws of the amendments on this piece of legislation.

Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act May 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure and a certain amount of emotion that I speak to Bill S-6. My heart has a soft spot for Yukon and its people.

In 1976, I first went to Yukon to undertake a study on the feasibility of expanding youth hostels. For those of us who remember the late 1970s, it was a time of youth migration across this great country. My task was to see if we could set up a network of centres or hostels to accommodate these young people. That was my first opportunity to visit this magnificent area of Canada. I went for a few months and stayed for five years, perhaps the happiest and most rewarding of my life.

My next job involved working with the Yukon recreation branch, which at that time came under the Department of Education. The minister at the time, a current senator for Yukon, was Senator Dan Lang. I fondly remember spending time in his office trying to get support for various initiatives that our branch was working on. Now we see each other occasionally on flights to and from Ottawa. However, unfortunately we do not agree on Bill S-6.

One of the initiatives that I had the pleasure of working on, an idea that came from the director of recreation at that time, Barry Robb, was that of implementing a network of territory-wide recreation and advisory boards that would be all inclusive. We tried and were successful in involving all communities, with first nation participation as equals, helping to break down some of the barriers that existed at that time.

What is puzzling is that this type of consultation process has apparently been lacking in regard to the bill before us. As I read my notes, I find it very troubling that the Conservative government is once again attempting to ram its ideologically driven agenda through without taking into account the needs of all citizens of Yukon.

Yukon is a majestic area with an extraordinary landscape, wide open spaces unequalled anywhere in the world, and with a dynamic proud people. While there, I spent many hours visiting various communities, from Dawson City to Watson Lake. I even had the pleasure of flying into Old Crow in the Arctic Circle. At that time, we had functioning mines in Elsa and Faro. I even spent a few months working as recreation direction in Elsa.

Bill S-6 would unilaterally rework Yukon's environmental and socio-economic evaluation system, a system which is a product of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which settled most of the first nations land claims in the territory. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, YESAA, is a made-in-Yukon solution to the unique environmental and social circumstances of the territory.

It is clear to see that the changes proposed in Bill S-6 are being driven by what I would call the corporate agenda of southern resource development companies. The bill would dismantle the environmental and socio-economic assessment process developed in Yukon, by Yukoners for Yukon.

In my opinion, it is part of the Conservative ideologically driven agenda to systematically weaken environmental protection legislation, with no public consultation, little or no parliamentary security, and often being buried in omnibus budget legislation. Some examples of weakened environmental laws include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, navigable waters protection act, and Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

It is interesting to note that four former fisheries ministers, three of them Conservative, have been highly critical of the gutting of the Fisheries Act by the current Conservative government. I would like to recognize one of these individuals, the hon. Tom Siddon, who continues to serve his constituents as a director with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

As I mentioned earlier, there was incomplete consultation with Yukon first nations before these amendments were made. I find it hard to believe that there was no public process while developing these amendments. At the same time, non-Yukon stakeholders, including the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Mining Association of Canada, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association were allowed input.

It appears as if the Yukon government, with support from the Conservative MP and senator, pushed this deal through in spite of considerable opposition to the changes from Yukoners and the Council of Yukon First Nations. In other words, these amendments favour the Yukon government over the Yukon first nations, the other partner in the YESAA process.

There should not be this kind of division. What is more, the Council of Yukon First Nations has threatened legal action should the bill become law. Ironically, instead of favouring development, Bill S-6 could wind up slowing it down.

Let us listen to what Allison Rippin Armstrong, vice-president of lands and environment at Kaminak Gold Corporation has to say:

...Kaminak is concerned that the process through which YESAA is being amended is creating distrust between governments and uncertainty in the assessment and regulatory process for current and future projects in Yukon.

Specifically, the YESAA five-year review resulted in a number of recommendations, most of which were supported by the parties involved in the review, including Yukon first nations. We understand that some of the proposed amendments do not accurately reflect comments and recommendations raised during the five-year review, and as a result, instead of celebrating a historic alignment between the governments and the Yukon first nations on most of the proposed amendments to YESAA, Yukon first nations have expressed a common position that they intend to take the federal government to court, if Bill S-6 is passed as proposed.

Kaminak is very concerned about this development, because court cases create assessments and regulatory uncertainty in addition to extraordinary delay, all of which erodes investor confidence.

