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

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 9th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate what the hon. member is saying. I understand members of the NDP had a position long ago about how the budget would look and that they would be against it.

I take the point on employment insurance. However, we have put the government on probation for the outcome of the budget, not just the measures in it, but to ensure the outcome is there and that people are adequately protected.

I look to the other parties in the House to support measures to strengthen the kind of reporting, the kind of information we need so we know what has happened. In a way we are all on probation to go beyond our political posturing and find ways to make the House measure and keep track of these dollars and see where the deficiencies may lie.

We hear mixed messages from the government today. It may be open to more things or it may not. It had better be because there are dates coming, March 23, in June and in December. If the Conservatives are not and if they want to see what Liberals will do, then they might get their chance. Probation means real measures, real progress or an alternative where the government does not continue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 9th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's recognition that there may be some things to hear from this side of the House. However, very clearly, the passage of the bill, should it happen, does not negate the anti-democratic behaviour of the government. It walked away from the House, locked the doors and cancelled the finance committee. It is the committee that holds hearings across the country, records what citizens say, listens to the people and brings it back for due deliberate consideration. It is hard to understand why the parliamentary secretary, who should be responsible for that aspect of the democratic process, would be party to a annulling it, to deprecating it and saying that the Conservatives can do a better job without the committee.

It is an important principle for people to have access to how their tax dollars are spent. It was taken away from them this year. We are saying that the government has not done that great a job with the budget, but there are elements there and, I hope I heard this, a tone that the government is prepared to work hard in the future to make up for that fact.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 9th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today because this debate concerns ordinary Canadians. I do not think this is just noise for this Chamber. What happens as a consequence of decisions made here will make a visceral difference. That is probably not something we could have said for fact a few years ago in the sense that a wide swath of Canadians will be touched by what happens or does not happen in this House in the next short while.

I am speaking today, not so much in favour of Bill C-10, but out of the necessity to put forward some of the practical matters in it. On the preponderance of things that need to get done, we would rather start with this flawed bill and work in a different way, a way that I think many Canadians, when they are paying attention and when the things that happen here do matter to them, would like to believe this House is capable of.

To be truthful, there are things that we do not yet know about this bill in terms of how it will affect Canadians. However, I think it is important to lay things out for people, as I did a short time ago in my riding at a budget breakfast. A short time after the government's budget, I explained it to people in Parkdale—High Park at an early morning discussion to get their feedback. I think people came to a similar conclusion. They did not believe the budget addressed the needs of the country at this particular time. People have concerns, not so much about the motivation, but about the Conservative's conviction when it comes to the particular set of measures, whether they believe, in their heart of hearts, in these measures and whether they will prosecute in the interests of Canadians with all their being? I think very few Canadians believe that to be the case.

Frankly, some of the Conservatives who believe or have been led to believe that could happen regardless are upset about it. There is no doubt reason to look skeptically at Bill C-10 and the measures that it would put forward.

However, to get a perspective and a perspective that a surprising number of Canadians share in the sense of paying real attention to what is going on in this House is the difference between November, when the government said that its priority was to remove $5 billion from the economy and when it gave us all manner of prose and poetry about how it felt the economy was doing just fine and that it could actually cut government spending to the current point of running a deficit that most people thought was going to happen.

Mr. Speaker, before I continue, I would note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough Centre. He will probably have better words of wisdom to add to this perspective but it is an essential one.

People appreciate the kind of distinction we are drawing here, between a government changing its mind and outlook and being dragged there, no doubt, by some fairly extraordinary circumstances. I think another member of this House talked about the road to Damascus being like the highway that serves Toronto, the Don Valley Parkway being filled with Conservatives trying to change their mind, disposition and outlook on the economy. I think that is a relatively accurate thing. Whether they are driving those cars, being towed along or will actually get there concerns Canadians. It is a serious matter because the lives of Canadians hang in the balance.

One of the things I do agree with, which was mentioned by members of the other parties, is that this is not the budget in itself that will help vulnerable Canadians. For a time, I had the privilege of running food banks in Canada, a little too long ago for my liking in the sense that we started with emergency measures during a boom time in Alberta. I do not want to scare the members from there but those were the conditions that begat the first food bank in this country, and then we were in the grips of not one but two different recessions.

What this budget fails to recognize is the dignity of Canadians. It fails to put dollars into the hands of breadwinners in terms of mothers, fathers and families so they can sustain their dignity. What we should have learned from the last couple of recessions is that when those dollars are there, they will be best spent by those families. They will fall a little less further, get up that much more quickly and promote and look after themselves in a way that I would have thought the members opposite would have agreed but they could not bring themselves there.

The measures targeted for the vulnerable are light. The budget contains some money to build housing for seniors and it adds some additional weeks to qualify if one is on unemployment insurance, but it does not hit at the heart of the matter of the people who would not otherwise qualify. Many people in Parkdale—High Park work in temporary jobs and they are already feeling the pinch.

