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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was things.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for London North Centre (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 34% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Foreign Affairs March 6th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Davenport for his willingness to share his time.

I want to speak a bit personally. I know we are wrapping this us, but it is important for us to remember that we are actually speaking about something that many Canadians have already undertaken.

I would like to commend a group called STAND, Students Taking Action Now! Darfur. This group has been in our universities and high schools for a number of years now and has been acting really hard on the issue of Darfur. I had the privilege of taking a couple of their members to Darfur this past January and I was very impressed with their commitment.

These students decided they were going to go after all the various universities in the country that had investments in Darfur. I would like to commend them because at the end of the day, they have been successful at getting a number of universities across the country to divest from the companies that are taking part in what is going on in Sudan. This included my own university, the University of Western Ontario, which had invested in six companies.

STAND was so proficient and consistent at what it did that I am proud to announce that the university president, Mr. Paul Davenport, has now pulled the University of Western Ontario out of all of those investments. We are speaking about something that Canadians are already involved in.

There was mention earlier of the peace talks that took place between north and south Sudan. I was at those peace talks along with my wife and there was one driving factor that got the northern government to come to the table. In the first round of peace talks it did not want to, but in the second round there were a number of reasons why it did.

Much of it was because of the divestment threats that were happening from Europe, the United States and Canada, which were trying to divest from companies that were taking part and the northern government realized it was going to be financially hurt if it did not participate.

A large part of the success of those peace talks, that resulted in peace between north and south Sudan and ended a war that had killed three million people and displaced five million, was due to divestment and because Canadians using the Internet, especially students, knew how to access that stuff and make a difference.

My wife and I were in villages when bombings took place, when the government of north Sudan sent in their MiG jets, big bombers or militia units. We need to remember that 70% of the money that comes from these oil revenues and other companies that are in Sudan goes toward munitions. We were at the receiving end of those.

I know none of us want it to be that way, but it was not about my wife and I. We had to watch people as they had to gather together for funerals and other things because the western world would not speak out at that particular time.

This is life and death. We are not talking about some fancy little thing that we are trying to do. We are talking about people dying in Darfur right now because many of us have failed to take action.

I heard it mentioned earlier that one particular party had a plan for what it was going to do in Darfur. We all have plans for what we want to do in Darfur, but it is not about that. It is not about my plan or someone else's plan. It is about the fact that this is the kind of thing that has to rise above all our plans. For the sake of the people of Darfur and, yes, of Iran, we have to take action.

I heard Stephen Lewis being quoted earlier. Let me remind people that I was at a conference with Stephen Lewis a couple of months ago and he said the very thing that is keeping us back from acting on Darfur and divestment is partisanship. I am trying to say that it does not matter what other people's plans are or what my plan is. What matters is: What is our plan? What is it that we stand for and believe in this country?

I do not want to take much more time, but everyone knows I have three kids from Darfur. I have talked about how they wake up at night from the bombings and everything else that happened. There are millions of kids still in Darfur who are going through this. It is time for all of us to act.

I commend my colleague for having the courage to stand up and demand that we begin to divest from a government that will do this to its own people. I commend the people across the way who have been willing to support this bill, and I plead with my Bloc colleagues, I really do. I know there might be some difficulties with it, but it is not about nuance. It is about human rights and acting.

I am thankful for the time that has been given to me and I especially want to commend my colleague for the courage he has shown in bringing this forward.

Afghanistan February 26th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I wholeheartedly agree with that. I do think that the mission in Afghanistan has been full of successes but also some failures. I think the Manley panel pointed out those failures.

In order for what the minister spoke about to come to pass, we must begin to re-evaluate a 3D approach: defence, diplomacy and development, and do it in such a way that the Canadian Forces can work within a framework, that it can be accountable for and we can be responsible for.

I can tell the member, from being in Sudan, in conflicts in Guatemala, in Rwanda, Bangladesh and it goes on, that the need for the Canadian Forces to provide peace building would be absolutely essential and would help Canada's image in the world, especially in a place like Darfur.

However, we first must finish what we are doing in Afghanistan and also develop a better model from it.

Afghanistan February 26th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, my heart is in Darfur and my kids are from Darfur but my heart has also learned to be in Afghanistan as well.

Before we can consider going to places like Darfur and other parts that are so essential and need the Canadian presence, we must finish the job to which we have committed ourselves. It was passed by the House and we have a responsibility to respect that.

I know many of us are anxious for the Canadian government to get to Darfur and start to make a difference but we must never do it at the expense of people to whom we have already committed ourselves.

Do we have the capacity to do it? I do not have the answer to that question, but I do know that we have the capacity to fulfill the commitments that we have made and I believe that we should do that.

