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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

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary is absolutely right. There certainly have been improvements, and when we look at what veterans need in our country, we can see that over the years it is very different. As a previous member pointed out in his speech, it is very different from what it was 50 or 60 years ago, and it is more complicated.

If I understand the question from the member correctly, he is referring to the lump sum payment. I do not know if that is exactly what he is referring to, but one of the things we recommended was that an either-or approach is better. Let us give veterans a choice. Offering a lump sum payment or money monthly or yearly for life is one of the important things. That was one of the concerns brought to our committee by a number of veterans, and it certainly was addressed.

Do not get me wrong: we have made improvements. However, I am concerned about those things that I outlined earlier.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be part of this debate today.

The previous speakers have all been correct, including speakers on our side, that this was a unanimous report to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The response was disappointing but not disappointing in all aspects. There were 14 recommendations and the government has indicated that it is already working on the majority of them and that it will come to some resolution in the future, perhaps the near future for some of them. However, the minister is not prepared to act on some of the recommendations and they all have a commonality, which I will talk about in a second.

There are recommendations in our report, and I say our report because I am a member of the veterans affairs committee, that would require, in some cases, a substantial increase in financial and human resources. I do not believe the government is right when it says that it can do these changes and meet these challenges within the existing budgets of veterans affairs.

I am going to outline four recommendations that the government is not prepared to act on or at least it says it will have further study on. The thing that is the same among all of them is that they will cost money. That is the commonality. The other recommendations are simply ways to cut some red tape and ensure there is some smooth transition, all good recommendations. We are pleased that the minister thinks that these recommendations can be acted upon fairly quickly. It is interesting to note that the recommendations that are going to be further studied all involve money.

We heard this morning one member of the government say that there is $4.7 billion in extra spending. The member who just spoke talked about 800 million new dollars every year, which eventually comes to the $4.7 billion. That is how the government comes up with that figure. I do have real figures from the ministry and I will talk about those in a second, too.

I will read the recommendations. Members will see the ones that the government is not prepared to act upon right now and they will see that they all involve money.

First, recommendation 3 is that the most seriously disabled veterans receive financial benefits for life of which an appropriate portion should be transferrable to his or her spouse in the event of death. Witnesses at committee felt that this was critical. The government is going to further study this particular recommendation.

Second, recommendation 4 concerns the earnings lost benefit, that it be non-taxable. There is some confusion here and I hope it is going to be sorted out by the ministry.

Third, recommendation 5 is that all veterans with service-related disabilities and their families be entitled to the same benefits and support as part of their rehabilitation program whether they are former members of the reserve force or the regular force. This is an important recommendation that we put forward in committee and the minister is going to study it but will not act on it right away.

Fourth, recommendation 6 is that the Canadian Forces work with Veterans Affairs Canada to make military family resource centres available to veterans and their families in order to support them in their transition to civilian life. I am not sure why this one needs more study but I suppose there are some funding issues, so money will be spent again.

If we keep in mind the figures that were thrown around a bit earlier, $4.7 billion in new spending, and clarified further by the previous speaker as $800 million a year, which adds up to $4.7 billion. Here are the actual numbers, and I have two sets of numbers here.

Let me talk about the nine service branches that were closed. They were located in Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Sydney, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Kelowna, Prince George, Saskatoon and Brandon. I will not go through all the figures on how much those offices cost over the last number of years but it ranges for all of those offices altogether. Let me talk about Thunder Bay in particular and it will give members an idea.

The Thunder Bay branch comes in around the $650,000 range a year to run. Therefore, we are talking about a considerable amount of money for these offices if we extrapolate that amount with the others.

By the way, I do not have figures for Prince George, because those numbers were not specific and were sort of spread out over the province. However, I do have figures for the rest of them, which I will talk about. For example, in 2013, it took $156,000 to keep the Brandon office open. However, the most expensive one was just a little over $1 million, which was in Sydney.

There was considerable expense involved for these offices, but I was concerned when they were closed. Previous members mentioned that veterans now have 600 and some odd points of service instead, but I did have a question on training and I remain concerned about that.

