House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was billion.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Scarborough Centre (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 32% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Jobs and Economic Growth Act April 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I was just catching up on my reading of the Speech from the Throne and the budget just to make sure that my comments will be accurate and statistically correct.

The Conservatives call Bill C-9 the jobs and economic growth act. As my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood said earlier, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River and others are what we call the Scarborough team. We have been exchanging our views about what we have been hearing from our constituents and what happened at the forum the other day. At the University of Toronto Scarborough campus we hosted a meeting with respect to Canada at 150 to get input from all Canadians. Not to get off track, but the session I hosted had to do with health care. As I have said in previous presentations, health care seems always to be the number one concern for Canadians, and so it was again.

Getting back to the jobs and economic growth act, the Conservatives could have given the bill a different title. One could ask what jobs and economic growth we are talking about. What in the world is the government referring to? All people have to do is listen to the news and commentaries, read the statistics, see the types of jobs being created, see why we are losing jobs and why we are not being competitive for the jobs of the future and the will understand why I am being a little, one might say, cynical about the bill's title.

There is no real job growth. There is no real economic growth. The government pulled up a statistic. All one has to do is tune in to the news to hear the sentiments of Canadians. They do not see anything. They are not confident for today or for the future. They do not see any positive impact on their lives. I will point out why they feel that way.

Canadians are not optimistic for the future and our overall economy because they have no confidence not just in what is happening but they have no confidence in the Prime Minister and, as a result, no confidence in the government. When people are asked why, they say it is simply because there is no trust. They say that the government says one thing and does the other.

For example, the government talks about investing in the jobs of the future and the green economy. In reality, it has not invested in the jobs of the future. If anything, it has cut back on the jobs of the future.

Researchers have asked over and over again for support. I have data here and I want to be accurate. They have asked for support and unfortunately, the support is not there.

The government talks about creating jobs. The Minister of Finance has said in the past that EI premiums, or EI taxes, as they are often referred to, are increasing and are an impediment to creating jobs. We agree with him wholeheartedly. Employers have told us repeatedly to lower the rates and they will invest in creating jobs, retooling, modernizing, new equipment, et cetera.

Unfortunately, in the budget the government will be increasing EI premiums to the tune of almost $13 billion. That is almost a 35% tax hike. That is going to cost the average individual almost $900. At the same time, it is going to have a negative impact on companies, to the tune of anywhere between $9,000 to $10,000 per employee. That is a lot of money. That is not reducing taxes.

There is a graph in the budget on page 52, above which the government states, “Freeze in EI premium rate leaves money in the hands of employers and employees”. The columns in this graph start at the year 2000 and level off in years 2006 and 2007, which is when the Conservative government took over. During that period employment insurance premiums were being reduced year in and year out. When the Conservative government came into office, it simply did not decrease them, it left them as they were.

All of a sudden, as I pointed out earlier, the Conservatives plan a 35% hike in employment insurance premiums which, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is going to cost 200,000 jobs. Yes, there were some jobs created and no one is disputing that, even though they were not high quality jobs, but a job is a job. But this tax increase is going to cost jobs because employers are going to hesitate, if anything refrain, from hiring people. That graph points that out exactly.

When the government stands and says that we have not done anything, its own graphs, and the proof is in the pudding as they say, indicate how a Liberal government between 1993 and 2006 was continuously reducing EI premiums. The GST reduction which the Conservatives provided to Canadians, they are now taking back in another manner.

There is another graph on page 86. I am pointing this out to prove to Canadians the discrepancy in the Conservatives' figures. The Conservatives say that Canada invests more directly in public R and D than does any other G7 country. That is a wonderful statement, but this is old data. They say this data is from 2007 which is the latest year for which data are available for the G7 countries. That is data from the Liberal administration. We would like to see the Conservatives' current data, which in essence shows a decline.

The graph clearly shows that up to 2007, and 2006 and 2005 were the latest years where this data was accumulated, Canada was leading countries such as Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States. Thank God that was under a Liberal administration. That is why at that time we were able to not just invest in the new knowledge-based economy, but to retain our best and brightest and to attract others.

At that time I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of industry, Brian Tobin. We were at York University providing funding for research chairs. I remember a young couple. The husband had been offered a job in Germany. His wife was a researcher. She made an about-face. She decided to stay in Canada. When I asked her why she said that Canada was indeed investing properly and it was worth her time to stay. Not only did we retain our best and brightest, but we offered opportunities for the jobs of the future.

