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  • His favourite word is things.

NDP MP for Windsor West (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what would work better. We went from a larger number, in the 40s, down to a smaller group. One of the concerns I had, with this and similar legislation, is diversity. What I appreciated hearing from not only the minister but also the parliamentary secretaries and others along the way is that this new model proposes a smaller group. It might be open in the future if it does not perform for greater diversity, for regional elements, persons with disabilities, gender, and also to be more reflective of making sure that smaller and other regions are not left out. The government understands there is a sensitivity around that, and hopefully if the group does not perform, it will be forced into action sooner than later.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry the parliamentary secretary missed it. If he checks the blues, I said three times that the NDP would be supporting the legislation.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would disagree. It is a fallacy to assume that just because services are pooled that efficiencies are created. I would point to the Phoenix debacle, the payment system for public servants being a classic fail. In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars, about $400 million, has gone to just clean that up.

Shared services is becoming such an issue. Again, what we get out of Statistics Canada is a money maker in many respects. When we look at it, we sell the data that has actually been accumulated. Personal data and privacy is protected, but businesses and third parties, universities and others, purchase products from that. They are purchasers of those products, paying millions of dollars to buy them. What they have said is they like the independence of Statistics Canada as a preferred product, and they would pay for that service. We saw statistics erode, in terms of the usefulness, in terms of selling it to the business sector, and our profits went down.

For this issue, the gold star of statistic management and maintenance is the independence, away from shared services. It is well identified by all research and other capacities. It is also less adverse to risk, because it is not exposed to the greater population of contamination possibilities, versus that of it being more secure and safety-sealed in its own usage. Again, the customers who are purchasing the data do so because of its reliability.

Giving up that income stream for an ideological stance of just throwing it all together is not always the most efficient way of doing things. If that was always the case, just putting everything together, assuming that costs are going to be lowered, then we would not even have a small business.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the ability to go back to this as I really believe that Wayne Smith and Munir Sheikh are public heroes, whistleblowers. I know that Pat Martin, a former New Democrat in this chamber, as members will probably recall, often had legislation to push whistleblowing, allowing public servants to come forward without feeling reprise, intimidation, and attacks on them or their families. We have seen, in this case, two resignations by individuals who tried to improve a public service and a public agency, one of 42 that Canada has.

My colleague is quite right with regard to the muzzling issue of scientists being the precursor of the previous Harper administration. It was quite well felt. When we talk to public servants right now, there is still an aversion, and we still have not seen a comfort zone returned, but I am hoping that culture has not. I guess it is how we want to manage things. I still see it with the Liberal Party administration that is currently here. It was different with Chrétien and his group at that time; however, there is still massive micromanagement taking place. It might have a happy face on it, but it is still taking place.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Guelph for his contribution at committee. We actually have a well functioning committee, in many respects. When we look at this legislation, there were several meetings, and members agreed to it. His question is quite important, actually, because he does mention something I never did. He brought it up several times at committee, and it is the issue of the OECD and its level of standards.

Where we differentiate between New Democrats and Liberals is that the OECD's statement, that the former chief statistician said we should have as part of our preamble, creates a bit of a standardization or improvement to the Westminster system for accountability. He is correct, though. It is reportable to Parliament, via the minister, and the committee does have oversight. It is not that it has no control, but we have to make the political movement to get it here versus that of the chief statistician having the written element and expression in the actual legislation, so that it gives it a bit more teeth.

That is where we distinguish a difference. However, it is a good example of where we can achieve improvements. The committee had seven meetings on this topic, and despite our differences, at least we were getting this far. Perhaps, when we are done in this chamber, we can get some amendments in the future, if necessary.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill C-36 with regard to the census. One thing we can be clear about in the debate on this legislation is it is critically important how we spend taxpayers' money. That is central to the census itself. It is no laughing matter, especially when we look at some of the people involved.

