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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word is regard.

NDP MP for London—Fanshawe (Ontario)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 38% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans Affairs June 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, deaths from suicide devastate our community. There are too many unanswered questions regarding why so many veterans turn to self-harm. Mr. Lionel Desmond not only ended his own life but also the lives of his daughter, his partner, and his mother. This terrible tragedy needs to be examined. Will the minister take responsibility and call an inquiry into the triple murder-suicide of Lionel Desmond, to shed some light and find a remedy for our veterans who are suffering?

Business of Supply June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly happy to stand in this House in support of the NDP motion put forward by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley on the appointment of parliamentary officers.

The Liberals campaigned on, and continue to promise, an open and transparent government. As the Prime Minister has said, and has stated on the Liberal website, “Liberals will shed new light on the government and ensure that it is focused on the people it is meant to serve: Canadians.”

Canadians put their hope for social democracy in the current Prime Minister. It was he who called on Canadians to step up and pitch in, to get involved in the public life of this country, and to know that a positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life is not a naive dream; it can be a powerful force for change.

What he appears to have left out is the truth we have seen come into play in the events of the last few weeks with his unilateral appointment of Madeleine Meilleur as the Commissioner of Official Languages: that a powerful, optimistic, and hopeful vision of public life is possible only if one has demonstrated too much partisanship to be appointed as a senator and has made sufficient donations to the Liberal Party of Canada.

Thus far, the Prime Minister has exposed the singular cynicism of his election night speech with his action, or more accurately his inaction, on key portfolio promises. He has backtracked on his promise to protect the environment. He has yet to restore protections for our navigable waters in response to destructive legislation by the previous Conservative government that gutted the important environmental laws that protected water. The Prime Minister has refused to recognize the devastating effects of colonialism and continues to underfund first nation education. He pays ineffectual lip service to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He continues to challenge veterans in court. He has executed a blatant about-face on the promise of electoral reform. Most recently, he has spearheaded a half-hearted attempt to address the child care crisis in this country by allotting funds for additional child care spaces at half the rate he has allowed for increased military spending. That is in an effort to appease Mr. Trump.

In light of the fiasco that occurred when the current Prime Minister attempted to sidestep the process and appoint Madeleine Meilleur as the next Commissioner of Official Languages on May 15, the motion the New Democrats are putting forward today is timely and relevant.

In the case of the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Prime Minister was obligated to consult other leaders on the appointment. Instead, he sent a letter informing them of his decision. We have seen this type of autocratic dictatorial behaviour on the part of our Prime Minister before. When he backtracked on his promise that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election in Canada, it was not as a result of extensive consultation or implementing the will of the majority of Canadians consulted. Rather, it was the result of his dislike of the recommendations of the all-party committee for a system of proportional representation, as opposed to the Prime Minister's preferred system of ranked ballots. In effect, the Prime Minister felt free to override the will of the people for his own personal advantage and decided to take his ball and go home rather than engage in fair democratic play.

Of course, there was the cowardly manner in which the Prime Minister delivered his backtracking on electoral reform. He had rookie ministers deliver his message rather than step up to take the heat for his own decision.

The Commissioner of Official Languages is one of eight officers of Parliament. It is a non-partisan role mandated by the 1988 Official Languages Act. Madeleine Meilleur's nomination received criticism from New Democrats and Conservatives because of her ties to Ontario and federal Liberals. Neither New Democrats nor Conservatives were consulted on Meilleur's nomination.

On June 7, Ms. Meilleur withdrew her nomination for the Commissioner of Official Languages position, as it had become “the object of controversy.” We know that Ms. Meilleur had initially sought a Senate seat, but she said Monday she bowed out after she realized it would be impossible, given the government's new non-partisan, merit-based application process for the upper House. If Ms. Meilleur was too partisan for the Senate, she was most certainly too partisan to be appointed Commissioner of Official Languages.

My colleague from Windsor West, with whom I am going to split my time, may have some remarks in that regard.

The lack of consultation among parties for new commissioners raises questions about whether commissioners will be non-partisan and able to do their jobs. Having a committee on which no party has a majority to pre-approve nominations significantly increases the likelihood of non-partisan appointments.

I would like to highlight the historical importance of having people who are objective and non-partisan appointed to parliamentary office. Their work is to serve and inform Parliament, not government. Parliament is the representative and democratic House of governance. It remains while governments ebb and flow according to political trends. The deliberations of parliamentary appointees must be immune from the partisan leanings of governments.

Our motion calls for a parliamentary committee comprising members of all political parties to consider such appointments to ensure that the successful candidate is objective and non-partisan. I can give a concrete example from my tenure as an NDP government member of the provincial parliament in Ontario in 1994.