I encourage Canadians to pick up the budget book, look at page 86 and they will see exactly what I am talking about.

With respect to the new economy, I am very concerned. There are certain technologies in Canada in which we pride ourselves. The news about AECL in the last couple of days really concerns me. I happened to see an advertisement for the movie on the Avro Arrow technology. It reminded me that it was a Conservative government that sold out that Canadian technology and now another Conservative government is about to sell out a unique industry, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, where we provide the Candu technology which is not only well recognized, but well respected for its security.

The concern is that the government is moving forward through the budget to allow foreign companies to come in, maybe to buy AECL outright, maybe to buy a share. However, the moment that occurs, the government will have no say. It will have no oversight of what happens. What am I driving at?

This is what the Conservatives did with the income trusts situation because everything ties together. At the time, there were rules that Canadian companies could borrow money, like other foreign companies, and invest. There was an interest deductibilty factor built into this equation. By reneging on the promise that they were not going to touch income trusts, it took that equal playing field for all companies and removed the ability for Canadian companies to compete on equal footing, simply because they could no longer use the income deductibility factor when they chose to acquire, purchase or expand. In other words, Canadian companies are at a disadvantage today.

That means, to simplify it for everybody, that company A from country B could come in, borrow money, buy ACL and write off the interest of the moneys it borrowed, but a Canadian company cannot do this. That is a great disadvantage to Canadian companies.

I am bringing it up again only so that the government, if it believes in what it says about making Canadian companies competitive, would change that. I hope it thinks about that very seriously.

We talk about taxes. There are so many hidden taxes, it is unbelievable. Let me talk about the air travel security tax. Nobody talks about it.

The reason I am bringing these up one at a time is because if somebody had the opportunity to read a publication from the Canadian Press today, it says that the government is doing this in a sneaky way, “by sneaking in new rules in budget legislation”. It is the word “sneaking” that this budget is all about, because all of a sudden, as we go to another paragraph or turn another page, we see something in there to our surprise. Of course, we cannot analyze the budget in one day, but every day that goes by, every paragraph that we read, every segment we get into, all of a sudden there is another surprise.

There is going to be an increase of billions of dollars by taxing people who are travelling. Why? Is it for new scanners? I recall years ago, we invested billions of dollars to buy new scanning equipment for our airports. Has something occurred to say that those scanners no longer work? I will let Canadians judge that for themselves. It is the word “sneaking” that is upsetting to me. It clearly points out exactly what is going on here.

My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood earlier today referred to the Fraser Institute and its comment. I would like to repeat that as well:

The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute concludes that the turnaround in the economy had nothing to do with stimulus.

The Conservatives stand up and use coated words such as “we have allocated”, “we have committed”, “we will assign”, but when we go out there and ask if the money has actually been delivered, the answer is no. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities complained as well, “They promised us”.

It reminds me of the commercial on television with the two young kids, and the gentleman comes in and gives one child a cardboard pony but gives the other one a real pony, because, as he says, “You did not ask”. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is asking. It wants its infrastructure fixed. It is a source of revenue for this country and it deserves its share of the pie.

I have a comment on revenue, if I may, because it is my understanding, and we all know, that the banks are talking about increasing their mortgage rates. I just want to take this opportunity because they are part of this budget as well.

Right now everybody is trying to do whatever they can to get the economy rolling, to get confidence into the nation. I say to the banks, directly, that it is wrong at this time to increase rates, when young men and women are trying to get a roof over their heads, trying to buy their first condominium, or whatever they are trying to invest in. What the banks are saying here is:

The increase does not stem directly from moves by the Bank of Canada, but rather anticipated central bank rate hikes.

I have talked to many of my constituents, and I say, “Shame on the banks” if they decide to increase their rates prematurely and without any justifiable cause.

I want to speak a little bit about health care, if I may, because that is very important. In this budget, once again, there is zero for health care. Taking us back, in the 2004-05 budget there was an committed allocation of $56 billion for health care. That was as a result of the recommendations from the Romanow report. That was a 10-year commitment by the federal government to the provinces.

Now the provinces are saying, because 2014 is the due date, they want to commence a dialogue. They want to get the discussions going, get around a table, and see where we are going post-2014.

The federal government is refusing to sit around the table. When asked what has been done with health, the response is that it will continue the funding. What funding is that? The funding was Liberal funding under the Paul Martin government. That was Liberal funding as a result of the Romanow report. We all know about that report.