Shame on both the Liberals and Conservatives for their actions in regard to former chief statisticians. It needs to be identified as quite a serious situation. Munir Sheikh resigned under the Conservatives and Wayne Smith resigned under the Liberals. These are key resignations. These are chief statisticians who are respected across the planet. They were seen to have had their integrity compromised by being senior bureaucrats in an administration. They ended up being whistle-blowers. We know not just domestically but across the globe, whistle-blowers often become martyrs. They often become targets. They and their families are often affected for going public with something where they compromised their own personal well-being versus that of the state or the job they do. That is what took place with our chief statisticians.

It is important to remember who they are. Munir Sheikh, for example, was a Canadian immigrant from Pakistan who later on became a doctor of economics and worked in the Department of Finance for many years as a deputy minister, later becoming a chief statistician, and resigning from his position at Stats Canada. That was the first time I had seen a resignation like that in the 15 plus years I have been here. I had never witnessed someone take on the administration like that. That came about because of a number of things related to Stats Canada and how it was treated and valued.

Therefore, it is important to review what is so important about the Statistics Act and why it is so important for Canadians. A chief statistician is responsible for the overall act and the administration of it. The issues they monitor across the country are where, at the end of the day, taxpayers' money is spent. It is about income. It is about the labour market. It is education, housing, transportation, languages, persons with disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal peoples, and ethnicity. They even determine where to place a fire hall for municipalities. There was discussion today about high-rise buildings. We have seen tragedies with high-rise buildings, most recently in London. However, we have the necessary data accumulation on municipalities to do the proper planning for allocating resources, because Statistics Canada knows where the populations are. If we do not have that information, we not only could knowingly set ourselves up for failure but we could unwittingly do so, because we do not have that information.

It is similar with economic growth. The latest census of 2016 shows 35% of Canada's population now resides in the Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal areas. That is a significant concentration of human population for such a geographic mass as Canada. That also makes it very important for us to attract investment and innovation for other areas. The more vulnerable communities, related to not having proper statistical information, are smaller communities and smaller pockets of population. It is how housing is decided. I mentioned fire halls for municipal service. There is all of that, and even affordable housing and the cost of housing, which actually translates into economic development, where businesses decide where and what type of business they should grow here in Canada.

When I came here, I had previously worked as an employment counsellor for persons with disabilities and youth at risk and I was a city councillor in Windsor West where I represented one of the great parliamentarians for 39 years, the deputy prime minister at the time, the right hon. Herb Gray. As a city councillor, my area that he represented was pegged to be part of what is called the complete count. In Windsor West there were many new immigrants and we had a lot of issues related to language and culture, so our statistical returns related to the census were lower.

That meant that we were missing out on valuable data necessary for Mr. Gray to advocate for housing, language services, a series of things that were necessary for the production, value, and contribution of the citizens of that area because of the challenges. Because we had English as a second language growing as a concern, at around a 50% return rate for our census, we were missing out on those opportunities. We also had people who wanted to participate, wanted to do better things, but they could not.

We were one of four areas across the country, at that time, of the 301 ridings federally that did a door-to-door campaign to help people get enumerated for the census. There is a litany of reasons why that is important, but it affects the funding and the contributions. If we are coming from a community that does not have those things, as identified, it is hard to advocate for that.

It is not just about government services, it is also about businesses. Businesses use this information from labour market surveys not only to identify customer populations, but also to identify concerns about shortages of workers with certain skill sets. The information in the census is used to identify that for investment. One of the number one things we hear to this day is the fact that we are going to be short certain types of workers, whether it be engineers or mechanical workers, and not having the people to staff in those regions and not preparing other populations to either get that skill set, or having to import that labour versus educating Canadians and invest in education to do so. That affects a multitude of things and diminishes our middle class.

We did that in Windsor West. Later on as a representative of Windsor West in this chamber, I understood quite clearly the value of a clean statistical database for advocating for my community and also for this country. I became very intimate with how it works. About 50% of persons with disabilities are not working in Canada. Many have given up and are not in the system. l was part of a group that was able to include more persons with disabilities. I want to note that the good work of the public servants in helping access jobs for persons with disabilities during that time was critical. I am still grateful today because I know some people are still working and can use the job to get something else.