Our government was intent on ensuring that the Environmental Bill of Rights was implemented and respected across the province, and it set about appointing the province's first environmental commissioner. The selection committee comprised members from all parties, and deliberations on the appointment were lengthy. We were tasked with assigning the role to the right person, someone who would be objective. There were many names put forward, including an ex-NDP member of the provincial legislature. He did not get the appointment, much to the consternation of some New Democrats at the time.

The successful appointee, Eva Ligeti, turned out to be a strong voice for the environment. She was non-partisan and impartial. Her tenure as environmental commissioner survived the NDP government in Ontario and continued into the days of the Harris revolution, a period marked by draconian and austere measures that included a tax on the poor, on health care, on education, and on the environment. In her 1999 annual report to the Legislative Assembly, Ms. Ligeti warned of a public health crisis that would result from unacceptable levels of air pollution, a prediction we have come to realize was entirely founded, with the increased number of smog-alert days we now experience in Ontario.

Because Ms. Ligeti was objective, strong, and impartial in her role as environmental commissioner, she was able to stand up to the government of the day to defend the people of Ontario and the Environmental Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, because of her disfavour in speaking truth to power, Ms. Ligeti's tenure as environmental commissioner was not renewed after her initial appointment ended in 1999, and Mike Harris unilaterally terminated her from the post. Opposition members argued that the termination of the commissioner should have been a vote of the provincial legislature, but their objections were ignored.

The similarities between Mike Harris and our current Prime Minister in making unilateral and partisan decisions regarding the appointment of parliamentary officers should be quite evident. The Prime Minister might want to consider revising his party's messaging around sunny ways and “real change” to “It's my way or the highway.”

Parliamentary officers serve Parliament, the representative body of the Canadian people, and not governments, which can come and go. It is therefore imperative that officers be chosen by an impartial body from a pool of diverse and qualified candidates and that the selection committee comprise members who understand the role of a parliamentary officer.

The United Kingdom has a commission for public appointments, named by the Queen and independent from government and the civil service. The commissioner oversees the appointments and makes sure a set of criteria, which include fairness, impartiality, openness, transparency, and merit, is scrupulously followed. It seems to me that if this Prime Minister is so intent on revising the way we do business in this House to be more democratic and representative of Canadians, he should be doing more than just cherry-picking the elements that serve him politically, such as attending question period every Wednesday to answer every question. He should put some real, substantive thought into the consideration of changes, such as empowering the Speaker of the House to require the Prime Minister to actually answer the questions, as they do in the U.K.

Once again, New Democrats are offering the Prime Minister and his government the opportunity to do this right. We encourage him to support this motion today and to back our campaign and the Liberals' promises of effective change that will outlive their political tenure and serve Canadians well. It is what we were elected to do, and I, for one, will settle for nothing less.

Government Appointments June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, after all the repetitious nonsense, can the Liberals now acknowledge that appointing a partisan commissioner, without real consultation, will result in unnecessary scandal and is a waste of Parliament's time?

After the embarrassing withdrawal of Madam Meilleur's nomination, will the Liberals work with us to make sure this never happens again? Will the Liberals do the right thing and commit today to a new process that ensures meaningful consultation before any officer of the House is nominated, yes or no?

Petitions June 6th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, as many in this House know, the President of the United States has signed into effect executive orders that prevent refugees and immigrants who have already been accepted by the U.S. from entering the country. That has put in doubt the reunification of families and the ability of immigrants to come to North America. The undersigned of this petition are very upset about the fact that, in addition to that, the United States of America has moved to adopt policies that contravene the 1984 convention against torture and are in violation of the Canada–U.S. safe third country agreement. Therefore, the petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to revoke the designation of the United States of America as a safe third country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act until the United States returns to compliance with respect to torture, and to acceptance of immigrants and refugees.

Labour June 2nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, public safety should be a top priority for any government and the safety and security of Parliament Hill is of importance to us all. Currently, there is a labour dispute involving our protective services where the employer is refusing to negotiate. Will the minister address this issue and what it means for public safety?

Specifically, will the minister consider modifying the Parliament of Canada Act so that the independence of our protective services is enshrined in law?

Agnes MacPhail Award May 31st, 2017

Mr. Speaker, today I am recognizing Gina Barber, the 2017 recipient of the Agnes Macphail Award.

Since 1972, Gina has led the charge to advance the fight for social and economic justice in London. She has always been dedicated to improving the working conditions for women in education through her involvement in her union and women's advocacy groups and has worked on every municipal, federal, and provincial campaign since 1979, usually as campaign manager and sometimes as a candidate.

