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

The Budget January 29th, 2009

Madam Speaker, the situation is very dramatic for Newfoundland and Labrador. I invite hon. members and the public of Canada to consider the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador, despite the fact that it is on the verge of have status and has reached have status depending on the price of oil, still has the highest per capita debt in all Canada. It has the highest unemployment rate in all Canada by provinces and has the lowest per capita income.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the net per capita debt, as of March 31, 2008, was in excess of some $21,000, $22,000 per person. The next nearest province is at about $14,000, and that is the province of Quebec. The all province average is $10,000, so Newfoundland and Labrador's per capita debt is more than twice the all province average.

With this budget, in one action behind the scenes, the government has not changed a word of the accord, but it has changed the formula for calculating payments to provinces under the offsets under the Atlantic accord by changing the equalization formula, and that results in a $3,000 per capita hit over the next three years for Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is shocking, it is outrageous and it is not a Canadian budget. It is not the Canadian way to say to the newest province in Canada that this is how it will be treated by the Government of Canada. It will give us this body blow, taking away the ability of the province to continue to do the kind of things that need to be done.

Over the last number of years, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has been reducing its per capita debt, thanks to the oil revenues and thanks to the 2005 Atlantic accord. Two billion dollars flowed to Newfoundland and Labrador under that accord. That was used to reduce the government's obligations, the unfunded pension liability, reducing the province's per capita debt by a significant amount, bringing it down.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have not had the kind of government measures they need. The provincial public servants had their wages frozen for two years and a very modest increase imposed on them after a strike several years ago. Nobody is flush with cash in Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of the transfer payments. The money is being used to try to reduce the provincial debt and to bring Newfoundland and Labrador services and incomes up to the national average, to fight poverty and to do the things that need to be done.

Here we have a government suggesting that the proper response in the budget, which is supposed to be stimulative and recognize that people are hurting and has the means to provide stimulus and get involved in the programs and infrastructure by being able to pay its share, is saying it will cut us off.

This is wrong and I ask all hon. members to recognize that. I ask the government to change this policy and to announce as soon as possible that this will not go forward.

The Budget January 29th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I did not call him a liar. I just said he did not tell the whole truth, and the whole truth includes the fact that there was a deduction of $1.5 billion from what would be due to Newfoundland and Labrador under the existing fiscal arrangement. I would rely on your ruling on that matter, but I do not think that what I said was unparliamentary.

The Budget January 29th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I wish to participate in debate. Initially I was planning to talk about the inadequacies of the budget in dealing with the needs of ordinary people across the country, particularly those most vulnerable and hurt by the recession. These speeches have been made before but they need to be underscored.

There is also the inability of many communities across the country, particularly in my province and others, to access the infrastructure funds because of the requirements of contributions from the municipality and the province. In fact, the president of the St. John's Board of Trade, in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, said that it was like going onto a frozen pond, seeing someone who had fallen through the ice and offering to sell him a life jacket for $9, saying, “I will pay the additional $12 if you give me the $9”. It is a metaphor which shows how inadequate this is in dealing with the needs of our municipalities.

However, I cannot rise in the House to speak to the budget without talking about what has happened outside of the budget papers and budget documents, but is very much a part of this budget. It is the back door changes that were made to the equalization formula, which has the consequence of taking $1.6 billion from Newfoundland and Labrador.

This is a body blow to the fiscal situation of our province. It is $3,000 per capita for every man, woman and child in Newfoundland and Labrador, a significant amount of money. The comparison has been that for Ontario, it will be equivalent to $22 billion. For Quebec, it will be $14 billion. It is a significant, horrendous blow to the fiscal ability of Newfoundland and Labrador to carry on and manage its obligations.

This money was projected by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador based on the formulas that were existing. It is a complicated formula, as we all know, dealing with equalization and offsets, but it is part of what was due to Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of the Atlantic accord and the promise made by the Government of Canada.

I listened very carefully to the member for Kitchener Centre when he urged hon. members in the House to regard the budget as a Canadian budget, as a noble consensus of Canadians, and urging members to pass it. Is it a noble consensus of the country, of the House, of the government, to say to Newfoundland and Labrador that we will remove $1.5 billion in transfer payments to my province, unilaterally, without notice, without consultation, without discussion, and, in fact, without even spelling it out in the budget papers?

