House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was elections.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Toronto—Danforth (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply October 16th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the answer simply lies in a change of practice on the part of government. As we are currently structured, it cannot come from the Speaker. There may be some more room for Speakers to challenge certain kinds of bills but I will not go any further on that point.

We need to have governments, if they have a comprehensive vision, willing to present legislation either in one bunch or as a series of parallel bills that would go to specific committees with the expertise and the time to study the diverse aspects of the bill, which cannot be properly studied if they only go to a finance committee or to one subcommittee hurriedly put together at the last minute.

One of the key issues is how a government channels a very large and complex bill into the committee process. If the government does that differently, the size and complexity of the bill becomes a very different issue.

Business of Supply October 16th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands that Speakers are working within the framework of very confining rules about how far he or she can go in challenging the approach the government has taken with respect to what we are calling omnibus bills. That I why I think the study could be useful. As I indicated in my speech, the purpose should be about best practices and not necessarily one of giving additional power to the Speaker to challenge what governments are presenting.

Business of Supply October 16th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the motion today by starting with the observation that there are effectively two points to this motion.

One is that the motion asks us to agree with some sentiments expressed several years ago, almost 20 years ago, by the member for Calgary Southwest, who is now the Prime Minister, with respect to a certain characteristic of what he called omnibus bills and what we are now discussing as omnibus bills in the current Parliament.

The second point is a concrete recommendation to have the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs study and report on exactly what omnibus bills are and how in fact they can be regulated within the confines of parliamentary procedure.

I will start with the second part and say simply that we would, I believe, benefit from such a study. It would clarify practice and allow a serious discussion of how bills called “omnibus”, whether by the government or by the opposition, do or do not undermine parliamentary democracy and indeed democracy at large.

At minimum, through such a study there could be a debate, hopefully not in camera, on best practices without there needing to be a decision or recommendation to give more power to the Speaker to rule on a bill in terms of it being out of order or that it should be split. We could have a study on best practices that would actually share the sentiments of all members of this House about what ideal practice would look like. Then governments, including the present government in the years of its mandate and future governments, can make their own decisions about how they want to situate themselves within a best practices framework. That is all that this report need be. Therefore, I certainly would like to commend this second part of the motion to the House.

On the substance of the issue and the specific reasons for which the motion refers to omnibus bills as problematic, it is clear that the point of order raised by the member for Calgary Southwest in 1994 talks about the problem of diversity of content in what he was calling an omnibus bill. Members should remember that this was a 21-page bill versus the almost 500-page bill that we received, which passed the House in the spring, and a much larger bill that we hear will be coming at us. However, on the 21-page bill, he says:

How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

His concern was that members of the House should be able to vote on specific issues more often than is permitted when omnibus bills, or something resembling omnibus bills, become standard practice. He sees it as a question of accountability to constituents.

I would suggest that it could also end up in the context of some kinds of bills being a question of conscience. There may be elements in a bill that members would very definitely want to vote for or against and want that known and on record.

It is certainly the case that the commentator from Postmedia, Andrew Coyne, also sees it in this way when he says:

But lately the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.... We have no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch....

Keep in mind that 70 pieces of legislation were amended in the recent Bill C-38.

He goes on to say: “...only that they voted for the legislation that contained them”.

This is the concern specifically referenced in the motion, and it is a real concern for the reasons given by the Prime Minister in his former capacity as solely the member for Calgary Southwest, and as Mr. Coyne has just articulated the question.

It is also important to know that there is another dimension to this that is at least as worrisome. That is the subsequent use that governments or MPs from the government party make of an omnibus bill in their debates and references in the House, quite commonly in ripostes in question period. What will they do? An MP from the opposition will raise a question in question period on unemployment insurance or on food safety. Lo and behold, a minister will stand up, give some sort of answer and say that “In any case, you're the party that voted against” this, that or the other measure. “You're the person who did so, because you voted with your party”. What they are almost always referring to when that tactic is used is budget implementation bills. We know this.

We in the House know there can be many features of a budget implementation bill that everyone is perfectly happy to see and support. Almost always, when ministers answer in that way their reference points are precisely the provisions that accord a hundred per cent with the sentiments and policy of the opposition. The opposition would have voted for it if given the chance to vote separately. The government knows this.

Omnibus bills are dovetailing with what is effectively, and what we all know to be increasingly, a deliberate strategy of misdirection and indeed mistruth on the part of the government.

We must be very clear that this practice of responding to questions in this way, by attributing votes against matters that members of Parliament are perfectly in favour of, is very much a combination of deliberate party tactics. I hesitate to say this, but it is becoming more apparent that it is a culture and mindset that is taking over the government party. It is a mindset of complete subservience to a Prime Minister's Office and an approach that really plays fast and loose with the truth and demands that its MPs fall in line with that strategy.

