House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was forestry.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Thunder Bay—Rainy River (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Holidays Act June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill C-597, on the last day of the 41st Parliament. This bill would amend the Holidays Act to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday. That is an important distinction. People watching and listening to this debate might be a little confused with the words “legal” and “statutory”. It is not calling for a statutory holiday. A statutory holiday would be a holiday like Canada Day, a day off that celebrates Canada right across the country. That is not what this bill is asking for.

It is simply asking for a one-word change to section 3 of the Holidays Act. I will read that section with the change in it. After this bill passes, section 3 would read as follows:

November 11, being the day in the year 1918 on which the Great War was triumphantly concluded by an armistice, is a [legal] holiday and shall be kept and observed as such throughout Canada under the name of “Remembrance Day”.

It would simply add one word, “legal”. Again, I have to emphasize that we are not talking about a statutory holiday; we are talking about a legal holiday. I will say a few more words about that in a moment.

Remembrance Day is important, and this change is important. There are four reasons why I think this change is important and I will go through each of them. The first is to commemorate and honour our fallen soldiers and veterans on a national level. Remembrance Day is celebrated and talked about in many different ways across the country, and there is no real unanimity. As we know, every year the number of veterans from past wars diminishes, and I think it is time that we show our support on a national level. Modern and wartime veterans are to be thanked for preserving the democracy that we live in and thrive in today.

I can only go by the experience in my own riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River of what happens on Remembrance Day now. It is interesting to note that with the one-word change, things would likely not change in my riding.

In 1970, Thunder Bay became the city it is today from two separate cities. My riding encompasses the south side of Thunder Bay, which is the old Fort William. In Fort William Gardens every Remembrance Day, without any exaggeration, there are 3,000 to 4,000 people. The complete ice surface, which then is a cement surface, is covered with veterans, presenters, wreath layers, honoured guests, and so on. It is a wonderful celebration of what Remembrance Day means to so many people in Thunder Bay.

On the other side of town, in Port Arthur, there is also a celebration on Remembrance Day, which happens at exactly the same time. However, what is interesting is what happens in the rest of my riding on that day. I attended the Atikokan ceremony last year. I have to pick and choose each year and rotate where I am at 11 o'clock on Remembrance Day. I was in Atikokan last year, where there was a wonderful event put on by the legion. I should also mention that in Thunder Bay the legions are terrific, both on the day before Remembrance Day and the day of, in terms of how they treat everyone who attends to be part of Remembrance Day with them.

In the far west of my riding, at 11 o'clock, Fort Frances has its Remembrance Day ceremony. That is supported and organized by the legion. As one goes down Highway 11 to the end of my riding in Rainy River, the Remembrance Day ceremonies are staggered so that when I am in the west end for a ceremony, I can actually get to Fort Frances, Emo, Stratton, all the way to Rainy River without any problem to be part of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.

When I am in Thunder Bay, I attend the 11 o'clock ceremony. That is eastern time, do not forget. We gain an hour going to the west end of my riding because it is central time. I then hop in my car and drive all the way to the other end of my riding, 500 kilometres, to be at the legion supper in Rainy River. I know that many other MPs do the same sort of thing when they have large ridings.

The point of my talking about that is to emphasize that under this bill what happens now for schoolchildren attending and everybody else making time to be part of the various ceremonies right cross my riding. It would not really change under the bill because we are not talking about a statutory holiday; we are talking about a legal holiday.

A legal holiday would help to provide an equal opportunity for everyone in Canada to observe November 11. It is really a symbolic change and hopefully it would entice provinces that currently do not observe November 11 as a holiday to change their practice. Six provinces and all three territories already observe November 11 as a holiday. Again, the bill would not force the rest of Canada to have a holiday, but it would give it a slightly different status by using the word “legal”, which is an important distinction.

Many people in constituents in my riding, young and old, all attend Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is a solemn time in my riding. Members may or may not know that thousands of young men and women have been involved in war efforts over the years, including, most recently, in Afghanistan. There is a real understanding in Thunder Bay in particular of the importance of Remembrance Day.

