House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was military.

Last in Parliament September 2021, as NDP MP for St. John's East (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Won his last election, in 2019, with 47% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Points of Order June 23rd, 2021

Mr. Speaker, what has been presented today, particularly with the government taking the action of bringing the matter before the Federal Court of Canada, I would like, and perhaps you have said this, to see it fully on the record that you will be taking the position on behalf of the Parliament of Canada, as Speaker of the House and defender of the rights and privileges of members of the House, to vigorously represent those interests in the Federal Court of Canada against those of the government seeking to thwart the will of Parliament.

Privilege June 21st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, there is a significant point of rebuttal to the comments that were made by various people with respect to the letter of the law and other laws that are passed by Parliament. My colleague for Vancouver Kingsway has referred to the letter from the law clerk.

However, the complete rebuttal to the comments made with respect to that is actually found in the ruling of Speaker Milliken of April 27, 2010. It completely sets out the whole case, starting with what was suggested by the government House leader and then going on to explain that how it is done and the methods of doing it are to be determined by the House. All of those arguments were made before the Speaker back in 2010 and were rejected by the Speaker in making his ruling. I would suggest that this is the complete rebuttal to the comments that have been made to suggest that the order of the House, which you ruled to be in order, was in fact improper.

Privilege June 21st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I wish to intervene, first, on the point of order raised by the government House leader, but also to speak to the question of privilege raised by the opposition House leader.

The government House leader, allegedly having a point of order, made an argument against the order that was made. He did say in his opening remarks that the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada had to balance his obligations under legislation and the order of the House. That is absolutely wrong and totally contrary to the decision made by you, Mr. Speaker, and by the decision on which is was based, that of Speaker of Milliken in April 2010.

It is not up to Mr. Stewart to decide what the balance is. Nor is it up to the government House leader. In fact, it is up to the House of Commons to achieve the balance and determine how to balance the national interest, whether it be with respect to security, privacy or anything else, with the privileges of members of the House with respect to access to documents.

The House has already determined that matter. The points made by the government House leader seem to be offering some sort of alternative to the method adopted by the House. Clearly, there were plenty of opportunities for him to do that during the debate in the House on the motion that was moved. It could have been done at committee. It could have been done during debate on the opposition motion or on the debate on the matter of privilege. On all those occasions, he could have come forward and offered another method of doing the same thing that would give access to the documents to the committee, which has passed a motion for their acceptance and the House has determined such.

It certainly did not come before the House as a proper point of order. It was really a matter of debate, a debate that should have taken place on one of the other occasions, before the decision was made by the House. That is what I have to say about the point of order. The point of order should be dismissed.

The question of privilege that was raised by the opposition House leader is quite appropriate. We have a situation where the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada has complied with part of the order, but not the full order. Therefore, he is in breach of the order of the House, and a proper remedy has been suggested.

I am assuming there was two suggestions, actually one that the Sergeant-at-Arms be ordered, immediately, to undertake a search of the premises of the Public Health Agency of Canada with appropriate support, which has been done in the past, to obtain the papers that have been ordered by the House, or, alternatively, to present to the committee on procedure and House affairs to follow through. I think this was the committee that was recommended.

Either of those alternatives would be a way to proceed. I would leave that to you, Mr. Speaker, to decide what is the appropriate method in keeping with the precedents. I am speaking virtually, and I do not have access many of the authorities to respond specifically to the various sections of our procedures and rules. I would leave that to you and your assistants to determine the exact and appropriate method.

I would reiterate his assertion that the House is the master of the situation, not the government, not the government House leader, and that you as Speaker are entrusted with enforcing the privileges of all members of the House, including the government members and the cabinet ministers who also sit as members of the House. It is their privileges, it is our privileges, it is the people's privileges that we have the obligation to uphold. I commend you, Sir, to your deliberations.

I hope we could resolve this impasse by a proper order from you, Mr. Speaker, to comply with the order of the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2021, No. 1 June 21st, 2021

Madam Speaker, the hon. member talked a lot about the recovery, but we are still in the middle of the pandemic. We hear constantly about the tourism sector and the hospitality industry, many of whose members have not survived. They need and want and are crying out for a continuation of the rent and wage subsidies for a while so they can survive long enough to recover. Do the hon. member and his party support that continuation so these businesses can survive long enough to enjoy a recovery and keep people employed?

Committees of the House June 17th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are coming to a greater understanding of the role that the RCMP and policing in general have and continue to play in perpetuating systemic racism against indigenous and Black communities. It has become unmistakably clear that the RCMP needs transformational change. It needs to evolve from a paramilitary national police force with a colonial legacy into a modern, bias-free national police service with civilian oversight and accountability.