I am very concerned. We are now seeing a little bit more about what the health issue in the United States is all about. It has everything to do with insurance and nothing to do with the delivery of health services. Today, we are seeing advertisements on television that say “Purchase health insurance”. I am concerned for the future and where this is taking us.

The Prime Minister is on record, and I have quoted him in the past but to save time I am not going to pull up the quote, stating, with no ambiguity, that he supports private health care. The Minister of Immigration has stated very clearly that he supports private health care.

No wonder my constituent, Mr. Frandsen, who came to my office, said, and I have used this quote in the past, “If [the Prime Minister] can behave and do what he is doing while having a minority government, can you imagine what he will do if he had a majority?”

It is scary. Health care is something that separates us as Canadians from the rest of the world. I think we have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure it is something we maintain. In order to do that, we need to have a country positioned properly with its finances.

In order for us to understand where we are today and where we are going to be tomorrow, I want to take just a few moments to take us all back to 1993 when Canada was an unofficially bankrupt country with high unemployment, high debts and deficits, and we were paying tremendous amounts, billions of dollars, in interest on our debt.

We turned that around with the help and co-operation of Canadians. Then we delivered seven or eight consecutive balanced budgets and surpluses, such as our country had never experienced before. The last surplus we left the government was $13.2 billion.

As a result of the Liberals bringing down the debt continuously, our debt to GDP ratio kept going down. We were saving an average of $3 billion a year, which we were putting back into programs that Canadians asked us to support, whether it was housing, environment, infrastructure, urban transit, health or whatever it was. According to the input we were receiving, we were providing that support.

On one of the government's graphs, it talks about the accumulated federal debt. Yes, it is showing us a graph of the debt to GDP ratio that in 2008-09 had dipped downwards. It did dip downwards, and yet again it is going up. Then we have the debt, and I will admit it was reduced by some $30-some odd billion. The Liberals reduced it by $60-some odd billion. Then all of sudden, by 2014, from $460 billion it is going to $622 billion. That is a $130-some odd billion debt.

Never mind saving the $3 billion we were saving. We are going to be paying much more. We are not getting anywhere. If anything, we are going downhill.

I would be glad to answer any questions. In this short period of time, it is difficult to get into a lot, but in closing one thing I am concerned about is the recreational infrastructure program that has been very kind in supporting various community centres. I support it myself.

I come from the Greek community of Toronto, and it has asked for funding for the first Greek cultural community centre. I believe the government is treating it in a biased and discriminatory way. It has turned its back on the Greek community and I will ensure that my community knows this.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act March 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the NDP is actually correct. There is a coalition, a coalition to do what is good for the country, which is to create jobs, move our products and sell our goods and services.

However, there was one coalition he forgot to mention and that was the coalition where the NDP betrayed all of Canada after the 2005 budget which would have provided money for infrastructure, urban transit, seniors, housing and the environment. That coalition brought us a $56 billion deficit.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the critic for international trade, the member for Kings—Hants, is absolutely right. It is all a matter of monitoring. The recommendations speak for themselves. The fact is it would be monitored and addressed by both governments involved and the UN on a yearly basis. It is not just some paper that has been written, or an idea. It is an enforcement mechanism.

I will close with this. The fact that the number of unions, something which I outlined in the statistics I provided earlier, and membership in unions are on the rise is indicative of the fact that the country and that government is saying that it is not adverse to the protection of workers, child labour, women's rights, et cetera.

I believe it will go a long way with these reports. It is a statement of confidence, and I cannot thank him enough for that input.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, first, this is Canada, not the United States.

Second, our system moves much more efficiently than the American's. We have seen the example most recently on the health care issue.

Third, President Obama has given guidelines to move forward on this trade deal.

Fourth, the Americans did beat us, as I mentioned earlier, on the Central America free trade agreement and Canada lost.

One thing he did say was that I called it a trouble spot. I agree. If it were not a trouble spot, we would not be having these discussions. We would not have the committee going indepth, hearing the concerns of witnesses et cetera, outlining and identifying concerns in areas directly to the president and down. He mentioned the fact about members of the president's entourage running an investigation. Find me one country that does not have some troubles and will call it Utopia.

Let us not take the holier than thou approach and say that there is total innocence. There is no total innocence in Canada, and there will be never be anywhere.

It is a trouble spot. That is why Canada needs to go there to do it the Canadian way, to show people the Canadian way.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. I have to be honest with him. I am not going to hide it anymore. I do have an interest and that interest is called what is good for Canada. It very simple.

