- His favourite word was fact.
Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Richmond Hill (Ontario)
Lost his last election, in 2011, with 35% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Questions on the Order Paper March 25th, 2011
With regard to the procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter: (a) since 2006, how many and which private sector consultants has the government hired in order to assess the feasibility and technical capabilities of the F-35; (b) how much were each of these consultants paid for their work; and (c) for how many billable hours did each consultant invoice the government?
Questions on the Order Paper March 25th, 2011
With regard to the withdrawal of Canadian Forces from Afghanistan: (a) what were the Department of National Defense's initial cost estimates, prior to November of 2010, for the removal of equipment and personnel from Afghanistan in spring-summer of 2011; (b) what additional costs are anticipated now that Canada has lost access to Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates; and (c) what funds have been reallocated within the department in order to cover these cost overruns?
Interparliamentary Delegations March 24th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-Japan interparliamentary group, respecting its participation in the 17th bilateral meeting of the Japan-Canada Parliamentary Friendship League held in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, British Columbia, January 3 to 7, 2011, and the report of the Canadian parliamentary delegation respecting its participation and the annual visit of the co-chairs of the Canada-Japan interparliamentary group to Tokyo, Japan, February 13 to 18, 2010.
Libya March 21st, 2011
Mr. Speaker, last week, the international community spoke with a united voice to take action to protect the Libyan people from the Gadhafi regime. Despite the UN resolution, Gadhafi has continued to kill his own people.
The Liberal Party of Canada has been calling for a no-fly zone since the Libyan crisis began as a means to live up to our responsibility to protect. It is a shame that Canada is not a member of the Security Council, as we could have then cast a vote in favour of this historic resolution.
In keeping with the Security Council resolution, the Liberal Party supports Canada's participation in this operation. However, Parliament must also have a say in this and other combat operations. We expect the government to consult Parliament on this decision. We also want the government's commitment to obtain Parliament's approval if it plans to extend this deployment beyond three months.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave members of our Canadian Forces as they embark on a dangerous mission in the defence of the people of Libya.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague would suggest that what I said was nonsense. Is it nonsense to follow procurement policies as outlined very clearly in the Treasury Board guidelines, which I had quoted another time to my hon. friend? Is it nonsense to want to save the taxpayer money? Is it nonsense in an ongoing recession to be looking at a situation where we are not getting the best value?
My colleague has not been able to produce one document showing why this is in fact the best airplane to go with.
It is not nonsense to say we should have a competition, because that is the cornerstone of what governments do in this country. They would look for the best aircraft in this case, not sole-sourced competition.
Again, we have not seen what led the government to this particular decision. It says, “Just trust us. Don't worry.” I do worry for the taxpayer. I do worry for the forces. Again, if he says that the F-35 is the only fifth generation aircraft, then it is the only one. However, there are others on the market of a different generation that we may want to look at.
Mr. Speaker, in November I asked the government a question with regard to the sole-source contract for the new fighter jets that the government seems bent on force feeding to Canadians.
Obviously when it comes to these aircraft, the government is breaking every Treasury Board guideline. We believe in competition. Competition is what the Treasury Board guidelines clearly indicate.
At the defence committee, companies have come forward to say that they could provide new fighter jets for the Canadian Forces.
We strongly believe in new jets for the Canadian Forces. No one is arguing that.
There has been some talk in government circles that the Liberals want to rip up the contract. Well, there is no contract to rip up. The Auditor General said the purchase of the F-35s at the moment could be risky business. It obviously is a concern for the Auditor General.
We are concerned that the rules that are in place for competition have not been followed.
My friend across the way has said before that in 1997 there was a multinational joint strike fighter program to look at the development of this type of aircraft. We participated in that but we were under no commitment to buy the aircraft.
We want to get the best value for the taxpayer. People are looking at rising food costs, rent costs, mortgages, and it would appear we want to borrow about $9 billion-plus, maybe as much as $16 billion or $20 billion, for something which is not, in our view, appropriate at this time.
The government has already put the country into a $56 billion hole. The government seems to be able to announce these things and talk about spending money.
I find it insulting to the taxpayer to suggest that somehow this is the only way to go, because the government knows best. This is utter nonsense.
The reality is that we want the best plane for the dollar, but this is not necessarily the way to go. The former assistant deputy minister of defence, Alan Williams, came to the committee. He was very much involved in this from the beginning. He indicated his concerns about it. Unfortunately there are some, including the parliamentary secretary, who have taken it upon themselves to question what Mr. Williams said. Of course it is his right to question, but I do not think it is his right to malign individuals who clearly have a different view.
