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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was manitoba.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I have to agree with the member. I thought that this issue would have gotten them quite excited. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected the Liberals to be very active on a debate like this and the Bloc to be similarly inclined. Why they do not see or have the concerns that we have on this is a fairly big surprise.

We have the experts' opinions about how the agreement could be improved, so we are not saying not to have an agreement here, but we are saying to have one that fulfills the best practices using the PNR agreement clauses in some other agreements. That would be a big improvement: asking for reciprocity, asking for further exemptions, asking for further clarification. The government says it cannot afford the computer system or else it would keep the data itself. The Americans are saying that we can keep the data ourselves; we must just provide the computer system.

Why are we not looking at something like that?

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, it really is a mystery to me as to why the Conservatives are so quiet on the issue. I know their supporters were very vocal on the whole issue of the long form census, yet with an issue such as this they are particularly quiet. I know there are concerns over there and concerns within the party too. I gather they decided to simply ignore the obvious. The bigger surprise to me is why the Liberals and the Bloc are not raising concerns on this issue.

Air Transat is still flying through U.S. airspace. Everybody was supposed to stop flying. The world was going to come to an end on December 31. Well it did not. There was not going to be an exemption when flying from one point in Canada to another. We were not going to get an exemption, but guess what? We got an exemption.

The government has to develop a bit of a backbone. It has to go back and try to negotiate a better deal. The Conservatives may actually surprise themselves and do better if they actually tried. We should not sit back passively and allow them to get away with this when we really do not know what the long-term liability of this legislation is going to be.

We pointed out some of our concerns and some bad practices in the past, but we do not know what the total ramifications are going to be. The members seem to be content to let things develop.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

That is beginning to be what this whole situation looks like.

If we were to look at security threats, we should be looking at the trusted shipper program, if anybody knows what that is. The American Pilots' Association is so concerned about it that the association has made the program its number one concern. While we are subjecting passengers to all sorts of screening procedures, taking away their toothpaste and doing all this stuff, there are a thousand-plus trusted shippers, most of which have not been vetted or checked out very well, shipping letters and parcels. All these parcels are on planes all across Canada and the United States and they are right under where the passengers sit. Sitting a few feet below the passengers are parcels and mail that were not checked at all.

That is a terrible situation. If governments are concerned about security, why are they not looking at that? Why are they not taking immediate steps to screen those parcels and mail to make the whole situation more secure, instead of chasing around doing something like this?

Let us look at the no-fly list, and there is a big joke if we ever saw one. Senator Ted Kennedy was put on a no-fly list.

I was in Washington after 9/11. The Americans were digitizing the mail. They treat the mail that goes to government offices, senators and members of Congress. No mail goes directly to them any more. The mail is secured in a post office maybe 100 miles outside of Washington. The mail is digitized. The mail is radiated and it turns a shade of yellow, similar to the colour of the jacket of the member for Hamilton Mountain. I have seen this mail. The Americans have a reason for doing it. They do not want people sending bad things to their elected officials.

That is something that works. There were some fits and starts with the program and it took a couple of years, but I guess they finally got the program working.

I believe we should be doing things that work, that solve a problem, not to have a no-fly list which included Senator Kennedy and other U.S. senators. A couple of years ago, some U.S. senators told me that they have been stopped at the airport and denied boarding. This is the kind of system we have. The member for Winnipeg Centre is on a no-fly list and cannot get off the list. He sent a letter but cannot find out how he got on the list.

We are dealing with it on this bill. The Liberal Party and the Bloc are going to have to answer to all of this when their constituents come calling to say that they are on the list and they want to find out about the list. Good luck finding out about the list.

Six-year-old Alyssa Thomas was going, I believe it was to her First Communion. I believe she is from Ohio. Her parents are physicians. She was trying to get on an airplane to go to her First Communion. She is six years old and she is on a no-fly list and she cannot get off the list. They sorted out the problem for her on that particular day with a lot of paperwork. Her father decided to follow up on this because the girl is six years old and her parents do not want this issue following her around for the rest of her days. Her parents sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking what was going to happen. Guess what? They received a follow-up from the Department of Homeland Security addressed to the little six-year-old girl, which would neither confirm nor deny her presence on the no-fly list.

