House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was families.

Last in Parliament August 2011, as NDP MP for Toronto—Danforth (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 61% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has labelled his $17 billion in cuts to the budget over the next five years as modest. He said his critics are living in a fantasy world if they think that these will affect essential services.

What about the unemployed who cannot get the benefits they need? Are they living in a fantasy world? What about the seniors who have seen their pensions disappear? Are they living in a fantasy world? What about families without family doctors? Are they living in a fantasy world?

I have a simple question. What services will Canadians have to do without when the Prime Minister is finished his cuts?

Employment June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, my congratulations to the Prime Minister as well for his successful election.

The government seems to be pinning its entire solution to the job situation on one response: the reduction of corporate tax rates to big profitable companies. However, the strength of our education system, the skills of the workforce, the reliability of our health care system, the state of our infrastructure, these are all vitally important issues when investors make decisions and, as an economist, I am sure the Prime Minister would know.

Why not--

Employment June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, what is most disappointing about the throne speech and the budget is that the government refuses to acknowledge the employment crisis. There are 300,000 more unemployed people than there were before the recession. The jobs that the government is boasting that it has created are temporary, precarious and part-time.

Why is the Prime Minister refusing to acknowledge the failure of his job creation policies, which the people need right now?

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Minister of Veterans Affairs. We will work with him to improve life for our veterans and their families. It is a priority for us.

As I was saying in my speech, there are indeed some positive initiatives in this budget. I mentioned in particular the non-partisan helmets to hard hats initiative. It is a fine example of how the various political parties in the House of Commons can come up with positive ideas that are widely supported. We support this program.

We want to help seniors. We have proposed initiatives to help seniors get out of poverty. The measures proposed by this government will not achieve that goal. They will leave quite a large number of seniors in poverty. How can the minister justify that? How will he explain to seniors in his riding that they have to remain in poverty because of the inaction of their government?

We have proposed concrete solutions in our amendment to their budget. I hope the minister and his colleagues will study it and support it in order to achieve concrete results for all Canadians.

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Timmins—James Bay on his re-election. His tireless representation of the workers in northern Ontario and the first nations communities there is well known across the country. We are glad that he is back.

I have a short answer to his question and it is that it boils down to blinders on ideology. The economic policy of the government essentially is predicated on the notion of sink or swim. That is too bad for someone who decides to go back to work after having worked all of his or her life in the mine. It is too bad for the individual and his or her co-workers who have to go back to work at age 68. Why not 75? Why not 85? The government's philosophy is that it is a tough world out there and one just has to make his or her own way.

We have a different view. We believe that together we can actually create instruments of policies, programs and strategies that can give us a dignified and secure retirement. Seniors are not looking to live high off the hog. I do not know any senior who wants to be able to live the life of luxury. All they are looking for is to be able to cover their housing and their food costs and be able to enjoy a little recreation and have something left over to give a gift to a grandchild every now and again.

We need to have a properly functioning Canada pension plan so that we are not held for ransom by the gamblers who want to roll the dice and take their bonuses and too bad if we lose money. They win either way.

That is the philosophy that the government is bringing to the issue of retirement security. It is wrong. We should make sure that the Canada pension plan is strengthened. We have a golden opportunity to do that in the next number of months with most provinces onside for this idea. We should make that a top priority for the House of Commons.

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, let me first congratulate the member for Papineau on his re-election. We look forward to working with him and all members on the issues that he has just now identified.

He will know that the New Democratic Party is the only party that has submitted legislation to the House of Commons that would address the very issues of which he has spoken. I believe that is legislation that would have wide support across the country. Therefore, I would hope he would be supporting our initiatives in that area which would really help to tackle the crisis of student debt and ensure that post-secondary education, working with the provinces and understanding fully the constitutional framework within which we operate in that area, is able to be addressed by our national government in the appropriate fashion.

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, let me congratulate the member on her re-election.

