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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

Liberal Party of Canada February 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, for most Canadians, today is Valentine's Day, but for Liberals it must feel more like Halloween, as ghosts from past scandals are returning to haunt them.

Last night Radio-Canada reported on another potential kickback scheme from well-connected Liberal insiders. Under this reported scheme, $1.5 million was deposited by a go-between into a Swiss bank account, an account with the code name “Zorro”.

This account was opened just 20 days after SNC was awarded a $127 million contract to refurbish a Montreal bridge. Who owned the Zorro account? It was owned by none other than Michel Fournier, Jean Chrétien's former chief of staff.

Once again Canadians are reminded why they removed the corrupt Liberals from office. After hearing admissions of fraud and Senate corruption, Canadians can do the same to the Conservatives in the next election.

Fortunately, people know the NDP can be trusted to deliver better and to fight corruption like Zorro.

The Budget February 13th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech by the member. It is interesting that there was no mention of northern Ontario, FedNor, or the Ring of Fire in this budget. The Ring of Fire is $60 billion, and the government cannot come to the table. There were a number of NDP MPs up there last Friday. We talked to the stakeholders who, in unison, said that the federal government was absent; so I was hoping there would be some mention of that in the budget.

The member mentioned FedNor. It was not mentioned in the budget. In fact, over the last four or five years, tens of millions of dollars have disappeared from FedNor. I was hoping some of that money would come back in this budget. As I believe we have four Conservative MPs in northern Ontario, why do the Conservatives hate northern Ontario so much?

Consumer Protection February 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the cost of living in rural and northern communities is much higher than in urban communities. For many, the cost of keeping their homes warm has reached a tipping point.

As Teresa from Atikokan wrote to me recently:

The propane truck just drove away after filling our tank. It was the first time we've filled it since last May. You can imagine my shock when we discovered the price had risen 80% since our last fill up.

That is right, the cost of heating her home has risen 80% in less than a year.

There are many stories like Teresa's. Brian in Nolalu, Kathy in South Gillies, and many others living in Thunder Bay—Rainy River, are hurting.

The Canadian Propane Association insists that there is no shortage in Canada.

Well, if there is no shortage as the industry claims, then it must be yet another case of price gouging by an industry that targets a captive consumer during a time of need.

The Minister of Finance will not notice the price spike until he goes to fill up his barbecue tank at his cottage this summer, but the Canadians he serves are suffering today and deserve action.

If the Conservative government turns its back on rural Canadians on this issue, as they have on so many other issues, then Canadians should know that the NDP is ready to get to work and make life more affordable for them, beginning in 2015.

Business of Supply January 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I cannot speak for the Liberal government before, as the minister started to chat about.

I think the minister missed the whole point of what I was trying to say. I am not sure if she caught the whole thing. What I was trying to explain to this House is that we are talking about front-line services. We are talking about services that are disappearing for future vets, particularly for wartime veterans.

One of the things that should not be changed for someone who is trying to live independently, someone who is 93 years old and is a World War II vet, is the rules. The services that have always been provided should continue to be provided.

The minister intimated that I was dissing Service Canada staff. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the government has cut Service Canada staff. It is cutting Service Canada staff, then it is going to train one of them in veterans affairs. We have already heard from a Liberal member that the training is not there or is not adequate. Service Canada staff will continue to work as hard as they can with the limited resources the government is giving them.

Business of Supply January 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my friend brings up a very good point. The numbers fluctuate in Veterans Affairs. There will be 6,000 new veterans coming out in the next couple of years. Younger veterans may not need the services right now. They might need them in five, ten, or fifteen years. They have not even gone to Veterans Affairs for any help, but perhaps they will go to Veterans Affairs for help. The numbers fluctuate.

When the Conservatives say that there are fewer war-time veterans, that is true. They are decreasing every year, and that is a sad and unfortunate fact. The fact of the matter is that there are lots of veterans coming up, in both the RCMP and the armed forces, who will be taking their places as they age.

Business of Supply January 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, of course that is not a good level of service. It is not even close. We are talking about respect and dignity for veterans and their families. That is really the bottom line.