This is how people are being treated.

If we want to check our credit scores, we can contact Equifax. I recommend that people do that. There are at least two credit agencies in this country, Equifax and another one. They will give people their credit information and people can dispute some credit information. Perhaps a Visa bill was not paid one month or it was paid a few days late. It could have a negative impact. People have the ability to find out what information is on file and if there is misinformation, there is a process whereby people can correct the information. What is wrong with that?

If we can do it for credit information, which is considered very important, why can we not do it for something as important as a no-fly list which can stop people from even being allowed on an airplane? Why can we not have the ability to question the information on the list and dispute it in case it is wrong?

The member for Winnipeg Centre does not have that option. The six-year-old girl does not have that option. That is ridiculous. Why are the Bloc members and the Liberals sitting back and allowing that to happen? The backbenchers of the Conservative Party have nothing to say about the issue either.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up some of the comments made by the member for Trinity—Spadina in her speech.

We are seeing a spectacle here of Liberals supporting this bill without asking much in the way of questions. The Bloc is supporting this bill. Even the Conservative backbench is being very quiet and not asking questions that I would think some of their base supporters would want asked.

I recall listening to some of the criticisms made by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence a few months ago. One of his criticisms was that the bill was brought in on the last day of the June sitting. In fact, the member for Markham—Unionville said that he had only seen the bill two days before that. Without really having much time to examine the issues, he said he was okay with it and that he would be prepared to send it to committee.

Why is there a lack of interest in pursuing questions on this particular bill? We could be asking questions about many issues. I have asked the government privately about why it did not seek some sort of reciprocity.

The government has been negotiating free trade agreements in many sectors, and recently we met with a delegation from Trinidad, a country that is negotiating a free trade deal with Canada through the CARICOM organization. This deal has been in process for over a year. All of these issues are being dealt with in these negotiations, and have been since 2009. They are in their second round of negotiations. The issues are on the table and people are debating them and asking questions. There is no secrecy. In this case, on the other hand, it seems very much to be a rushed and secretive process.

I asked the government members why they would not ask for reciprocity. Given that 100 Canadian flights fly over the United States, as I am told, and 2,000 flights cross North America, why would our negotiators not simply say that if we are going to provide the information to the United States on the 100 flights, then we would want information on the 2,000 flights, and then see how the Americans would like that? Then we might watch the Americans retrenching and maybe backing off.

A government member told me that the U.S. would give us the information, but he asked what would we do with it when we get it. It would cost us, I believe he said, a half billion dollars for the computer system we would have to develop to process all of the information.

It sounds to me as though the Americans would have liked us to keep the information for them. However, we would have had to develop that computer system and the government does not want to do that. So the Conservative government says, “Well, let the Americans do it. They want the information, so they can pay for the computer system and we will give them the information, regardless of what in fact is going to happen to that information”. It is just an unbelievable approach.

I never heard of a government that does things like this. I would have thought the government would dig in its heels at the beginning, defend Canadians' interests and demand reciprocity. I would have thought they would demand that information regardless of what they would do with it, and then see what the Americans would do. I guarantee that the Americans would back off. Just to prove my point, that is exactly what the Americans did.

There was a big issue here, a discussion about what to do about flights that cross American airspace when going from one point in Canada to another point in Canada. Pretty well any flight out of Toronto to my home city of Winnipeg will cross American airspace.

If the Americans had wanted to be consistent, they would have demanded that this information be provided as well. What they did was to provide an exemption instead, which proves that they can be flexible if we dig in our heels and have some backbone in the negotiations. We were able to negotiate that if an airplane flies over American territory on the way from Toronto to Winnipeg or Toronto to Vancouver, or between any two Canadian points, it will be exempt from this list.