Our view is not that we should not get new fighter jets. Our view is that there has to be an open, fair competition pursuant to Treasury Board guidelines. If we do not follow the guidelines on this, what else are we not going to follow?
This is clearly not the way to go. This is clearly not good for the taxpayer. After all, we are supposed to be guardians of the taxpayers' dollar.
A number of companies came to the defence committee and said that they could build an aircraft which would meet Canada's needs in the Arctic for sovereignty and for protection.
We owe it to the taxpayer and we certainly owe it to Canadians to be able to say that we went through a process.
If, at the end of the day, it turns out that the F-35 is the way to go, then we will accept that. However, we cannot accept a process which clearly has been skewed from the beginning. We have concerns about that. I know that my hon. friend will respond as he always does.
Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act March 7th, 2011
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-632, An Act to expand the mandate of Service Canada in respect of the death of a Canadian citizen or Canadian resident.
Mr. Speaker, currently when a Canadian dies, a family member typically has to contact about a dozen federal departments and agencies to cancel tax records, passports, social insurance cards and various other benefits and IDs. This is a hard process, especially for people who are already grieving the loss of a loved one. It is unfair for the government to force them to repeat the story over and over again to different federal agents.
The bill would establish a one-stop shop for grieving Canadians to contact all federal departments with a single phone call or email after a loved one dies. It would eliminate a burdensome obligation for Canadians going through a very difficult period and I believe would ultimately save Canadian taxpayers a tremendous amount of money and stress.
It is important that we deal with the issue of bereavement in a very professional and compassionate way and this bill seeks to do that through the human resources department of Service Canada.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act March 2nd, 2011
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill C-55.
From the outset, I want to point out that I support Bill C-55, as the son of a World War II veteran who served at D-Day and went through the battle of the Falaise Gap and Caen. My father came home with shrapnel in his legs and that was there until the day he died. He lost hearing in one ear. I know what it is like to live with a veteran who had to seek services from Veterans Affairs. I know what it is like for someone who, through no fault of his own, did not come back the same person as when he left for the war. Yet my father would say every day that he would do it again.
At the end of World War II, no country treated their veterans better than Canada, bar none.
As the vice-chair of the national defence committee and the vice-chair of the Afghan committee, I have had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan on three occasions and meet with our soldiers in the field. I have had the opportunity to meet with veterans here. As a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Richmond Hill, Branch 375, I have talked to veterans. All they want and deserve are services that will respond effectively to their needs.
When a veteran, in his eighties, needs a new pair of eyeglasses and it takes months to get a response, that is unacceptable. When a veteran needs a new hearing aid and it takes months, that is unacceptable.
Whether these amendments are made or not, the charter still does not deal with the issue of customer service. We need to respond more effectively and efficiently to the needs of veterans. As more and more people come home from Afghanistan, we will have a larger number of veterans. The defence committee last year did a post traumatic stress disorder study. We found that there was a discrepancy in the country between east and west in terms of the services available for veterans.
I wrote the Minister of Veterans Affairs on October 25 about the $4,100 currently paid for burial. That is about 70% less than a normal burial in our country and one-third of what it would be if one was killed in action in Afghanistan. That is unacceptable. Some families do not have the money to cover full burial costs and the government only provides $4,100. I hope the minister will respond effectively on that issue.
There is no question that the bill before the House tries to address some of the issues. We know that the Royal Canadian Legion, for example, is supportive of these changes. Our party has no intention of holding up the bill. We want to ensure we move forward as fast as possible.
The charter was passed in 2005, and this is a living document. It is too bad that it has taken four years to come to this point. We need to act quickly to deal with some of the issues that are before the House and get this done.
One of the issues the government did not deal with effectively was on the lump-sum payment. That is surprising, given the minister's departmental study found that 31% of veterans were unhappy with the lump-sum payment. Although the minister said that he would improve the system, under this legislation, all the minister has really done is divide up the payment differently. Veterans have not been asking for that. That is not what that study showed.
Clearly dealing with the issue of partial payments over a number of years for recipients or a single lump-sum payment still does not address the issue that many veterans have articulated. That should have been addressed in the legislation. Again, the minister has had four years and nothing has really been done to address it.
In fact, if we look at Australia, the Australian veterans receive an average of $329,000, whereas the British receive up to $1 million. We need to address this kind of issue for our veterans.
Pieces of the legislation address the concerns of a number of people and a number of associations, such as the proposed legislation dealing with $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, an improvement, and for those too injured to return to the workforce, a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary was when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit. Again, that is an important change.
These changes are necessary but, again, it is the ability of veterans to access these changes. It is the ability of veterans to get the services they need in a prompt and efficient manner.
