House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was nisga'a.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Liberal MP for Kenora (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Health Care Delivery in Rural Canada June 5th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the member would be aware that I did not choose when I could present my motion. That is done by a process in this place. If I had been one of the first on the list, the motion would have been here two or three years ago. That is not the issue.

The real issue, as many of us know and as many of us will argue, is that we do not need to have this conversation, because it is a provincial jurisdiction. Health care being a provincial jurisdiction, the Government of Canada cannot move legislation to make things different in relation to rural care. We need a partnership with all the other levels of government, including provincial, municipal and first nations.

What I am looking for is co-operation from all governments, including indigenous and municipal, as I was talking about earlier in relation to my region, so that we can find better ways to deliver health care services.

I have said, and I will say again, that this is not a partisan issue. This is what Canada is all about. We have a huge piece of geography and we are trying our best to make sure that all citizens, no matter where they live, have good health care and better health care indicators, as I mentioned in my earlier comments. Our health care indicators in rural Canada are not as good as they are in the urban centres.

We need to work together. We need to start this debate. If I were the member, I would not worry so much about the election. Elections come and go, and we will all be back in some form. We will want to continue to move on this conversation. I think rural Canadians deserve better than they are getting. We have not put enough time and emphasis on this issue.

I personally want to live my life in rural Canada, and I do not want to have to move when I get older because of health care or the lack of it. It is in the same way that this conversation is very fundamental and important for all rural Canadians.

Health Care Delivery in Rural Canada June 5th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, there are some specifics I am looking for the health committee to review.

First of all, I would like to see the health committee go back and look at some of the reports and some of the commitments that were made by all levels of government in the early 2000s. In 2004 and 2006, the federal government was in the process of negotiating with the provinces, and part of the program for putting health care dollars in the hands of the provinces through equalization payments and through our social development program was to also include studies and/or analysis of health care throughout those provinces. In my case, in Ontario, it was intended to be an opportunity to look at and report on the success of health care delivery in Ontario, both rural and urban. That did not take place.

In fact, I am still wondering and questioning why no province has reported on that commitment that was made a number of years ago to tell Parliament and Canadians and rural Canadians just how their health care system was being delivered.

In answer to other questions that I will get in the next few minutes, I will elaborate on what I mean by that.

Health Care Delivery in Rural Canada June 5th, 2019


That the House: (a) call on the Standing Committee on Health to undertake a study and report its findings to determine (i) the factors that contribute to significant disparities in the health outcomes of rural Canadians, compared to those in urban centres, (ii) strategies, including the use of modern and rapidly improving communications technologies, to improve health care delivery to rural Canadians; and (b) call on the government to work with the provinces and territories, and relevant stakeholders, to further address and improve health care delivery in rural Canada.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to get the chance to speak to my private member's motion, Motion No. 226, which relates to health care delivery in rural Canada.

As a representative of the Kenora riding, one of the largest rural ridings in Canada, which stretches from almost the American border all the way to Hudson Bay, I know this is probably one of the easiest ridings to use to explain what it means for an area to be remote and inaccessible, or accessible only by plane or a winter road when the lakes freeze over.

This is an important subject matter for all rural Canadians, because it is one of those issues all Canadians think about, which is their health care, the health care delivery and the ability of government to deliver health care products to all Canadians, particularly in the north. For these reasons, northwestern Ontario presents a unique case study in many ways. From infrastructure to environment, transportation and employment, the north forces us to think outside the box.

Health care can be approached from many different angles, including mental health treatment, health care providers and availability, prescription drug coverage and culturally appropriate care, just to name a few.

The 2016 Statistics Canada census data indicates that Canada's population was over 35 million individuals, of whom 16.8% live in rural Canada. The 2006 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information entitled “How Healthy are Rural Canadians? An Assessment of Their Health Status and Health Determinants” found that rural Canadians have higher death rates, higher infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancies than their urban counterparts.

Health-related factors such as a higher proportion of smokers, lower consumption of fruit and vegetables, and obesity disproportionately affect rural residents. Additionally, the population in rural areas tends to be older than in urban areas.