If there are members opposite who, perhaps because of their geography or their communities, doubt whether this recession is really taking a bite, I would like them to visit some of the people and families in my riding who have lost the hours and who have the least secure jobs. If there is ever going to be a reference point for us in the House, it should not be just the voting middle class. It has to be the people for whom many of the measures, institutions and programs exist. It is those who, through no fault of their own, need to depend on the measures of government for at least a short period of time.

What this budget misses in its entirety, because it has been wrestled out of a philosophy that does not quite get this point, is that if people are treated with dignity, they will do the best possible for themselves. They will live in poverty for the shortest period of time possible, but that, I have to report, is not how far we have been able to drag this government. That is not where it has gone.

That remains a measure to which the House needs to dedicate itself. It needs to find a means to bring forward provisions other than the ones being debated today. We need some of these other measures to come forward, even with the half-hearted and unmotivated, almost grousing, kind of enthusiasm from the members opposite, because many Canadians depend on the government continuing to function.

We want to address the value of this particular set of measures. We want to talk about how these measures will actually make a difference in people's lives. The way we will get to the value is the function of the House. Through committees, parliamentary officers and a variety of means, we have put the government on probation, because we recognize not only that it does not have in its target the general well-being of Canadians and Canadians who will be hurt or harmed by this recession, but also that it needs to be on a very short leash. It is not just benign reports, but a whole process of bringing forward to Canadians the actual implementation.

Last year the government did not spend $8.8 billion on infrastructure. It gave $1.5 billion back to the treasury over the last two years, and what it announced went disproportionately to its own ridings. It is not that the government that does not believe in government is suddenly converted to one that we can have faith in. It is because it recognizes that it weakened Canada ahead of this recession through the changes it made, going from minus $5 billion to plus $18 billion and paying for $16 billion of its deficit, as the parliamentary budget officer reminds us, which was a deficit built on some of the injudicious decisions it made. Tax cuts made in an untimely and non-targeted fashion lessened our capacity. However, that extra $18 billion needs to get out to the people who need it.

Infrastructure gives us cause for significant concern. In this area I do not just represent my constituents, but try to act as an infrastructure assurance office for the entire country. We will ensure that we get the information out of not just the minister and the ministry, but out of the government as a whole. There are a variety of programs that cut across ministries, such as programs in industry and Indian Affairs. The government has said a numbrt of things, and we need to make sure that a double value is obtained.

It is very important to understand that all members of this House have a duty. Their duty is not only to rapidly spend the money made available through this budget implementation bill, but also, and this is important, to get value for the money. It is really very important that all members in this House recognize this very important and meaningful responsibility.

Because we are borrowing this money, we have to make certain that we get the double value we are seeking. Yes, it is money that can be used to stimulate the economy, but it can also also be used to begin fulfilling a role in building a better Canada and in building some of the new competitive advantage. That is also going to have to be built in.

Just as we have to make sure that the vulnerable are not going to be missed, we are going to have to make sure that a government that lacks vision and imagination and has no view of the future is forced to focus on the things that will leave us stronger. That is what will justify our borrowing money to get this implemented.

Our competitive advantage is made up of the people we have. In the government's consideration, people had taken a place second to its own political machinations. It threw this country into a 60-day delay. Were it not for that delay, the disposition of the House and of the members on this side of the House would be decidedly different. We have decided not so much to give the government the benefit of the doubt as to give the people of Canada more than the benefit of the doubt. They, with timely assistance, will help us pull through. They are prepared to link up in new ways across government, industry and labour to find ways to make Canada work, despite the government's intentions.

Infrastructure February 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I hear what the minister says, but the facts say otherwise.

Of the 26 projects announced so far for the building Canada fund, totalling over $1 billion, 75% of the money has been diverted to Conservative ridings. The majority of Canadians living in opposition ridings have been massively shortchanged so the Conservatives can get far more than their share.

Will the minister agree to stop punishing people who did not vote Conservative and to use infrastructure funds to create jobs fairly for all Canadians?

Infrastructure February 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, with all the significant dollars being committed to infrastructure projects, Canadians are concerned that some of that money will go astray.

Could the minister tell us what measures the government is taking to ensure that federal infrastructure funds are being fairly distributed?

Situation in Sri Lanka February 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the easy answer is that there is no real good explanation.

However, I think we should all reflect a little bit. If we want a better standard for the House, why was it easy for the government not to respond on April 23 of last year when the member for Toronto Centre stood up in the House and said that we had an incipient emergency. How is that possible?

It is possible to arm's-length ourselves, not just that government and that Prime Minister but ourselves from a humanitarian crisis by some of the excuses we have been using. We just need to invoke the word “terrorism” and it gives us a shield, and it is wrong. It is a failure on our part.

I invite members opposite, as we have invited them on economic conditions and other things, to adopt a Canadian standard. It is not an exercise in our personal ideologies. It is an exercise in developing where Canada is going to go. By putting that shield around it we make it harder to actually reckon with those realities and we have become less Canadian as a result.

