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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is vancouver.

NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Co-operative Housing April 4th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, last break week, I took the opportunity to go door knocking and canvass constituents in my great riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

I visited one of the many co-operative housing complexes in Vancouver, the Still Creek/Kaslo Gardens Co-op. Folks raised a variety of issues with me, ranging from climate change to child care to public transit, but by far the most common was the pressing need for affordable housing and the solution that co-operative housing offered as a proven model of providing quality homes in a community setting at reasonable prices.

Still Creek and Kaslo Gardens are shining examples, with spacious two, three, and four-bedroom units, grouped around common green spaces. They provide safe play areas for children, foster close neighbours, and mix residents of every age, income level, family type, and culture.

Co-op housing is a fabulous way to provide stable, affordable, and attractive housing. I call on the federal government to invest land and funds to bring this outstanding model to as many Canadians as possible, as soon as possible.

Committees of the House April 3rd, 2017

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague. She has used the phrases that we are here to get the work done and that we are here to become more efficient many times. One would think we were talking about a meat packing plant or an auto assembly manufacturing plant instead of the cradle of democracy of Canada.

We are talking about democracy here, and democracy's highest principles are, unfortunately, not efficiency or getting the job done. Democracy's highest principles are debate, probing, holding the government to account, and expressing our constituents' views. That is why we are sent to this place. I am sorry if my hon. colleague finds that inefficient or inconvenient, but that is what we are sent here to do.

My question is this. If it is so important to have the Prime Minister answer the questions of backbenchers, why does the Prime Minister not do that every Wednesday from here on in? There is nothing to stop him from standing this Wednesday and answering every question from any member of this House. In fact, he could do it four days a week. Why does he not do that?

Committees of the House April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the more I listen to this debate, the more I realize that the government's proposals are a solution in search of a problem.

I do not know what is not working well here. We have committees that are well functioning. We have a House of Commons that is working well. The tools are all there.

We all know that the government has a majority, and when it really wants to, it can use that majority to win the vote at the end of the day. The only real currency the opposition has, on the other hand, is time. It is up to both sides to use those powers in a responsible manner. If the opposition is wasting time, the government has the tool of time allocation. If the government, on the other hand, is using its time allocation too much, we, as the opposition, can use certain techniques to slow it down but not stop it entirely.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague what problem he thinks is being addressed by the government's action. What does he think the government's motivation really is?

Committees of the House April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, for anybody watching, we have to separate the sincerity from the disingenuousness here.

The member for Winnipeg North said that having one day a week for the Prime Minister would subject the Prime Minister to questioning for the entire 45 minutes and that would be great, but there is nothing to stop the Prime Minister from answering every question in question period now. The Prime Minister could stand every day in the House and answer all the questions five days a week if the Liberals were really interested in accountability.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North said that the Liberals wanted to make this place run more efficiently and legislation needed to be passed. The government has the tool of time allocation now, but it wants to build into the rules an automatic way to limit opposition input in legislation without the Liberals wearing it, without the government having to publicly and transparently show Canadians that it is bringing in time allocation. Make no mistake, this is not about transparency, goodwill, and making this place work better. It is about the government trying to use the rules to seize the advantage.

My question for the hon. member is this. If he has such powerful arguments for why these are such common sense, modernizing innovations, why does he not trust that all members of the House could agree on that before moving forward?

The Budget April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on that last comment about the Liberal government's cancelling the public transit tax credit. There is a lot of rhetoric being thrown around here that does not make any sense whatsoever. The Liberals are claiming that this did not help low-income users. The only tax-exempt limit in this country is about $12,000. People who make under $12,000 of income, they do not pay any taxes, but people who make above $12,000 have to pay taxes. It is those people, the people who make $14,000, $16,000, $20,000, or $24,000—and I do not know if the Liberals view those people as low income, but I certainly do—are the ones who use that public transit non-refundable tax credit to reduce their incomes that get taxed. That is how the tax system works.

I would ask my hon. colleague if he shares that analysis of the tax system. I have had people in Vancouver tell me that the public transit tax credit is the only tax credit that they could actually utilize, and these are people making $18,000 a year, low-income Canadians. What does he think about the Liberals cancelling that?

The Budget April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, one of the features of the budget that has raised a lot of concern in my province of British Columbia, and I am sure across this country, has to do with the budget's removal of the public transit tax credit, which many Canadians who rely on public transit every month have been able to take advantage of.

Many people are telling me that this is a tax credit that benefits a lot of low-income people, benefits a lot of seniors, benefits a lot of working people who rely on public transit, and is good for the environment because it encourages people to get out of their cars and take public transit.

The budget leaves intact the stock option credit tax loophole, which gives a preference to CEOs and other very wealthy executives to transfer money to themselves in the form of stock options.