We have a further list of allotments and expenditures for Veterans Affairs each year, from 2004 to the end of 2013. However, I had also asked what the amount and percentage of all lapsed spending was in the department, broken down over those years, which is very enlightening. While we are talking about these four recommendations that I outlined, which would all cost money to Veterans Affairs, it is interesting to see the money that was lapsed. I would like to go through the years, starting in 2006.

The total allotment in 2006 in Veterans Affairs was $3.2 billion. However, the actual expenditure in that fiscal year was $3 billion. In other words, 8.21% of the money allotted to Veterans Affairs was left unspent, which amounts to $270 million that was lapsed and given back to the government.

When we talk about closing offices and changing the way things are done in Veterans Affairs, I think it is curious to note how much money was lapsed and given back to the government in each of these years.

In 2007-08, the allotment was $3.4 billion for Veterans Affairs, and almost $3.2 billion was actually spent in that fiscal year. Therefore, $246 million lapsed in that year from Veterans Affairs. It was left unspent and ended up going back into the government kitty. In 2008-09, the allotment was $3.4 billion, and $3.3 billion was actually spent, of which $115 million was lapsed and given back to the government in that year.

In 2009-10, the allotment was $3.5 billion, and $3.4 billion was actually spent. There was a lapsed spending amount of $118 million in that fiscal year that was given back to the government. In 2010-11, the allotment was $3.5 billion. The expenditures were actually close to that amount and the lapsed spending amount in 2010-11 was $41 million, which was sent back to the government.

In 2011-12, the allotment was $3.6 billion. Almost $3.5 billion was actually spent with $171 million that was lapsed and given back to the government. In 2012-13, the allotment was $3.6 billion, and $3.48 billion was actually spent. In that year, which is the last year I have figures for as we do not have the new ones yet, the lapsed spending amount was $172 million.

If we extrapolate for this year, we can assume, particularly with the way the government has put lapsed money in all sorts of departments and put it back into the kitty to try to meet whatever its deadlines are to reduce the amount of money that Canadians owe, if we add these up, the lapsed spending since the government took power from Veterans Affairs is in excess of $1 billion.

Over that course of time there was a certain amount of money allotted each year to Veterans Affairs. Money was spent, and the money that was left over the course of the government's tenure so far is in excess of $1 billion given back to the government.

When we talk about closing offices and cutting corners in other areas, it seems pretty clear to me that the argument the government uses of trying to get down the deficit, and so on, is being done, in Veterans Affairs and perhaps in other departments, on the backs of some veterans and perhaps with money that needs to be spent on veterans.

The other thing I would point out is the allotments, and perhaps it is also important to talk about the expenditures for this year. The exact numbers, the actual allotment for 2006 and 2007 was $3,298,686,739. I would call that $3.3 billion, just as a round figure. There were some various increases each year, and these are the government figures, by the way. These figures are signed off by the parliamentary secretary and the minister. It is interesting that in 2013, the actual allotment was $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion.

We are looking at an increase, and we could be generous, if I do some quick calculating, of under $400 million, which has been the increase over these years. It is important to point out that there has been an increase over the years, but the increase is not nearly as much as the government members who have been speaking today seem to think it is. Therefore, we are looking at a little less than a $400 million increase from 2006-07 through 2012-13.

Let me remind the House and those who may be watching at home that today we have heard from government members that there is $4.7 billion in new funding. They will see that does not really make much sense, because the most that has ever been spent in the allotments was in 2011-12, when $3.5 billion was spent by Veterans Affairs. I fail to see where the $4.7 billion in new funding is. If the government is pretty clear on that number of $4.7 billion in new funding, we should be looking at this fiscal year of expenditures over the course of the years as somewhere in the neighbourhood of over $8 billion that Veterans Affairs has spent. The numbers do not bear that out.

The previous member who spoke talked about $800 million a year in extra funding. Let me just indicate what the ministry has sent me in terms of actual numbers. In 2006-07, $3.3 billion was the allotment. Less was spent. In 2007-08, $3.4 billion was allotted. Again, money was lapsed. In 2008-09, $3.4 billion was allotted. In 2009-10, $3.5 billion was the allotment. In 2010-11, $3.5 billion was the allotment. In 2011-12, $3.6 billion was the allotment, and 2012-13, it was $3.6 billion. Again, that was actually a little less than it was in the previous year of 2011-12.