It is unbelievable. The existing employees in Service Canada are already overworked and already have to do too much and cannot keep up with the day-to-day duties, because those numbers have been cut too. Even specialized people who are in the offices right now were not moved to Service Canada. We have maybe one person in a Service Canada outlet who is going to have some sort of training in veterans affairs. I do not know how the Conservatives can even start to claim that this would be an improved level of service.

Business of Supply January 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to speak on this very important motion that will be voted on tonight in the House.

What I hope to do in my short time, before I hand it off to my colleague from St. John's East, is to talk about some things that no one has talked about here today. I have listened to the debate and there are some things that have been said that are counterintuitive and do not make any sense, so I am going to try to make sense of some of them and try to get to the bottom of things.

I first want to talk about the offices closing. Veterans this week came to Ottawa hoping to meet with the Minister of Veterans Affairs about the impending closures. They were joined by some concerned staff and members of PSAC. Unfortunately, they were snubbed by the minister, if I can put it that way. He kept them waiting, failed to show up at the scheduled meeting, and then disrespectfully dismissed their concerns. Those are not my words, but the words of the veterans who came to Ottawa, including Roy Lamore, a Second World War veteran from Thunder Bay. They were rightly upset, which people saw on the news last night, and a number of them have called for his resignation.

The thing that sticks out in my mind and perhaps in many people's minds was indeed Roy Lamore, who has been a activist for veterans for over 70 years in this country. It was he who said “hogwash” just before the minister walked out of the meeting. We are probably going to hear more of that kind of terminology later, as time goes on.

Just before I stood to speak, there was a conversation going on back and forth about the number of veterans. I remind people that these offices also deal with 25,000 RCMP veterans and their families. That is often forgotten in this discussion. There are 25,000 RCMP veterans and their families. When Conservatives talk about investing $4.7 billion in Veterans Affairs, consider this: when Ste. Anne's Hospital is transferred and all the other cuts happen, there will be approximately 2,000 people cut from Veterans Affairs.

If we look at the Conservative cuts across all of the departments on a percentage basis, Veterans Affairs has the largest personnel cut of any department and the staff involved will all be gone by 2015, some time in the next year. All of those 2,000 people will be gone. That is the first point. It is a little counterintuitive for the government to say it is increasing service but cutting 2,000 people. How does it rationalize that? It says it is transferring the offices to 620 Service Canada points. I want to say a couple of things about that.

I heard Conservative member after Conservative member today say these people will be trained. We know from the 2012 ombudsman's report that the government does not have a good record of training anyone. I want to talk about that a little later when I talk about mental health. At least 620 people are going to be trained. These are not new positions at Service Canada, but people who are already there. Keep in mind that Service Canada is already understaffed and overworked. If anyone has to go to Service Canada for any help, that person would find that is very readily the case. Some of the people who are already there will supposedly be trained in Veterans Affairs issues. That is one of the things that disturbs veterans, particularly wartime veterans, the most.

In short, the government is going to let go of all the people who already have expertise, the people whom veterans have been dealing with, in some cases for many years, helping them with their issues. It will then train new people who will have Veterans Affairs business on top of all their other business, such as CPP disability, EI and all sorts of other things. To say the service is going to be better, well, it is absolutely impossible that it would get better.

What happens now in a typical Service Canada office? People wait in line for maybe 15 or 20 minutes or half an hour, if they are lucky, and then they will see someone who will say, “Have a seat over there while we wait for someone to be free”.

Now we could assume that 620 people are going to be trained by the current government, but in fact they are not going to be trained. So it is going to be a fiasco for those who are 93 years old to make their way to the Service Canada office to get some kind of service. It is a big problem.

Service Canada staff are excellent. Those people work hard and do the best they can, but to add more duties and training onto a job they do not really have or know anything about is going to be very difficult for the veterans.

I have received a couple of emails from constituents asking what exactly the closures mean. They hear the back and forth. They hear from the veterans and the minister, but what does it actually mean?

Well, this is what it means. One office has already been closed, more are closing, including the office in Thunder Bay. These offices provide critical and specialized services for the Canadian Forces and, as I said before, 25,000 RCMP retired members and their families. These services include assistance with accessing benefits and services, support for mental health services issues, crisis intervention, and helping elderly veterans access services to live independently in a one-on-one environment. It also means that veterans will have to travel to other cities if they want that face-to-face interaction for front-line services, or be forced to try to access service online or by telephone.

