House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was conservatives.

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

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 24% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Holidays Act June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. It seems as though all parties have been supporting this bill all along the way and congratulating me for this work. However, for some reason, the Conservatives seem to want to talk out the clock today instead of getting this bill over to the Senate for study and adoption. Here is the last chance.

Therefore, I would seek unanimous consent for the following motion: that notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House—

Holidays Act June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, with respect to Remembrance Day, we have a situation here in Canada where every single Canadian who wants to go and pay their respects, however they want to do that, should have that opportunity. The model in Manitoba where businesses are shut down for half the day, certainly in the vast majority of instances would allow that to happen.

That is also why I have not been pushing specific suggestions with respect to what to do. Some of the provinces have done different things. Manitoba has gone in one direction. Nova Scotia has gone in another direction. Six provinces and three territories have decided to make it a full statutory holiday.

When we were hearing witnesses in committee, Canadian Veterans Advocacy said something that was quite poignant, that we were supposed to go and pay our respects and lay down our poppies, but afterwards we are supposed to carry on and continue to live our lives.

If families were to have that opportunity to spend the rest of the day together and choose to use the day however they wished, I do not see a problem with that. They would get to spend time together. It would also offer the opportunity for Canadian society to perhaps even do something for veterans and their families if we were to start organizing things. However, that would be a much larger discussion and a different debate on a different bill at a different time. However, I am always happy to talk about Remembrance Day.

Holidays Act June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the bill would not create a statutory holiday, so there would be no cost with respect to that.

It is actually a little difficult to calculate the exact cost with respect to adding Remembrance Day as, say, a statutory holiday. If we were to add another new holiday, something else, it does not matter what, that would impact the entire country, it would be easy to measure that.

If Remembrance Day was made a statutory holiday, it would not impact six provinces and three territories; it would slightly impact a couple of provinces, and it would impact two provinces.

It is hard to find out what the cost would be to businesses right now. Businesses I have spoken to have said it is very confusing if they have an operation in Ontario and one in B.C. The folks in B.C. would be off for the day and the folks in Ontario would not be and if they tried to conduct business between the two, they could not get it done. That has a cost as well.

Businesses want predictability. Sometimes uniformity across the country is actually helpful to business. We only have to look to our neighbours to the south, the United States, for an example. The U.S. federal government passed a bill, and then every single one of the states passed their own bills. Now they have uniformity with respect to the observance of Remembrance Day, which they call Veterans Day.

Holidays Act June 19th, 2015

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, how befitting that we should engage in a slight bit of time travel to end this Parliament. That brings me back to a quote from the veterans affairs minister when he spoke in favour of this bill at second reading and said:

The specifics of the bill before this House are to correct a drafting oversight from the 1970s, when the Holidays Act treated Remembrance Day slightly differently from the way it treated Victoria Day and Dominion Day, now Canada Day. I am proud that it seems most members of this House will support the member for Scarborough Southwest in rectifying this oversight to ensure that as a federal holiday, Remembrance Day is treated in the same way as those other days that are important to our country.

I would now like to thank my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier for seconding my motion today and for her excellent work on the military file in her role as deputy national defence critic. I would also like to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for seconding my motion at second reading and for having served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Remembrance Day has always been a very important day for my family, and the reason I wanted to bring this bill forward is to rectify that drafting error from the 1970s so that Remembrance Day would stand on an equal footing under the Holidays Act with Canada Day and Victoria Day, the other two legal holidays that we observe in Canada.

Yesterday I had a very touching moment when I took part in a special ceremony at my father's elementary school, Donwood Park Public School in Scarborough. My father is retiring this year after 28 years as a teacher in Scarborough, the last 25 of them at Donwood Park Public School. During the ceremony at the school yesterday, one of the other teachers, Shane Matheson, said that when he joined the teaching family at Donwood Park, he asked the principal and other teachers which of them took care of the Remembrance Day ceremonies, because usually one teacher is designated. All of the teachers immediately shouted out that it was Mr. Harris.