Yesterday the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, in response to my question, ignored the fact that $1.5 billion was taken away from Newfoundland and Labrador. He talked about what was left. What was left is very good, but if it is $1.5 billion less than what was promised and what would be delivered under the existing formula, then obviously he was not telling the whole truth, because the whole truth—

Equalization Payments January 28th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the member is not telling the full and real story. His own officials in the Department of Finance last night confirmed to officials in Newfoundland and Labrador that their figures are correct. There is good reason that the people of my province did not believe the government. It cannot be trusted to keep its word. The Conservatives broke their promise on the Atlantic accord; now they are unilaterally changing transfer payments.

How could any member from Newfoundland and Labrador have any confidence in the government?

Equalization Payments January 28th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, if my hon. friend from St. John's South—Mount Pearl is so upset with this budget, I invite her to join us in opposing it.

The Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador said that yesterday's budget gave his province the shaft. Back door changes to the equalization formula will cost Newfoundland and Labrador $1.5 billion when it needs it most. He said that it was the equivalent to Ontario losing $22 billion or Quebec losing $14 billion.

The Conservatives said they had some consultations, but they did not actually listen. Premier Williams asked for EI reform and quick infrastructure investments, not the meanspirited slap in the face that was delivered.

Will the finance minister withdraw his offensive changes to equalization?

Economic and Fiscal Statement December 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I have been involved in parliamentary democracy in a direct way for about the last 21 years, first in this House and then for 16 years in the legislature of Newfoundland and Labrador. I was happy to be re-elected to this House in the October 14 election. I have never been so concerned about the state of parliamentary democracy in this country as I have become in the last week.

I know hon. members are rising in the House and thanking their constituents for electing them or returning them to office, and I have applauded each and every one of them. Then they have proceeded in some cases on the government side of the House to talk about the Prime Minister and the government having been elected. There they veer from the path of parliamentary democracy. The current Prime Minister was not elected as the prime minister. That is not the way our Parliament works. Each and every member of this House is a member of Parliament and has the right and duty to represent his or her constituents.

This morning I heard one hon. member opposite talk about the cheap seats in the House of Commons. I am assuming he was referring to either his own backbenches or to the opposition members’, I do not know, but let me say this: There are no cheap seats in the House of Commons. We are all equally elected to represent our constituents and our interests.

Parliamentary democracy allows the leader of the party with the most seats in the House to go to the Governor General, and in the case of a minority government, either resign or advise the Governor General that he or she wishes to seek the confidence of the House. That is our system. That is what makes a person prime minister: having the confidence of the House. It is assumed that if the person's party has the majority of seats in the House of Commons, that person is the prime minister and can form a government.

However, after this election, a new government was sworn in, not the old government. That new government was sworn in because the sitting Prime Minister was able to say to the Governor General that he would seek the confidence of the House. That is what we are doing now. We are now in a situation where the confidence of the House has been lost by the actions and failure of leadership of the Prime Minister of Canada.

What is the response? The response is a refusal to face the House, a refusal to govern with the support and confidence of the House of Commons and an attempt to use the notion of prorogation. Let us not use a fancy word; he wants to shut down Parliament because he cannot face the music. The reality is that he does not have the support of this House. The government does not have the support of this House. He has failed in his obligation to try to maintain the support of this House.

There has been a lot of talk about a government that works for Canada and supports working with other parties in Parliament. We all pledged to try to do that. However, someone broke that pledge last Thursday. That pledge was broken by refusing to reach out to all parts of the House and to devise a plan that meets the support of at least the majority of the House to come up with a recognition that the recession that is upon us requires some immediate action.

In my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador today, it was announced by AbitibiBowater that a newsprint mill that has been there for over 100 years will close. Eight hundred people will be thrown out of work. Two weeks ago, I raised in the House the question of whether the government would support a program for older workers and training for younger workers that could save this mill. Nothing happened, and the mill is now closed as a result.