We have offered an amendment to the budget that could be accepted by the government that would not only ensure the cheques would be delivered on time but they would actually be sufficient to lift seniors out of poverty instead of--

The Budget June 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, with this budget, the government missed a golden opportunity to reach out and work with others, and to show the majority of Canadians that Ottawa can work for them.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on the new mandate he received from Canadians, but I will continue to remind him that his majority in the House does not represent the majority of the public. Sixty per cent of voters chose another party in the May 2 election. They rejected this budget which is, essentially, identical to the one tabled just before the election.

I expect the Prime Minister, of course, to make choices that honour his values and his voters. That is what I would do as prime minister myself. But a prime minister also needs to govern on behalf of all Canadians.

The message we heard from voters this election is that they want us to work together to get results that can bring people together across partisan and regional lines. This budget could have moved in that direction by responding to concrete proposals made by other parties, including our party, proposals to help middle-class families, not just the well-connected insiders who all too often get their way here on Parliament Hill, proposals that millions of Canadians voted for in the election, such as hiring more family doctors and nurses; making life more affordable; securing pensions and retirement security for seniors; and lifting all seniors out of poverty. We could have seen proposals to spark full-time job creation.

Millions of Canadians voted for change, but I see very few signs that this government is listening.

I am pleased to see that this budget contains the long-awaited compensation for Quebec's sales tax harmonization. My caucus made this demand several times during the last Parliament. We are pleased to see that the government has made the right decision.

I welcome the return of the eco-energy home retrofit program. We saw how much this program stimulated job creation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and helped families save on their energy bills.

It is a program and an approach to economic and energy policy that I have been urging the Prime Minister to adopt since our very first meeting.

I also want to salute the government for its adoption of a non-partisan initiative emerging from this country's building trades called helmets to hardhats. I would like to thank all of the members of Parliament who participated in the informal discussions that we had prior to the last budget that generated the consensus that will allow returning veterans and retiring service personnel to connect with jobs and employment opportunities in the construction field as this program unfolds.

Where is the effort to reach out to the five million Canadians who do not have a family doctor? We have suggested working with the provinces and territories to tackle this critical issue to provide more training spaces or adopt the CMA's ideas in this regard which suggests that we can repatriate doctors who have gone to work abroad and bring them back here. However, this budget will not get more doctors into practice. Therefore, it will cause millions of Canadian families with sick loved ones to experience inevitable anxiety due to the fact they do not have family medicine readily available. It will result in more people going to emergency departments rather than nipping in the bud an illness or a disease within the family. Therefore, at the end of the day it will cost Canadians more money. It is an issue that should have been tackled and we propose must be tackled.

We are also not positioning Ottawa as a leader with concrete proposals and ideas while heading into the health accord renegotiations. Although we should have heard a vision for the future of our health care system in both the Throne Speech and the budget, one was not forthcoming.

We need to reach out to families who need help with their budgets. During the election we talked to countless people who have great difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month. In fact, many of our members of Parliament met with people who were overcome with emotion as they described their situation. As we spoke with them regarding which party to vote for, their main concern was how they would cover their bills at the end of the month. Would they choose to pay the costs of their housing, put food on the table, or afford the medication that their doctor told them they needed?

These are the intense personal stories that people are hoping we will take account of, listen to, and motivate us in our work here. Household debt is at an all-time high. We should regard this as a critical issue. People are working hard. They are working harder than ever. How many members in this chamber have met people who are working two or three jobs just to try to make ends meet at the end of every month?

We suggested some concrete measures to help address these issues. For example, taking the federal tax off the skyrocketing heating bills that people are confronted with. We suggested capping those credit card interest rates which are really tough on families.The budget was a golden opportunity to address these issues. However, we did not see anything about that at all.

Regarding our plea for action for the quarter of a million seniors who are living in poverty, the government responded with less than half measures, less than half of the investment needed to pull those seniors out of poverty using the guaranteed income supplement. Accordingly, will the government lift half of all seniors out of poverty or will they lift all seniors halfway out of poverty? It turns out it is neither.

