House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was victoria.

Last in Parliament August 2012, as NDP MP for Victoria (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Early Learning and Child Care Act September 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative claim of providing choice in child care is entirely bogus. There is nothing to show that giving people a small or even a medium amount of money creates or sustains choice. The person that the member was referring to is a very lucky person, but how many people in Victoria have that choice? I would suggest perhaps one in 100,000 across Canada.

A small payment to parents will not create new early learning and child care services, or even allow parents to afford and access the services that their children need. A real plan would have standards and goals, and timelines for building. Building a hospital does not provide the needed services of doctors and nurses or in fact all the workers in the same way that the Conservative plan will not create those early learning opportunities that are so needed to give our children a head start.

As a result of it being taxed back, the allowance will give a wealthy banker's wife more money than the single parent. It is entirely appropriate for parents who can stay at home and wish to do so and be as involved as they can be in the parenting part. Parenting and child support are completely supportive of each other.

Early Learning and Child Care Act September 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support the NDP's bill on early learning and child care programs. Canadians have been waiting a long time, 10 years, for the federal government to enact such legislation. I would like to use my time today to present an overview of the issue.

This year, Raffi Cavoukian, the award-winning children's songwriter and recipient of the Order of Canada, gave me a book entitled Child Honouring: How to Turn This World Around, which has inspired me to present this bill. This is not a book that is either particularly for or against child care, but it expresses the extreme vulnerability of children to their environment in the early years. In the Dalai Lama's preface to the book, he states that societies will advance only by putting children front and centre in our policies and our program development.

The debate today is about the policies that are best able to achieve that goal in helping us advance.

Canadian parents desperately need affordable, high quality child care to ensure those key early learning opportunities. Canada's economy and social fabric are best served with a quality early learning system that gets our children off to the best possible start.

Instead, the Conservatives have chosen a child care program that has nothing to do with child care. According to their research, and by their own admission, their plan will have very little impact on parents' child care choices. It is nothing more than a tiny subsidy for daycares, a vote-buying plan that might look good on the surface but that, in reality, fails to create a single daycare space for families who need them.

This empty plan seems to be a clear reflection of the Conservative Party of Canada's narrow vision of a federal government whose only role in social policy is to reduce taxes.

Canadians need a national preschool education and child care program that gives all Canadian children affordable, good-quality opportunities, regardless of the province or territory they live in or their family's income.

The NDP child care act in the bill is actually about child care and early learning. With this bill, we will ensure reliable provincial and territorial transfers for child care spaces, while enshrining in law the principles of accessibility, universality, accountability, inclusiveness, quality and educational development. The early learning and child care act can be a cornerstone of social policy for Canadian families.

I would like first to speak to the need in Canada. Studies have repeatedly found that child care programs in Canada are simply inadequate in comparison to other countries. An OECD study recently put Canada at the bottom. Over the summer, my conversation with hundreds of Canadian parents across Canada painfully confirmed the inadequacy of child care. Hundreds of parents like Cathy Rikley, who has a 15 and a half month old baby, spent months searching for quality day care that had available space that she could afford on her salary. She worried incessantly about leaving her baby in less than ideal situations.

In my riding of Victoria the cost for day care is $800 a month. In one Victoria day care centre, the Cridge Centre, there are 47 babies and 50 on the waiting list. The group day care has 56 spots for three to five year olds and 66 children on the waiting list. Another day care surveyed had over 80 on the waiting list. Some day care workers told me parents register as soon as they know they are expecting a child in the hope of securing a space. That is shameful.

For all the trumpeting the Conservatives do about choice in child care, they entirely ignore how stressed and stretched parents are. In the perfect Conservative world it seems there is never a single parent family and in two parent families they can always afford the second parent to stay at home. However, in a complicated and increasingly unregulated market economy, juggling family and work is an overwhelming task for very many Canadian families. If they cannot make it, the Conservatives will tell them it is their fault. They are not working hard enough. Let it be said that it is precisely this kind of unregulated market that Conservatives support through their policies that is forcing many parents back to work.

The $100 a month and pennies in GST savings do not cut it with most Canadian families. Look at Victoria's housing costs. The average price for a single family home in greater Victoria last month, August 2006, was $510,000. Families simply cannot cope.

The role of the federal government in this case should be to pool collective resources together and work collaboratively with provinces according to their needs to ensure all Canadians have access to basic social programs.