I wonder if the member has any opinion on whether it was a wise policy choice to keep the CEO stock option tax credit but remove the public transit user tax credit, which benefits many Canadians. What is her opinion on that?

The Budget April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, in July 2015, the Liberal Party was campaigning on balancing the budget. In September 2015, the leader of the Liberal Party then told Canadians that if elected, a Liberal government would run three modest $10-billion deficits and then balance the budget in year four. In 2016, the Liberals got into power and we see six straight deficits, starting with about $30 billion in the first year alone. Now the finance department is saying that at this rate, we may never balance the budget until 2050.

Canadians know that the Liberals promised that the 2015 election would be the last one under first past the post, and they have abandoned that position.

They also told Canadians that we needed to borrow money to build infrastructure. They got into office, and now they are telling Canadians we are going to have to sell public infrastructure, such as ports, airports, etc.

During the election campaign, they attacked the New Democrats' child care plan for being not ambitious enough. They got into power and now they are going to spend a fraction of what the New Democrats were proposing to spend.

When the hon. member says that the Liberals campaigned on real change, did he really mean that the Liberals were going to change all of their positions once they got into government, which is what they have done?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-307, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (tamper resistance and abuse deterrence). This legislation proposes to allow the Minister of Health to implement regulations to restrict access to non-tamper-resistant controlled substances or classes of controlled substances. The bill also imposes an annual reporting requirement on the Minister of Health if no regulations are made “specifying controlled substances or classes of controlled substances that must have tamper-resistant properties or abuse-deterrent formulations”.

As we consider the bill, which is principally aimed at curbing prescription opioid abuse, it is important to remember how we arrived at the current overdose crisis, which has claimed an estimated 20,000 Canadian lives over the last 20 years.

For over two decades, opioids have been overused and over-prescribed by doctors for pain management and other causes, leading to many patients becoming dependent and addicted.

Canada has among the highest per capita volume of dispensed opioids in the world, totalling some 19.1 million in Canada in 2015 alone. That is up from 18.7 million the year before. This is about one opioid prescription written for every two Canadians last year.

Even though there are no credible peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate that opioids afford more benefit than harm for chronic pain, opioid use has been marketed beyond palliative care and cancer patients for regular use to people experiencing back pain and other common ailments.

Manufacturers, incorrectly, led prescribers to believe that addiction was a rare consequence of using prescription opioids long-term and that fewer than 1% of patients would become addicted. However, in reality, the addiction rate is estimated to be 10%, with 30% suffering from opioid use disorder.

In 2012, Purdue Pharma Canada, the manufacturer of the potent prescription opioid OxyContin, pulled OxyContin from the market and replaced it with OxyNEO, a tamper-resistant alternative that is difficult to powderize, snort, or inject. Purdue strongly supports changing legislative and regulatory regimes to mandate that over time the entire prescription opioid market be tamper-resistant.

Under the previous, Conservative government, Health Canada drafted regulations that would have compelled opioid manufacturers to make their oxycodone products, and eventually all opioids, tamper-resistant. However, the current Liberal government abandoned that plan in April 2016, on the basis that there is insufficient proof to back up claims that tamper-resistant formulations have positive policy benefits.

Health Canada concluded that requiring tamper resistance would not have the intended health and safety impact of reducing overall drug abuse. At the time, the Minister of Health told the Standing Committee on Health, “It would be wise if it worked, but the result is that the introduction of tamper-resistant products only serves to increase the use of other products on the market. You can't take a single approach to a drug.”

To be sure, independent expert opinion on tamper resistance ranges from the view that its application has very limited efficacy for addressing opioid abuse, to the view that tamper resistance is a counterproductive move aimed in part at extending the drug manufacturers' patent protections.

Testifying at the health committee's fall 2016 study of the opioid crisis, proposed by the New Democrats, Dr. Philip Emberley, director of professional affairs for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said:

...we still see tamper-resistance as one solution, [but] not the only solution.... [T]here are some numbers out of the U.S. that say it has had some effect. However, we have to be very cautious of the unintended consequences, which may end up being even worse than what we were trying to prevent in the first place.

To understand these potential consequences, a U.S. study published in the academic journal JAMA Psychiatry looked at what happened in drug use patterns before and after tamper-resistant OxyContin came on the market. It found that abuse of OxyContin dropped significantly, from 45% to 26% of all users, but heroin use rose from 25% to 50% and effectively cancelled out any drop in OxyContin abuse. Many simply kept using OxyContin, and about one third of them found a way around the tamper-resistant formulation.

Another 43% were simply unable to crush the new, tamper-resistant pill, so they just swallowed it and got high anyway. Only 3% of those surveyed gave up the drug altogether when the new, tamper-resistant formulation came out.