New Democrats fully support the recommendations laid out in the public safety committee's report on systemic racism in Canadian policing, but make the following additional recommendations.

First, the depot in Regina should be closed. For generations, it has indoctrinated new recruits into the paramilitary culture and structure. It needs to be replaced with a national police college built from the ground up that provides professional education and training in de-escalation, implicit bias, gender-based violence, cultural awareness and the history of colonialism.

Second, the government should consult with indigenous communities on whether they want a separate indigenous police college to provide training for indigenous police services rooted in cultural knowledge and history. The federal government should provide any required funding and resources for this.

Third, the government should introduce measures to immediately and automatically expunge all criminal records of convictions and findings of guilt for the simple possession of small amounts of cannabis, which we know disproportionately burdens Black, indigenous and other racialized Canadians.

Fourth, we should empower mental health professionals to be the first responders whenever possible, since for many the police embody the systemic racism that has permeated our system.

While we fully support the recommendations in this report, the transformation that is needed will simply not be possible unless the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety take full responsibility for making that change happen with a whole-of-government approach.

Committees of the House June 17th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to present a supplementary opinion to the report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security entitled “Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada”.

Members Not Seeking Re-election to the 44th Parliament June 15th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you, the House leaders and the whips for organizing this event this evening, to give me and the others who are not running again an opportunity to speak to Parliament and to make what has been called a farewell speech. However, a few things about that seem a little funny or odd to me. We may of course all be here again in September if there is no election, so it is a bit of an “in case” speech. Also, it is a farewell speech made from 1,500 miles away through Zoom and it is also for some of the people who I have not really come to know since 2019, when I was once again elected. It is a little unfortunate in that way because of the pandemic.

We have been hard at work despite the lack of personal contact, doing a lot of great things. We are continuing to do that even today when I had the honour of concluding the last speech on a private member's motion on dental care for Canadians. We have just completed a report that will be presented to the House on racism and policing in Canada, which I had the honour of initiating with others last July. We are very busy. We were very much enjoying our work in these last few days that we voted to stay open until midnight. One wonders who would want to leave all of this. It is so much fun and so dedicated, and we seem to be enjoying our work.

One might ask why would we want to leave. For me, part of the answer is that I came to the House in the 33rd Parliament, having been elected in a by-election when Ed Broadbent was in his prime as leader of the NDP and Brian Mulroney was the prime minister. At that time, I learned very early as a parliamentarian, and I think the member for Malpeque made note of this, that I could play a role even in a majority Parliament and be effective in amending legislation or contributing to the debate and influencing the course of events under debate in the House.

We had a very strong group of members of Parliament under Ed's leadership. I do not think anyone from the 33rd Parliament remains here. I know Wayne has 28 years of service, but he started in 1993. I am sorry to hear from the member for Malpeque that Mike O'Neill has passed away. He was my legislative assistant in 1987-88. The member for Malpeque had a great man to work with him. He understood Newfoundland and Labrador pretty well too. I am glad he served him for so long. I saw him many times over the years.

I was then defeated in the 1988 general election and I was not to return to the House as a member for 20 more years.

I will tell one little story. When I first ran in 1987, the seat I ran for was St. John's East. No New Democrat since Confederation in 1948 and hardly any Liberals had been elected to that seat. Maybe once or twice back in the sixties a Liberal was elected. I had offered myself to the nomination.

I was practising law at the time. When I went to see a judge to sign some papers, the judge, who had served provincially, said to me, “Well, Mr. Harris, I hear you're going into politics, if it could be said that running for the NDP was going into politics.” I was supposed to laugh because it was supposed to be a joke. Then he spent the next 45 minutes telling me what a great honour it was to be a politician. A “noble calling” he called it, to play a role in making the laws that govern our people. He talked about his experiences with Joey Smallwood, etc.

He was not right about the question of whether I was going into politics, although I never believed I would have the kind of career I did, with 10 years in the federal Parliament and 16 years provincially, but I never have forgotten the phrase “noble calling”, that we are here to serve our people, that we have a role to play, that it is an important one and it is a big honour to do that.

When I was defeated in 1988, I did not really think of a pause in the parliamentary sense. I took what I learned in Parliament and I brought it to the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1990. I was elected five times, serving for nearly 16 years, most of which as leader of the New Democratic Party in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I came back in 2008 at the behest of Jack Layton. I was here until 2015, serving mostly as the defence critic, with stints as public safety critic and justice critic. I really enjoyed the inspirational leadership of Jack Layton who brought us to official opposition status. He then very sadly and tragically died and was replaced by Thomas Mulcair, who, as we know, is considered one of the most effective opposition leaders in modern times.