The recruitment and retention of physicians and health care professionals are also a significant challenge. Throughout the years that I have been involved in this, it has never been easy to find enough professionals to work in rural Canada. According to 2016 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, there were approximately 84,000 physicians in Canada, of whom only 6,790, or 8% , practised in rural settings.

In 2006, the Canadian Institute for Health Information issued a report that found that populations living in rural areas had a shorter average life expectancy by almost three years for men, as well as higher smoking rates compared to their urban counterparts. These numbers are statistically significant, according to the report.

Mortality risk for diseases such as heart disease and heart attacks, as well as respiratory diseases like influenza and pneumonia, were also significantly higher in rural versus large urban areas. There is a variation in the levels of services available, as rural areas lack the population base to warrant the construction of extensive health infrastructure.

In addition, rural and remote communities face challenges in recruiting and retaining health care professionals. I will keep repeating that, because it is something we talk about in my riding almost weekly.

On the youth side, there is no process for measuring health disparities in Canada. If we look at the experience of rural children and youth in the health care system, we get a good idea of what is happening. Indigenous populations, particularly those that are rural and remote, are the most underserved communities in all of Canada.

I would like to take a minute to provide an example of health care delivery in the north so that we can see how different it is from the urban experience.

In September 2018, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority released “Our Children and Youth Health Report”, which represents the experiences of 31 first nations communities in the Sioux Lookout area.

Since 1991, the population of the Sioux Lookout area first nations has grown by 74%. The primary point of care for the majority of these communities is the local nursing station, and in many cases, emergency services are available only by plane. For example, women from Sioux Lookout first nations leave their homes and families and travel hundreds of kilometres to give birth at a hospital. Can members imagine being put in a situation like that? In these communities, basically for all the births, families have to fly out, leave for weeks when it is close to the due date, and then be prepared to spend weeks waiting for the child to be born.

The primary point of care for the majority of these communities is their local nursing station, and in many cases, emergency services are available only by plane. For example, women from Sioux Lookout area first nations leave their homes, as I said, and if infants need emergency care, they are transported out by medevac, because there are no emergency departments in these communities. Since 2012, there has been an 11% increase in the rate of emergency room visits for infants.

In the Sioux Lookout area, first nations youth attend the emergency room department for mental health reasons at a rate five times greater than the Ontario average. Between 2012 and 2016, the rate of emergency department visits for mental health increased by 123%.

These are examples of just some of the issues faced by rural and remote communities when it comes to health care delivery. I am here to talk about how we can find a way to deal with the challenges that rural communities face in making sure that their health care and their standards are equal to the health care standards of urban centres.

Jurisdictional issues pose one of the largest roadblocks to providing quality health care in the north. What is the role of our levels of government in this game of what I would call jurisdictional football? The federal government is responsible for the delivery of health care to certain population groups. Of course, the provinces are responsible for the general population of the province.

Section 10 of the Canada Health Act stipulates that each province's health insurance scheme must be universal, which means that it “must entitle one hundred per cent of the insured persons of the province to the insured health services provided for by the plan”. What does this mean? It boils down to the need for a collaborative approach. Rather than working from the top down, we need to approach these communities and regions to establish their unique needs and find those solutions.

Simply put, there is no cookie-cutter answer, and what works for one community may not work for another. The bottom line is that we need to listen to those who live and work within the system every day to make sure that we understand how to deliver health care in rural Canada.

When we have these discussions, sometimes it is hard for people to compare apples and apples or oranges and oranges, so I spent some time doing some comparisons between Canada and Australia. Like most developed countries, Canada and Australia have publicly funded, universal health care coverage. The two countries have similar population densities and geographic areas. As of June 2018, just under 25 million people resided in Australia, and 11.4% resided in remote or rural locations. The Australian federal government is playing an active role in addressing health disparities between urban and rural or remote populations.

The Australian government provides funding to incentivize physicians to work in rural or remote areas and to encourage the uptake of telemedicine technology in those areas. Like rural Canada, rural Australia is under-serviced with respect to the number of physicians. However, the Australian government also realizes that to change that, it needs to have a solution. This is what Australia is doing, and it is something that I think Canada should consider.

Like rural Canada, rural Australia is under-serviced, so in 2009, the Rural Health Standing Committee of the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council was asked to develop a national strategic framework for rural and remote health. It was published in 2011, and then updated in 2016.

