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

Federal Dental Care Plan May 4th, 2021

Madam Speaker, it is very clear that this is part of a great divide in our country. It is very clear that a large number of people are deprived of proper health care which causes significant problems. They are defined by race, class and the lack of opportunity. Unfortunately, on top of that, it makes life more difficult for them, and it has to be fixed. There is a major social justice component, and I hope everybody sees that when it comes to a vote today.

Federal Dental Care Plan May 4th, 2021

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for his support for this motion.

He uses the words “added on”, and I am afraid I do not like that. Yes, this is a short-term patch, but it is part of health care and really should be considered as a part of that. The member is right to talk about the health benefits. They are probably more important in many respects, because they have to do with a person's self-esteem. If people have bad teeth, they can have difficulties eating and digesting food, and that leads to other problems. If they put off getting dental treatment, it can get worse and cause other diseases, as I mentioned in my speech.

In many cases, it can disfigure people, it causes stigmatization and it has social and employment implications as well. A whole raft of problems are associated with a lack of health care for oral issues, the same as it would have been before we had medicare. People who were sick and could not afford to get treatment did not get treatment. They got worse and they did not have very productive or happy lives. The same thing applies to dental care.

Federal Dental Care Plan May 4th, 2021

Madam Speaker, as we know, the Canada Health Act covers a lot of health care but not dental and oral care. Health care is administered inside of Quebec under the Canada Health Act, and dental care is not any different from that as a health care matter. We expect that any program of this nature would be similarly administered by a province, and that would be guaranteed along with all other aspects of health care.

I totally agree with the member, by the way, that there has to be a substantial increase in transfers for health care. We should get back to the kind of numbers and percentages we had before.

Federal Dental Care Plan May 4th, 2021


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should establish a federal dental care plan as soon as possible for Canadian families earning less than $90,000 per year who are not covered by a dental care plan, as an interim measure toward the inclusion of full dental care in Canada’s healthcare system.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in this virtual House to begin debate on this extremely important motion, which would establish a federal dental care plan for all Canadian families that earn less than $90,000 a year in family income and do not currently have a dental care plan. This would be an interim measure toward the inclusion of full dental care in Canada's health care system.

I think it is well known that Canadians are very proud of their health care system. Our national universal publicly funded medicare system is a point of national pride. It is a defining element of our society. When we ask people in public opinion polls, they treat it as a national treasure. Indeed, it is a national treasure. It provides equal care. Regardless of social status, income or where in the country people live, they are entitled to care by our health care system without using their credit card to use their health care card.

We have a significant gap in that system because oral health is one of the most unequal aspects of health care in Canada, as most dental care is not covered by any public insurance plan. In fact, those with the highest levels of oral health problems are also those who have the greatest difficulty accessing oral health care due to cost.

About 35% of Canadians have no dental care plan at all, and more than 20% of Canadians avoid going to the dentist because of the cost. It puts them in a situation where other aspects of their health becomes affected. Left untreated, poor dental hygiene is linked to many other serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, respiratory infections, diabetes complications, renal disease, premature births and low birth weights. There are a whole series of diseases that are affected by a lack of proper dental care.

The evidence is very clear that dental care and oral health care are part of health care. They ought to be considered not as an add-on to a system but as a part of that system. The situation in the last year and a half due to the pandemic has become even more urgent. We have seen millions of Canadians lose jobs over the last year, and with them they have lost their health care benefits, including dental care. There are, of course, many people who never had any health care or dental care to begin with.

Of our young people, 30% have no access to dental care. These are young adults who are no longer covered by their family plan or who never had a plan in the first place. We are seeing emergency rooms across the country feel the full weight of COVID-19, yet every nine minutes, someone visits an emergency room in Ontario for dental care when who that person really needs to see is a dentist.

Also, a recent study at McGill University showed that those with poor oral hygiene are far more likely to experience more severe systems of COVID-19. Shockingly, patients with gum disease are more than three and a half times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, four and a half times more likely to require a ventilator and, sadly, almost nine times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those without oral health and gum disease issues.

The plan we wish to put in place is extremely important because a large number of Canadians would benefit from it. The estimates are that almost seven million people in Canada, who are currently not covered by a dental plan and cannot afford to pay the cost, would be covered. That would include more than half of Canadians who have low incomes, more than half of seniors who are age 60 years and older and 30% of young adults. More than a quarter of the women in our country would benefit from this plan because of the income test.

Children with poor oral health are almost three times more likely to miss school due to dental pain than those with good oral health. Some of the stories I heard, the feedback I received from people when we first started talking about this as New Democrats in our election campaign in 2019, are heartbreaking. The feedback I received is astonishing.