Afghanistan February 26th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Charlottetown.

I rise today in support of a motion before this House to extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2011 and to redefine that mission as one of development, training and security.

I know every member of this House takes this matter with the greatest of seriousness. Calling upon the men and women of our armed forces to place themselves in harm's way thousands of miles from their families and communities is one of the most solemn acts that we as elected officials can undertake.

I am gratified by the civility with which this debate has so far been conducted. As others have noted, this matter is just too important to be used for partisan political gain. Canadians expect more than that from us and this week they are getting it.

This debate weighs the well-being of Canadians against the obligations we as citizens have to the world beyond our borders. Whenever I am faced with an issue such as this, I am drawn back to my own experience before I entered politics.

In the early 1990s, I served as the head of the Ontario Association of Foodbanks. I am sure many of us remember what dark days those were, especially for those at the lower end of the spectrum. Faced with the consequences of massive cuts to social programs by all three levels of government, the association presented the governments with an ultimatum. We announced that if these cuts were not reversed in the near future, we would close our food banks.

The allotted time passed and the cuts were not rescinded. That presented food banks with a dreadful dilemma, many members will remember. Our credibility rested on our following through with the threat of closing our food banks, but the fact remained that thousands of people in need depended on us, and those numbers were only growing. We quickly saw that we had no choice at all as food banks. There was only one side in this conflict, the side of those in need, and so we kept our food banks open and we kept up the fight for increased social spending, a struggle that continues today. However, I have never again put any cause, no matter how just, ahead of the welfare of the innocents.

When I look at the situation in Afghanistan, I am compelled to ask a very difficult question. If Canadian Forces withdrew in 2009, what would happen to the people of Afghanistan? What would happen to those in need? What would happen to the innocents?

I do not ask the question rhetorically. I have put it to dozens of people who know much more than I do about the situation on the ground in Kandahar. I put the question to a Canadian soldier from my riding who is currently stationed in Kandahar, literally encamped in a tent on a mountainside. He told me that if Canadian troops were to leave, the Afghanis he sees and works with every day, people he has come to know as neighbours and sometimes friends, would, without question, be terminated.

I put the question to women's groups who told me that they have evidence the Taliban knows the identity and location of key women leaders in the Kandahar region. If Canada leaves and the Taliban regains a foothold, I am told that one of their first tasks will be to find these women, arrest them and perhaps kill them.

It is my view that we have no choice but to remain in Kandahar until 2011. Our troops will now serve in a new role and it is one that is as innovative and effective as Lester Pearson's approach to the Suez crisis a half century ago, but now Canadians will not be serving as peacekeepers. They will be serving as peace builders.

As Canadians, we hope the people of Afghanistan will be able to enjoy peace, justice and security, an open government based on accountability and the rule of law, an economy that offers honest and humane opportunities to provide for their families, and educational and social services that are available to all.

We are aware of the heavy price that some have paid to advance these goals. This is brought home by the bodies of the Canadian soldiers that we have all mourned together in this House. We join them and their families and friends in their sorrow and grief at lives lost, bodies broken and spirits shattered, but we must remember that the people of Afghanistan have suffered as well through the long years of violence, conflict and war.

Canada has led the combat fight for years and has had many successes, however, it is now time to realize our greater role as a nation. We are the catalyst for reconciliation of people and communities torn apart and, as such, we must now renew our pledge to work for peace and development. In this context, the Liberal Party's vision for Canada is one of moving forward to a long-lasting peace by respectfully acknowledging the need for our combative past.

This takes me to the question as to how Canada can best support reconstruction and development in Afghanistan, an area of expertise where Canada has enjoyed a virtual unchallenged legacy of success. Some have even branded us as Boy Scouts in the world, however, I believe this is a brand we can be proud of.

There are many Canadian NGOs and other organizations, and I have spoken with many of them, who are working to improve conditions in Afghanistan. We commend these organizations.

The Canadian government, through CIDA, is assisting Afghanistan's reconstruction but it must do more and it must be accountable and transparent in the way it does it. Afghanistan will require economic and other forms of support well into the future. Government reports have drawn our attention to the high cost of outfitting the Canadian Forces for continued counter-insurgency operations into the undetermined future. To be more effective in building peace, we believe that a significant shift in Canada's concentration of financial resources toward long term human development is essential and necessary.

We are aware of the difficulties experienced by development and humanitarian agencies about what they refer to as the militarization of aid in Afghanistan. I have seen this and I know that it happens. It is the close identification of military operations and basic assistance. Aid must be delivered without compromising internationally recognized principles of development and humanitarian assistance.