There is only one party in this House that is standing in the way of a government that works for Canadians. The opposition parties have worked together to come up with a plan that would allow us to have a government that would work for Canadians, and that is a Liberal-NDP coalition. That coalition has a policy accord that is designed to address the present economic crisis. There has been a lot of misinformation.

There is no secret deal. The deal is right here on the website. It is there for everyone to see. Not only is it on the website but it is very clear and plain what the arrangements are. The arrangement with the Bloc Québécois is that it will not defeat an NDP-Liberal coalition for a period of 18 months.

What we have is a promise of stability for 18 months. The government cannot deliver that. Conservatives could not deliver stability for two or three weeks in Parliament. What prospect does the government have to continue for the next 18 or 28 months, or even the next three months? None. The instability is coming from the government and from the failure of the Prime Minister to show the kind of leadership that is required.

There is a lot of talk about working with other parties in the House and trying to vilify the Bloc Québécois, in the course of which to create a very divisive country. It has been said by Harold Wilson that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. I am not calling anyone in particular a scoundrel and it may or may not be unparliamentary, but the tactics being used by the government members and the Prime Minister in trying to save their own necks are very divisive. I hope--

Economic and Fiscal Statement December 2nd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a lot of talk about supporting people with RRIFs. I wonder if the members opposite could tell us why people who are on old age supplements could not be helped. We were told the other day that $100 a month for seniors on the old age supplement would eliminate about 80% to 85% of the poverty among seniors in the country.

Why did we not hear that from the government in its economic update and not just about people who have retirement savings?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply November 21st, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the throne speech is as important for what is not in it as for what is in it. Poverty is omitted, equality for women is omitted as are many other things, specifically with respect to women, things that we would support. One of the fundamentals for ensuring a more equal society is a full national universal child care program that would deliver the goods. This would be a foundation for greater equality for women and greater participation in all measures of our workforce, as well as provide economic stimulation and plenty of jobs that will be needed.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply November 21st, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I was proud to be elected in 1987 on the very same day as the hon. member's mother was. I am very proud to have known her and served with her in the House of Commons. I know all hon. members share in our condolences to him on the loss of his mother at the beginning of the election campaign this year.

The question is an important one. I do not even think the word “poverty” was mentioned in the speech. We all know the people who will be most affected by a recession. We are not fearmongering, we are just talking about the projections of what will follow the kind of financial crisis we have. We expect there to be some sort of recession. Some places are already in a recession. However, the people who are most hurt by that are the ones who are already in poor circumstances.

We had the advantage of a series of economists, including from the CAW and the Conference Board of Canada, appear before our caucus on Wednesday. One thing we were told was that if we raised the OAS, that alone could significantly reduce, in fact possibly eliminate, poverty for our seniors. That is something I think we should do. It is more important than corporate tax cuts.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply November 21st, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Halifax.

I am pleased to be here again after 20 years of absence from the House of Commons. Actually yesterday, the 20th of November, was the 20th anniversary of my involuntary retirement from federal politics, but I have not been idle since then. I have spent about 16 of the last 20 years in the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and have had five successful elections to that assembly.

I want to first of all thank my wife, Ann, and our children, Amelia, Sarah and John, for their support in my decision to attempt to come back to federal politics. I am pleased to say that the voters of St. John's East gave me full support. I want to thank them, my supporters, and my campaign workers for making this an extremely successful election for me. I also want to congratulate all the other members, either returning members who have proven to their constituents that they deserve to be re-elected or members new to this House.

We do share here, despite our party differences, a great deal of collegiality. We share the honour and privilege of representing our constituents in this House. I expect there will be a great deal of collegiality, but also some competitiveness, as we each pursue arguments about the best way to build a better Canada.

I should also add that our party was successful in getting the support of 34% of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is a considerable level of support, and I wanted to make sure hon. members here and people watching at home knew that. I understand that 34% is almost enough to get a minority government in Canada. The current government has a little better than that, but not much.

I want to say that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have shown great wisdom in providing this level of support to the New Democratic Party of Canada. I thank our leader for leading that support in that election.