Last week I tried the 1-866-522-2122 number. Although I did not get anyone, it seemed as if the message I got was, “Well just hold on and enjoy 40 minutes of flute music and we'll see if we can get back to you”. It is just not a suitable situation.

Of course, many seniors do not have online services or cannot get access to them. I live 30 minutes from Thunder Bay and I do not have cellphone service or Internet service. I am not exactly sure how seniors across the country will be able to access these services. Of course, it is especially difficult for elderly veterans or those suffering from PTSD.

Veterans will lose that long-term relationship they have, and I think that is one of the things missing from the government's discussion here. Many of these veterans have built up long-term relationships with staff at regional offices, which is especially important for veterans young and old, wartime and modern veterans who have complex needs, particularly mental needs. To deal with telephones, or to go online, or to travel a long distance simply does not make sense. It would involve travelling long distances to meet people who likely would not have the same training as the people who are there now.

I will give one simple example of the difficulties that people have not talked about.

One of the services that the wartime veterans get is snow removal. What used to happen was that the Veterans Affairs office would help the veteran coordinate the snow removal service, ensuring that someone was hired to remove the snow, making sure they got paid, and so on and so forth. What will happen now is that the veteran will get a cheque at the beginning of the snow season based on last year's snow.

Last year in Thunder Bay there was hardly any snow, but there is lots of snow this year. So when the veterans run out of money halfway through, can members imagine their phoning or being online with Service Canada saying, “I've run out of money for my snow removal”. Is that going to get sorted out? I do not think so. It would get sorted though if Veterans Affairs offices remained open and if there were that face-to-face contact.

It is really disingenuous for the government to say there are fewer and fewer veterans. There are more veterans. There will be almost 6,000 new veterans released from the Canadian Armed Forces in the next year.

I could go on and on. I know members would like me to, but in closing, I would appeal to the minister that at the very least he keep these offices open until all of these other people, these 620 people or so, are trained.

Veterans Affairs January 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have cut vital services that veterans rely on. They have called veterans “NDP hacks” when they complain. Now the minister has held a so-called round table. Why? Apparently it was so he could insult veterans to their faces.

In Thunder Bay, the Conservative government has betrayed local veterans and is closing our Veterans Affairs office on Friday. Second World War veteran Roy Lamore said it is “a disgrace”. This office was helping to support veterans when they were at their most vulnerable.

Our military personnel and veterans are facing a crisis. There have been eight suicides in just two months. Sadly, the Conservatives have been more focused on using the military to boost their brand than listening to veterans.

These brave men and women serve Canada with courage and distinction. Our duty is to be there for them in their moment of need, not abandon them to budget and service cuts. Members should make no mistake. New Democrats have always stood, and will continue to stand, shoulder to shoulder with our veterans.

Pensions December 10th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, by voting against last night's NDP motion on CPP, the government made it clear that retirement security for people in northern Ontario and right across Canada is not a Conservative priority.

In June, the Minister of Finance promised to work with the provinces on fixing CPP. Experts agree a modest phased-in CPP increase is the right way to go, but the Minister of Finance now does not believe the experts and is breaking his promise.

Why is the minister letting politics trump good public policy?

Ethics November 25th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, it seems not a week goes by without more of the truth slipping out about what really happened in the PMO-Senate scandal. Despite the claims of the Prime Minister, Canadians know that Nigel Wright did not act alone.

Yesterday Jason MacDonald, the Prime Minister's own director of communications, described “the cover-up that we now know took place”. MacDonald even admitted that criminal activity occurred. He said “The RCMP makes very clear...who it is they believe may have been involved in what ultimately amounts to criminal activity”.

The PMO is accusing the PMO of criminal activity at the highest levels of the Prime Minister's Office.

While Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright are no longer employed by the Conservatives, the remaining staff and senators named in the RCMP documents still have their taxpayer-funded jobs. It is time for the Prime Minister to stop weaving his web of stories. It is time for the Conservatives to tell Canadians the truth.