Robin from St. John's East said, “I needed a root canal, which would have cost $1,500. Since I didn't have dental coverage, I was unable to have this procedure done, which resulted in having the tooth extracted. This has had dire consequences on my mental health. As someone who works with vulnerable populations, I see the pain both physically and mentally they endure because they cannot afford dental care. The government often talks about the importance of mental health, and access to oral health is a major part of this.”

Charmaine says, “This is so late in coming, but better late than never. We absolutely do need dental coverage here in Canada. So many people are suffering with pain, humiliation, low self-esteem, depression and poverty. There aren't too many employment options for a person with 'dental illness'.”

Jen is a chronically underemployed disabled single mother who says, “I've been forced to choose my child's dental care over my own on many occasions. I've been forced to borrow money and to pay for costly emergency extractions and X-rays. Basic dental procedures should be covered by the government, especially for children. No one should have to suffer dental pain due to poverty in this country. ”

There were many comments like these heard since the beginning of the discussions about this particular program, a program that is absolutely essential to people's health.

There is an economic cost too for the lack of dental care. According to the Canadian Dental Association, poor dental health and oral diseases not only cause pain and long-term health concerns for individuals but account for over $1 billion in lost productivity in Canada per year. Almost 40% of Canadians have been taken away from normal activities because of dental complaints. There are 2.3 million school days and 4.2 million work days lost annually due to dental visits or sick days for dental problems. There are also expenses for emergency room visits for people coming in with dental pain when they really need a dentist.

When we talk about dental care being part of health care, many people ask why it is not already covered under the dental care system. There is an astonishing answer to that a lot of people perhaps are not aware of. In 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services formed the original framework for Canada's public health care system.

In its final report, the commission called for the inclusion of dental services as part of a health care plan, but it noted the shortage of dentists was so acute at the time that it would be impossible to implement a universal system. However, it did suggest at the time it was imperative to establish a public dental care system for children, expectant mothers and public assistance recipients, which could be scaled up as resources expanded. At the time, this was called one of the highest priorities among all its proposals, in addition to regular health care, but unfortunately it was never established.

Today the situation is quite different. We have plenty of dentists, we have orthodontists and other providers in the dental and oral care system, but we still do not have universal dental care. 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 OECD countries, ranking even worse than the United States.

We are proposing a program that would provide dental care without premiums for families with family income of $70,000 or less. For those with incomes from $70,000 to $90,000 per year, there would be a sliding co-pay system.

This proposal would be administered by the federal government or by the provinces and territories upon agreement, and the minimum basket of services would comprise annual diagnostic services, including examinations and radiographs; preventive services, which are very important, including scaling, polishing and fluorides; restorations, including fillings and crowns; endodontic services, including root canal treatments; and various other services that would be required, including oral services and extractions; orthodontic services, including non-cosmetic braces; and the various other associated services that are part of this program.

It has been fully costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and this has been available publicly since October 2020. It would cost about a billion and a half dollars per year. This is a lot of money, but when we look at what the government has spent on special programs in the country in the last year, it is certainly affordable. There may be some upfront costs of about $3 billion because of pent-up demand and untreated diseases that already exist that would have to be looked after, but this is a doable plan.

This is something that can be put in place now. It can be done through the support of Parliament; legislation can make it possible. It is part of what has to be done to deal with a significant lack of equality in this country regarding access to an important part of health care. It is a problem that we can fix and we must fix.

I implore all members of Parliament, each of whom has access to excellent health care 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 and must fix.

I want to pay tribute to my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who will be speaking to this motion later on today. He has put forth a similar motion in the House, but mine came first in the draw. I am glad to say that it will be a votable motion if we get to debate it at another time. I want to thank my hon. colleague for his work on this issue and for seconding my motion today.

Health May 4th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, millions of Canadians lost their jobs during the pandemic and with it their dental benefits. Millions more never had them to begin with. People end up in emergency rooms with pain and serious complications that could be prevented with basic dental care.

Today, the House debates my plan to create a dental care program for those with family incomes of less than $90,000. Nearly seven million people would benefit, including half of those over age 60, over 30% of young adults and half the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Will the minister support providing dental care to those who need it most?

Offshore Health and Safety Act April 30th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, this is an important question. There are two things that I think would be important.

One, there ought to be an independent body to enforce the health and safety regulations. We did hear the minister talk about how one of the delays was that the stakeholders worried about too much red tape or too many blockades. It seems to me that the companies are not very happy with some of the requirements that are part of this process, which is one of the reasons we need an independent body. The petroleum operators have a very large say in the operation of the petroleum board, with the necessity for production over issues of safety and the regulation that takes place.