While a lot of people already do attend, the bill would go further to encourage all the provinces to give an opportunity for everyone to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies.

My last point is that it important to have an additional opportunity to educate the next generation. I want to say just something very briefly about that. The school boards right across my riding make a terrific effort to have veterans come into the schools. The children enter the poster contests with the legions and so on. There is not one schoolchild in my riding who does not have an understanding and appreciation of Remembrance Day and what that means. The education of the next generation is already happening, and the next generation after that. I suspect it is much the same right across the country in just about everybody's riding. A lot of things would not change with the bill, but it would increase its status somewhat, and I that is important.

I am going to finish off with just a brief recap of the bill and bills like it, and what the history has been in the House. I hope people will get the idea that it is high time to give support a bill like this.

I will talk about the NDP first. The NDP has put forward similar bills in the past. In 2006, our MP for Hamilton Mountain brought forward Bill C-363. She did the same in 2009 with Bill C-287. There have also been two motions in the past: Motion No. 424, in the year 2000 by Nelson Riis; and Motion No. 27, in 2006 by our member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

It is also interesting that in the past the Conservatives have brought forward similar bills. Inky Mark brought forward two bills: one in 2004, Bill C-295; and one in 2006, Bill C-354.

The Liberals have also brought forward bills that are much the same in the past. They brought in two bills and a motion. Ronald MacDonald from Dartmouth brought forward Motion No.699 in 1990, another one in 1991, and another in 1994. Roger Gallaway from Sarnia—Lambton brought forward Motion No. 298 in 2002.

Given the history I have ended my speech on, I can see no reason why we cannot get unanimous support right through the House for this.

Consumer Protection June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, after nearly a decade of Conservative government, Canadians still have no protection from unfair gas prices.

Prices have jumped 40% since mid-January, rising way faster than oil prices, and leaving consumers in Thunder Bay—Rainy River and across the country gouged at the pumps.

Canadians are ready for change. The New Democrats have long called for the creation of a gas ombudsman to ensure competition and protect consumers. Will the Conservatives finally support the creation of a gas ombudsman, or are they okay with Canadian consumers paying these unfair prices?

National Aboriginal Day June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this Sunday is National Aboriginal Day, and by happy coincidence I will not be in Ottawa this year but will have the privilege of joining my brothers and sisters of Fort William First Nation at Mount McKay in their celebrations.

In addition to the traditional celebrations, this year we will also reflect upon the findings and recommendations of Justice Sinclair and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I would also like to personally wish Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy a happy and well-deserved retirement and thank him for his strong leadership over his many years of service in his many important roles.

With the election of a New Democratic government this October, Canadians will finally have a federal government that accepts responsibility for the immense injustices perpetrated upon our founding people by those who came later, a federal government that will make a solemn promise to ensure that these injustices are never repeated, a federal government that will finally work on a nation-to-nation basis with Canada's first peoples so that we can walk together, hand in hand, towards a better future.

Mino-giizhigad. Happy Aboriginal Day. Meegwetch.

The Senate June 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Canadians have had a good look at the depths of Conservative and Liberal entitlement thanks to the Auditor General, and they are not impressed with what they see.

In the wake of the report on senators' expenses, instead of calling for the transformational change that is needed in the Senate, the old-school parties are defending the status quo. Just like the Liberals and Conservatives joined together to pass Bill C-51 in the House, they have teamed up in the Senate to block independent oversight and to rig the expense arbitration process. Why? It is so senators can keep policing themselves.

It is unacceptable. Canadians want real change. New Democrats know that change is not only possible, it is necessary. Canadians can trust the NDP to fix the damage done by the Conservatives, to end the culture of entitlement of the old-school parties, and to bring real change to Ottawa. On October 19, that is exactly what we will do.

Ethics June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are finally starting to get a better picture of the Conservative and Liberal corruption that has taken hold in the Senate. It is not pretty.

