House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was workers.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Davenport (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Urban Workers Strategy May 14th, 2015

moved that Bill C-542, an act to establish a National Urban Workers Strategy, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport, in the great city of Toronto.

It used to be that we could leave school, university or high school or college, and get a job that paid a decent wage and we could consider raising a family, buying a home. We would also consider staying with that company for our entire working career and, at the end of it, have a pension that we could count on, a pension that would keep us, in our seniors years, living in dignity. In fact, we could have a job that we could build a life on.

All that has changed. Today, more and more people are working freelance, are self-employed, are working multiple part-time jobs, are working on short-term contracts, are working through temp agencies, and some, I think too many, are working for free, as unpaid interns. These are what I refer to as “urban workers”. What do they all have in common? They cannot access a workplace pension; they have no extended health benefits; they have no job security.

Tonight, we begin the important work to fix that with this national urban workers strategy.

Our labour laws, our policies, are predicated upon a post-war work reality that no longer exists, or barely exists. We need to pull our labour policies and our labour laws into the 21st century. We need to reflect the reality of work today. We are doing that, tonight, with this national urban workers strategy. It marks the first time in Parliament that we debate, in a comprehensive way, measures that would help freelancers, the self-employed, people who are working multiple part-time jobs, people who are on contract.

It would be one thing if there were just a few workers like that in our economy, but that is not the case. It used to be the case. In fact, my own father worked as a self-employed person. I remember those days because in grade school, he was the only dad I knew who worked for himself. Everyone else had traditional jobs.

A couple of years ago, the United Way and McMaster University came out with a very important report, that showed that almost 50% of all workers in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area could not access stable, full-time employment. They could not find it. We have a more recent study, in fact, it was just last month, from the CIBC that showed that job quality in Canada was at an all-time low, and this particularly affects young workers.

This is the legacy and the record of the current Conservative government. It was the legacy and the record of the former Liberal government, as well.

Tonight, we enter a new chapter in the proud history of the NDP. The NDP has always stood with and for workers. We are the party that has fought to protect workplace pensions. We have fought to protect extended health benefits for workers in the workplace. We fought for occupational health and safety measures. We fought for the protection of job security.

Tonight, we are fighting for all those workers who cannot access a pension to begin with, all those workers who have no extended health benefits, all those workers in the economy who do not have any job security, who could wake up tomorrow and have no job. This bill marks a new chapter.

I would like to just say a word about why the word “urban” is in the bill. The word “urban” is in the bill because about 80% of Canadians live in urban areas and this issue of precarious work is manifesting itself in significant measures in the economy of our urban centres. That said, this bill would positively affect all precarious workers, whether they live in a big city, a small town or a rural municipality. These issues are universal.

People cannot access job stability. They do not have access to a pension. They do not have access to extended health benefits.

What are some of the measures in the bill? I would like to speak to some of the core measures. I would like to do that by first telling a personal anecdote.

I was working, as I have for about 25 years, as a freelance arts and culture worker in Toronto. Around 2008 we had a significant health crisis in my family, one in which both myself and my partner had to put all hands on deck in order to deal with the crisis. That took a good four or five months to deal with.

For people working freelance what generally happens is while they are working they are also working to find the next job too because they never know when that next job will come. In that space of time when we were dealing with a health crisis at home I was not working. After the crisis subsided and I went back to finding employment, it took some time to ramp up to stable employment again and we incurred significant debt. We were in debt for quite some time. It took several years to get ourselves out of that debt.

It made me realize just how precarious my work life was, that there was this razor thin line between stability and economic calamity. I started to look around and realized that it is not just people in the arts and culture sector, although most of those folks are working in precarious situations, but it is many people. It is taxi drivers, graphic designers, office cleaners, clerks, cashiers, personal support workers and micro entrepreneurs, people who are cobbling together a living doing a variety of things in our economy. None of them are able to access the kinds of income security measures and supports that buffer workers from the calamities of life, whether those are job loss due to a changing economy or family crises or health crises. These workers cannot take time off to tend to sick loved ones. They cannot access paternity and maternity leave. They cannot access compassionate leave.

At the end of one job and the beginning of another, there is often a gap and there is no way to bridge that gap. We have no policies in place to bridge that gap. Tonight, we begin to build those bridges with a national urban worker strategy.

The bill compels the federal government to do something that this government seems almost frightened to do, which is to sit down with other levels of government, like the provinces, municipalities, labour groups, employers and other relevant stakeholders and start to really get into the meat of this issue of how we support these workers. These workers pay taxes, raise families and contribute in significant ways to the cohesive social fabric of our cities and our communities right across the country and yet we have not addressed their concerns, until tonight.