Two, there ought to be greater participation of worker representation, not just on an advisory body but directly on the body that oversees offshore health and safety.

Offshore Health and Safety Act April 30th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I know it is an important issue. It is a bit of a diversion from the issue of safety, but one point I think the member may agree on is that our party has long been in favour of an independent environmental assessment policy, and that the regulation with respect to the environment ought to be undertaken by an independent body as well. That is both for health and safety and for environmental questions. The issue should not be determined by the C-NLOPB or the CNSOPB or the Quebec board that is also in existence, but by an independent environmental body.

I certainly agree with the member on that, and I believe that is the position of her party as well.

Offshore Health and Safety Act April 30th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into the debate today at second reading of Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act. This act deals with safety regulations in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry in particular. However, I am very concerned about the necessity of this legislation and what it reveals about the Government of Canada's commitment to safety in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry.

We support the speedy passage of the bill, because it will restore the offshore health and safety regulations put in place in 2014. They were established as interim regulations, with an expiry date initially of December 31, 2019, allowing five years for the relevant parties to develop permanent regulations. Five years is a long time, and they did have regulations in place.

The deadline was extended for one year, but the government has allowed the regulations to expire, leaving no enforceable regime in the offshore to protect workers who are expected to go to work every day with the expectation that a regime is in place to protect them, but it is not there.

It is very well for the minister's parliamentary secretary to say that the government will make it retroactive, but that is not good enough. The legislation before us today specifically says:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under a provision of a regulation revived under subsection (1) if the offence was committed during the period beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on the day before the day on which this section comes into force.

That is clearly indicative that the government has no ability at this point to enforce these regulations, which supposedly will be revived. It is shameful that the government would allow that to happen, particularly given the history and the importance of marine safety in Canada and, in this case, of our offshore oil and gas industry.

Some who are looking carefully at their screens in this virtual hybrid sitting will notice that I am wearing a necktie that is peppered with images of lighthouses. These are, of course, the most ancient and iconic symbols of the need for safety at sea. Other recognized symbols of the dangers of maritime life and work are the images of the bright yellow Cormorant rescue helicopters of the Canadian Forces, the bright red hulls and the fuselages of the Canadian Coast Guard ships and helicopters with the white stripes.

These are important images for Canada, which is a significant maritime country, with three oceans and the longest coastline of any country in the world. The protection of mariners and all offshore workers, including those in the fishing industry and the offshore oil and gas industries, are of paramount importance to Canada.

We know, from the early history of offshore oil and gas development in Canada, the dangers that this industry exposed workers to from the monumental tragedy of the Ocean Ranger disaster, which has been mentioned by a couple of speakers today.

In 1982, the Ocean Ranger, a semi-submersible offshore oil drill rig, sank with the loss of 84 lives, including many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and other Canadians who died in that great tragedy. The memory of that February 14, 1982, date is carved in the memory of those affected and all those in Newfoundland and Labrador who received this shocking news and had to relive these events over many months of a royal commission of inquiry, seeking answers and detailing important recommendations to ensure the safety of workers in this harsh environment.

Unfortunately, the legal regime that was put in place for the health and safety of offshore workers was inadequate. The labour portfolios of the various jurisdictions had responsibility for occupational health and safety, but as the jurisdictional issues were sorted out, responsibility was taken from these departments of labour in 1992 and given to CNLOPB, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

CNLOPB comes easily off the tongues of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who have an interest in the offshore and how it is managed. However, giving it the safety responsibility for occupational health and safety was not a wise decision in my view and the handling of that since then has been inadequate.

In its supposed wisdom of the day, the Newfoundland board and the Nova Scotia board, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, had in place draft regulations. They were not enforceable. It was not a situation in which somebody who did something contra to these regulations could actually be charged, treated as an offender, taken to court if necessary, fined or dealt with appropriately and be required to follow the regulations. It was a very different regime. The regime was there as draft regulations or really just a framework or a guideline.

That was entirely unsatisfactory to the workers involved. It was objected to by them and by the unions, by my party and both the Nova Scotia and the Newfoundland and Labrador legislators. There was very strong opposition to this approach.

I have familiarity with these regimes, as a lawyer, having had a client who was on the Ocean Ranger and having represented his family in the aftermath, seeking to get some compensation for those who had lost their lives and looking closely at the regulations that were involved.

In the 1990s and the 2000s, up to 2006, I was in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature as well. I am very familiar with the arguments as to how these regimes were supposed to work. In fact, they were unsatisfactory as was also agreed to by Mr. Justice Wells in the commission of inquiry that took place after another sad tragedy, the crashing of the Cougar flight 491 in the Newfoundland offshore, with the loss of 17 lives in 2009. This was a serious problem that was caused by a fault in the helicopter involved.