Ivan Fellegi, a chief statistician at that time, was under pressure to privatize our census. England, for example, had outsourced the collection of data to different third parties and Canada was outsourcing its census to Lockheed Martin. A campaign I was part of looked to protect Canadians' data from Lockheed Martin because many people had ethical concerns about Lockheed Martin collecting our data. It was an arms manufacturer predominantly based in the United States that produced weapons which were banned under Canadian law like cluster munitions and so on. It was collecting our data and not only that, it would store and implement the data. At that time, the U.S. went through the implementation of the Patriot Act. We discovered it was going to assemble this data outsourced from Canada in the United States.

Why that is important is because once the Patriot Act was implemented, the hard reality was that all our census data, personal and private information we thought was protected, was now susceptible to the United States. Under the Patriot Act, the way it worked at that time, and most of which still exists in this format today, is that if a court order was issued for information, the company could not tell the actual proprietor of that information that the information was actually being usurped and used by the American government.

It would have been against the law for Lockheed Martin to disclose to Canada that the information it gathered in Canada would be used. Credit card companies and others have faced some scrutiny since then. The Privacy Commissioner has piped in. From British Columbia, and other areas, there is quite a record on this. We fought quite hard to get that information to stay in Canada, which we were able to do.

Getting past that, we continued to have a fairly stable census, until the Conservatives came into power and created the voluntary national household survey. It was put out there as a cost-cutting measure, in many respects, and also as privacy protection for Canadians. Not having the bully of government telling people they have to disclose information or they were going to kick in doors, make people fill in the census form, or send them off to jail.

I remember the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka getting up a number of times in the chamber, talking about people being intimidated. The jail aspect was certainly the heightened element that received media attention from many facets for many months, more than a year. To this day, it is still one of the more laughable things ever pronounced by a minister in the history of Canada: that people were going to be locked up and have the key thrown away for not completing their census. The essence of it was really a side distraction, which worked.

The national household survey came back with around a 26% response rate. That 26% response rate meant that our statistics, which had been the envy of many industrialized worlds, were now a diminished response. We lost a significant portion of the reliability of that data to make decisions on income, labour market, education, housing, transportation, languages, disabilities, citizenship, immigration, aboriginal people, and ethnicity. All the intel on those things went down to 26%.

The other interesting thing about that is that it cost us an additional $22 million. We received a quarter of the results, paid an additional $22 million, and then it became very worthless in many respects. This is more the technical aspect of it that some people may not care for, but it is important. Think of the centrepiece of our census as a backstop for other labour market surveys, whether it be polling, labour market agriculture, labour market related to industrial development, or labour market for investment. All those different things would be targeted in smaller surveys, but the overall sample of the statistical census would provide some of the best statistical information. Poof, that was gone. All that continuum we had was basically disrupted by that introduction.

That is when Munir Sheikh, and I discussed some of his qualifications as an economist and a deputy at the Department of Finance for many years, resigned. He resigned because he could no longer do his job.

We pressed for changes and then the Liberals and opposition agreed with changes as well. I tabled a member's bill, as did a couple of other members, to restore the independence. This bill would do some of that. It would provide some of those elements, but it would not go far enough.

Wayne Smith, the latest chief statistician in terms of Service Canada, resigned because of that. He resigned because Service Canada has become a large, encompassing agency for intelligence and support services. The problem it has is that much of our census information that is used now has to flow into this information of shared services, creating an independence issue about the data falling in there, then getting data back and the use of it. This created quite a problem, and Wayne Smith has now resigned.

We now have the bill which will make Statistics Canada somewhat independent. I say somewhat independent, because overall it does fulfill the things I described in the first part of my speech relating to information gathering, creating the lineal information necessary for statistical information use, the gathering, and how it restores those elements. That is critically important.

We are very grateful we will have that, but it does not actually go the full nine yards, so right now we still have a situation where the minister can still make political decisions about the questions that are asked in the census. It still takes away from the scientific approach we would like to have, and the independence, because we do pay, and we do actually ask someone to come into this position. It is very much a sought after career position to have. If it is independent, we get some of the best in the world. We will still have the minister's control over that, so I worry about the fact we could have some politicization of it.