Some of the measures in the bill that we are suggesting the federal government look at are issues around, for example, employment insurance. We need to fix our employment insurance system so it is there when workers need it and we need to find ways to expand that so it is available for all workers. It currently is not. In fact, in the city of Toronto, even if they pay into it, oftentimes there are only about 30% of workers who can actually access it.

We know that this federal government has raided the EI fund. The last Liberal government did the same thing. Neither government had its eyes set on the issues of precarious work and how we build a system that takes care of all workers and gives them those supports.

We need look at the tax system. It is incredibly complex for those who are self-employed, those who are freelance and on contract. It deals with significant issues which we can look at. As an example, when the GST was first implemented, people with incomes at $30,000 had to start collecting GST for the federal government. We need to look at measures that will make it easier for urban workers to build a business, to build their careers and not just foist people who try to cobble a living together into a situation where they act as free tax collectors, essentially, for the federal government.

We need to take a look at a living pension for Canadians. We need to do this and we can do this. The NDP has fought for this for years. We need to expand the breadth and scope of the Canada pension plan.

We need to address the issues of the exploitation of workers and unpaid interns. We need to tighten our labour laws. We need to sit down with the provinces to talk about some of these issues. We have heard the debate around the issue of unpaid interns, young people working in situations where they have no rights or protection. This is outrageous. We should all think this is outrageous, that we are putting our young people into positions where they do not get paid for the work they do and they do not get the same workplace protection regimes that other workers have.

On top of that, we also need to acknowledge some of the very large issues that will significantly help urban workers, such as affordable child care. This is a major offer by the NDP to finally put in place affordable child care right across the country. We will not just promise it and then pretend we never said anything about it. We will promise it and we will deliver it.

Trying to find measures that are going to support urban workers is also another reason why a $15 an hour minimum wage is important because that provides an upward pressure on wages and it will help all precarious workers negotiate better wages for themselves. We have to look at any measure that will help both large and small urban workers.

I want to acknowledge the many people who have helped get this bill from the streets of Toronto to the floor of the House of Commons, people who prior to this felt that nobody was really taking on their issues and concerns. I am extremely proud to be part of a caucus that understands we have to move the marker for all workers in the country. The current government has left too many people at the side of the road in its rampant march for tax cuts for its wealthy friends at the expense of hard-working people and hard-working families across the country.

More and more people are working this way and this debate is an incredibly important one for Canadians who deal with this issue. Whether people watching this are precarious workers or not, everybody knows someone who is. Everyone has relatives or know teachers who cannot get a full-time, teaching gig. The bill is for them. The bill will help move Canada forward in a more equitable and fair way for all workers. I am very proud to stand here on behalf of all of those workers to present the bill. I look forward to the debate to come.

Public Safety May 14th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, regardless of the props the minister uses, CSIS was clear: the one-time investments that the minister made have not been nearly enough to increase the operational capacity at the agency.

Government needs to be able to ensure the private information of Canadian businesses and families. The Conservative government has not done nearly enough. Its investment in cybersecurity is nowhere near that of our allies and certainly nowhere near adequate for Canada.

When will the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness stop being a paper minister in the digital era?

Labour May 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I do not know. Canadians are getting whiplashed, trying to follow the minister on this issue.

Yesterday, she claimed she had the support of the Canadian Intern Association and, today, it writes a blistering op-ed, saying that this budget bill “is bad news for interns“. Instead of protecting interns, the government has actually opened the door to more exploitation. It has even excluded unpaid interns from protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The minister keeps saying she really cares about unpaid interns. If that is the case, why will she not walk that talk and fix the bill?

Consumer Protection May 7th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, let us be fair. First, that much-vaunted code of conduct is a voluntary code of conduct.

The big five banks have all said that in a few weeks, middle-class Canadians will face more pay-to-pay fees, and these are even worse than the ones the NDP forced the government to act upon last year. This is a basic issue of fairness. Does the minister really think it is fair that banks charge their customers a fee just to make a mortgage payment, a credit card payment, a student loan payment?

Where is the minister's backbone? Why is he letting the banks get away with it?

Petitions May 7th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I too rise to present a petition in support of eliminating the GST on menstrual hygiene products.

Consumer Protection May 1st, 2015

The Conservatives did introduce a code of conduct, Mr. Speaker, but it is a voluntary code of conduct, and that voluntary code of conduct gives the banks a blank cheque to charge new fees on everyday transactions that hammer middle-class Canadians, transactions like making a mortgage payment, making a student loan payment. Seniors, even children, are going to be affected by these new pay-to-pay fees. A voluntary code of conduct does not cut it.

When will the government have the backbone to stand up against the banks and stand up for Canadians against these fees?

Consumer Protection April 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, when the government buckled to NDP pressure to end pay-to-pay fees, they made sure that their bank buddies were exempted and it seems that they have used that as a green light to start charging hard-working, middle-class Canadians extra fees to pay their mortgage, to make a payment on their credit card, even to pay student loans. This is pay-to-pay fees on steroids.