On displacements, he is absolutely right. I guess he must have not heard when I gave the statistics, so I will give them again. With respect to displacements, in 2002 there was a number totalling 437,967 displaced people in Colombia. In 2009 it was 114,602. I am sorry that this is not zero. It should be zero, but find me one country in the world that is zero and I will ask it to please show us the way to do it.

That country is showing it is doing everything possible to address this horrendous situation. Surely we have an obligation to support that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I agree with him wholeheartedly. He hit the nail on the head. That is exactly what I am referring to about the Canadian way.

We are a nation that respects the rule of law. We are civil society and we are described as a model in many ways. It is not good having this model only within Canada.

My father taught me one thing. I will provide the fish, but I want to teach them how to fish as well. This is what we are doing. We are going there to show them how we do things. I do not believe we should only keep handing out support. We will hand out support, but we will also hand out knowledge, the way of doing things.

The minister talked about the rule of law, the way we do things, and that is what it is all about. We are not going to do it by sitting here in Canada and becoming an esoteric society and saying we are good. We live in a global economy. We live in the global village. We have an obligation to the future generations, especially Canadian generations, to get out there and do the right thing.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Maybe my colleague from the NDP who made a comment should have been at the luncheon. Maybe he should have heard the minister. If he thought that the minister was lying, he would have had every opportunity to confront the minister, as the president was confronted last June by the NDP. Again I stress how tolerant the president, the head of state, was when he was literally bombarded with comments which I felt was an unprofessional approach. Nevertheless, the gentleman stayed, took the questions and he was gracious enough to respond.

Maybe those members do not like it when I present the facts, but I have to deal with facts. That is what Canadians must know, not the huffing and the puffing that comes from people on the extreme left who, if they had their way, there would be no way.

With respect to victims of massacre, in 2002 there were 680, and in 2009 there were 147. That again is progress.

In 2002 there were 1,645 terrorist attacks, and in 2009 there were 486. I believe they are going in the right direction.

With respect to displacements, there were close to 440,000 in 2002, and in 2009 there were 114,000. That is a success story in itself. Is the number of 114,000 alright? No, even that number is too high.

What these stats are showing us is that they are working on addressing this most serious problem.

I was visited by a gentleman by the name of Frank Pearl, who works with a government program that is investing millions and millions of dollars to reintegrate combatants into society, to reunite them with their families and retrain them so they can become progressive, constructive people within their society and work for a living as opposed to doing other unacceptable acts.

With respect to women's rights, there is an entire section on how they are addressing violence against women. On December 4, 2008, they approved law 1257 for raising awareness, preventing and penalizing forms of violence and discrimination against women. It is not as though they have neglected their responsibility towards women.

With respect to internally displaced persons, I have talked about how they have been reducing those numbers consistently.

I met Mr. Frank Pearl who was kind enough to share some information with me.

Let us turn to children, on whom we put such value here in Canada. I have often said in this House that unless we address the needs of our young men and women, their proper upbringing and early education, then our country will obviously miss out on the future. They are our future. Colombia is doing the same thing. They realize that as well. They are investing heavily in their young men and women.

Let me give an example regarding free education. As of October 2009, resources transferred to schools to subsidize education costs for vulnerable groups have provided benefits for 5,230,446 children. The goal established for 2009 was 4,670,000, so they have in essence exceeded their goal.

The Colombian government, as difficult as its past has been, is making a genuine effort to address the problems we are concerned about.

The way I see it that nation is going to trade with Europe. If it is not Canada today, it is going to be some other country tomorrow.

At the end of the day, my attitude personally, and I know I speak on behalf of my other colleagues on the Liberal side as well, is that we have a unique opportunity not necessarily to benefit by doing trade, not necessarily to go in there and sell them more goods and buy some of their goods as well, as that is secondary to me. We have a unique opportunity to go to this troubled spot, if I can describe it like that, a country that understands its shortcomings but wants to do the right thing. It is dealing with difficult circumstances. The most important thing I see for us is that we have an opportunity as a nation to go there and show them the Canadian way.

If we had taken this very aggressive attitude that we are hearing from the New Democratic Party and from the Bloc as well, we would not be doing any trade with China. We would not be trading anything with China. Just imagine how many jobs Canada would have lost over the years.