It has been mentioned, and there has been banter back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals about patronage and the appointment process, but it is a serious thing to consider. We are just dealing in my neck of the woods right now, a patronage appointment, the Gordie Howe Bridge, and Dwight Duncan becoming quite controversial, because there is a partisanship past appointment and there are partisanship attacks, including Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the American administration, and so forth. I get the seriousness of that, and what is at stake there, but what I am worried about is, what happens next time? Now that this is enshrined in law, it becomes very difficult for us to get that independence.

The Statistics Canada Department is one of 42 agencies that are supposed to be at arm's length from the government, but unfortunately, with this legislation, it is still within choking distance. Yes, it is at arm's length, but a choking distance away. I am concerned about the fact we will not see that happening. Wayne Smith identified some of those issues and concerns.

We will eliminate the jail time. It will be completely eliminated, so it can no longer be a distraction, and in the future there will be no ability for the minister to say something that would make people run, or think about something different from what the real serious issue is, which is actually the increased cost, or the change of the census, which is important. There will also still be 92 years of census information before it goes public.

In his testimony, Wayne Smith said that Bill C-36 moves the Statistics Act substantially in the right direction, creates no new problems, but fails to fully address independence, the need for full quinquennials, mandatory census of population, or the modernization of the legislation to build a statistical system adapted to the rapidly evolving needs and challenges of the 21st century. He concluded that there is still work to be done. We proposed some amendments given to us in committee by Mr. Smith and others, but they were not taken into consideration.

We will be supporting this. It is a good step forward, but it is a missed opportunity. We get to hit a double instead of a home run out of this one, so we will take it. We advance the case, and most important, Canadians and the use of our money will be better off served with data that is reliable than not.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, my question is simple. We had two chief statisticians resign their positions. Why was it that the government was unable to find any amendments to this legislation despite the fact that we had testimony for amendments? Why is there no amended legislation?

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, Jewish heritage month is important for Windsor and Essex County. The Right Hon. Herb Gray served in my seat in this place. He was in fact the longest serving member of Parliament. Designating someone as Right Honourable has only been done a few times and Herb Gray did receive that distinguished designation. He also served as a deputy prime minister of Canada.

Education is one of the most important elements of this Canadian Jewish heritage month. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are still seized in this country with some issues with respect to anti-Semitism.

I would like the member to highlight some of the things that could be done during Canadian Jewish heritage month. It would be a good opportunity to focus on anti-Semitism. I used to work on behalf of youth at risk and multicultural youth. In a diverse community like Windsor, we still sadly experience some anti-Semitism. Sadly enough, there are still elements of our society who are anti-Semitic.

I thank the member for his contributions. The bill could be very successful in providing knowledge to people about anti-Semitism in our communities all across Canada.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act June 16th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder.

I would like to thank the member for Cariboo—Prince George for putting this legislation forward. His approach in getting the bill through the House is very professional. It is important to recognize that members of Parliament can work together, and this legislation is a good example of that co-operation.

There are a couple of points that I want to note with regard to the bill, but first I want to tell the House one of the reasons I have such an interest in the bill.

Some of the people in Windsor West who might be watching us today are from Branch 143 of the Royal Canadian Legion. It was during my time as a member of Parliament that I learned about the seriousness of what is taking place and the commitment that our men and women in the military make, both overseas and in Canada.

About 10 years ago, I had one of the most interesting and life-changing moments of my life. I was invited to participate in a discussion group at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 143. Also present were a number of individuals who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That intimate exposure was certainly important. These were not just soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. They were World War II veterans, Korean veterans, peacekeepers, and others who were all still struggling with the ordinary things in daily life. That experience helped to elevate my understanding of PTSD.

I was a social worker before I came to this place. I dealt with people who came to Canada as refugees. The trauma that they experienced in their countries is quite different from what people go through here in Canada. My job was to help them integrate into Canadian society, whether it was school or work or whatever. How can we take a young man who has lost his family and his house and then integrate him into our Canadian society? He himself might have volunteered in a hospital or another traumatic place while never receiving any type of support.