This child care bill represents Canadians working together to make a better life for our families, to give the best possible life to our children. It is needed. Our children are worth it and Canadians agree.

A 2002 national poll found that 86% of all Canadians believe that there can be a publicly funded child care system that makes quality child care available to all children in Canada.

The arguments are not only social, they are also economic, something maybe the Conservatives think they understand. For every $1 spent on child care there is a $2 economic benefit. At a recent OECD conference, every economist there argued that the single most important investment in long term competitiveness is to invest in early childhood learning.

If we want highly skilled adults with the literacy skills to survive and compete in an increasingly complex global economy, we must begin with a strong start for our children. The Ontario Public School Boards' Association said that investing in our youngest children in the early years represents the most far-reaching responsible investment we can make in Canada's future.

It argues that:

A child's readiness to learn at the start of grade one is the single strongest predictor of how well the child will do in every grade, whether they will graduate successfully, what their earning potential will be, how positive their contribution to society will be and even how healthy they will be.

That is health care costs. Saving government spending, surely that will get the Conservatives' attention. The Alberta's Commission on Learning says that ignoring the early years and focussing on fixing problems when children come to the school is short-sighted and a wrong-headed approach.

There is much to be learned about the importance of early childhood development in determining long term health, well-being, and general adjustment in life, like the research done by the human early learning partnerships in B.C. universities. We have to take advantage of that knowledge, not simply throw a cheque at parents.

Basically, the Conservatives' vision involves minimizing the federal government's involvement in social policy and its commitment to foreign affairs and the armed forces. My vision of Canada differs dramatically from the Conservatives' vision.

I believe the federal government has a fundamental role to play in our country, including a responsibility to protect the equality and social rights of all Canadians, to offer a comparable range of opportunities—which have become anything but equal because of an imperfect market, to ensure that all Canadians have shelter and sufficient income to support their family, and to ensure that they have access to health care and learning opportunities.

The Conservative plan simply does not work. The major flaw in its child care plan, which is not one at all, was summed up on a sign that I saw at a child care rally on the steps of the B.C. legislature in Victoria the day before I introduced this child care bill. It read: “$100 buys a month of child care”. That was in 1986. It seems that the Conservatives are behind the times. The Conservatives own research showed that:

The general consensus was that the $1,200 will not have any real impact on child care choices...While parents may choose how to spend the allowance, it is not sufficient to have an impact upon parents' choices: No one is going to be in a position to go back to work or stay at home to raise children because of the $1,200.

That information cost the government $123,000. I could have told the Conservatives that for a cup of coffee and saved them the time.

Indeed, the Conservatives' plan is taxable. I will call it a scheme. It is taxable, thus negatively affecting many parents' eligibility for the child tax benefit, the GST refund, employment insurance during maternity leave, subsidized housing, et cetera, and for those families who could most use the extra money. The true value of the proposed allowance could be as little a dollar a day per child aged one to six years.

The Conservatives' own research sums it up concluding that “The allowance is not seen as a national child care solution”.

Indeed, the government is now placing radio ads suggesting that parents use the cash to cover babysitting costs. Let us call it what it is, a babysitting bonus, a cynical vote-buying handout. So let us return to the task of building a national child care and early learning system that is universally accessible, affordable, not-for-profit and high quality for our children today, and for generations to come.

With the challenges currently facing our society, child care should not be a luxury. The child care act before us today makes the right of our children to a headstart a universal one. Let us pass this act and as the Ontario Public School Boards' Association puts it: “every child deserves the best possible start”.

Canada Transportation Act September 21st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, there are two parts to the hon. member's great question. One is that real consultation has so often been missing. We have seen it recently in the way the government has consulted on post-secondary education. The government called it consulting by posting an announcement on the web and not advising the people who are most impacted by the subject, i.e. students. Even some university presidents were not consulted.

I certainly agree that when there are issues such as noise and environmental concerns the federal government needs to be more present in working out these issues with communities. I believe that by withdrawing from so many important areas of social policy, the government is giving the wrong signals about the way it consults.

The hon. member raises another issue, that of noise, and I do believe that is a valid concern. That does not mean eliminating the rail. It means consulting and finding solutions. As I listened to the debate yesterday, I understood that there are mechanisms to really address the noise question.