A larger disability award is needed in line with what is provided in Australia, which is also provided to disabled civilian veterans who also receive assistance. Again, these are things we could do. I mentioned burial costs, again things we could address.
In the House we always say how important veterans are, yet when it comes to action, we have waited four years for changes, which, again, particularly because of pressure from all opposition parties, now almost at the eleventh we get this.
The new veterans charter advisory group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs have indicated, insistently, the need for changes and for those changes to happen quickly. Again, it is disappointing that we have waited.
On the issue of homeless veterans, it is absolutely shocking in our country that we have veterans who are homeless, who are on the streets, who have come back to a lack of support. Again, it is a national disgrace that we have homeless veterans.
Only now are the media, members of Parliament and others actually looking at this, not only as a social issue but also as a moral issue. We have a responsibility to deal with those individuals. Again, I find it very sad that we have what I call homeless heroes on the street who have no ability to deal effectively with finding work, health benefits, et cetera. We have to deal with that.
It is encouraging that many national veterans' organizations are in support of this. It is encouraging to note we are moving forward with the legislation. Some people are talking about an election. I guess that will up to the government. It only governs by the will of Parliament and hopefully maintains the confidence of Parliament. If the government is really serious, hopefully we will be able to address these issues, both now and in the upcoming budget, which the Minister of Finance has announced will be presented on March 22.
It is important that we not only respond in this way, but also that we provide more people in the field, in terms of caseworkers who deal with our veterans. We are going to see a significant increase in the numbers of veterans coming home, because of Afghanistan, and that is going to have an impact.
The number of psychiatrists and psychologists in the Canadian Forces is actually low. In fact, the services are much lower and much less effective in eastern Canada because many of those bases are further away from some of the major cities versus those in western Canada. We need to address that problem.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that is always discovered on a veteran's return home, or three months later or two years later; it can be up to five years later. Again, are we ready to respond to that?
From our studies at the defence committee, the answer is clearly no. We are not ready to respond to that. On that point, I plead to the government to put the resources in to ensure we can attract the professionals to help in that regard and to help the families of those individuals.
About 10 years we did a quality of life study at the defence committee. It really responded to many of the key issues on wages, housing conditions and benefits for people. It is time we started another review and respond in terms of updating the quality of life. We ask people to go overseas and put their lives on the line, while their families are here. Do the families have the right support while those people are away? Do those people have the right support when they come home?
The answer is we do not. We have fallen a long way since the end of the Second World War when we provided the best benefits to veterans coming home after that war.
I was part of a Parliament that addressed these issues and addressed them effectively for future generations. Although we talk a lot about our responsibility to veterans, I would hope that we really show it to them, not only financially but in the other ways that I have pointed out.
I trust we can move this legislation along very quickly. Although some people have reservations, the reality is not only do we have to act at least on those changes that have been made, but we have to keep pushing on the others as well. If we do not, it will be another four years before we see any action.
Our party has pledged to do that. We are party that brought in the charter. We are the party that said it was a living document. It is too bad that it sat on the shelf for four years. Ultimately we are all collectively responsible for ensuring our veterans have the best.
Petitions February 9th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the pleasure to present a petition with regard to a permanent resident in my riding. Unfortunately, at the moment he is under a death sentence in Iran. I have raised this issue in the House with the Minister of Foreign Affairs before and I have had several meetings with the acting chargé d'affaires of Iran. This individual has been put under a death sentence in Iran due to evidence which we view as false. Through no fault of his own, he went back to visit his dying father who, unfortunately, passed away.
The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada, particularly the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to intervene on behalf of Saeed Malekpour. The man is under a death sentence and that is absolutely unacceptable. We hope to have this issue resolved and that he will be returned safely back to Canada.
Madam Speaker, the member talks about misconceptions; I talk about ill-conceived.
Here we have a situation where we do not have transparency or accountability for the Canadian taxpayer. We do not even know how much per aircraft this will cost because again the meter is running. It is costing more and more every day. This has certainly been seen in the United States. I would think that it is prudent for us to take a close look at this again.
The member indicates that people, of course, will come to the committee and say that they can sell us whatever it is and not to worry. The reality is that I do not think that some of the major firms that came before us would have said that they can do what it is we are looking for if, in fact, they could not deliver. They made it very clear that they can.
Obviously, Lockheed Martin has sold the government a nice bill of goods. It said there is no problem at all, but by the way do not worry about the cost as it goes up. As I have said, from $50 million per unit now we are up to about $92 million, and again it continues.
In a deficit situation, we need openness, transparency, and the government has not shown that in this case.