House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was infrastructure.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Parkdale—High Park (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Criminal Code March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite should never mistake this. We never side with the government and its misconstruing of what should happen in our country. We side with the Canadian people.

Today it was our House leader who stood up. It was not the government members. They were all glued to their seats and bubbling over with outrage. Our member for Wascana stood and said “unanimous consent”.

Therefore, the facts for the Canadian public are that the bill is moving as quickly as it can. At the end of the day it will go to committee, thanks to the Liberal Party of Canada and not thanks to the sleepy and somewhat separated from reality government of the day.

Committees of the House March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is important to understand one thing. Today, this is a test not for war resisters, but for Canadians. It is not about respecting Canadian laws but about respecting ourselves.

This is a character test for us in Canada. This is about respecting our neighbours in the United States but it is also about respecting ourselves. We set laws and regulations according to our values, how we see our country evolving. We are saying that our immigration system, the friends and neighbours we choose to have come here, is also based on our values.

The question today is narrowing from a character test for all Canadians to one for government members. Why do they stand outside a Canadian sensibility? Why do they hide behind facts that are not correct, characterizations that are not accurate? Why are they threatened by a small number of people who had a crisis of conscience and at great personal cost walked away from the United States and came to Canada for refuge?

It is not correct to say that we have not accepted such people before. Out of the draft dodgers who came here for sanctuary before, 3,000 were volunteers in the American army.

This decision has been made by Canadians before. It is the government of the day that seeks to change how Canadians express themselves. Every reasonable Canadian can today ask themselves this: why does the minister in particular use his personal biases, declare at every opportunity and mis-characterize people?

We also have a precedence by the government. It passed a regulation, supported special immigration for a group of Vietnamese living in the Philippines. Quite contrary to what we hear from the members opposite, there is precedent for discussion, debate, and decision by Parliament about special needs and special cases.

That is truly what we are talking about today. We are talking about a group of people who come from the United States, our neighbour and ally, but who have found themselves in a crisis of conscience. They find themselves subject to compulsion that we do not agree with in Canada.

Some of the hon. members have already spoken to the compulsion around stop loss, and in one instance, one person served a full four-year term, tried to return and was called back. Some 13,000 American servicemen have been subject to that.

The new administration suggests it is going to phase out stop loss and get rid of it by 2011. The minister of defence of the United States has said, “This is not fair. This breaks contracts with people”. Quite a large number of war resisters find themselves subject to it and other forms of compulsion.

Near to my riding, there is a 27-year veteran of the United States armed forces. I would challenge any member opposite to have a better record in terms of contribution to military service in their country. He had a crisis of conscience. He is a nuclear engineer who decided his ship was bombing civilian territory. He was not permitted to question it, as he might have been in the Canadian military, which has different rules around crisis of conscience and what one might be able to do. With three years left to his pension, he instead came to Canada.

I think it is highly objectionable and outside the boundaries of fairness on the part of Canadians that one would characterize such people who showed fidelity and devotion to their country, principles we would agree with, as criminal in their behaviour. Clearly, there is a gap in our system, and it is one that the House is meant to address.

We stand on the traditions of previous Parliaments when we say these are people who merit our attention. It behooves members opposite to say why they would stay outside of that consensus, which was represented in the House, debated and discussed at the immigration committee, and expressed by many Canadians across the country.

Again, it is becoming a character test. Why is the government tone deaf? Why would it impose its narrow view of this country on others? It bespeaks a government unprepared to govern for everyone, and that is the job. There is no other job when one sits on the government side of the House.

We heard from the United Church, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the oblates in the Catholic Church. They said this cannot stand as a moral decision of the government. They exhorted the government to find it in the values that Canadians want to see expressed.

I think this is very clear. We need to make a choice for Kimberly Rivera, my constituent who got the stay in Federal Court, and who found herself in that circumstance. She has a young daughter, Katie, who is four months old. They are contributing to society and supported by Canadians.