Now the question really is how much of this is about security? I say this because we can give all sorts of examples where if one flies from one Canadian city to another Canadian city but goes through American airspace, one can go over some very sensitive territory in doing so. Planes can fly over or be close to major American cities, major American landmarks and major American installations. Thus the argument that somehow there is difference between flights going across United States territory completely and not landing versus flights that are going between two points within Canada and crossing American territory, I believe, runs counter to the fact there is an exemption, which indicates this not as big an issue as we are being led to believe it is.

Then we have the drop-dead date of December 31. The member for Winnipeg Centre remembers that date. On December 31, the whole sky was going to fall if we did not get this thing passed. The government brought this bill in the last sitting day of June and said, “Here is the legislation and if we do not pass it by the end of the year, there are going to be no more flights over American territory.”

Well, I was just on one yesterday. It never seemed to end, by the way. It took me two days to get back from Trinidad. A five-hour flight ended up taking two days, but that is a story for another day.

The fact of the matter is that this agreement was supposed to be in place or the flights were going to stop. It is almost March 1. It is the last day of February, and the flights are flying just fine. As a matter of fact, we may be in an election in the next two weeks, and in a minority government the legislation may never see the light of day. Even if it gets through the House in a minority government, it still has to make it through the Senate. There could be an election before that happens.

So much for those flights not being able to go over the United States. Members need to start asking the question, what is this really all about? And why are there no questions coming from the Conservative backbenchers? Why are there no questions coming from the Liberals? Why are they so quiet?

Why are my friends in the Bloc so quiet? On two occasions when I have been here, the Bloc critic talked about how important this was and how this affected Air Transat. That was the Bloc's whole reason for supporting the bill. The entire issue about how the information could be misused and where it was going to end up and whether it could end up in North Korea, somehow that did not seem to faze them one bit, as long as Air Transat was happy.

The member indicated that Air Transat could not get its Airbus A-319s and 320s landed in Montreal because they were big planes that took such a wide berth in circling that they inadvertently circled over American territory. If we did not have the agreement, somehow they could not fly over American territory any more and poor Air Transat would be shut down. They would not be able to have any more flights from western Canada because, once again, they would have to fly around all the corners of the United States. They are right about that, and it would add to the costs and delays for the travellers.

However, the reality is that we have to deal with what is before us. The fact of the matter is that the deadlines have passed, the flights are still going and we have an exemption already. There are just too many questions about this whole issue to warrant quick passage of this kind of legislation.

Professor Mark Salter of the University of Ottawa talked about what I call best practices. In government, business, accounting, and IT issues, we try to pick best practices that have been agreed to by professionals worldwide. Canada already has a very high standard when it comes to the use of the PNR information, all the information the airline keeps in its data bank on a person. When people look at whatever they have booked with an airline, there will be a passenger record consisting numbers and letters. That is where the information about a person is located. The PNR information is what is being debated here. That information may end up in places the passenger may not want it to be.

We have a high global standard. We support that high global standard because we are signatories to the Canada-EU agreement relating to PNR matters. On the one hand we already agree and live with PNR issues that are acceptable to the European Union that best practices say is the way to go. This agreement is praised by Canadian and European data protection authorities for a number of reasons. What are those reasons? The member for Winnipeg Centre will be very pleased to hear this. There are time periods for the disposal of data. It is not 40 years and it is not seven days. There is a very specific period that puts a time limit on the disposal of data. It limits, in particular, the individualization of the data. That is what we are really concerned about.

The information is filtered. It is rendered anonymous. It allows the security services to build up a profile. That is what they want. If that is true and they claim they want to deal with profiles, they can build up profiles, but they do not need to attach them to individuals. That is what our biggest objection is to this type of activity. This agreement is a global standard for international treaties on PNR agreements.