I believe that there is not a Canadian who would disagree with that objective. In fact, in a country as rich as Canada, every Canadian, irrespective of political orientation, background, income or anything else, would agree that no senior should have to live in poverty.

Solving the problem is affordable. It would cost us less to lift every senior out of poverty than the government spent in the last 12 months on new tax breaks for the six chartered banks. I would bet that if we could have a private discussion with the bank CEOs, they would probably say, although I do not know if they would do it publicly but I bet some of them would, that it is actually more important to lift seniors out of poverty than it is to give us another tax break.

Let us look at that issue from the raw standpoint of the economic impact. If we were to give seniors a little more money to spend, what would they do with it? They would spend it within walking distance. Wherever they happen to live, they would spend it at local stores and businesses which would prime the economic pump as well as resulting, hopefully, in a drop in the number of seniors who have to go to food banks.

Is it not a measure of failure when seniors have to go to food banks? I cannot think of very many measures of a failed economic policy that would stand out more dramatically than that, except perhaps when children are going with their parents to food banks, which is an equally dramatic indication of the growing inequality in our society that is certainly not being addressed in the budget at all.

This budget does not meet the needs of most Canadians on issues surrounding health care, retirement pensions and the financial burden on families.

It is time to make sure that the 1.4 million people who are unemployed return to work in jobs that will meet their families' needs.

Yesterday, the Minister of Finance said encouraging things about job creation. He said that employment and growth are key to balancing the budget. Unfortunately, he also ignored our practical solutions for stimulating the creation of good-quality jobs, which include reducing taxes for our economy's real job creators, small businesses; instituting job creation tax credits as a reward for each new job created; and investing in infrastructure that will attract good jobs to our communities.

I spoke to municipal leaders at their annual convention this weekend in Halifax. They are ready to partner with Ottawa to renew this country's infrastructure. They are ready to build those modern roads and bridges, transit systems, affordable housing and water systems that we need if our cities are to be successful into the future. They are ready to modernize Canada's housing stock and transit systems so we can become world leaders instead of falling further and further behind as other countries make investments in these areas, which will position those countries, cities and communities much better for the economic competition that lies before us.

Instead, what we see here is an entrenchment and a withdrawal. The government continues to ignore the calls from the municipalities. It ignores their call to work together to create those jobs in design and construction, and to make our cities more competitive economic engines in the global workplace and marketplace.

This budget talks about jobs but offers essentially the same old failed plan. It contains billions in corporate tax giveaways to Canada's most profitable corporations. Billions are squandered when Canada's corporate rates are already competitive. It contains billions for banks, big oil and other companies that do not need our help, billions that too often just pad the CEO bonuses or the corporate cash reserves.

This is not an economic policy that will generate the jobs that we need. The rate of unemployment in this country is far too high. International observers have suggested that Canada risks being in a situation where we could have structural unemployment, in other words a basic level of unemployment, which is dramatically higher than it should be and could act as a real block to Canadian economic success.

What is worse, in many cases these tax reductions given to companies, which have no conditions attached to them, the companies turn around, take the money and run. Oftentimes the companies will shut down the very factory that was making money in the first place and will move the jobs somewhere else where they will pay half the wage or less, where there are no protections for workers who might want to organize to have health and safety on the job, where the workers cannot speak out for fair wages to feed their families.

With this policy and this budget, we are helping those companies to do exactly that, throw Canadian workers out of work and allow workers elsewhere in the world to be exploited.

How can we identify with a policy like that and say that somehow it is good for the country? The truth is that it is not. I will give concrete examples. Electrolux in Quebec is a case in point. Quite often these companies will leave their head office here so that they can continue to take advantage of the Canadian tax cuts but meanwhile they are shipping the jobs elsewhere. Canadian workers are out of work, which means they are not paying taxes anymore. In fact, those workers must collect employment insurance, if they are able to qualify.

We notice that the government's approach to that, which was picked up from the previous administration, is to make it more difficult for people to qualify. There is a heck of a way to save money. People who need help from government because they have been thrown out of work are unable to get access to the help their family needs. They then end up on welfare and, in many provinces, they must get rid of most of their assets before they can even qualify for welfare.