As a result, I am here not only to represent and speak up for my supporters in St. John's East, but also to try to play a role in representing the people and issues of Newfoundland and Labrador in this House of Commons.

I also want to congratulate my other colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador who succeeded in the last election. We will have many issues to raise in this House of Commons because many issues of great importance to Newfoundland and Labrador are in the federal sphere.

Let me mention the important and significant Atlantic accord, which is designed to ensure that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are the principal beneficiaries of their offshore oil and gas reserves. Our party fully supports that position, and we condemn the fallbacks from that position that were practised by the Conservative government, contrary to the promises it and the Prime Minister of Canada made in various election campaigns.

We want to see the full implementation of that accord. Our support for it is in writing from our leader, and when our leader puts something in writing, we can count on him to follow through in support of those issues.

I hope to play a role in this House as the deputy energy critic for the east coast. We have a tremendous level of development of oil and gas and of other forms of hydroelectricity in the Atlantic region. My appointment by our leader is emblematic of our recognition of the important role our energy plays in the Canadian energy supply. Newfoundland and Labrador produces some 40% of the Canadian requirement for crude oil, and hon. members may not be fully aware of that fact.

I also will have roles as an ACOA critic and for national security, very important matters that I understand will be discussed in this session of the House.

There are many issues of great importance. I could list a whole series of issues of great importance to my riding in particular and to Newfoundland and Labrador generally.

We want to see action on issues such as affordable housing. This issue is particularly important in my riding, where the Canada Lands Company is redeveloping some 80 hectares of land. We want affordable housing to be a significant part of that mix. We need to have a national housing plan or affordable housing programs to help do that. Those did not come forward in the speech, but we will continue to fight for those things.

As a province we are also very interested in seeing the transfer to the province of the Hibernia share that the Government of Canada now holds. This is something that was never intended to be a windfall to the Government of Canada. Rather, that was its share of getting that project going. The Newfoundland and Labrador government did its share as well, by giving a permanent holiday for sales tax and through other concessions it made to get the project going.

It would be fitting to have that share transferred to the province on terms agreeable to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think some discussions have been under way in that regard.

I cannot end my remarks without making reference to the recent developments on the fiscal front. Newfoundland and Labrador has been slated to enter that magical world of “have” status over the next months. I regret that our neighbours in Ontario seem to have gone the other way, if only slightly and if only for a short period of time. I do not envy them that.

It is very important that we all know it is a fiscal measure and it is a significant part of our constitution.

I cannot help but remark on the concerns expressed by the opposition leader in Ontario, Bob Runciman. He talked about the concept of being poor cousins to Newfoundland being hard to swallow.

What was hard to swallow was being told by the Prime Minister that Atlantic Canadians suffered from a culture of dependence, that somehow we were the product of failed regional development policies. Imagine if I said that Ontario's problem was the result of failed regional development policies like the national railway or the St. Lawrence Seaway or the auto pact. That is not the kind of talk we need. We need to understand that nobody needs to feel inferior because the fiscal situation of their province has changed.

We have a great country. It has an equalization formula that applies equally to all parts of our country. It applies to Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and, yes, even Ontario.

We are pleased to be part of an economic change in our province. The price of oil makes a big difference. It is all the more important that commitments like the Atlantic accord be followed, because we will need to have that support while we continue to develop our prosperity.

We do have other projects to go forward, such as the Churchill Falls project. That project will very likely require the support of the Government of Canada, at least in the form of loan guarantees.

If hon. members want to understand the importance of this step to the people of Newfoundland, I would encourage hon. members who are computer literate to use one of the search engines, perhaps Google, to look up the words “Yes, we have”. Those three words will lead you to a website showing a little video put together by a private company. It puts a speech given by Premier Danny Williams to music.

It will give you an idea of the kind of passion and pride that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel having taken this step. The step is fiscal, but it is psychological as well. Looking at that video might give people some insight into the way we Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have sometimes been made to feel because of our economic situation. I certainly intend to play a role in trying to change that as much as I can.

We are here from Newfoundland and Labrador as equal participants in Confederation. We have lots to say about what needs to be done in this country and for our province.