In 2014, the Australian government implemented the indigenous Australians' health programme to improve access to health services that are culturally appropriate, throughout Australia.

In June 2017, the Government of Australia passed legislation to establish a national rural health commissioner, as part of the government's efforts to reform health care in rural and remote Australia. As in Canada, the indigenous population in Australia is more likely than non-indigenous Australians to have respiratory diseases, mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as reduced life expectancy.

In the private members' business we are in, it is always good to try to do this from the perspective of making sure that it is non-partisan and that it crosses party lines. Last month, I was pleased to second Bill C-451, an act to establish a children’s health commissioner of Canada, which was put forward by the member for Simcoe—Grey. Bill C-451 puts priority on the well-being, health, security and education of children and youth by recognizing that every child has the right to enjoy a standard of living that allows for the child's physical, mental and social development to flourish. To help see these measures through, the bill seeks to establish an independent commissioner to report, advise and provide recommendations to Parliament.

To complement Bill C-451, my motion seeks to shed further light on the health care delivery gaps between rural and urban Canadians. This area needs to be studied, because current evaluations of the health status of rural Canadians are very limited. Because we do not have the population density to build some of the health infrastructure necessary to deliver adequate services, we must look at existing, new and emerging technologies to address this service gap. This particular type of study has never been undertaken in Canada, so I look forward to working with all parties to see that it takes place.

In my riding, we are working on an all nations hospital. We are looking at health care delivery in our region from the perspective of an all nations hospital health care system, to include everyone in the region. We have included all governments and the local communities to look at how best to deliver those kinds of services. This is a potential way forward.

I think that working together, as we did last week with the Minister of Indigenous Services when we announced our government's support for the all nations hospital health care system, we can find ways to better deliver health care in rural communities.

In conclusion, no matter whether a person is rich or poor, young or old, living in a rural or urban setting, Canada's public health care system must provide equal access and care to all. I believe very much that this government and this Parliament have a role to play in making sure that we do the right assessments and find the right structures to put in place good health care.

My last point is that if people are to be allowed to live their lives in rural Canada, including as seniors throughout their retirement years, we are going to have to find the right health care system to make sure that this takes place. Otherwise, as I hear from all my colleagues, a lot of seniors move to urban centres because they have few choices for places to live in rural Canada.

I thank the House for the opportunity to say a few words about this motion.

Interparliamentary Delegations May 17th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, two reports of the Canadian Section of ParlAmericas, one respecting its participation in a bilateral visit to Mexico held in Mexico City from February 10 to 12, 2019, and the other respecting the 47th board of directors meeting and the fourth gathering of the ParlAmericas Open Parliament Network held in Quito, Ecuador, from March 11 to 14, 2019.

Right to Play May 16th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome to the House youth leaders from Right to Play's promoting life skills in aboriginal youth program.

Right To Play works in partnership with over 90 first nations, Métis and Inuit communities and organizations across Canada to support community-driven youth programs that build life skills and improve health and education outcomes.

Today we are joined by Zoe Duhaime of Wahnapitae First Nation, Tyler Evans of St. Theresa Point First Nation, Danny Charles of Beecher Bay First Nation, and Shayna Russell and Evangeline Martin of Gitanyow First Nation.

This evening, along with the member for Cariboo—Prince George and the member for Vancouver East, we will hear from these youth leaders at an event in room 410 of the Wellington Building.

I ask all members to join us tonight, and join me now in welcoming these inspiring youth leaders to the House of Commons.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the member puts me at a slight disadvantage not being from Quebec and knowing exactly what his project is. However, from my own perspective, tourism is a big business. It is one of the largest businesses Canada has, and I happen to be right in the middle of it.

I live next to one of the world's largest lakes in northern Ontario called Lake of the Woods. It is a billion-dollar business for tourism. The lake goes into the United States and Manitoba. I get where the member is coming from in that regard. I expect that if the project is a good one, the government will do its job to ensure we dedicate the resources to keep tourism growing and growing.

Whether it is in Quebec, northern Ontario or British Columbia, the fact remains that tourism is one of the areas that we should be the strongest in as we promote the direction we are going in.