The question is why would the government negotiators who are negotiating with the Americans not say to use that section. Why would the government's negotiators not say that there is wording and best practices in the PNR agreement with the European Union? Why not use that section? If it is considered a gold standard and everybody accepts it, why would we not make that argument? Why would we not say to the Americans that if they really believe they are not going to use the information for purposes we do not want it used for, why do they not simply live up to what is considered a gold standard? The wording could be cut and pasted. It is something that has been in agreements for years, something that even the Americans would probably agree to. They obviously did not want to do that or the government did not care to push that point.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I think we have to recognize that the information to be provided will be PNR information. Canada has a history and an involvement in its agreements with other countries dealing with PNR information. We actually are recognized as supporting and upholding a very high global standard for the use of PNR information, in particular, in the Canada-EU agreement relating to PNR matters. This issue was broached very well by Professor Mark Salter, from the University of Ottawa, at the committee. The agreement has been praised by Canadian and European data protection authorities because it has a number of very important features.

First, it has a specific time period for the disposal of the data; there is none of this 40- or 50-year question. It limits the data's use, which is what I think we want to see here. In particular, it limits the individualization of that data so that the information is rendered anonymous. That is what we want. While rendered anonymous, it still allows the security services to build up the profiles they are trying to build up but without attaching them to any one individual.

Is that not what we are seeking to do here?

The question is, why are the Bloc and Liberal members and some of the Conservative backbenchers raising this as an issue and asking for a different approach to it?

This is a global standard for international treaties that we are part of, and what we appear to be doing is moving away from it by adopting a bill like this.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the member's excellent presentation regarding Bill C-42 explained the issues rather well.

Fundamentally, the government should be looking at improving security when dealing with air travel. One of the ways to do that is to look at the exposures that we have. The biggest exposure we have right now, according to the Allied Pilots Association, is the trusted shippers program where mail and packages go directly onto airplanes, sit right underneath passengers on the airplane, that are totally unchecked. These thousand-plus people in the trusted shipper program have not really been investigated, have not been checked, but once again, we are ignoring a major exposure at the expense of doing something like this which has questionable value.

When the Americans asked for this legislation, the government should have recognized that in fact there are maybe 100 Canadian flights flying over the United States, but there are 2,000 American flights flying over Canada. The negotiators should have been smart enough to say, “If it is good enough for us to give you the information, then why do you not give us the information?”

The government tells me that is exactly what it is prepared to do. The point is that the Canadian government is not prepared to pay the evidently half a billion dollars in developing the computer system necessary to handle the information. We are prepared to let the Americans foot the bill for the computer system. We are going to give them the information so they can keep it and for what purpose? There is absolutely no proof we are going to get any tangible results out of this. There are just more questions.

The Liberal Party should be asking more questions about this rather than blindly following the government, as it does with this bill and many other bills in this House.

Petitions February 28th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by dozens of Canadians calling for an end to Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan.

In May 2008, Parliament passed a resolution to withdraw Canadian Forces by July 2011. The Prime Minister, with agreement from the Liberal Party, broke his oft-repeated promise to honour the parliamentary motion and, furthermore, refuses to put it to a parliamentary vote in the House.

Committing 1,000 soldiers to a training mission still presents a danger to our troops and an unnecessary expense when our country is faced with a $56 billion deficit. The military mission has cost Canadians more than $18 billion so far, money that could have been used to improve health care and seniors' pensions right here in Canada.

In fact, polls show a clear majority of Canadians do not want Canada's military presence to continue after the scheduled removal date of July 2011. Therefore, the petitioners call upon the Prime Minister to honour the will of Parliament and bring the troops home now.

Charitable Donations February 17th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the motion by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo reads:

That the Standing Committee on Finance be instructed to undertake a study of the current tax incentives for charitable donations with a view to encouraging increased giving, including but not limited to (i) reviewing changes to the charitable tax credit amount, (ii) reviewing the possible extension of the capital gains exemption to private company shares and real estate when donated to a charitable organizations, (iii) considering the feasibility of implementing these measures; and that the Committee report its findings to the House.

On the surface of it, I do not think we would have a problem supporting this particular motion but there are some observations that I would like to make about it.

The member indicates that the sector is a very significant part of the economy, that it employs over 1.5 million people, that it generates an estimated $100 million a year and that it represents 7% of our GDP, which is larger than the tourism industry, the automotive manufacturing industry and the agriculture sector. I was certainly not aware of that and I do not think a lot of people would be.