I was, unfortunately, defeated again in 2015 and had a four-year hiatus as a former member of Parliament, but I did enjoy some time with the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. I highly recommend that to anyone who is leaving the House. It is a great group of people and it is a good way to keep in touch with former colleagues as well as some people who we did not serve with but got to know. Whether we leave voluntarily or otherwise after the next election, it is a good idea to keep in touch with those with whom we have served.

I came back in 2019, which is why I am here today. I did not really want to belabour this story except to provide some background to my unique parliamentary experience with bookends that span a total of 34 years. The member for Malpeque served 28 years, but they were consecutive. He did not have the variety I had. He is a seasoned member of Parliament, having served all his time here. He had more significant experience to draw on in the House.

I have enjoyed all my years as a member of Parliament. It has been a great experience and, as everyone else who is to speak I am sure will say, it is an honourable profession. It is also a big honour and privilege to serve constituents in the House of Commons. We cannot do that without their support, and I thank very sincerely all the voters of St. John's East. Whether they voted for me or not, they were my constituents. I thank them for their support over the years, for the privilege of serving them in the House of Commons and being their voice, and doing my best to do that.

I also represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as the only New Democrat from our province, and, right now, I am the only opposition member from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The voters and the constituents are the heartbeat of politics. We communicate with them, work with them and help them when we can. I have always loved and enjoyed very much the people part of politics.

Ten minutes is not much time to say a lot other than to thank people, thank to the volunteers, campaigners and donors who made this possible. We also have to thank our families. Without the kind of support we get from them, we would not be able to do our jobs.

My wife Ann and our three children, Amelia, Sarah and John, have been a great support for me. They have encouraged me and have enjoyed my work. I thank my staff who helped me do my job. I could not do it without them. I thank my constituency staff and Ottawa staff who have helped my constituents as best they can. It is amazing what we can do for constituents in the system we have.

We also have great staff on the Hill. The Library of Parliament's resources have been fabulous for me and have helped with our committees, and we all know that.

I want to reiterate what the member for Malpeque said about our Parliament. It is not perfect. A lot of work needs to be done to make our world perfect and our Parliament perfect. However, it is a great system for the voices of the people to be heard, to work together with other parliamentarians to try to make things better. As I said, it is a noble calling.

I want to encourage young people who are thinking about a career in politics to take the torch, to carry the torch and to do the job. It is a noble calling. It is worth doing and it is a worthy way to work to make our country better and to try to make the world better and safer. There are plenty of things to do and not enough people to do them, so please take up the cause.

Federal Dental Care Plan June 15th, 2021

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to conclude debate on this very important motion, which calls for the establishment of a federal dental plan for all Canadian families with a family income of less than $90,000 a year and who do not currently have a dental care plan. It envisages free coverage for those with incomes less than $70,000 and a sliding pay scale for those over. This would be an interim measure toward the inclusion of full dental care in Canada's health care system.

I want to thank those who have spoken in favour of the motion, and especially my colleagues, the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Vancouver East. I also want to thank all the people and organizations from across the country who have been working so hard on this issue and have been supportive of this motion.

Canadians are justly proud of our health care system because universal medicare is a defining element of our society. When we ask about it in public opinion polls, it is regarded as a national treasure. Our system ensures that regardless of social status, income or where in the country people live, they are entitled, as a matter of right, to access physicians and hospital care and treatment. However, dental care is not included. It was supposed to be. The vision of Tommy Douglas, who is considered to have provided the inspiration for medicare in Canada, was for a comprehensive system that included dental care.

The Royal Commission on Health Services, which laid out the plan for our current system, reported in 1964 and called for universal public dental services as part of a national health care plan. However, it noted that the shortage of dentists was so acute at the time, it would be impossible to implement a universal system, though it was a priority. That is no longer true, yet today most dental care is not covered by any public insurance plan. In Canada, 94% of spending on dental care is private and only 6% comes from government programs. This is the second-lowest level of government spending on dental care among the OECD countries. As a result, many are left behind and do not get care.

About 35% of Canadians have no dental coverage at all, and more than 20% of Canadians avoid going to the dentist because of the cost. Left untreated, poor dental hygiene is linked to many chronic health conditions that would largely be prevented with proper dental care.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that this plan would benefit over six and a half million people in Canada who are not covered by dental insurance and are unable to afford the cost. That includes more than half of Canadians with low incomes and seniors over 60 years old, and more than 25% of women. Some 30% of young people would benefit from this program. These are young adults who are no longer covered by their family plan or who never had a plan in the first place. Unsurprisingly, low-income and marginalized Canadians are hurt the most, with Canada's most vulnerable population having the highest rates of dental decay and disease and the worst access to care. The sustained cost for this program has been estimated by the PBO to be $1.5 billion annually. It is not a small sum, but it is less than one-half of 1% of Canada's current health care costs.