Dr. Emberley's caution was reiterated at the health committee by one of Canada's leading drug safety experts, Dr. David Juurlink, who said this:

I think abuse-deterrent formulations are a good thing generally. You can crush them, and you can chew them, and you can get a much higher level in your blood than you would by taking them intact, but you can't powderize them, inject them, or snort them, but it is a mistake to think this is the way out of this problem. These products tend to materialize on the market as the patent on the original product expires, so a cynic might wonder if this is primarily a business decision.

The fact is that the primary route by which opioids are abused is oral. I know for a fact that physicians, when they hear about these abuse-deterrent formulations, think that these are somehow impervious to abuse. They are totally abusable. If you could snap your fingers and have them all be abuse deterred, great. It is not a major part of the solution to this problem, in my view.

At best, I could say that the impacts of tamper-resistant opioids are presently unclear. However, because New Democrats are unwilling to dismiss any potential tool to address the opioid crisis, we believe that this bill should be rigorously studied at the health committee, with extreme caution paid to the potential for unintended harm. Let me be clear. We will not hesitate to oppose this legislation if, based on the preponderance of evidence, we determine that tamper resistance is likely to be counterproductive.

Ultimately, New Democrats want a much more comprehensive response to the opioid crisis. Since last fall, our party has been calling on the federal government to declare opioid overdose a national public health emergency, because such a declaration would empower Canada's chief public health officer with the authority to open temporary clinics and supervised consumption sites on an emergency basis, and allocate emergency funding on the scale needed to comprehensively address the opioid crisis.

The Minister of Health has repeatedly dismissed our calls, on the basis that the federal government already has the ability to take these measures without an emergency declaration. However, here we are today, in April 2017, with no end in sight to the opioid crisis. The legislation to streamline supervised consumption site approvals remains stalled in the upper chamber, and budget 2017 fails to devote a single dollar in emergency funding to combat the crisis. Somewhat shockingly, budget 2017 also makes deep cuts to addictions treatment funding, when access to publicly funded programs is already appallingly insufficient across this country.

As the opioid crisis escalated in 2012, the Conservatives cut funding for addictions treatment by approximately 20%, allocating $150 million over five years. That is still $40 million more than the Liberals' entire allocation for the Canadian drugs and substances strategy just announced in the last budget. The Canadian drugs and substances strategy expands on the now defunct national anti-drug strategy's pillars of prevention, treatment, and enforcement to include harm reduction. In our view, that is a positive change, but it means a broader mandate with only 20% of the anti-drug strategy's funding.

With a federal reaction like this, one could be forgiven for believing that the opioid crisis is over. However, in my home city of Vancouver the crisis is getting worse by the day. Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services reported 162 overdose response calls for the week of March 20, a 56% increase from the previous week, when 104 calls were responded to. To date, in 2017, there have been 100 overdose deaths in Vancouver alone. There were 215 in all of 2016. If rates of overdose deaths continue at this pace, Vancouver could see nearly 400 deaths in 2017, double the number recorded in 2016.

In order to reverse this trend, the City of Vancouver is advocating for increased access to treatment-on-demand options. Apparently, this request has fallen on deaf ears at the federal level. Indeed, the Prime Minister seemed to acknowledge it last month when he visited Vancouver and pledged this: “It’s really important for all Canadians to consider that this is something we cannot continue to ignore, we cannot continue to stigmatize. We need to start addressing this as the real societal health problem it actually is.” However, as former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden used to say, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Canadians do not need more empty words or broken promises from their federal government; they need real support to end the opioid crisis. I call on the Prime Minister to honour his word by taking emergency action to finally and fully address this immense human tragedy.

Petitions March 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to table a petition signed by hundreds of young students from my riding of Vancouver Kingsway and the greater Vancouver area who are petitioning the House to draw our attention to the fact that Nestlé is taking water from Hope, B.C. and only paying the price of $2.25 per million litres. That is less than the price of a chocolate bar. From this, it is making huge profits from our water.

The petitioners point out that numerous droughts and wildfires have happened in B.C. recently. They ask that our House consider stopping Nestlé and other big companies and conserve our water for future generations to come. They also want us to encourage the public to start using reusable bottle and stop buying plastic bottles.

I would like to thank the students of Windermere Secondary School in my riding for their wonderful concern about the environment and our freshwater supplies.

Business of Supply March 9th, 2017

Madam Speaker, I want to ask my hon. colleague two questions.

First, could he tell the House who removed the tax benefit to our men and women who serve in our forces, which had provided them with extra pay for hardship and risk, and when did that happened?

My second question is more philosophical. Many of us on this side of the House in the New Democratic Party believe we need to equip our armed forces with the most modern, effective, and technologically advanced equipment possible and that we should focus our armed forces on peacekeeping, on defence of Canada, and on aid for natural disasters in Canada.

Does the member have any comments or thoughts on the nature of the military mission that is taking place in Syria and Iraq right now, the one that the Conservatives committed us to and that the Liberals claimed they wanted to end but seemed to have deepened?