Canada Transportation Act September 21st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I do believe that our future depends on how governments—this one and the ones to come both at the provincial and federal levels—will be able to help and implement meaningful infrastructure programs to ensure the continued existence of railway lines.

Bicycle paths might be considered. In Europe, however, France, Germany and Switzerland have demonstrated that it is perfectly possible for railway lines as well as bicycle and pedestrian paths to coexist.

It was not my intention to suggest that railway lines should be sold to be converted to something else. I simply wanted to point out that, if, for whatever reason, a line was no longer viable, the best thing to do might be to just sell it. It think that continued operation of railways must be protected, with governments not selling parts of them for purposes of development or other purposes. As the hon. member mentioned, the need for public transportation is recognized and will keep growing.

Canada Transportation Act September 21st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. As already mentioned, this legislation does address some important issues. However, it is not a transportation strategy and so represents a missed opportunity. Canadians will have to wait a long time to hear about the reduction of greenhouse gases and other matters. I therefore pose the question: where is the national transportation plan?

What we see in this bill is a hodge podge of measures to solve these nonetheless important problems, and I would like to talk about that this morning.

I would like to touch on some issues of concern to my community. The bill presents amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Act. A terminal in my community, according to federal authorities, presents some security issues.

Projects having been going on In my riding of Victoria to build a new terminal as an entrance to the city. After 9/11 the federal government intervened and made some requirements to improve security measures. This created financial problems. When the federal government imposes new security measures relating to transportation, it is important that it not just download responsibility but provide funding for the community. We have been waiting for years, through the previous governments and now the present government, to have these issues addressed but they have chosen not to.

It is important to consider transportation security as a whole when considering these entry points and to provide help to cities dealing with this issue. I would like to call upon the government, when dealing with these amendments and looking at security issues, to be attentive to the needs of the community.

I was pleased to see amendments or provisions regarding the railway lines in particular because it has posed problems in my community. Years ago a major federal rail company was discontinued and pieces of the right of way were sold when the community tried to preserve the integrity of the whole right of way as a cycling-pedestrian path. It was with great difficulty that we were able to get back this piece of the right of way that had been sold to the private sector.

The provisions regarding the discontinuance of rail lines becomes very important. This piece of the right of way was sold to a private company and it was left to local government to negotiate beyond what it was able to do financially to get the piece back.

Similarly, reversion rights need to be clarified, which the bill attempts to speak to on pages 24 and 25. However, for years CP Rail, after obtaining a great deal of land from the federal government in the early days of this country in exchange for running a railroad in perpetuity, had slowly become disinterested in running a rail company, not only in Victoria but throughout the Island, and the service became progressively worse. CP allowed the infrastructure to deteriorate and it became difficult for communities up and down the Island to work with CP Rail without much help from the former Liberal government to prevent the rail service from being absolutely discontinued.

Again, it was local government all the way up and down the Island that worked together to ensure that the rail service was not stopped. It is a concern when the federal government is not there to support communities' needs that are well articulated and presented in a thoughtful manner, as was the case in the issue of E&N Rail.

Eventually municipal governments got together and a non-profit foundation agreed to continue the service. This is what is happening right now, but the question of discontinuance or abandonment of rail service becomes crucial in communities that have put in serious investments to continue the rail service.

Here is what I would ask for when the bill goes to committee, if it does. The principle of the bill, as much as it does not include all the norms and the mechanisms that we would like to see in a more complete act, nevertheless does provide a mechanism for communities to talk to the transportation agency about some key issues. Until now there have been few mechanisms to deal with these issues as they come up, whether they be noise or other issues.

I agree with other colleagues who, in talking about the bill, have criticized the absence of any real environmental protection in the bill. Again, not only is there no reference to greenhouse gas emission reductions, but there is no real protection for communities through which rail service runs.

We know that on Vancouver Island there have been cases of spraying of pesticides that have run into salmon-bearing streams, resulting in serious environmental impacts. I think these are issues that should be considered and should be integrated and discussed seriously at the committee level.

Again, talking about the federal government being more present to support communities that want to have a rail service that functions well, where is the infrastructure money? Where has the infrastructure money been and where is it now? This is an area that I would like to see the federal government looking into as it brings the bill to committee.

Finally, there are some issues that I think need to be looked at in more detail. I mentioned the rail right of way that should be serving the communities. One of the issues that has been very important on Vancouver Island and in British Columbia generally has been the rate of accidents that have occurred. As some members may know, BC Rail was privatized two years ago and the rate of accidents has increased considerably. This is something that we are concerned about not only because of the loss of lives that has occurred but also for the environmental impacts of derailments.