In these difficult economic times, why would any government even consider implementing measures that would encourage economic uncertainty? It would seem to me that a stable environment supported by first nations should be a necessary prerequisite to any shift in policy.

Former Yukon MP Larry Bagnell spoke in the House to the original bill creating YESAA on October 21, 2002. He said:

Much of that time has been spent in consultation with stakeholder groups and, as a result, we have a much better bill and much better process than might otherwise be the case. First nations in particular will have a more meaningful role in assessments in Yukon.

It is safe to say that virtually everyone in Yukon had an opportunity to comment on the bill and many did.

Larry talked about how the department released drafts of the legislation in 1998 and 2001 for public review and undertook two separate tours to meet with first nations and other residents to review and discuss these drafts. He went on to say:

This took time, but it was time well spent. Those in Yukon who participated believe the process was inclusive, transparent and worthwhile.

Why is it that a former Liberal majority government made an effort to adequately consult prior to introducing legislation where our current conservative regime has chosen to disregard the democratic process?

Speaking of the lack of respect for democracy, one only has to look at how the Canadian Wheat Board was gutted in spite of support for the single desk by over 60% of farmers, or the complete rejection of over 20 amendments proposed by the NDP and Liberals to strengthen the food safety act, Bill S-11, or most recently the way that Bill C-51 was rammed through, in spite of the fact that knowledgeable witnesses spoke out against these draconian measures. Clearly Canadians are asking for a change. This will happen in October, but sorry for that digression.

Ruth Massie, Grand Chief, Council of Yukon First Nations said this when appearing before the Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources:

Pursuant to the UFA, the CYFN, including Yukon First Nations, Canada and Yukon undertook a comprehensive review of YESAA. Initially, CYFN, Yukon First Nations, Canada and Yukon worked collaboratively to prepare the interim YESAA review report. In the end, Canada unilaterally finalized the report and systematically rejected the input from the CYFN and Yukon First Nations.

The proposed amendments in front of the Senate today were not discussed in the five-year review process with Canada and the Yukon government.

Mary Jane Jim, councillor, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, said: is our view that YESAA has been operating effectively and efficiently since its enactment in 2003. The federal government now works to unilaterally make additional amendments to the YESAA. We did not request these amendments, nor do we support them. These amendments are not necessary.

Let me close by saying that I believe this is not a good precedent in these difficult times. I urge all members of the House to reject this flawed piece of legislation.

Petitions May 15th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition that deals with climate change, with over 60 signatures, calling for Canada to adopt a carbon policy that applies a fee to greenhouse gas emissions at their source of production in Canada, and calling on nations around the world to adopt a similar policy.

Petitions May 15th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have over 300 names, with three different petitions, on Canada Post. The first one from Nelson, Salmo, and Ymir calls upon the government to reverse the cuts to services announced by Canada Post and to look instead for ways to innovate in areas such as postal banking.

The second petition, from folks in Nelson and the Slocan Valley area, calls on the government to ensure that our public post office is not scaring people into accepting community mailboxes and that it continues to provide door-to-door delivery to residents.

The third petition is from residents of Castlegar. It calls upon the government to instruct Canada Post to keep and expand the public post office instead of opening privately run offices or franchises.

Petitions May 7th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, on another topic, I have here a petition signed by more than 300 people from Quebec and across the country. They say that 3% of the population immediately experiences undesirable effects from wireless radiation. The petitioners are asking the Government of Canada to immediately implement an official process enabling Canadians to report undesirable effects of exposure to wireless radiation.

Member for British Columbia Southern Interior April 21st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as I ride off into the sunset later on this year, I would like to pay tribute to all those who made the past nine years the most enriching experience of my life. I thank my wife Ann and my staff, both past and present, for their loyalty and service to our constituents.

To those front-line activists who are advocating for a better world, it has been an honour to stand by them.

To the members of my party who are always there for every election, I thank them for their confidence in me. One such person is my brother George, here with me today, who together with his wife Gloria have been truly an inspiration to me.

To all those in Ottawa who make this a very pleasant place to work—custodians, maintenance workers, restaurant and cafeteria staff, security personnel, post office staff, House of Commons and NDP staff—I thank them for their professionalism and dedication.

Lastly, I want to thank all of my colleagues, from all political parties in the House, for the respect they have shown me. It has been, and continues to be, an honour to work with them. I wish everyone all the best in their future endeavours.