We have a number of issues that need to be dealt with, which is why it is a really good idea to conduct this study. As has been pointed out, there are a number of indicators, bad omens, showing that the number of donations actually dropped during the recession, which has put some pressure on some of the organizations.

There is also a need to cost the item because, with a $56 billion deficit, the government will need to look at dealing with a program to reduce and eliminate that deficit. I think we would want to know, before we approve it, how much revenue the government would be losing as a result of any changes that it would want to make.

I do want to mention an approach that I found quite exciting. It is what is happening in the United States with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Over the last three or four years, they have collectively gotten together and committed to giving away, while they are still alive, I believe it is half of their assets. Since they are worth about $50 billion each, we are probably talking about $25 billion each. More important, they have encouraged other billionaires to get involved in their club and quite a number of American billionaires have joined the club. I think they are on to something. They have certainly started something. They are both very interesting people, if members read about them.

Warren Buffett's attitude toward American capitalism is not what one would think. He is actually highly critical of most of the big corporate elites in the United States and the salaries they get. Warren Buffett, himself, is a man whose salary is $100,000 a year. He still lives in Omaha, although he does have some other houses, but he is easy to find when driving through Omaha. He is a hands on type of guy. He has decided that his children do not need all his money. The children will be well taken care of but they will not be given billions when their parents die.

Bill Gates seems to be taking that same approach. They have now enlisted, and I am not certain what their current numbers are in terms of American billionaires, but their goal is to give away half of their assets while they are still alive.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's charities are heavily involved in sending prescription drugs to Africa, which is a very commendable direction for them to be involved in.

I would encourage Canadian activity in this area. I do not know if there are any Canadian billionaires being invited into this group but it is certainly something that I hope gets a lot of encouragement.

We have indicated that donations dropped off during the recession. There is also the odd complaint about the salaries and benefits of some of the managers of the charities. There was an example in Toronto where the charity head was making very excessive amounts of money, in the opinion of some of the donors.

Business of Supply February 17th, 2011

Yes, the government wants to be tough on crime but I think the public will be quite disappointed. The public will be saying that Earl Jones was put away for 11 years for white-collar crime but, after going through a big charade with the Bloc and pretending you were doing something, what did you do? You simply increased his sentence from 2.5 years to 3.5 years. Now he will be out after 3.5 years. Good job, Mr. tough on crime--

Business of Supply February 17th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the Liberal opposition day motion. I must admit that this is one opposition day motion I like a lot and that my party will be supporting.

I would like read the motion. I listened to a lot of speeches and I never heard one word by any government member dealing with this motion in any way, shape or form. It reads as follows:

That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution—

—and, obviously, the government does not believe that because it is disputing it—

—including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, the government's continuing refusal to comply with reasonable requests for documents, particularly related to the cost of the government's tax cut for the largest corporations and the cost of the government's justice and public safety agenda, represents a violation of the rights of Parliament, and this House hereby orders the government to provide every document requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010, by March 7, 2011.

That is the actual wording of the Liberal opposition motion today. The question is why a party in the House would have to bring a motion like this in the first place. There are many other topics the Liberal Party could be dealing with and that we could debating today in the House, rather than presenting a motion requiring the government to do something that any sensible government would and should do in the first place.

A member of the Bloc spoke earlier today and I was rather impressed by his comments when he was drawing the parallel between this particular fight and the fight last year with the government over the Afghan detainee issue.

At that time the government said it could not provide the information because it involved national security. It was able to sell that argument to the public somewhat. Some members of the public might believe there may be some national security aspect to the information and that it should not be released.

However, the member went on to say that the information we are asking for now is the costing of tax cuts into the future. It is actually a projection. How could that possibly be called a national security question? If the Conservatives do not call it that, they will call it something else.

What possible argument could they have for not providing the information? Obviously they did not have an argument because, at the end of the day, they ended up tabling information just a couple of hours ago, which we have not had a chance to thoroughly digest yet. However, from what we can see of the information, it is certainly not the complete or full information that we would expect before we are required to make parliamentary decisions in the House, which could have long-lasting effects and cost billions of dollars.

