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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

Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member from Manitoba is absolutely right. What he was alluding to, and what he was maybe a little too polite to say in the House, was that since 2011, no opposition amendments, whether Liberal or NDP, have been accepted by the government.

Canadians understand and expect that one of the things we do in this place is try to make legislation better. That is why it gets voted on. That is why it goes to committee for amendments.

We had a number of amendments, as did the Liberals, to improve this bill. The end result, and not just with this bill but with a whole host of other bills, is that there will be challenges in court. There will be changes by regulation, not by legislation. Legislation, of course, would come back to the House, but regulation would be in the hands of the minister.

We are doing Canadians a disservice by not looking seriously at the amendments that the opposition brings forward on these bills.

Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, there is a difference between farmers' rights and farmers' privileges, and we prefer to think of them as farmers' rights.

One of the problems we have with the farmers' privilege part of this bill is it means that plant breeders could potentially generate revenue on a farmer's entire production, not just on the initial seeds that have been sold to the farmer, but throughout the whole production cycle rather than just on the seed produced to grow the crop. This could significantly impact the profit margins of farmers.

Some farmers in my riding say that maybe that is not all bad, that if they want to end load the royalties to the actual result of the crop, maybe that is a good thing if the crop fails. Maybe they would save some money. That is certainly a consideration. I have talked to a couple of farmers about that. If farmers harvest poor crops, they would pay less on the end point.

The worry is that it just will not be one or the other; it may be all along the whole line, not only royalties on the seeds and the harvest, but everything in between. That is a real concern because it is one of those grey areas that I talked about in my speech.

Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to use my remaining time at this point. I will remind you that I am sharing my time with the member for Compton—Stanstead.

Let me say very briefly, from the three minutes before the S. O. 31s, that we do farm in northern Ontario and agriculture is an important part of our economy in northern Ontario. I like to remind all the members whenever I can that the Prairies begin in my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, and farming is a critical part of what we do.

It is my pleasure to speak to the bill. In my remaining time, I would like to speak to two things. One is about plant breeders' rights as they appear in the bill. The other is about one of the good things that appears in the bill, and that is improvements to the advanced payments system.

I would also like to talk about the advanced payments program because it is an important program for farmers who live in my riding.

Bill C-18 would make changes to nine different pieces of legislation, some of which we support and some which pose significant concerns.

First, we are troubled by the sweeping powers that are granted to the minister, which is always a concern, including the power in the regulations to unconditionally exempt farmers' rights and privileges on a case-by-case basis.

I find it interesting that the government refers to plant breeders' rights, but talks about farmers' privileges. We on this side happen to believe that these are farmers' rights, not privileges. For some people, that might be splitting hairs, but there is a big difference between rights and privileges.

The Plant Breeders' Rights Act moves Canada toward the ratification of the 1991 model law of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. This has been coming for some time. From 1991 until now is a long period of time. It expands the rights afforded to plant breeders for the varieties they develop and increases the places along the value chain where plant breeders can collect royalties. That will come up in the advanced payments section when I chat about that.

Bill C-18 includes new exclusive rights for plant breeders such as reproduction, conditioning, sale, export or import, repeated use to produce commercially another plant variety if the repetition is necessary for that purpose, and stocking for the purpose of any of the protected acts.

The term of the grant to the plant breeders rights has been increased in some cases to 25 years, in the case of trees and vines, for example, and includes a new clause which grants, and I alluded to this before, farmers' privileges, allowing farmers to save seed and condition seed for purposes of production and reproduction on their own farm.

As I said, we would have preferred to get rid of one of the grey areas in the bill. In my previous comments, I referred to the fact that farmers' privileges should actually be farmers' rights. It is important to note that this privilege was not extended to the storing of seed or the sale of harvested material from protected seed. The government adopted an amendment to include conditioning, but we believe this is still not explicit enough and leaves this area grey.

Bill C-18 also would grant CFIA the ability to make changes through regulation, to which circumstances and classes of farmers and varieties would be covered under the farmers' privileges. It would protect the right of researchers to use patented materials as the basis for developing a new variety or for another research use.

It would make a number of other changes, but because of my limited time, I will say that we have some major concerns regarding the clauses that deal with farmers' privilege. These should be farmers' rights, not privileges. I cannot emphasize that enough.

The bill does not adequately clarify or protect the fullest of activities that producers have called for, such as exchanging, cleaning and selling. Therefore, it remains a concern.

Let me reiterate that there are some good things in this bill, and I would like to highlight one, particularly for the farmers in my riding, which are the changes to the advance payments program. For those who do not know, the advance payments program is a financial loan guarantee program that gives producers easier access to credit through cash advances. This program provides producers with a cash advance on the value of their agricultural products during a specific period. This improves the cash flow of producers throughout the year and helps them meet their financial obligations so they can benefit from the best market conditions.

Essentially, the advance payments program has been expanded. Because there are a lot of beef farmers in my riding, there is one section that is particularly important. What this expanded access to the advance payments program does is allow for regulatory changes to cover breeding animals under the program, which, hopefully, can result in more opportunities for farmers to access the program. Animals that are or were used as breeding animals were not previously included under this program, so it is particularly heartening to see this part in the bill.

It also increases flexibility for producers on a number of fronts, including security arrangements, proof of sale and means of repayment. Not all of the people who appeared before committee were pleased with this bill, though a number were. There were mixed results. There are some things the New Democrats certainly support, but some things we do not.