This is the last point I want to deal with when the bill goes to committee, if in fact it is supported to go to committee. At the moment, the provisions for transfer of the rail line in the case of abandonment of a rail line or discontinuance simply say that it will go to urban public transit. I think that is too limited. I think it can be used for public transit, but there are other public goods that need to be considered in the case of a rail line being abandoned.

One that should be considered, for example, is the Trans Canada Trail, in which many people have shown a great deal of interest. Certainly on Vancouver Island and in Victoria, bike paths and pedestrian paths should be considered as one of those valid uses. I will be strongly suggesting to my colleagues when the bill is discussed at committee that there be a legal mechanism found to include that use, along with urban transit.

On that, I will take questions.

September 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask two follow up questions.

First, Statistics Canada has recently released a report showing that undergraduates in Nova Scotia, for example, pay almost double the tuition that undergraduates in Manitoba pay and that is over triple what undergraduates pay in Quebec. It is something like $6,700 in Nova Scotia compared to approximately $1,700 in Quebec. Does the parliamentary secretary believe that is making post-secondary education accessible to all Canadian students?

I would ask the parliamentary secretary to tell us what the government is prepared to do to improve that situation for all students.

September 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, a few months ago, I asked the government to restore the billions of dollars that the Liberals cut from post-secondary education during the 90s. I still have not received a satisfactory answer.

Students and families continue to deal with absurd tuition fees, even for average-income Canadians. Graduates have a hard time starting their careers while burdened with crushing student loan debt.

We know that current financial aid and tax credit programs for students are nothing more than a motley assortment of measures that do nothing to improve access to or enrolment in post-secondary studies. Too many Canadians are left behind.

Professors are faced with huge class sizes and a shortage of resources and materials. In colleges and universities, administrators are having difficulty balancing tight budgets as they face a pressing need for new professors, infrastructure renewal and so on.

The provinces and territories are still under tremendous pressure. Some have frozen tuition fees, often at the expense of class sizes and quality. Other have allowed tuition fees to skyrocket.

This government must stop confusing tax credits with a well-thought-out social policy.

It is time the government put some real effort into achieving a universally accessible, high quality public system of post-secondary education and skills training in Canada. The federal government has a key policy role to play to increase access to post-secondary education for all Canadians and that starts with a substantial, long term reinvestment in core funding through a dedicated transfer to provinces and territories. Even the premiers can agree on that, if nothing else.

Social justice aside, surely a Conservative government can see the economic case here if Canadians are to compete globally. In the global economy they need access to quality education. We also know that post-secondary education enrolment has remained static since 1995. Is it any wonder, when tuition costs have reached unreasonably high levels in those provinces?

I met a young married couple this summer, each with $35,000 of student debt at 30 years old. They asked me how they could even begin to think of starting a family. I had no answer. Would a reasonable person think this is a manageable debt level at that age?

I do not want to hear that the 2006 budget of the Conservatives helped all students. It helped those students who already had a scholarship and tossed a free textbook at the rest. We can help all students by funding truly accessible, quality post-secondary education with lower tuition, more teachers and better resources across the board.

Yes or no, will the government help to make this happen now?

Workplace Learning September 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this week we celebrate the second annual Learn at Work Week, a national initiative of the Canadian Society for Training and Development. It recognizes the enormous value of lifelong learning to Canadians, to our economy and also to the quality and security of our jobs and our standard of living.

There is widespread agreement that Canadians require access to quality continuous learning opportunities, yet Canada is currently underperforming in workplace learning in comparison to other countries.

I thank the CSTD for raising the issue of workplace learning across Canada. Learn at Work Week gives us the chance to recognize the importance of developing a culture of learning on a broader level and to renew our call on the federal government to encourage investment in workplace learning as part of a pan-Canadian strategy for lifelong learning.

Canada Transportation Act September 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the NDP certainly shares the concerns of the Bloc about the safety of public transportation.

As I mentioned a little earlier, there has been a recent increase in the number of railway accidents in British Columbia. I am sure that the member will agree with me that the problems of public transportation safety greatly exceed the capacity of each province or any one province to find solutions.

I ask what solution does the Bloc propose to deal with this very serious problem, the matter of safety?