What will this changed mission look like? Our troops will work directly with the Afghan people. They will oversee the building of dams to irrigate valleys and, at the same time, help to train Afghan security forces so that when the water flows the land will be safe enough for cultivation. They will literally turn battlefields into farmers' fields.

Canada has an obligation not to abandon the people of Afghanistan. I read in the paper yesterday that someone said that the reason the Liberal Party was supporting this motion was because we did not want an election. That is not true of me and I would appreciate not being included in that kind of comment. It is also not true of many of the Liberals who are sitting here on this side. We believe we just cannot abandon the people of Afghanistan.

Today, all of us in the House acknowledge the grave responsibility that we have in making difficult decisions regarding reconciliation, diplomatic and development efforts for the future of our military forces in Afghanistan. We ask that the government consider a compromise for the good of Canada but, moreover, with the knowledge that the people of Afghanistan now have the chance for a lasting peace.

The men and the women of our military now have the opportunity to finish the work they have sacrificed so much for already. I have no doubt that if we in the House stand with them, our own troops will succeed.

Diplomatic Representatives February 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, last week I had the privilege of attending the NATO meetings with the defence minister in Lithuania, and I was fortunate enough to attend various venues with our ambassador, Claire Poulin. Her professionalism and personal charm were apparent for all to see.

I also visited the office of our micro-mission in Vilnius, headed by Habib Massoud. Meeting the dedicated staff was indeed an honour. With limited resources, these individuals have done work far and above what is asked of them.

We often get wrapped up in domestic politics in the House, but occasionally it does us good to recall what a key role our diplomatic representatives play around the world and how they do Canada proud in the midst of great challenges. We must simply do a better job of expressing our appreciation for remarkable work well done abroad.

For our people in Vilnius and specifically Ambassador Poulin, our sincerest appreciation for representing our country in the highest possible fashion.

Afghanistan February 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the response from the minister. Up until now, ten times as much has been spent on combat operations as on development. The Liberal opposition has been proposing a more enhanced development model for Afghanistan for the past year.

Will the government now provide clarification of its recent statements by confirming that our combat mission will end in February 2009, and that it will change to one of development, diplomacy, and training?

Afghanistan February 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the current approach to our mission is in need of a change. It is now clear that combat alone will not bring lasting peace to the area. Our mission must be one of diplomacy and development, assisting the Afghan people to build their own resources and capacity.

It is what Canada is known for in the world and something of which Canadians are very proud. That must be the focus after our combat mission ends in February 2009.

In light of the recent developments, is the government ready to endorse such a responsible and comprehensive approach?

Old Age Security Program January 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the member for Rimouski and the motion she has put forward. I do it for a number of different reasons, some of which are personal.

What we just heard in the House in the last intervention really does not deal with the aspect of seniors' poverty which we are facing now. This is a huge issue and a significant one.

The old age security and guaranteed income supplement were designed at a time when our country was in a very different place. It was a world in which mothers worked at home, raised children and were widowed young, but not divorced, where fathers worked in industrial settings, and where both men and women had much shorter life expectancies at older ages than those of succeeding generations.

Today we know that life is very different and as a result, the social impacts of a changed society have had dramatic repercussions on all segments of this society. For Canada's low income seniors these changes have meant a lingering cycle of poverty. We as parliamentarians actually have the ability to change that.

While there has been a clear improvement in the economic situation of Canadian seniors since the 1980s, a substantial number of seniors continue to live under very difficult economic conditions. While many consider Canada's combined public-private retirement income system a success story, poverty among seniors is not a rare occurrence. It is most common among seniors living alone, women over the age of 80, visible minorities and immigrants.

For a good number of these seniors living in poverty, the prospect of a golden retirement simply does not exist. The gains in old age security and CPP cut seniors' poverty in half during the 1980s and the 1990s, a very significant accomplishment, but it showed what government could do when it applied itself to seniors and the struggles that they were facing.

I speak from experience. I am a director of the food bank in London. I have been a volunteer director there for 21 years. We had not seen so many seniors coming to food banks over the course of the last two decades, but that number is now beginning to change. We are seeing more and more of them starting to come and more and more of them in desperate situations.

These are terrible situations for seniors to have to resort to. For a senior who has provided for his or her whole life, who had fought in a war, who had worked, to have to come to a food bank and depend on community largesse and charity is something that is just not right. For many of these people, they are stuck. They are trapped in a system from which there is no escape.

It is worse. There is a huge demographic shift coming. We all know it. We all know that the number of seniors is going to multiply in the next number of years. Food bank statistics, not only from my food bank, but from all the Ontario association of food banks across the province reveal that more and more workers have less and less savings and less and less investment in pension plans.