Hundreds of families came out in support of Kimberly Rivera in my riding. Mainstream Canadians heard her story and said that she needs to be among us. I have the greatest respect for the members opposite, but to try to raise the spectre that we have no room for these people and that it is at the expense of somebody else is simply not true. There is every bit the travail, loss and sacrifice that has happened to these people. Unfortunately it seems to require an overwhelming direction from the House that the government adjust to the way that Canadians view this particular group of people.

In case after case, these are people who have stood up to great jeopardy. Kimberly Rivera faces 15 months in jail and felony convictions. She faces separation from her Canadian-born daughter and her family because she had a crisis of conscience. She and her family have lost everything economically and have nothing to gain by coming here and being among us, except because of the revelation she had in Iraq. They were going to force her to serve another term and she chose to get away.

We do not judge the sets of values and consensus that form in the United States, even though they are now changing with the defence secretary and perhaps even the new president. However, we surely are free in the House to establish Canadian values when it comes to who lives here. We have done that in the past and done it effectively. To surrender our capacity to evaluate situations does not show true respect for a friend or neighbour.

There are more than 30,000 people, and their children and grandchildren, in this country who came to us from the United States in part because we stood differently. We did not stand better. We do not lord that over any other countries. However, we did stand differently, and every member of the House needs to appreciate what has come before us. It is interesting to see a Conservative Party that cannot respect traditions and does not believe in some of the hard-gained ideals that we have.

When one looks at what is happening in terms of the different people who are here, one sees not just a nuclear engineer, a young mother, or a university graduate. These are articulate people.

In my riding, we have people who are volunteering. Every single person they volunteer with at this particular agency that re-establishes computers has signed a petition for them to stay, every single one of these volunteers who give of their time. That is what they are doing while their status is in limbo.

I just want people to imagine what it was like for these people to have been ostracized in the United States when they left two or three years ago, what the feeling was, how they had to uproot themselves from their community, and how it must feel to still hear echoes of people condemning them here in this country. What they get on the streets and in the markets from people out there is that we understand.

All we are saying here is that these are potential future Canadians. They would still go through a process. They would be characterized through this motion as eligible for immigration. There is nothing automatic here, and they could not be arbitrarily deported by a biased minister or government.

Committees of the House March 26th, 2009

Mr. Chairman, I thank the member for his comments on this important topic today. I would have one question.

Why does the deputy minister's attitude seem to suggest that all resisters are criminals? Parliamentarians met with Ms. Rivera yesterday. Is she a criminal? Perhaps the member knows the ideological reasons behind this government's refusal to agree with the majority of Quebeckers and other Canadians on this issue. Perhaps the member would have an ideological explanation as to why this family must grapple with this problem concerning the motion.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, there are no accountability measures for the method mentioned by the hon. member. There is no publication, no certain audit and no looking at applications ahead of time.

Audits are in place. The municipalities do not need to match but they often do. The Province of Ontario says that it will match. However, that member wants to stop $45 million from coming into York region. He should explain to his electors why he wants to designate the projects or have some political control over it. Why does he not just let it go to the municipalities and let it do some good? Let us get Canadians back to work. He should let go of that old way of doing politics.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, a pattern is starting to emerge with the government that it cannot resist the temptation. The municipalities have told the government clearly to get them the money and they will pull the projects in and make them happen. Sixty-five percent of infrastructure is in municipal hands and only 11% in federal hands.

The government should stand aside for a program that has audits, that assures incremental spending and that municipalities are prepared to play their part to help get stimulus happening. It is the only way. Even the government has admitted that there will be delays of three and six and who knows how many more months.

The record is two years. We wait for the government to get dollars out the door but it does not seem to be able to resist the prerogative that it feels it must have. I would enjoin the members opposite to step down and let go of that, to actually allow the dollars go to the municipalities, let the dollars be seen to be doing some good for Canadians, and actually employing them and not exercise that prerogative.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what to say about the rigidity of the member's question in terms of actually delivering for Canadians. It is what matters. There are Canadians out there going hungry today because extra help is not being made available to them. There are Canadians out there who could lose their job and we could prevent that. The member opposite, however, would rather be self-righteous in being against. That is a luxury the members of this House cannot afford and keep their credibility.