There are two things in play here. One is that the numbers do not make any sense. In fact, there has never actually been, in any year, $4.7 billion in old funding, much less $4.7 billion in new funding in any given year. I stand to be corrected if the government can explain to this House and to Canadians where that $4.7 billion in new funding is.

I suppose that if I wanted to be generous, I could suggest that maybe it came from other departments and was not actually spent by Veterans Affairs. I think it would certainly be beneficial for all of us and for all Canadians to know exactly where that money came from if, in fact, that is the case when we talk about $4.7 billion.

I think it was important to stand to refute those numbers. Again I emphasize that the numbers I am using come directly from the Veterans Affairs ministry.

It is more important for the discussions here to be talking about recommendations put forward by the committee. Other speakers are absolutely right that it was a unanimous report, and all of us understand that the new veterans charter is a living document that we need to continue to improve. One of our mandates in Veterans Affairs will be to continue looking at the new veterans charter and ways to improve it.

However, when we look at those four recommendations that I outlined at the beginning of my speech, we see that they are all the ones that require financial commitments from the government. They are all recommendations that require the government to spend money.

I cannot emphasize this point enough. The lapsed spending in each of these years when the money went back into the government kitty from Veterans Affairs amounts to over $1 billion from 2006 to 2013. As I said, we do not know yet about 2014, but that will add to the total. I am sure that money has been lapsed again, unless the government thinks that it suddenly spent $4.7 billion in 2014. That remains to be seen. We shall see in due course whether that is correct.

Clearly it is unfair of the government to suggest that there is no money and that the recommendations that cost money require further study and another look before the money is spent. The reality is that money was left unspent every year in Veterans Affairs and went back into the general coffers.

I would urge the minister to look again at these recommendations in question. He perhaps could speak to his parliamentary secretary and others involved in the ministry and say, “Listen, it's pretty clear that we did give money back every year from Veterans Affairs and that it went into the general kitty. Surely we can work on these recommendations.”

These were unanimous recommendations, all-party recommendations, and when we are dealing with veterans and their families, it is obviously critical that these things not get delayed.

What we are left with is that the recommendations from the report will be looked at again and studied at a later date. We know that 2015 is just around the corner, so I have to ask when this will be done. When will decisions be made? Will it be before the next election?

We know the next election will be in October of 2015 and perhaps even sooner. Who knows? My fear is that these very valuable recommendations that we in the committee put forward and that all parties agreed upon unanimously will not be dealt with before the next election. I certainly hope they will be.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to thank this member for his service to our country, and for his continued service to our country as a member of Parliament.

He is right in many of the things he says, in particular about the ability of the all-party veterans affairs committee to get along and move forward to help veterans. We have all worked on that, and there was unanimous support.

I will be speaking shortly in this debate, and I hope the member will listen closely as I talk about some of the facts and figures he mentioned.

The member talked about the 700 service points, the 625-ish or so Service Canada points, where service is now available to veterans. I can speak to him later about a particular veteran who did not receive proper service at Service Canada in my riding. Could the member outline for the House, just very briefly, the sort of training that is going on in each of those Service Canada centres to ensure that veterans are getting the right service?

I understand there is about an hour and a half of video training that goes on in those service centres. Could the member either confirm that or illustrate to us a little better what the training is for all of those employees in each of those service centres?

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the member called my figures “preposterous”. In fact, I have the figures all way from 2006. This information is on a form signed by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.

I am not sure why the member thinks my figures are preposterous. Perhaps he thinks the minister is preposterous. I do not know.

I would like the member to explain how he comes up $4.7 billion in new spending, as he said in his part of the debate.

Committees of the House November 6th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I find it curious that the member and the government have been saying for about a year that there is $4.7 billion in new spending for Veterans Affairs. I would like to put this idea finally to rest. Through access to information, I have the actual figures: in fact, $4.7 billion has never been spent in any year for Veterans Affairs, much less as an addition or a top-up to what is spent.

Here are the numbers: in 2006, the allotment was $3.2 billion, with $3 billion spent. It was $3.6 billion as of last year, so when the member says $4.7 billion in new funding, it seems to me it is about $400,000 over the last seven years.

I would like to know where the member finds there is $4.7 billion in new funding, unless maybe a couple of months ago in 2014 $4.7 billion extra, on top of this, was suddenly and miraculously spent.