Those who are poor have absolutely no real hope of building up a cushion of RRSPs. A large number of today's workers will reach retirement age in the next decade and they will have to find creative ways to fund their senior years. This motion, should it pass, and it should, will help all those coming on to OAS, a great many of whom do not have a sufficient form of public protection.

Let us look at some of the statistics of what the population in Canada will be in the next few years. Between 1981 and 2005 the number of seniors in Canada increased from 2.4 million to 4.2 million. Their share of the total population jumped from 9.6% to 13.1%. The aging of the population will accelerate over the next two decades particularly as baby boomers begin turning 65. That will be me soon.

Between 2006 and 2026 the number of seniors is projected to increase from 4.3 million to 8 million. Their share of the population is expected to increase from 13% to 21.2%, this from Statistics Canada in its Portrait of Seniors in Canada.

It has been suggested that the chief problem with Canada's pension system for women is that pension schemes in both the public and private sectors were indeed developed with men in mind. This is true and these last few years are showing this to indeed be the case and we are experiencing this once again on the front lines of food banks.

Elderly single women have consistently been disproportionately represented among the poor in Canada and are twice as likely as elderly men to live in poverty. In 1997 almost 50% of single women over the age of 65 lived below the poverty line, a figure that has remained consistently high over these last number of years.

Various reports have concluded that if the rate of poverty continues for the next two decades with all of these new seniors that are coming in line, the number of poor seniors is expected to double as the population of seniors increases twofold. The government has not yet answered as to how it is going to deal with the influx of people coming in.

Because of the inadequacies of our present system, we are finding seniors in desperate situations. I would like to speak about women and the particular difficulties that they face.

There are many reasons that the current system is not working for Canada's seniors who would otherwise rely on it. Among them, women often find themselves the hardest hit. Some of the reasons for this are pretty obvious.

Women's participation in the paid labour force remains well below that of men. For aboriginal and racialized women, this number is even lower.

The kind of work that women do is also a major factor. Only those who work for relatively large employers can have this kind of benefit. More women than men work in non-unionized jobs and women generally work in sectors where pension coverage is the lowest, such as the retail trade and community, business and personal services.

Above all, one of the greatest obstacles for women saving for retirement is that they simply earn less than men. They still make 72ยข for every dollar that a man makes. Women, therefore, have smaller pensions in retirement.

We know that the social programs that we as parliamentarians help to create directly affect things like health, housing and income, in short, the general well-being of many vulnerable groups. Low income seniors are no exception. With limited access to professional financial training, services that are generally available to all higher income Canadians, it is the role of government, all of us, to ensure that programs are properly designed to benefit low income seniors.

OAS and GIS have made great advances, but millions of seniors who live alone have not been able to increase their economic security; in fact, many are sliding backward. Inequalities in incomes and assets have not declined. Divorce rates continue to climb among middle age Canadians, and more of us, especially women, are choosing to raise children alone.

These trends and projections presented today suggest that low income Canadian seniors will be no better off in the future than they are today in spite of what we have just heard. If we are to increase benefit adequacy and economic security for these vulnerable elders, it makes sense to incorporate an effective income floor into the system. Canadian seniors deserve such a commitment. The reforms put forward by the hon. member present an opportunity to attack this particular problem within our own system.

I thank my colleague from Rimouski for bringing up something that I think is very important. From personal experience and the experience that many members have had, I ask that we look at her leadership and take on this initiative in the spirit in which it was given.

None of us wants to see seniors suffer. All of us want seniors who are living in poverty to be able to climb out of it. We all say the words and I believe we probably all mean them, but we set up a system that is a trap and seniors are not able to work their way out of it.

Especially for senior women, I ask that all members of the House support this particular motion, not because of from whom it comes or even so much the language that is used, but the time has come when we should accept what senior women are going through and all of us should act on it. I thank the member for taking the initiative.

Darfur December 10th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Prime Minister earlier today talk about what the government has been doing in Darfur. I want to believe him, I really do, but the cries of the children of Sudan continue to ring in my ears and it is enough.

On the 50th anniversary of Lester Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize, the world is watching to see if we will step up to the plate on this file, and they are hoping we will.

Will the government honour the reputation and commitment of Pearson's legacy to diplomatic efforts and save the struggling peace agreement of Sudan and the people of Darfur?

Darfur December 10th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, international observers have recently stated that the peace agreement between north and south Sudan is now unravelling, threatening to engulf the Darfur conflict throughout the entire region. Humanitarian aid is no longer enough.

I leave for the region in three weeks. I would like to tell the leaders and the people of Sudan that Canada is now prepared to step up to the plate and finally provide the leadership for which they have been waiting.

What diplomatic and other steps is the government prepared to take to save the peace accord, to stop the genocide and end this conflict?