Thirty current and former senators have been caught misusing taxpayer funds. Some cases are serious enough to warrant police investigations. Top-ranking Liberals and Conservatives have been implicated, including the Senate speaker, the leader of the government, and the leader of the Liberal opposition. The Speaker was appointed by the Prime Minister less than a month ago.

It also seems that once they were informed the Auditor General had them in his sights, they actually decided to concoct a whole new appeals process so they could disagree with the auditor's findings. To be clear, senators named in the Auditor General's report have put themselves in charge of creating an appeals process to use on themselves. It is outrageous and it is sad.

For too long Canadians have been asked to look the other way and ignore the rot in the undemocratic and unelected Senate. In October, Canadians can vote for the change they want, and actually get it.

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that there is a lot of lip service rather than real concrete action.

I will go back to my earlier comments about a comprehensive review and comprehensive action. I do not believe a review would take that long. It could probably be done in a couple of months if there was a real political will to make it happen.

I think we agree on both sides of the House that if we have a government program that is spending some $60 million annually the taxpayers deserve to know that money is being well spent. The money is being spent. Therefore, as the Auditor General suggested, I think we need to determine whether that money is being spent to the full advantage of taxpayers and of those who are receiving subsidies.

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as I just said, I think a comprehensive review would answer the question of whether the program is running well, whether it needs to add 50 communities, or whether it is not running well. Some of the things I just mentioned that are found in the Auditor General's report should be easy to look at and to make determinations as to whether the program is or is not working well. A good way to put it is that appears to not be working as well as it should.

It is interesting that 27 of the communities that were identified as needing a full nutrition north subsidy are in Conservative ridings. I am not sure why those members have not spoken up. I mentioned three communities in the riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North. I do not know why that member has not spoken up with respect to the program.

When nutrition north was developed, eligibility was determined by lack of access and whether the community had used the old food mail program. As I indicated in my comments, the old food mail program did not always work the way it was supposed to either. Therefore, I am not sure whether the criteria for the new program should be based on a program that really was not working then.

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak on this today. I think it would be instructive for those who are following this debate to have a quick look at what the motion actually says. It is a motion put forward by our member from the Northwest Territories, and it reads thus:

That the House call on the government to take immediate action to fix Nutrition North...and to improve the well-being of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in Northern Canada by: (a) immediately including in the Nutrition North...program the 50 [fly-in] isolated Northern communities...that are not currently eligible for the full subsidy; (b) initiating a comprehensive review of the Nutrition North program, with Northerners as full partners, to determine ways of directly providing the subsidy to Northern residents and to [determine] supports for traditional foods; (c) creating equitable program-eligibility criteria for Northern communities based on their real circumstances; (d) providing sufficient funding to meet the needs of all Northern communities; and (e) working with all Northerners to develop a sustainable solution to food insecurity.

If members have been following this debate over this afternoon and this morning, it is interesting that the Conservatives keep talking about the numbers and that the numbers are different. The 50 communities we have identified in the motion have really been identified by the Auditor General, so we are just agreeing with the Auditor General that something needs to be done.

What does the motion actually mean? What we are hoping is that Canada will create equitable program eligibility criteria for northern communities based on their real circumstances, will provide sufficient funding to meet the needs of all northern communities, and will work with all northerners to develop a sustainable solution for food security.

Let me go back a bit and tell a little personal story about when I lived in the Northwest Territories for five years. I lived under a different program to help with the high cost of food. The federal government, in the early sixties, started the food mail program, and when I lived in the Northwest Territories, that is what I lived under. I lived in two different communities, one on the road system, which was Yellowknife, and one that was off the road system, which was Rankin Inlet, which at that time was part of the Northwest Territories, not part of Nunavut. In my job I had to travel around. I thought it was interesting back in those days that food costs were so high, even under the food mail program, but in Coppermine, which was a fly-in community further north of Yellowknife, a case of beer cost the same as it did in Edmonton. Back in those days, we could have a subsidized alcohol program so that it essentially cost the same as it did in the provincial capital.

That has changed now. I know that there is a liquor board in the Northwest Territories and it is not that way now. However, I think it is instructive to know that there always were some inequalities and some problems with the way the old food mail program worked.