Agricultural Growth Act November 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with our member for Compton—Stanstead, whose remarks I look forward to.

As members will know, my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River is fact at the beginning of the Prairies. I always find it interesting that when Conservatives stand to talk about the Prairies, they do not talk about northwestern Ontario as the beginning of the Prairies. However, we have a lot of farmers in my riding, we have a lot of farmers in northwestern Ontario. Indeed, we have a lot of farmers in northern Ontario. I think many people seem to forget that farming takes place right across this country, not just in the Prairies.

This is an interesting bill. There are some good things in the bill, but I do have some concerns. They revolve around two areas. The first is what Conservatives are calling “farmers' privilege”, which we prefer to call “farmers' rights”. The difference between “rights” and “privilege ” some may say is not that important, but I think there is an important distinction to be made.

The other area concerns the seven amendments that we put forward that would have clarified a number of grey areas in the bill. The problem with grey areas being in a bill is that things are not then spelled out, which means, almost for certain, that there will be some litigation down the road and that the judges will not have a lot to go on because the bill is a little too grey. I was disappointed that the government was not interested in putting those amendments forward, which will try to outline as I go forward.

There is another issue in that regard. When there are grey areas and a bill gets passed, any changes that need to be made are made by regulation. They are not made by coming back to the House to be done in legislation. What that will do, in essence, is give the minister, whoever the minister will be at the time, very wide discretion as to how he or she proceeds.

Those two things were not really addressed in the bill, although we made every attempt to do so.

We have always believed that it is essential to have a balanced approach when talking about plant breeders and plant breeders' rights, and this bill simply would not get us here.

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to continuing after question period.

Veterans Affairs November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the government can claim that the money will be carried forward, but that simply is not the case. It is gone. The Conservatives spent it on VIP jets for European trade negotiators and tax cuts for their corporate friends.

Now the Conservatives claim that they had to make a $5.3 million cut to close veterans offices, but they had already frittered away $1.1 billion. What is the explanation, and why do veterans in Thunder Bay now have to drive for hours to get to another Veterans Affairs office?

Regional Economic Development November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources, which owns the rights to most of the Ring of Fire mining project in northern Ontario, said that he had “zero hope” and that the project was “beyond the point of no return”.

The people of northern Ontario are fed up with having to listen to the Conservative Minister of Natural Resources make endless excuses about why he cannot get this $50-billion mining project, located in his own riding, off the ground. Likewise, they are tired of hearing the Ontario Liberals return the favour. It is like listening to the Keystone Kops; he said, she said.

The people of northern Ontario are good and honest people, and they know when they are being sold a false bill of goods. They are tired, and they want action on the Ring of Fire, not excuses. They know that our NDP leader is a man of action. Just a few weeks ago, he appointed Howard Hampton to be his special advisor on the Ring of Fire.

In the end, Conservatives and Liberals fiddle while the Ring of Fire burns. The good people of northern Ontario know they can count on Canada's NDP to get the job done.

Veterans Affairs November 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the truth is this: Last year, nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada were closed by the Conservatives. That included more than 3,000 veterans in Thunder Bay who lost their office.

These unnecessary cuts saved the current government just $5 million, the same amount now being spent on advertising about how well the government treats veterans. We have seen the guy dressing in front of the mirror: $5 million. That is $5 million taken from veterans so the government can spend $5 million on advertising.

Why is the minister more focused on papering over his government's atrocious record on veterans than on providing actual care to veterans?

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is what the concern is. For many Canadians, the closing of these offices came out of the blue. The concern that one naturally has is about the transition. On one hand, the Conservatives say that we now have 600-odd service points and it is even easier for veterans to access services, or so they say.

However, it appears to me from speaking to veterans that the transition has not been good. I have to ask the government when the transition to the point where everybody is knowledgeable in these service centres will happen. Also, is the money coming out of a different account? Members have heard my own description of the accounts.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in answer to that question, let me just relate a recent case in Thunder Bay.

As members know, that office has been closed. There was a Second World War veteran who went to Service Canada. He stood in line for a fairly lengthy time. When he finally got to the person who was going to help him, her only response was, “There's nothing we can do for you here. Why don't you talk to your local Legion?”

That story is horrendous. I would like to think that story is not repeated across the country. We heard from a previous speaker that after the nine offices were closed, there were dedicated Veterans Affairs staff, one from each of those offices, who moved into the Service Canada points. However, that is nine service points.

My concern is that the government is not going to follow through on proper training for at least one point person in each of those Service Canada offices to ensure that the services are there. When veterans wait in line and are told to go talk to their local Legion if they need some financial help, there is something wrong.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it certainly is a concern as we talk about PTSD. Fifty or 60 years ago, it was not even a conversation that was going on in our country.

Part of the problem, and the reason we are so concerned on the veterans affairs committee and so concerned about the ministry as it moves forward, is that people will fall through the cracks. Many veterans will not access veterans affairs services for 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. Perhaps they ignore warning signs that they may be suffering from PTSD and will need services in the future. That is why it is critical for veterans affairs to have the tools and financing it needs to ensure that no one falls through the cracks and everyone has an opportunity to access services.

That is why I would like to ask for unanimous consent to table the responses by the government, signed by the Minister of Veterans Affairs and tabled March 2014 in both official languages, to my order paper questions Q-171 and Q-173. These are figures I have been looking at and talking about in the House. I am hoping we could find unanimous consent to do that.