This legislation is important because it would help to bridge a gap. PTSD does not just affect military personnel. It affects first responders and other citizens in all of society. We need to understand that mental health and illness issues are a life-long journey for all of us. People should not be ashamed of these issues and should not be afraid to talk about them. More importantly, work needs to be done to provide the support that people need.

Windsor West lacks many services for children who need, for example, psychologists. This is a critical problem. We do not invest in mental health in the way we should, as we do in our other health areas. Not being able to deal with these kinds of issues on a regular basis affects all of us.

If, despite the overlap of jurisdictions, we can deal with this issue as a nation from coast to coast to coast, with all of the provinces and territories and all the municipalities, it will make Canada truly special and an example for others to follow. More importantly, we can achieve effective results.

It is important to outline a few things in the legislation that people may not understand. The bill talks about bringing together the appropriate ministers in a reporting process. I will not go into all of the details, but the bill proposes putting a system in place that could deal with PTSD. The bill is not talking only about consultation. A lot of people, especially our good men and women in service, have been consulted many times, and they need action.

I will be supporting the bill in its current state because although it includes the consultation process, it also talks about expectations, measurements, and deliverables. That will put the government of the day and members of Parliament of the day on notice that this is a serious issue that affects all Canadians. At the end of the day, we expect to see results, and the results mean helping people deal with the many different personal issues related to PTSD.

Those issues affect us so profoundly. The symptoms include everything from re-experiencing traumatic events over and over or reliving them, to recurring nightmares, disturbing memories of the event, acting or feeling as if the event is happening again, avoiding friends and family, drug addiction, being unable to feel pleasure, constant anxiety, difficulty concentrating, getting angry easily, sleeping difficulties, fearing harm from others, experiencing sudden attacks of dizziness, a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath, and fear of dying. All of these things, when left in a vacuum, are not helpful, not only to the individual but to society.

I would argue, not on the principle of doing this for mere ethics or because it is the right thing to do, but I would argue that it is a bond and social contract that should be expected in return by individuals who occupy professions that put them at risk in service to their communities and society.

We have decided to provide the supports necessary to allow the people in those occupations to not only have what they have today but in the future. That is a social contract for firefighters, police officers, soldiers, nurses, and paramedics. For all of the different occupations, there is a social contract that does not end when that occupation concludes. We are asking people to perform duties that put them at risk and affect their families as part of their jobs. The social contract we have is to provide the proper supports so they can continue to be productive and, most importantly, have good mental health.

We have an opportunity in the House to make a difference with the bill. The member for Cariboo—Prince George has provided the opportunity for all of us, in a non-partisan way, to end this session on a high note. New Democrats are very proud to be part of it. There are so many people who contribute so much. We have invested in training professionals, in their occupations, in being parents, and in being community leaders. If we do not take care of them, we are not taking care of ourselves.

One reason I like community activism is the ability to act. At the end of the day, the ability to act defines us differently as Canadians. When I look at all the campaigns to stop the shame of mental illness, many of them involve the corporate sector, the non-for-profit sector, and, where I come from, the professional sector. Some of the moments for our Afghanistan veterans have put things in a different light and we now have an opportunity to go forward.

I do not want to name people, but I will name one person, because it is an important chapter that will never get told. A gentleman in the Windsor area named Wayne Hillman was among a number of Canadians who served in Vietnam. He told me that our Afghanistan veterans are coming home with some of the same issues that he and his comrades had. They had no supports when they came home, even though they served in the American military. They finally got some psychological counselling and services, which helped them in their lives. The same thing has been happening here, so we need to apply those resources.

With this bill, let us apply even more resources. Let us make sure it not just captured in one occupation or profession. Let us make sure it is part of the normal Canadian practice and culture that mental illness and wellness is part of living healthy in a healthy society.

Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act June 16th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this measure forward. I have served here just over 15 years, and this is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have seen. It addresses one of the most important things that Canadian families need to do, and that is to come to grips with the value of addressing mental health issues. To have an inclusive strategy like this one is important for so many reasons.

When it comes to implementing the bill, will they continue the co-operative effort with provinces and municipalities to get real results for Canadians? That is how it has been delivered to the House. Will that continue?