Of course I mean my father, David Harris, who has taken care of the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the school for years and years. He had a talk with my father to find out how he could help to further improve the ceremonies. They actually got a letter from the current Minister of Veterans Affairs to thank my father for the tremendous work he has done over the years in teaching the next generation about the importance of Remembrance Day here in Canada. It is particularly important work for communities that have a large number of new citizens.

The veterans affairs minister wrote the letter, and it was a very touching moment for us. As I have said in the House before, my family has a long-standing military tradition. My great-grandfather served in the both world wars; my grandmother was in the Canadian Women's Army Corps; my great-uncle, Bill Riley, was in the service in the Second World War and served in Europe. Last weekend, for the very first time, we were able to find and visit his tombstone in Pine Hills Cemetery in Scarborough. My father just happened upon the tombstone. He was there for a memorial service for a friend of his and happened to walk by the tombstone. That was certainly a very sombre but important moment for my family.

This bill went before committee. It went before two committees, in fact. It was there for 205 days before it was reported back to the House. Witnesses appeared multiple times both in the heritage committee and the veterans affairs committee, and there seemed to be some confusion about what the bill would actually do.

Let me clear that up now.

Just as the Minister of Veterans Affairs said, this bill would correct a drafting error from the 1970s. It would elevate Remembrance Day to the same status as the other holidays.

This does not create a statutory holiday. We in Parliament cannot impose holidays on the provinces. That is provincial jurisdiction. The provinces get to decide which holidays to observe, and of course, every province does it a little bit differently.

With respect to Remembrance Day in particular, six provinces and three territories treat it as a statutory holiday. In Manitoba, businesses have to be shut down until 1 p.m. so people have the chance to go to ceremonies, and Nova Scotia has its own Remembrance Day Act. There are lots of models to follow. Ontario and Quebec do not do anything special with respect to a holidays act or changing the normal course of business.

I would like to quote my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley in Nova Scotia. He said:

I want to thank you for bringing this legislation forward. I think it is a very interesting discussion.

I'm from Nova Scotia. We have the Nova Scotia Remembrance Day Act. It means a day off school. Businesses are closed. It's a really big event. It's become bigger over the years. I think your legislation is timely, considering the age of our World War II and Korean War veterans. I can remember, as a child, watching the World War I vets. All of them are gone. My grandfather was in World War I. I have military history in my family that is very similar to yours.

As a former elementary school principal, I can tell you that the local legions, in the 19 cenotaph services in my riding, are very active in all the elementary schools, the junior highs, and the high schools in the area, but particularly in the elementary schools. The schools embrace the legions. There's a really strong partnership.

That is the important point. Everyone who works towards honouring and remembering our veterans and the brave service and sacrifice they have all made works together so that we can continue to impart to future generations the importance of that sacrifice and so that we never forget.

Regardless of what different provinces do, whether it is a day off school or not, that relationship between the kids and all the other groups that participate in Remembrance Day is what will help keep the spirit of that day alive for us so that we never forget.

I am certainly hoping today that we can actually end the 41st Parliament on a high note; more than likely we will not be coming back here until the election. We all came together as a Parliament on November 5 to vote on this bill. It was indeed fast-tracked through second reading. It passed second reading with a vote of 258 to 2. We were all able to come together in November to move the bill forward, and I certainly hope that now, in the waning hours of this Parliament, we will be able to do so again and get the bill through third reading before we all rise for the summer.

Some of our colleagues, and you, Mr. Speaker, are not coming back. I would like to thank you for the wonderful job you have done in that chair over the last four years I have been here. I am certain that you did a great job in your previous capacity, but I was not witness to it.

I just want to thank all the people who make Parliament work on a day-to-day basis: the clerks, the folks at the table; the pages and the incredible work they do; and the constables and security services here that work to keep us safe every single day. We would not be able to do the work we do on behalf of Canadians without all of them, and I just want to say thanks to them before we rise for the summer.

I am going to cut my remarks short, because I want to make sure that we get to the other speakers and that we actually have a chance to wrap up debate and move things forward. If we do not horse about here today, the bill will get through. I am certainly hoping that my colleagues, in particular those across the way, will agree to wrapping up the debate.