What did we do? We know now that human rights, labour violations, et cetera, have been addressed in China. Twenty or 30 years ago, we would not have been able to say that, but we went there. As former prime minister Chrétien used to say, “I will go there”, and he did go there. He did engage with China and he did create jobs and opportunities. Most important, we showed them that there is a responsibility to everything and that it is not just a matter of producing goods and services and making money. It is a combination of things. This is what we are trying to do with Colombia as well.

We were ready to sign the Central America free trade agreement. I would be misleading Canadians and my colleagues here in this honourable chamber if I said that there were no violations in Central America. I am not going to name countries because that would be unfair, but I will just talk about the region. We know very well there are some troubled spots in almost any country in that region, but we were not prepared to go there. By not going there, we hurt our textile and garment industry, our pork industry, our beef industry, and many other industries that have lost out. We could have been there and showed them how we do things here in Canada.

I mentioned Mr. Pearl who was here to visit. The president himself was here and came before the committee, which I chaired, and the senior minister that I referred to was here. It shows us two things. It shows us that Colombia is not walking away. It is not saying it does not have problems. They are the first ones to say, “Yes, we have problems and we want to address them, but we also need help”. If there has ever been a country on this globe that knows how to help, it is Canada. We have an opportunity to put our stamp on Colombia by engaging in this deal.

The United Nations has also put forth certain prerequisites. The United Nations is monitoring this engagement with Colombia very closely. It is not as though the UN is saying, “Go off and do your thing”. That is not how it is. That is how it is being portrayed right now by the NDP, and that is totally unfair and inaccurate. I do not like to use the word “lies”, but it is totally inaccurate, because the UN is on top of it. If the UN is there and if we do not respect it, we are also saying that we do not respect the UN.

I look forward to answering questions from my colleagues. The government's side, the Minister of International Trade and the secretary of state know what our position is. There is no room for low blows or rhetoric at this stage, given that we are more than prepared and happy to work with them to do the right thing.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, we were debating this bill before the House was suspended for the government to recalibrate. The bill was formerly known as Bill C-23, and now we have brought it back as Bill C-2. At this second reading, I want to participate in debating the bill on behalf of my party and to add a few a comments that do not directly affect the bill itself, but deal peripherally with it as a result of some of the comments made today during debate. The minister's response was a low blow in terms of our position as Liberals and was uncalled for, if I may say.

Here we are as the official opposition standing in support of the free trade agreement with Colombia. Yes, the hon. member from the Conservative Party is acknowledging that. Maybe what he should do is tell the Minister of International Trade to be a little more polite in his response, because we are not going to allow the new Conservative Party to give us a lesson on human rights. We are noted as the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unlike that party, which had to change its name not once and not twice, because Canadians were literally scared of them. However, I am going to get to the essence of the bill.

Last week I held a round table discussion with Ms. Adriana Mejía, a senior minister from Colombia whom we were very fortunate to have visiting with us. She is the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Colombia. In light of the concerns about the human rights situation in Colombia, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us Canadians to hear what the minister had to say, to hear of some of their initiatives and, of course, to question the minister.

I am very pleased to report to the House and Canadians that we had a packed house. There were members from the government, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and there were no members from the New Democratic Party. Well, we might say that maybe they did not know about it, but they knew because I went out of my way to invite them personally. I am very disappointed they could not find one member in their caucus, especially if they were so concerned, to be there and ask questions of that visitor of ours. Nevertheless, the minister went into a very in-depth presentation. She had a deck with her that I will go through and point out certain initiatives they have undertaken to address some of the concerns that we have and other members of the international community and, of course, the UN have.

However, before I go there I want to remind members that last May, before our summer recess, I chaired the committee on international trade and our guest was President Uribe of Colombia. The gentleman was very gracious and gave us a lot of latitude. Whereas initially the Colombians had said no to having any cameras or anyone else there, the president then said, yes, invite the media and people in and let them hear, as we have nothing to hide.

Of course, there were some very constructive yet tough questions put to him. I thought the questioning by the NDP was rude, given that we had invited a head of state of a foreign country. We might agree to disagree, but Canadians are a very well mannered and refined people and in a forum like that, we should ask the tough questions, but politely, civilly and in the Canadian way, and that was not done. I just wanted to put that on the record today.

Canada signing free trade agreements is nothing new, whether by that party or our party, basically the mainstream parties, if I may say, who have governed this country. It is maybe no coincidence that the New Democratic Party has never governed and most likely will never govern. Thank God, they never governed, as there has not been one trade agreement they have supported.