On supply management, as we know, the budget talks directly to supply management and the importance of helping our agriculture community. This last week, I met with the Canadian agricultural group in my office. We had a good conversation about the economy that agriculture produces, which I think is the largest industry in Canada as far as the creation of jobs.

In my humble opinion, we will continue to protect agriculture and its economy simply because it is one of the most important parts of what we do.

Last, food security was a discussion in my office for one reason, and that is there is no agriculture in my riding. There are mining, forestry and tourism. However, people are very interested in the whole idea of food security and how our agriculture community can help individual families get into food security. We should look at that very seriously as far as resources.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish my colleague from Oshawa a happy birthday.

One of the things Canadians are pretty comfortable about and understand intrinsically is that governments have a vision, have policies and have direction, and that takes time to implement. They do not need to be told that over and over again. I know how difficult it is. Whether one lives in Alberta or whether one is the Oshawa representative, we all feel the same pain at the loss of jobs.

Our government does have a policy. We do have a plan. We did create the kind of technological hubs that will move forward in the not too distant future. However, we cannot expect results overnight. If we have a vision for the country over a decade long, we will see the results as they start to grow.

I did comment in my speech about how well we were doing with respect to job creation. However, there are particular places where it is not going as well. My own region has always had higher unemployment than most places in the country because it is harder to create employment.

As an ex-labour leader, it does not matter where the jobs are as long as they are good quality jobs, the benefits are good and people have a good quality of life. They we will make a real difference. I do not differentiate between public service jobs and private sector jobs. They are all good as far as I am concerned.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity to speak this afternoon on what I know will be the last budget of the Liberal government before the election in October. I also want to let the House know that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Vaughan—Woodbridge, as he will also enter this debate.

Every time I stand to speak in this place, I try to remind my colleagues of the uniqueness of the riding I represent. I know we all have great affiliation and love for our own ridings, but it is important to remind people that when someone represents a third of Ontario's land mass, 42 first nations, 22 of which are isolated, as well as 13 municipalities, there are some differences and some unique needs that maybe other members do not have to face every day. This is not to say that they do not have challenges because we all have our unique challenges.

I am rising today to talk about the differences between a Liberal government and a Conservative government in ridings like Kenora. In 2015, the riding of Kenora voted for change because it was looking for a better quality of life and a new approach to reconciliation. When a member represents constituents from 42 first nations, there is a need keep in mind how we will build relationships with indigenous people in the future. When someone represents remote and rural communities, like I do in the Kenora riding, that person votes for an approach to infrastructure that will stop the decade-long precedent by the Harper Conservatives of allowing the north to fall further behind by not investing in new infrastructure.

I am happy to say that Canadians and northerners are better off than they were four years ago. As this is my 20th year as a member of Parliament, I can say from experience that people have priorities they set as well as expectations of their government. One expectation is that the economy will be better. Other expectations are that their quality of life will improve, their children's education will be looked after, the government will think that their health care is important, and obviously, for seniors, that it will make sure their quality and standard of living is maintained during their twilight years and that they are part of our society and will continue to be part of it.

We have decided as a region that we are better off. We have better paying jobs, more families who have opportunities and stronger communities because Liberals decided to invest in the future. Under our government's economic plan, over 900,000 new jobs were created, driving unemployment to the lowest levels in 40 years. In 2018, wages have increased at one of the fastest paces of growth seen in the past eight years.

What is the message when we talk about these kinds of statistics that show that our economy is getting stronger and we have a better quality of life for Canadians? It means that the competing visions we will be talking about in 2019 are going to be important to northerners, as they are to all Canadians. Those visions are what the parties propose will work for the average citizen, whether that person lives in the north, in a rural riding or in the city. I look forward to the opportunity to speak to people in the north about why they should support a second term of this government, and that is because of the improvements the government has been able to make.

I brought a small list of some of the things we have accomplished since 2015. We have made historic investments in northern Ontario and in my riding, the largest investments that have been made in history. I will start with this. There was a $1.6-billion announcement to connect 17 first nations to the power grid.