Again, I quote what the Minister of Veterans Affairs said:

The specifics of this bill before this House are to correct a drafting oversight from the 1970s,

He went on to say:

Bill C-597 would make it clear where the federal government stands with respect to the importance of Remembrance Day to our country. It would give provinces the opportunity to revisit whether they want to make it a statutory holiday as well.

It would not force them to do so.

That is what this bill does. It clarifies Remembrance Day within the Holidays Act by according it the same status as Canada Day and Victoria Day. It changes exactly one word by adding the word “legal” in front of Remembrance Day so that it matches what is says for Canada Day and Victoria Day.

I think it is a simple change that we can all get done today.

I want to thank all my colleagues and everybody who has been a part of this 41st Parliament. It has truly been an honour and a privilege to sit here and to represent the constituents of Scarborough Southwest, where my family has lived for almost 90 years.

Canadian Heritage June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my bill to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday is finally back from committee after 205 days in study by 2 parliamentary committees. The bill would add exactly one word to the Holidays Act.

Last November, the Minister of Veterans Affairs said of my bill:

The specifics of the bill before this House are to correct a drafting oversight from the 1970s...

This bill passed second reading with overwhelming support. Will the government help to end this 41st Parliament on a high note and vote “yes” to elevating Remembrance Day to the same status as other important Canadian holidays?

Petitions June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has 4,000 signatures from residents in my riding. I would like to present them all today to counteract the position the Minister of Transport took earlier that it is only Canada Post workers who want home mail delivery saved.

I have 4,000 signatures from residents to add to the 2,000 I have already submitted. That is 6,000 people from my riding who want to save home mail delivery.

Petitions June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present two petitions. The first one is on fighting climate change. Petitioners say that climate change is an urgent national and international issue, and they call on the government to immediately pass Bill C-224, the climate change accountability act.

Citizenship and Immigration June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, a man with advanced cancer in my riding was nearly denied life-saving surgery all because of a mistake at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

He could not renew his health card without verification of his immigration status, but immigration lost his application and then sent it to Alberta, mixed in with someone else's paperwork.

Thankfully, after two months, he finally got the life-saving surgery that he needed, but this is unacceptable. Will the minister investigate this horrendous bureaucratic blunder so that it never happens again?

Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1 June 15th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, he might be a member from Toronto, but I am a member from Scarborough.

It is really funny that we are talking about transportation, because of course that member and several other GTA area Liberals called for the teardown of the Gardiner Expressway two weeks ago, yet the Liberal city councillor in my area, who is the co-chair of the federal Liberal candidate's campaign, voted to keep the Gardiner Expressway. That is an interesting juxtaposition. I do not know how they are going to square that circle.

As for the Scarborough subway, that is a great question. There was a plan in the city, which was fully funded by a provincial government, to provide LRT that would expand transit into the far reaches of Scarborough. It was fully funded. Then the member participated in debates and was part of a city council that actually changed its mind, changed its mind again, and changed its mind again. It ended up deciding to vote for a subway that is going to cost $1 billion more, which is not funded. Every person in Toronto is now paying an extra $7 to $8 of tax every time they get their property tax bills to pay for that subway that does not go any further into Scarborough than existing transit. It is going to cost $1 billion more, which leaves no money for the Sheppard LRT and which is not going to bring transit out to Centennial College, to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, or to Malvern or Morningside Heights, where transit is desperately needed. That is what the they have done.

Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1 June 15th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, maybe the member was not listening at the end of my speech when I talked about the fact that Canadian companies have over $600 billion of dead money they are not using. They are not using it to improve productivity. They are not using it to increase research and development. They are not using it to employ more Canadians.

We talk about commodity prices. This is a government that put all of its eggs in one basket and bet the farm on the fact that oil prices were going to stay high forever. The member from Alberta should know that commodity prices and oil prices go up and then they go down, and then they go up and then they go down, but the Conservatives banked on their staying high forever.

If she wants to talk about some things New Democrats would do, we would provide stable and predictable funding for a successful aboriginal skills and employment training strategy model and other job programs to help first nations and other aboriginal groups fill job shortages. We would work with the provinces to build long-term skills training to fill the skills shortages in certain provinces. We would fix the temporary foreign worker program. There are lots of things an NDP government would do, but I would like to hear more questions.