After the sad loss of those 17 individuals, there was an inquiry, which also looked into these questions of how the offshore safety regime was managed. Mr. Justice Wells concurred that the situation and the regime were unsatisfactory, and called for enforceable regulations. He also called for an independent body to enforce those regulations. It was recognized that these regimes had a built-in conflict of interest and that, in accordance with their obligations and mandate to foster the industry, there was an inherent conflict of interest, which was recognized in other jurisdictions.

He did a very comprehensive report and his most important recommendation, as he called it, was recommendation 29, which was that there be an independent regulator for safety in the offshore. That followed the circumstances that existed in Australia, United Kingdom and Norway. Norway may have been the first. These regimes would require that there be an independent regulator so the issues of health and safety of workers be paramount and the only responsibility for those in charges.

This regime that is now in place in Canada failed to undertake that recommendation brought in by the Conservatives in legislation that was before the House in 2013 and passed into law in 2014. All of a sudden, as a result of these recommendations, we did have enforceable regulations. Workers had legislated the right to refuse unsafe work, which they did not have before, except in accordance with collective agreements in some of the rigs. Established by this legislation and by regulations in 2014 was a provision for an offshore safety advisory council where the representatives of both the provincial governments involved, the federal government and the workers would work to provide advice to the safety regulator for offshore safety regulations.

There is another failing of the government since the legislation was put in place. Believe it or not, since 2014, the requirement for the establishment of an offshore safety advisory council has not been put in place in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Nova Scotia board was put in place in 2019, and it has met twice a year since then. No board is in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is a shocking dereliction of following up on the importance of the safety regulations. I am told that the federal part of the board has been appointed, but the provincial board has not. Indeed, one of the requirements of the legislation is that the workers' representatives and unions, if there are unions, should be consulted in the appointment of the persons representing workers.

I am advised that there has been no consultation with either the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour or the relevant union representing two of the rigs offshore. That is another failing of the government in terms of taking its commitments to the health of safety in the offshore seriously.

The fact is that the regulations were allowed to lapse. An extension passed through legislation in 2018 to extend the deadline for putting permanent regulations in place to December 31, 2020. However, the government waited until December of last year to do that. It then brought in legislation in the Senate to get the extension it required to continue on past the expiry that was coming up.

That is a shameful dereliction of duty. How did that happen? We heard the parliamentary secretary attempt to give an explanation today about how many pages were involved and how many regulations there were, etc. However, this has been going on for six years. The government has had six years to do this. It is now asking for another year. It has to be done, obviously, so we will support the legislation.

However, the most serious issue has been the failure of the government to recognize that these regulations were expiring. In fact, they were automatically repealed at the end of that period. As of December 31 of last year, they do not exist. There is no opportunity to enforce these regulations right now. No one can be charged.

The shocking part is the fact that the government showed a lack of foresight, failed to notice that the regulations would expire, or somehow or other did not take it seriously enough to ensure that the legislation was before the House of Commons prior to the end of last year.

These are some of the reasons why we are very unhappy with the level of commitment by the Government of Canada to health and safety in the offshore. Workers in the offshore are rightfully outraged that the government has failed to take this matter seriously.

We do need to have enforceable regulations. We do need to have the right to refuse unsafe work. We do need to ensure that we can ultimately have an independent regulator. Unfortunately, it is not good enough to repeat a mantra about how safety is our most important and first priority, and all those comments which give lip service to the safety, when we have these instances where the regulations are allowed to lapse and there is a failure to take these responsibilities seriously.

We will support the legislation. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be replaced and put back in place as soon as possible. It is not good enough to have the situation where we are faced with this circumstance and a failure by the government to act quickly.

Offshore Health and Safety Act April 30th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about the government being able to act very quickly, which it did of course in the last few days, very quickly indeed, to bring action to take away the rights of workers at the Port of Montreal.

Why does the member think the government did not have the same alacrity in dealing with the question of the deadline, of the expiry of these regulations in December of last year, despite the notice it had? What commitment does that show to the health and safety of workers on our offshore?

Offshore Health and Safety Act April 30th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I send my thanks to the hon. member for emphasizing the failure to notice the fact that this regulation was expiring. This is absolutely shocking and a gross dereliction of the duty of the government, whatever excuses it might have for not getting it done, which I do not think would be valid either.

Would the hon. member also care to comment on the fact that we do not have an independent regulator of the offshore? His government's legislation did not allow for that, despite the recommendations of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Justice Wells and the offshore helicopter safety inquiry, as well as those of the unions involved. We have the examples of Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom. Why do we not have an independent regulator for safety of the offshore, as is required to avoid conflict of interest?