In 1991, when the program was managed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the communities received a transportation subsidy from the department to deliver items to isolated northern communities. Over the years, because of population growth and increasing fuel prices, expenditures increased, and the program often exceeded its budget.

In April 2011, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada introduced nutrition north Canada. The object of the program was to make healthy foods more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated northern communities, which is certainly a worthy goal. However, nutrition north Canada was a transfer payment program based on a market-driven model, which was quite a bit different from the old mail program.

In the spring of 2011, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development conducted hearings on nutrition north. There were many recommendations, but I would like to highlight one of those recommendations, which was that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development conduct a comprehensive review of the nutrition north Canada program after three years.

The government has indicated that it is looking at it. I think that is the terminology I heard today, that it is looking at it. It is going to review it. It has used some other words too, but it does not sound like a comprehensive review to me. Perhaps the intention is to leave it for the next government, after the election on October 19.

One of the other recommendations in the Auditor General's report was that 50 communities be included in the program, either because they were receiving no subsidy at all or were under-subsidized.

We are always talking about Canada's far north. In fact, the northern parts of all provinces should and can be part of this program. For example, in the Kenora riding, if we just look at northwestern Ontario, there are 11 excluded first nations and seven first nations that receive a partial subsidy. It is certainly my belief that all of them should be receiving not just a partial subsidy but possibly a full subsidy. That needs to be determined. Those are the kinds of things we need to have action on. In fact, next door, in Thunder Bay—Superior North, there are three communities identified that should be receiving subsidies and currently do not.

It is not just an issue of Canada's far north. It is an issue that straddles sea to sea to sea, right across Canada and the northern provinces.

What would be really good for isolated and rural Canadians to hear from the government after the AG's report is that it will undertake a comprehensive review. I am not sure that is going to happen. It will be unfortunate if it does not.

The program, at least according to a number of northerners, was not rolled out very carefully. It was not clear what the parameters were of this program. In fact, in March 2012, Yukon's legislative assembly voted unanimously for changes to the program. In May 2013, the Nunavut legislative assembly and the Northwest Territories legislative assembly both voted unanimously for the audit the Auditor General eventually did. That indicates that there are problems with the program and that there were problems, perhaps, with the rollout of the program.

To be fair, even back in the early 1960s, there were problems with the old mail program too. I do not have the background to know what kind of comprehensive reviews were done of that program in the 1960s and 1970s, but I am sure that there were calls to look at that program.

I am sure I will have a question from one of my Conservative friends, but perhaps someone could give us an idea, from their point of view, as to why nutrition north actually came in to replace that other program.

The Auditor General agreed to conduct the audit, and it was released this past fall, the fall of 2014. Here are some of the things the Auditor General found.

First and foremost was that the department has not based community eligibility on need, which is interesting. Members should keep that in mind as I go down the list.

The Auditor General also found that the department has not verified whether northern retailers passed on the full subsidy to consumers. That is another interesting one, because we have a government that talks about transparency, but apparently, this program is not that transparent, and it needs to be.

As well, the Auditor General found that the department has not collected the information needed to manage the nutrition north Canada program or measure its success. The program has been in place since April of 2011, yet there do not seem to be any tools to actually measure how successful it has been or is presently.

The Auditor General also found that the department has not implemented the program's cost-containment strategy.

There are a number of things that the Auditor General has found. The point I am trying to make with respect to the Auditor General is that I hope that instead of looking at that, the government would do a comprehensive review, which could start right now, even though there is an election on the horizon.

Business of Supply May 25th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I would like to let the minister know that elevating the creditor status of pension plans during bankruptcy proceedings in fact would cost the government zero. It would not cost it anything, and it would ensure that workers receive what they are owed.

It is a very simple question to the finance minister. Why does the government oppose this, and why is it not in the budget?

Business of Supply May 25th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the minister what financial impact the minister thinks it would have for the federal government to elevate the creditor status of pension plans during bankruptcy proceedings.

If he did not understand the question, I can ask it again.