She is a devoted advocate for a country in which no one is left behind. Gina continues to be active in London politics, acting as a mentor for young women and an advocate for seniors, and she conducts a choir that has produced such festive political hits as Donald the Trump Man, to the tune of Frosty the Snowman.

Gina Barber is a dedicated citizen and a true New Democrat. It is my honour to recognize her tireless work and her devotion to her community.

Veterans Affairs May 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the threat of financial uncertainty imposed upon medically discharged veterans is unconscionable. We were handed a guide to help us work towards a solution. This is a tremendous opportunity for positive action. Why will the minister not act on these recommendations and protect the sacred obligation we have to aid veterans as they transition back into civilian life?

I heard a promise to return to pre-new-veterans-charter pensions. When will this happen? It needs to happen now. Financial security is key to looking after our veterans and their families, as we have promised.

Veterans Affairs May 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, this past February, we learned of a veteran who was evicted from her home because of delays in receiving her pension. After suffering through a botched surgery, this veteran was medically discharged because she failed a physical fitness test by nine seconds. Despite 27 years of service, and six tours of duty, she was denied a civil service job upon discharge. The needs of this veteran, a single mother and two-time survivor of cancer, could not even be acknowledged with the promise of financial security.

In November 2016, she was evicted from her home outside Ottawa. Just before Christmas, she finally received her pension, five months after her medically mandated release.

Her story is not unique. In fact, the transition process to civilian life has long been a concern. The Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, the current and former chiefs of the defence Staff, the Auditor General of Canada, and the National Defence ombudsman have all raised concerns about the transition process.

Recently, the defence ombudsman issued a report to the Minister of National Defence outlining the convoluted transition process and offering recommendations to remedy the issues plaguing medically released veterans.

Each year about 5,500 uniformed Canadians transition to civilian life. Of those, about 1,500 are discharged due to illness or injury. The process these ill or injured members go through to receive benefits is extremely complicated. Members must independently prove to VAC that their injuries can be attributed to their service, despite the fact that the Canadian Armed Forces has all necessary records available. This puts an extra burden on former CAF members. It forces them to tell their stories again and again, preventing them from moving on from traumatic experiences.

Additionally, the information systems of Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, and service income security are not integrated. Veterans are left to navigate pages and pages of paperwork on their own, filling out up to 21 separate applications to receive the necessary benefits. Finally, veterans are typically discharged well before their benefits are confirmed and distributed. This is what caused the eviction of a young woman who had faithfully served her country.

The benefits decision process can take up to 16 weeks, not including the time VAC takes to obtain records from CAF or the time members take to obtain and submit their own records. This means that at the very least, medically discharged veterans are left with four months of financial uncertainty.

The recommendations suggested by the DND ombudsman would remedy these problems. The first and most important recommendation is to retain medically releasing members until all benefits and services are in place. The second is to establish a concierge service to serve as a focal point to assist members and their families with administrative matters regarding that transition. The final recommendation is to phase in a web portal to integrate the VAC, CAF, and service income security. This would allow members to input relevant information only once and would help them automatically apply for all services and benefits consistent with their needs.

Talk of creating a seamless transition process has been circulating for more than 13 years. The ombudsman has released clear and objective recommendations. It makes sense to honour these recommendations. We have a sacred obligation to provide care for our veterans.

When will the minister acknowledge and act upon these recommendations to ensure that medically discharged veterans receive their benefits in a timely and unobstructed manner?

Petitions May 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from Canadians in support of free prescription birth control. Among sexually active heterosexual Canadians, only 15% use contraception, with withdrawal remaining the third most-used contraceptive method in Canada.

Twenty-four per cent of Canadians do not have access to subsidized drug plans, meaning they have to pay for contraception medications out of their own pockets. It has been shown that subsidized contraception has had a cost benefit to society in jurisdictions like the U.S. and Great Britain. It not only reduces costs but helps in terms of preventing unintended pregnancies.

Therefore, the petitioners call on the Government of Canada to support my Motion No. 65 that would compel the federal government to work with the provinces to cover the full cost of prescribed contraceptives.

Veterans May 29th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, veterans deserve respect, financial security, and fair treatment, but the minister breaking his promise of a full pension leaves veterans vulnerable, frustrated, and betrayed. The minister refuses to listen. Rumblings of discontent are even coming from the minister's own consultation groups. The present government called for real change for veterans, but so far veterans have been shortchanged.

Will the minister keep his promise to fulfill the sacred obligation owed to our veterans, or will he explain his betrayal to the veterans of this country?