We have a choice. We can fix the many things that are wrong in this budget but we cannot to do it in a way that delays the main part of the budget that could get out. The thrust of what is happening today is to ensure that the money gets out the door and lands effectively where unemployed and other people at risk of losing their jobs can benefit.

The Conservatives are not persuaded. The NDP would hold things up. The Liberals are focused. We have found new ways to do opposition because that is what this new situation and the new economic challenge requires. I would heartily recommend that the member who made the comment find his own way to make a contribution to helping people out because it is high time.

Business of Supply March 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to join this debate because this is Parliament doing something purposeful and necessary. In some ways, it is on its way to regaining some of the respect that it requires to do what the country needs it to do in these difficult times. It needs to make clear the difference between governments that simply make announcements and that want arbitrary powers and governments that give effect to government programs so that they make a difference in the communities where people are losing jobs.

This debate today is nothing short of making sure that actual aid and support is delivered from this place to the place where Canadians live. Unfortunately, there is a group of people currently in the government who need to be persuaded of that, who need to be brought on board with the concept that they actually have that responsibility.

This is an opportunity for parliamentarians to defend their constituents at a time of economic crisis. We are asking Parliament to implement the budget so that it has the required effect: new jobs, fair allocation and high-quality projects and programs.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee from the government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, and there are reams of quotes here, they encountered and embraced words like accountability and responsibility but we do not hear those words in any meaningful way today.

Incredibly, this debate is about a government that wants to have unfettered access to $3 billion without the oversight of the House establishing, as is required in its own rules of order, the requirements for due diligence. Contrary to what some of the members opposite might think, it cannot arbitrarily sprinkle dollars out there in its role as government. Instead, the traditions of the House are different and significantly different in a minority government.

Those are the reasons that the government is on probation. It finds itself not only on probation but getting constructive instruction from the House, and that is the nature of the proposal today, and what is going to start to change hearts and minds in this country in terms of the question they have.

Is the government trustworthy?

Is it possible to trust this government to deliver? That is the question people are starting to ask.

The average person, and I am sure there were tens of thousands watching question period before, does not comprehend why it is that the Prime Minister cannot stand up for unemployed Canadians and answer the question about whether or not he would consider allocating more dollars to help them. Instead, it is more a game about him and his prerogatives.

The idea that the government will not accept normal standards of oversight when it is looking to have extraordinary dollars is simply part of a pattern. However, it is a pattern that we are out to break. We are out to put the government into a mode of acceptable levels of governing. It is something that is very difficult for the government to do, and the track record and the facts underscore that very emphatically.

Let us rehearse what happened. The dilatory and obscurantist behaviour of the government, as some more eloquent speakers would say, is such that it actually got in the way of doing something on behalf of the country. The Conservatives pushed down the issues during the election and denied the recession was happening. They stalled for months.

However, there has been progress. The government has been compelled against its will to go from a $5 billion cut in programs to an $18 billion stimulus package. However, it only exists on paper until it is formed into programs that can reach people where they live, where people are losing jobs or need their jobs shored up by the investment that would actually touch them.

Whether it is in Summerside, Hamilton or any place in Canada, the government struggles on its own. All we are saying is that if the government is going to spend money, it needs to first say to the House where that money is going. The reason is that it has a track record of promising dollars and not delivering them. Only some 5% or 6% of the dollars have actually been delivered in the infrastructure programs in the last year.

Mr. Speaker, I want to mention that I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. I know she will bring the perspective not just from that part of the country but from the same kind of place where Liberals have had to go to have oversight on the government and make it do its job.

In fact, in the government's own accountability report, of the over $2 billion in 2007-08, only 5% of those funds found their way to Canadians. One has to draw a distinction from it.

Canadians have become very cynical. They saw the Prime Minister practising the old politics out there the other week where he went around and made the third or fourth announcement about a project that is not actually happening and not employing any Canadians, but is there for the benefit of the government to be seen to be doing something.

Although the government says that it needs to get the infrastructure dollars out, the reality is that it has a due diligence process in place that requires it to look at each and every application.

A couple of weeks ago, a motion was moved in the House and, for whatever reason, the members opposite did not think it was good enough for Hamilton-Wentworth or for the ridings they represented. The motion was simply to flow the money to the municipalities through the gas tax method.