What leads Canadians to believe, with all this huffing and puffing, that they would even sign this agreement? Nothing does. Sometimes the viewership out there puts more credence into what people write as opposed to what politicians say. I will quote from an article:

The MPs should also press for an independent human rights impact assessment--

--which we have--

--as the Commons trade committee has already urged.

--and we are moving forward on that--

But at the same time they should challenge critics of the deal who argue that Canada would set back the cause of human rights by signing a pact. That has yet to be shown. The pact is broadly modelled on others Canada has signed with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica in the past 15 years.

This agreement is patterned around similar agreements that we have made with our other trading partners. I have named some of them. What leads Canadians to believe that we are going to sway from the terms that we have set in the past? Are we going to make worse deals? No, I believe we are going to make better deals because we have learned from the past.

It is not that Colombia is going to make or break our economy, on the contrary. My attitude and the attitude of the Liberal Party is that if there is any kind of business that can be had for Canadians, whether they be Conservatives, Liberals or otherwise, let us go out and get it.

I am not going to go into the details on CAFTA, the Central America free trade agreement. For whatever reason, the Americans were off the starting block much faster than we were. They ratified it by one vote. Who ended up being hurt? Canadians got hurt. The Canadian pork industry got hurt. The beef industry got hurt. Various other sectors in our economy were damaged because the Central American countries signed the agreement with the U.S. and then our leverage as a country was diminished.

I do not want to see that happen here. I am not standing up to defend the government. I am standing on behalf of my party to defend Canadians, Canadian farmers, Canadian workers, Canadian manufacturers and Canadian producers. That is what it is all about. I and other members attended a luncheon and were very impressed when the minister used a PowerPoint presentation to walk us through the concerns that some of these parties are outlining with respect to other countries.

The European Union, an organization made up of 27 countries, is signing an agreement with Colombia. We know very well that European Union has very rigid guidelines as to its trade agreements. Spain is also signing bilateral agreements with Colombia.

With respect to unions, trade union leaders and workers numbered about 800,000 in 2002. Today, the number has doubled to just over 1.5 million. Who is preventing people from forming unions or associations in Colombia? They have doubled in number. With respect to trade union leaders and workers, in 2002, there were 99 trade unions and in 2009, there were 164. That is an 80% increase. To me, these numbers do not indicate that Colombia is taking away the rights of people to form associations or unions.

I will move on to talk about homicides. In 2002, there were just under 29,000 homicides. In 2009, there were a little over 15,000. We can see the concerted effort that has been made to address the concerns that not only the outside world has, but that they have as well.

In 2002 there were 2,882 kidnappings in Colombia, and in 2009 the number was down to 213. I think that is progress. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

Infrastructure March 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the other day during debate members of the Conservative government were outlining the infrastructure and RInC money given to their ridings. I am happy for them, but for years I have been corresponding with various ministers requesting financial assistance for the building of the first Greek Canadian cultural community centre in Toronto. My correspondence seems to have been passed from one department to the other and one minister to another. The answer is always no, no money.

Greek Canadians are proud Canadians. They too have played a role in building this great country of ours. They too pay taxes. Therefore, I ask this. Why is the Conservative government turning its back on the Green community?

A government is elected to treat its people fairly and equally, especially today, March 25, when Greek Canadians are celebrating Greek Independence Day and the Greek community of Toronto is celebrating its 100th anniversary in Canada. It seems the Conservative government does not like Greek people. What a shame.

Come election time, they will not forget.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 25th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I do agree with one thing the hon. member said, that we will not put human rights before trade. I think all Canadians believe in that.

Last week, in lieu of the concerns that we all have as we move forward, I hosted a round table discussion with Minister Adriana Mejía Hernández to actually discuss this and give us facts.

With all due respect, the Conservative Party was there, the Liberal Party was there, the Bloc was there. I personally invited the NDP there and found it insulting that not one of them showed up to ask questions.

However, my questions are these, because we must deal with facts.

The European Union is dealing with Colombia, that is, the EU with its 27 member countries. It has pretty rigid prerequisites for trade: human rights, et cetera. Some of its members are also dealing with Spain.

In 2000, there were almost 30,000 homicides in Colombia, and now these are down by 50%. In 2002, there were almost 3,000 kidnappings, and now only 213. They talk there about how the number of union members have increased. I could go on, but I just want to point out to the member that what he is dealing with are innuendoes, not facts.

We should go there, work with these people and show them a different way, a Canadian way, and help them overcome some of these difficulties that nation is going through.