Some have opposed the plan on the grounds that health care is a provincial responsibility under the Constitution, but that is mistaken. The Supreme Court of Canada has defined it as a shared jurisdiction. Hospitals fall under provincial jurisdiction, but health care is shared, and the federal government can provide for a dental service.

The Conservatives have suggested that rather than having a national plan, we should support the status quo patchwork of dental coverage. However, millions of youth, seniors and low-income families are falling through the cracks. Dental care as a part of health care must be accessible for all people in Canada.

The Liberals have said that we do not have enough data or the right kind of data, and that it will take until 2024 to get there and we need more studies. However, we know there is a desperate and urgent need for dental care, which is all we need to know to take action. This is an interim measure that we can put in place immediately while we collect the data and work out the details with the provinces for a universal system.

This is a health issue. This is a social justice issue. This is an equality issue. It can be put in place right now. It is a practical solution to address the significant health care inequality in our country. This is a problem we can fix and we must fix.

I want to urge all members of Parliament, each of whom has access to excellent health and dental care benefits through the House of Commons, to vote in favour of this motion. As I said, it is a problem that we can fix and we must fix.

Public Safety June 10th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the public safety committee heard that the continued use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons amounts to torture under international law. Black and indigenous people are severely over-represented in Canadian prisons, as a result of more than a century of systemic racism, and are therefore more likely to be subject to this torture. Lack of transparency, oversight and direction have allowed it to continue. It must stop. Torture must stop. Systemic racism must stop.

When will the Liberal government end state-sponsored torture of Canadian citizens in our prisons?

Privilege June 8th, 2021

Madam Speaker, I rise today, virtually of course, to speak and intervene on the question of privilege raised yesterday by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, the opposition House leader, in reference to the order of this House that was issued on June 2, 2021, by a motion before the House. The matter has been referred back to the House, as it has not been complied with. It was raised yesterday by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, and the member for Jonquière spoke on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. I wish to add my remarks. I will not be long.

It was a lengthy intervention by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who gave an extensive outline of the authorities. I want to underscore the importance of obeying House orders, in particular when it relates to the issue of sending for papers and records. The government ought to recognize the supremacy of Parliament in these matters.

This has been a long-standing issue before the House, and it is very clear that the power to send for persons, papers and records is part of the privileges, rights and immunities of the House of Commons, which it inherited when it was created. This is found in section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and also in section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act. This constitutional right is essential for Parliament as a legislative and deliberative body, so that it can deliberate, legislate and hold the government to account. This, of course, is outlined in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 137.

As is very clear:

The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the types of papers likely to be requested; the only prerequisite is that the papers exist in hard copy or electronic format, and that they are located in Canada.

No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of that power rooted in House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.

This is also from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 985.

A number of authorities have been mentioned by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent in this discussion, and I will not repeat them all here. The principal one for the House is the decision of Speaker Milliken from April 27, 2010. As Bosc and Gagnon note, he ruled that “it was within the powers of the House to ask for the documents specified in the House Order, and that it did not transgress the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of Government.” That is the basis for the order and request, and the failure to fulfill it is, in my view, a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House, which the Speaker has been asked to find.

I support that request and will go on to say as well, as mentioned by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent and the member for Jonquière, that the government's solution to the order is an excuse. It sees putting the documents in their unredacted form before the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians as a reference to a parliamentary committee. That is clearly inadequate and is, in fact, quite wrong in law and fact. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians is not a committee of Parliament and does not report to Parliament, except by way of filing documents that have been vetted by the prime minister. This is explicitly stated in its legislation. I will read it for the benefit of members. Subsection 4(3) of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act states:

(3) The Committee is not a committee of either House of Parliament or of both Houses.

It is designed with a job and mandate, as specified in the legislation, to review:

(a) the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security and intelligence

This is the power of the committee, under the aegis of the legislation. It reports to the Prime Minister, who can delete anything from its report, and is essentially not a function of the House. It is, rather, a separate body that provides some oversight of the national security issues of government. However, it is a governmental body, not a parliamentary body.

My party and I reject the notion that this is an adequate response to the request and the order of the House, and I wish to underscore and support the expectation that the Speaker will rule this a prima facie breach of the privileges of members of Parliament, and that we will have to consider the appropriate remedy as a House, in the exercise of its powers, to deal with this breach of a question of privilege.

Those are the remarks that I wish to make today in support of the notion that this be a breach of the privileges of the members of the House of Commons.