Even today, the House leader managed to bring it up at one point in his response to a speech. He parroted the exact same nonsense we have been hearing for a month now with respect to a carbon tax. Why, I would ask, would so many respected journalists take to print over the last month to speak out on exactly this particular tactic of using the carbon tax spectre by the government, this culture of misdirection and mistruth? It is because they know that something profound is underway in terms of the extent to which untruth is becoming part of the democratic fabric of the country, to the point that we cannot talk about a democratic fabric if it takes hold as deeply as it is starting to.

I would add two final points about the democratic problems. One is the problem that committees cannot achieve any kind of scrutiny of omnibus bills. We have to take into account how democracy is profoundly limited by lack of scrutiny. We also have to understand that omnibus bills end up being a game of cat and mouse or even catch me if you can, because of how much time is spent just trying to understand what is hidden and buried in the bill.

Finally, we have to understand the role of the media. The media too need to be able to understand, report and critically discuss bills. In a world where we have media concentration and fewer and fewer journalists dedicated to this kind of enterprise, their task as part of the democratic enterprise is more and more compromised by the practice of omnibus bills.

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant made a very good point about the delay of this legislation arriving in Parliament. We know that the operative treaties that underlie this legislation were both adopted in 2005 and it is now 2012, seven years later. Even giving the government a year or a year and a half to prepare the implementing legislation, this seems excessive.

Does my colleague feel that the government's approach to these two treaties has harmful effects on our reputation internationally, especially among the community of states that take very seriously measures to protect against nuclear terrorism?

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, we have had some discussions, up to this point, about the fact that the bill is much delayed in the sense of when it was introduced to the Senate initially and then to the House and that it will now be going to committee with our support.

Because the government put up absolutely no speakers except the parliamentary secretary, I worry that it now seems to be in such a hurry that it is going to ask us not to hear the same witnesses who were heard in the Senate, if we want to hear them.

If the government makes this argument and says we should only hear some witnesses and for the rest we can read the transcript from the Senate, how would my honourable colleague suggest we respond to the government, if it takes that position?

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for such an impassioned speech, which led me to make some connections that I had not been making in preparing my own speech. By that I mean what we have to do with these treaties and this implementing act to protect nuclear materials, radioactive materials, nuclear facilities, and prevent radioactive devices from perhaps being made with some of that material that might be stolen or otherwise diverted.

However, the big piece that seems to be missing in how we think about prevention is that the reason we have so much radioactive nuclear material, and nuclear facilities making such material or contributing to it, includes the fact that nuclear weapons are still such a huge scourge in our world today, that we still have countries with stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could obliterate us hundreds of times over.

How would you ask us to think about the connection between the existence of nuclear weapons, the material that is needed to feed them and the preventive goals of these treaties?

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, everyone in this afternoon's debate has spoken of the need to treat this bill with some dispatch. Obviously, the government has put us in a situation where the bill probably needs to be treated with more dispatch than should have been necessary. This could have been done some time before. If the committee is going to treat this bill responsibly but also with dispatch, what requisite information would the member like government officials to come to the committee with so that we can do exactly that?

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Gatineau, the justice critic for the official opposition, spoke extremely persuasively about the problem of Canada's reputation abroad and alluded to the fact that the government seems to have a different opinion of its reputation. I am just wondering if, along the lines of the rather acute analysis by the member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis, if she could comment on what might be the impact on our reputation of the fact that we have taken so long to bring in domestic legislation to ratify a treaty that we could have ratified five, six, seven years ago.

That said, there may possibly be no problem with Canada's reputation abroad. After all, the Prime Minister just received the World Statesman of the Year award from an organization so important that he skipped speaking to the UN, even though he was in the same city. The award was presented by a famous humanitarian named Henry Kissinger. Surely, all is right with the government's reputation in the world.

I wonder if the member can sustain her point that Canada's reputation is suffering.

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise a second time because my hon. colleague said that he was rather shocked by the omission of making a device from the bill that went to the Senate. In light of the fact that he has had more legislative experience than I have, I wonder if he has had other experiences to know what it is about the legislative drafting process or the decision-making process that could account for that, especially the fact that the government does not seem to have even mentioned it in its presentation.

What should parliamentarians take away from this experience to this point when we cannot even get a direct answer from across the aisle?

Nuclear Terrorism Act October 15th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I would like to return to a question I asked earlier when we started the debate on Bill S-7. The hon. member made a very interesting suggestion about the need for a parliamentary committee that would have access to more information on the state of threats, specifically terrorist threats, to the country. I could well assume that would include elements related to Bill S-9 as well, with specific focus on the state of protection of nuclear facilities, radioactive material and so on.

I wonder if the member sees that connection and whether he could elaborate or offer some thoughts on how such a committee could actually assist, at least the understanding of Parliament, on the whole question of nuclear terrorism.