The second part of the motion is the cost of the public safety bills. This is an issue that has been before the House for some time. There has been a lot of debate about it. We know that in other jurisdictions, the United States and elsewhere, there is a requirement that when a bill is brought in, it be fully costed.

As I had indicated briefly before, during election campaigns, reporters will be chasing all party leaders for costing of items. It is just something that is done. Why and how the government thought that somehow it could bring in this whole program of so-called tough on crime initiatives without anyone asking whether there was a cost to these items was absolutely crazy for them.

Therefore, we know the government has the information and we have been asking for it. Just two days ago in a committee meeting on Bill C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act, the Liberal member for Brampton West asked a question of Ms. Mary Campbell, the director general of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate at Public Safety Canada. He asked her if she had the information regarding Bill C-59 in terms of its cost, and if she could not provide it, did she have it all.

Her answer was, “I have most of that information. It's part of my responsibility in terms of developing legislation to consider costs. Yes, I have most of that information or access to it.”

She told the member for Brampton West that if she did not have it, she had access to the information he was looking for.

However, she also said that the issue was the disclosure of it. She stated, “As I said, the government has indicated it's a cabinet confidence.”

Therefore, the member for Brampton West continued, “So you've provided the costing information to the government about what it would cost for these changes?”, meaning Bill C-59.

She responded, “I said that I have the information or access to it. I really can't talk about what I've provided the government in any detail because I think that is cabinet confidence of advice.”

Finally, the member for Brampton West asked, “So if the government asked you, in theory, to provide it, you would be able to answer that question for them?”

She stated, “I think I'm able to answer almost all questions that I'm asked about legislative proposals.”

There is the answer to the question. The information is available just like we knew it would be. The information is there. The Liberal member asked three times at committee and Ms. Campbell said she had it and had access to it, but she could not give it to him because the government said it was a confidence issue and, therefore, he could not have that information.

That is a terrible way to be running a government. It is little wonder that the government finds us quite upset with the approach it takes and that the Liberal Party has brought in its motion, which will get the approval of all three parties in the House.

The government knows it is not a matter of national security. Therefore, it knows it will have to provide the information sooner or later. Therefore, perhaps the government thinks that somehow this information will be damaging if the public were to know how much it would cost to implement a crime bill.

Given that the Conservatives know when the election is going to be, or at least they think they know, perhaps their strategy is to put this off until after an election. The Conservatives want the benefit of running on the tough on crime agenda but not have to answer any questions on what the cost of that agenda would be. That is my guess at this point, because I know that the government will have to provide the information.

Some of this information can be put together just by extrapolation. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has done calculations. In the case of the two-for-one remand credits, the member for Ajax—Pickering asked the government what those would cost. I believe he was told that the cost would $90 million. When he consulted with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the latter said, no, the cost would $2 billion a year. Of course, the final costs are projected to be somewhere in the $10 billion to $13 billion range.

Also, there are implications for the provinces. No less than a few days ago, we had the Premier of Ontario being quoted in one of the national newspapers as saying that the federal government was simply transferring costs to the provincial governments. With the Conservative government planning to bring in $9 billion worth of prison development in the near future, we are going to see a lot of that cost absorbed by the provinces.

The provinces will be under a lot of pressure as they are already. The federal government will not just assume the extra costs, the provinces will as well. The government is off-loading part of that agenda onto the various provinces. The provinces are probably fearful of that, which, to me, is probably the reason the government is trying to hide the information.

When we ask for information from the government and, if it is a straightforward answer, it provides it. If the government does not see any negatives in providing us with the information, it will provide it to us. There is a lot of concern on the government's part about providing this information, perhaps because it thinks members of the public will be upset when they find out the true cost.

Bill C-59 was a good example. All the presenters at committee simply wanted their money back. They were not there to hear about the parole law for white-collar criminals in jail being changed from one-sixth to one-third. They will be quite surprised with the tough on crime government when they find out that Mr. Jones will stay in prison for an extra year. He received an 11 year sentence--