When will the government stop sheltering big banks and their billions in profits and finally ban all pay-to-pay fees?

Business of Supply April 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to once again stand in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to speak to this motion put forward by the Liberals.

To touch very lightly on some of the comments by the previous speaker, who seemed to be a little unclear about whether we would be supporting this motion, and so that he understands, we will be supporting the motion.

However, just so he is also clear about some apparent trepidation, it is not so much the motion, but the record of previous Liberal governments. The Liberal Party in the House of Commons does not want Canadians to dwell on that history. I heard the member for Winnipeg North say that his party would bring these measures forward after the next election, if they were given that opportunity. I suppose one would forgive Canadians for skepticism around that promise, given that this is the party that promised to rip up the GST if they were elected, were then elected, and did not proceed to do that. It was also the party that said it would rip up the free trade agreement with the United States, were then elected, and did not rip up that trade deal. We look forward to the promises that the party makes in this place to see how much Canadians want to forget previous governments. We rest on our record and our past actions.

Speaking of that, there is no doubt among New Democrats that the government has been using public money for partisan purposes. The advertisements that the Conservatives are using on television are a clear example of that, and the cost is an outrage. However, when I listen to the debate today in this place, it seems to be more a debate of who has the worst record on this issue, the Liberals or the Conservatives. They have been going back and forth on that, as they have on many other issues, because on many issues they behave in the same way. When they are in opposition they want to be holier than thou, but we have seen both parties behave in a similar fashion.

Because it is important to the people in my riding and the people of Toronto, I want to touch on government services, access to them, and the information that Canadians need. This is vital stuff. In many ways the way to access information, to find out about government programs, is through advertising. It is a great way to serve Canadians. However, too often we see that it has become a way to serve the Conservative Party. This is wrong. This has to stop. We need much greater transparency, much greater oversight.

I have many immigrants in my riding. Many people in my community are trying to bring their families to Canada. They have been promised, through the immigration system in this country, that when they have their status, they too can apply to be reunited with their parents and grandparents. I want to tell a quick story because it connects to the opportunities that communications have for government.

One constituent came into my office with an application that she had sent. It had been stamped as being received on January 4, but her application to bring her father from the home country was denied. There was no explanation. The government had said through advertising that it was accepting 5,000 sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents and it was capping it at that.

My constituent couriered her application in. It was received January 1. There was no explanation for why it was denied and no recourse. We phoned Citizenship and Immigration. It did not even have a record of it, even though we have a stamp that says it was received. The reason I bring this up is that this constituent had been told that there was a cap of 5,000, and she knew she had to get the application in right away. The government gave her no explanation.

We have Service Canada, where many immigrants access services in a variety of languages. A couple of years ago, the very busy office in my riding was closed, leaving many in my community very concerned, because they would go and speak face to face with people in that office. I bring this up because this is about interfacing with government. This is about access to government services. This is not about spending millions of dollars on government propaganda trying to tell Canadians all the great work the government is doing while wasting opportunities and wasting money, and in fact, not giving Canadians, certainly not the people in my riding, the information they need to live a decent life here in our country. That is what concerns me about the misuse of public money.

We have been leading a campaign for greater protection for unpaid interns in the country. The government could have spent a fraction of that money to let young people know what their rights are, to let them know that they in fact have no rights under federal regulations as unpaid interns. It could have spent a little money to let young people know that if they took an unpaid internship in a federally regulated industry, they would have no protection under the Canada Labour Code. It could have let Canadians know that. It did not. Unfortunately, that has led to injured young workers, and tragically, to the death of one young worker in Alberta. Luckily the government bowed to our pressure and included measures in the budget to protect interns. However, it could have let people know this.

In other words, there are huge opportunities lost, and for the government, massive amounts of public money wasted on partisan adventures.

Labour April 22nd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, yesterday at 2:30 p.m., the Minister of Labour got up and said that interns are already protected under the Canada Labour Code. Then at 4:30 p.m., the Minister of Finance tabled a budget that will extend, in the Canada Labour Code, rights and protections for interns.

Like the minister of unpaid labour, this budget is long on spin and short on details, but luckily there is the NDP's intern protection act. We could pass this bill tonight. We could do the job for unpaid interns if we got the support.

Will the government support our bill to protect unpaid interns?

Employment April 21st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, let us actually be very clear. We are talking about unpaid interns. The fact is that unpaid interns have no basic workplace protections like health and safety. They do not even have access to provisions under the Canada Labour Code that protect paid employees, paid interns, from sexual harassment in the workplace.

If the government was serious about this serious issue, then we could get the job done and pass the intern protection act now, but, instead, why are the Conservatives once again putting politics ahead of the health, the safety and the well-being of young workers in this country?