In other words, what we have here is a system where a tax cut given to a corporation here can ultimately result in a Canadian worker being thrown out of work and ending up on welfare. How the heck can anyone say that policy makes any sense whatsoever for the working families of this country? The truth is that it does not and it needs to change.

Another example is John Deere in Welland, a long-standing Canadian firm that generated lots of work over many years. It took the corporate tax cut and shut down its factory. We have Vale that went on the attack against workers' pensions.

What are we doing here? Are we trying to help in the race to the bottom so that workers in any country have less access to a secure retirement? That makes no sense whatsoever. The list includes Merck and Xstrata. I could spend the entire day reading off a list of companies that have taken the money and run. A small business will not do that.

Small businesses, which cannot transfer their jobs to China or elsewhere, will use the tax cuts to create jobs in companies here in Canada. That is why we must support our small businesses now. It is their turn.

We have to wonder whether this government has not lost confidence in its employment strategy. We have to wonder whether it is continuing to provide tax breaks for big corporations just to please its privileged friends. If this government really wanted to stimulate growth, it would not make large cuts to balance the budget. Yet that is what is found in this budget—$17 billion in cuts over the next five years. We are talking about $17 billion. In what areas will these cuts be made? Health care? Education? Help for seniors? We do not know. There is a certain lack of transparency in this regard. The government hopes that we will not see the effects of its cuts. Will cuts be made to regional development programs? We know who will have to pay the price of these federal cuts. It is families.

I want to say that the official opposition will press the government to balance the budget through growth rather than cuts. Our diverse and talented team will be monitoring this government's actions. We will show in detail the human costs associated with each cut that the government plans to make.

The real test of the government will be its ability to deliver on its own priorities while respecting the majority of Canadians who voted for something else. That takes wisdom and statecraft. On balance, the budget fails that test because it fails the sweeping majority. It helps out the corporations and insiders, to be sure. I do not want to suggest that the budget is not helpful to anybody. However, it leaves millions of families at the back of the line. Too many of them are without family doctors. Many are concerned about their jobs and retirement. Many are struggling to make ends meet and are worried about the spending cuts that are to come and what the impact might be on their families. We all remember Walkerton and we do not want to see the absence of government involvement in protecting Canadians resulting in tragedy.

I choose to remain optimistic about what the House can accomplish. It is not a government known for compromise, and old habits can die hard, but we have seen some glimmers in some areas, as I mentioned: the HST compensation for Quebec, the return of the eco-energy home retrofits and the helmets to hard hats for veterans. Therefore, in good faith, I will reach across the aisle and say to the government that it just needs to try harder.

Canadians of all political stripes have sent us here to work together. They will not let the government forget it. The official opposition will not let the government forget it. This budget, unfortunately, does not come close to delivering enough for Canadian families. However, we are still eager to work with the government to get the job done.

Therefore, I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:

That the House not approve in general the budgetary policy of the government unless the government brings in additional measures to correct the government's poor record of fiscal management, to address adequately the current jobs crisis in the economy, to address the shortage of family doctors and other health professionals, to deal with the need to provide Canadians with a comfortable retirement and a secure vehicle for their retirement savings, to lift every Canadian senior out of poverty, to make life more affordable for low and middle income Canadians and to address the government's failure to substitute a more targeted approach to job creation for its ill-conceived, across-the-board, corporate income tax cuts.

The Budget June 6th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

(Motion agreed to)

International Co-operation June 6th, 2011

I am sure the official record will show the sentiment that was just expressed, Mr. Speaker.

This spring has been extraordinary and unprecedented in the Arab world. The shift towards democracy is not an easy one. The people of those countries need support. Last month, the G8 promised $20 billion, but there is nothing from Canada. The Conservatives do not seem to understand the importance of committing to helping these people make the transition.

Why has Canada isolated itself from its G8 allies?