The gas tax method is one for which the municipalities and the construction association expressed a preference as the way to get dollars out by April 1. The same government that is telling us that it wants $3 billion to spend has said that it will not get infrastructure dollars out now until July and September because it will be too busy sorting out applications and trying to apply some kind of due diligence. However, there are warning flags that every member in the House should be paying attention to.

The government's record for the distribution of infrastructure dollars is about $2 billion and its promise this year is for something over $7 billion. It passes strange that members opposite are not standing in their place and demanding to have a structure to ensure the $7 billion will go to the communities. We must ask ourselves why they are so quiet. Why is there not one member on the government side expressing concern and qualms about getting all this money out there in a proper time and in a proper way?

It comes down to the temptations of governance. It seems as though the government and all its members will give into this. They do not want to give up their prerogatives. The gas tax method would distribute money on a per capita basis, which means that half of the money would go across the country, because every part of this country deserves to be protected from the downturn, and the other half could be used, as we will be suggesting, to address where the needs are the greatest.

Every member opposite voted against that method. They voted against the money going into their communities, such as the $20 million for Hamilton, because they believe they will be in a special place. They think they can make deals behind the curtains and get projects assigned in some method that is not described here in Parliament and accountable. That anchor to the old way of politics will do in the government if it cannot relieve itself from it. There is no question in my mind that the government will find itself stumbling over its refusal to take constructive suggestions from this side of the House.

The public has the right to expect that each member in the House takes some of the responsibility of ensuring that dollars land. The record is sobering. Of the $2.8 billion promised but not necessarily delivered, the Conservatives have skewed their promises to 70% of it landing in Conservative ridings. About 36% of the population voted Conservative but the Conservatives sense somehow that they might be able to turn this to their advantage.

I counsel the members opposite that that will not only disappoint their voters and let down the people who sent them here, but it also goes against the grain of what is happening. If it is $3 billion that will be spent, it is being borrowed from their children and grandchildren because the Conservatives put us into deficit to do it. If there has to be another standard, then those should be dollars that are treated in a much more thorough way and we should at least have this ordinary requirement to know where this money is spent.

The government will be revealed very shortly in terms of whether it can genuinely change. Some of the members opposite in other parties say that Conservatives cannot be changed. We are not worried about their moral character. It will be shown in time. We are worried about helping Canadians and this--

Infrastructure March 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, thousands of unemployed workers and their families are waiting for the Conservative government to do what it has failed to do so far: provide infrastructure funding responsibly, fairly and quickly.

Why does this government refuse to use a much more effective method, along the lines of the gas tax? Would the government prefer to play political games instead of creating the jobs Canadians need, this summer when Canadians will need them most?

Infrastructure March 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, three days ago the finance minister said, “the construction season is about to start...and we want to make full use of the six-month construction season”. However, the government's first probation report yesterday shows it will spend the construction season this spring twiddling its thumbs instead.

The green infrastructure fund and community fund will not begin until the fall. The $2 billion infrastructure stimulus fund will not start until July, and that is after a murky application process.

Why is the government misleading Canadians, and why is it planning to waste over half the construction season?

Tibet March 9th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the current economic challenges will also produce realignments with respect to global expectations.

This week the world's attention will turn to the situation of Tibet and the 50th anniversary of the national uprising within China. The 50 year pursuit of real autonomy and human rights that the Dalai Lama terms a two-way solution within a united China is being marked around the world this week.

We have with us today a number of prominent Tibetan Canadians who are here to remind us, as parliamentarians, of the contribution we now need to make to this decades long impasse.

Canada because of our traditions of peaceful persistence and innovation. Canada because of our successful form of federalism that gives us the insight we can recommend to China, as we have elsewhere, in terms of accommodation and protection of minorities. Canada because of our tradition of human rights ensures we will not ignore where they are at risk.

Just as Tibetan Canadian families here in Canada cancelled their new year's celebration to protest the dire situation, including arrests in Tibet, so too we must ask ourselves urgent questions. If not by the peaceful measures of the Dalai Lama, then how? If not now, when new expectations--