Here we are with the lights on and that seems pretty normal for those who live in Ottawa. However, where I live, some communities are still on diesel-generated power plants and basically cannot rely on their energy supply to grow an economy or to even use the basic infrastructure that all households have, like a washer or dryer. I do not think people even consider using a dishwasher, because the power supply does not allow for these kinds of appliances to be used in regions like mine.

The $1.6 billion seems like a lot, but I can tell members that it is going to make a big difference in those 17 first nation communities that are now living in isolation. I am looking forward to the day when I can stand up in the House and say that they have all-weather roads and that people can drive to their neighbours and to other communities, can have their kids play sports and go to concerts, and can develop the relationships that we would see as normal in any other part of the country. That is the kind of infrastructure we want.

This is why we cannot afford to elect a government that does not have a vision for the future, a vision that includes making sure that communities, like the ones I represent, do not get left further and further behind.

Our budget continues reconciliation efforts and improvements of major infrastructure for first nation communities right across the country. It is also a municipal-friendly budget. It understands that the economy and a good quality of life starts at the municipal level, with the people who live in those communities.

The government has made the choice to ensure that the municipalities are real partners and not say to the provincial governments that it is their jurisdiction and their issue. In fact, we are all in this together as partners, working to make sure that we have climate change infrastructure in place and have water and sewer systems that can compete with the world's. We should have all-weather roads that are not little but that twin the highway between Kenora and Falcon Lake on the Manitoba border, so that we can attract more customers, tourists and people to come to our region. Just for safety reasons alone, the twinning of that particular stretch of highway would save a lot of lives.

I have been pushing the provincial governments to work with our federal government to put forward infrastructure dollars to build all-weather roads and to twin highways. Sometimes I get the weirdest responses from provincial governments. The Ford government we have now does not seem to think that this is very important. It continues to not put in place or open up the streams of infrastructure so that we can help municipalities and first nations and so that we can build the infrastructure that every other region takes for granted.

We have to be very vigilant to make sure that the provincial governments we put in place in this country are willing to understand the importance of real partnership, and not spend all of their time on petty, partisan politics, which really does nothing for the people we represent. Frankly, I do not care if a provincial government is Conservative, NDP or Liberal. I just want a partner that is willing to work with the federal government to make things happen.

I was in the House when Mike Harris was the provincial premier of Ontario. It was a pretty sad state of affairs. There was a mess left in northern Ontario by Mike Harris. He had fights with the public school system, preaching that the unions were too strong and the teachers did not care about the kids. It was shocking.

We are starting to see this again. We will see massive cuts to our health care system. We have to make sure that we balance that with a good government in Ottawa.

I am looking forward to battling both Conservative Parties: the party on the side opposite, which wants to take over from us, and the provincial Conservatives. They both seem to think that their number one issue is to defeat our government, instead of working on behalf of their constituents.

In the budget, we really focused on seniors and young people. We had to live with a senior housing crisis under the 10 years of the Harper regime. Now we are starting to figure out what we need to do and that is going to make a big difference for seniors.

On the student side, training and education is lifelong. This budget is all about getting ready for an economy that we do not even know what it will look like a decade or two from now. We have to be ready.

I do not need to sell this budget to my constituents of Kenora, but I do need to explain to them the importance of having a vision for the future, the long term vision, not just looking at numbers from one year to the next.

Transport February 26th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, constant snow and ice buildup on runways can sometimes present a challenge for pilots in landing safely at regional airports. As you know, Mr. Speaker, in the Kenora riding, there are 22 airports of this kind. My constituents rely on Red Lake Municipal Airport to support our local economy and to maintain social well-being within our community. Can the minister please inform my constituents about what is being done to help local airports address their safety concerns?

Indigenous Languages Act February 7th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, a comment I have been making over the last few minutes is that I feel that part of the commissioner's job is to identify problems, mediate conflicts and help find solutions. Under this legislation, the commissioner of indigenous languages would be empowered to provide those kinds of services and would have the ability to find ways to make things work at a local and regional level. If the commissioner had those tools, I think we could find solutions to some of the problems of the Inuit up north that they think are not reflected in this bill. The commissioner's ability to do his or her job would be far-reaching and would include the opportunity to find solutions to some of the issues being presented by the Inuit themselves.