Situation in Sri Lanka February 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the members for Brampton West and Scarborough—Rouge River.

I rise in this chamber a little reluctantly because I know there are expectant eyes on us today. What I wanted to stay here for and hear the debate was mainly to respond to them and to some of the faces I saw campaigning and knocking on doors in my riding and what happened from time to time when someone would say that I had to do something about what was going on in Sri Lanka. Someone would explain some part of something that was very difficult to comprehend in terms of what was happening to a member of an immediate family.

We stand in this chamber saying that we are having an emergency debate and I cannot imagine what the people who have experienced what has been going on Sri Lanka for months or years in terms of the most recent conflict but for years in terms of the turmoil must be thinking it takes to define an emergency for the hon. members of the House and how sincere this debate is tonight in that respect.

The test for us certainly has to be that an emergency debate covers an emergency that touches Canadian principles of when we should start to be very concerned. I do not have the knowledge that some of the other people do of the situation on the ground but I can tell the House that Canadian principles would say that we should have had an emergency debate long before tonight.

What I say to that is not to celebrate some kind of superiority in contrast to that of the government but to reflect to the people whose eyes are on us tonight how much work we need to do to be better as Canadians.

We used to have a reflex to be among the first people to understand when there was a meaningful intervention to be made. It was made by people in this chamber, some of whom still have seats here, with much more urgency and much more effectiveness, working with bands of nations and not for show, not to make people feel comfortable that their voices were finally reflected here, but actually to get something done.

I say to people tonight that we need to do better. We need to have some sense of the good fortune that we have here. I say to some of the eyes that are upon us, it is not reasonable to expect that this chamber, the parties in it and the members in it, can take sides per se. Nor can we say to the considerable Tamil community in Canada that we want anyone here to take sides in the sense of being part of conflicts. Conflicts cannot come to Canada.

However, what can come here and what every citizen is entitled to with the same respect as any other, no matter when they joined our population, is a sharpened sense on the part of Canada of understanding where those needs are.

We have the population to inform us, to make us sophisticated, to make us capable of intervening and understanding far ahead of most of the nations on earth and we failed that test. It is right for the members of that community, on that basis as Canadian citizens, to come here looking for redress, looking for some real answers in what is going forward, looking for, yes, as people have said, more by way of aid but hopefully something different than that.

For those people who might be observing this debate and wondering what this has to so with conditions in Canada, I can assure them that we would not be having this debate here tonight if things did not happen in terms of 9/11, in terms of the reactions of our country to the threat and real fear that people started to feel. What that did was change some of the terms under which we injected ourselves into international dialogue and debate. It made us, without judgment of the people opposite, more conservative.

We made a mistake. We loss touch with our Canadian citizenry. We had a character test and we did not do well because we took a gross generality that somehow every liberation group, everybody rising up, we should stand back and watch them be attacked with military force.

A previous generation of Canadians thought differently. Lester Pearson thought differently. Other Canadians increasingly found ways to be imaginative, to be creative and to find solutions. Some Canadians with seats in this House have tried that. We need to try more. We need to be in dialogue with Canadians. They need to understand our principles of peace, of intervention, of creativity and of working multilaterally that can be put to work to find solutions.

The people whose eyes are on us tonight should expect us not just to finish this debate but to move forward with some kind of new purpose and intention, with some of the horror and some of the difficulty people have experienced translated into something better in terms of the exercise of Canadian principles. They have a right to expect that. I look forward to contributing.

Infrastructure January 27th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, in its first two years the government failed to deliver over $2 billion in national infrastructure projects that it had promised. The minister did not use it, so municipalities and provinces lost it for good.

Incredibly, the government has sat on billions more from last year's budget, money that is now set to disappear as well.

Can the minister explain this high level of dysfunction and why Canadians should believe anything he says on infrastructure funding, given this truly abysmal record today?

Automotive Industry November 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, as much as the Conservatives try to avoid it, there is one federal government in this country that is not acting and it is the one across the way.

Hard-working families deserve better. In the past two years, the Conservatives have already lost 45,000 jobs related to the automotive sector. The Conference Board of Canada is saying that we will lose 100,000 more. In other words, the Canadian workforce will decrease by an amount equivalent to the population of a city the size of Sherbrooke.

According to John Gray, the mayor of Oshawa, dithering would be catastrophic, yet we have a supposed Minister of Industry who is now--

Automotive Industry November 27th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, from vehicle assembly plants to parts suppliers, dealers and researchers, every community in Canada is exposed to a major company failure in the auto sector. A week ago it was 70 layoffs in Cape Breton, yesterday 855 layoffs at Magna plants in Aurora and Newmarket, and today it is 200 more at Linamar in Guelph.

The fact is that the Conservatives have known for months that major car manufacturers were in serious trouble, and yet they have done nothing except send their minister to sit in the waiting room of the U.S. Congress.

Why is it this minister has not even gotten off the starting blocks in doing something for hard-working families?