Remembrance Day November 5th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, like many families on Remembrance Day, we remember those who are serving, modern veterans, and those who went before them.

My two grandfathers both served in the First World War. Just before 1914, my one grandfather lost both his wife and child in childbirth. He was among the first to join the war effort. He entered the war a private, and through battlefield commissions, ended the war a Lieutenant-Colonel.

My other grandfather, a minister, was a pacifist and refused to bear arms, but he believed in the war effort and spent much of the war as a stretcher-bearer on the front lines.

The story of my grandfathers is the story of many Canadians. They were very different men, with very different beliefs, but both stepped forward in the service of our country, our people, and our values when they were threatened.

On behalf of my constituents, from all different backgrounds and beliefs, I would like to thank our active personnel and veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

Gasoline Prices October 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Canadians continue to be gouged at the pumps in northern Ontario. Thunder Bay, Atikokan and Fort Frances have some of the highest gas prices in the country. Despite gas prices falling in the rest of Canada, prices in northern Ontario are not budging. In fact, some are inching upward.

When will the government finally support our proposal for a gas ombudsman to ensure the people of northern Ontario are not being gouged at the pumps?

Canada-Korea Economic Growth and Prosperity Act October 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, indeed, this free trade agreement has been almost nine years in the making. In that time, other players, like the European Union and the United States, made their own free trade agreements with South Korea. It has put us at a great disadvantage. In fact, if we look at the other free trade agreements that the European Union and the United States have made, one might think they actually got better deals than we did in a number of areas.

We have been playing catch-up. Nine years is a long time, while other countries or groups of countries get in to make their own deals.

I do not want to speak for the government, but I suppose that it made deals with some of the other smaller countries and, in some cases, less developed countries because they felt they were easy and would move ahead, and that Korea would be difficult, just as the European Union deal appears to be quite difficult and still ongoing.

Canada-Korea Economic Growth and Prosperity Act October 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my friend is absolutely right. One never knows what could possibly happen as an offshoot of an agreement like this. It is entirely possible.

I will give one possible scenario of a Korean company that finds itself exporting into Canada. Finding that it has extra costs associated with the environmental rules and regulations that it may have in South Korea but that do not exist here and may not be as stringent, it could become a sticking point and something that would need to be negotiated. Alternatively, with the investor state mechanism, perhaps the Canadian government could even be sued over that kind of situation.

It is a problem. Some might say that it is a good thing. Maybe a trade deal with South Korea would improve Canada's action on climate change. That remains to be seen.

Canada-Korea Economic Growth and Prosperity Act October 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, when the NDP looks at trade deals, we use four very important criteria to assess these deals.

Is the proposed partner one who respects democracy and human rights, and does it have adequate environmental and labour standards, and Canadian values?

If there are challenges in these regards, is the partner moving towards these goals?

Is the proposed partner's economy of significant or strategic value to Canada? On this point, I might just comment on the minister's question to the previous speaker.

Currently, seafood from both our coasts is subject, in some cases, to 47% tariffs. Under this deal, not all but most of those tariffs would disappear, which would certainly be good for fishers on both of our coasts. Therefore, on the question of this deal being of strategic value, in many areas it is, and a little later I will talk about the wood and forest industry.

Also, are the terms of the agreement satisfactory, and are they of net benefit to Canada?

There are some issues, which I will talk about in a moment, but on balance, this trade agreement is with a democratic country that has high standards. It is a good deal, and so Canada can support it.

Furthermore, South Korea is an established democracy that has high standards for labour rights, human rights, and environmental protections. It is a large market that offers significant opportunities for Canadian business to gain a foothold in the important Asian market area. Of course, it is also an opportunity for Canada to diversify its trade.

As the forestry critic for the official opposition, I will say a few words about forestry and wood products in this particular deal.

Canada's forestry and wood products industry includes newsprint, wood pulp, wood panels, and other value-added products. Even with the downsizing and the loss of 48,000 jobs in the last few years, the forest industry still contributes over $20 billion to Canada's GDP, and it still employs 230,000 Canadians in primary and secondary manufacturing. Many of these jobs are for high-skilled trades.

Canadian exporters to Korea are really at a disadvantage by tariff lines on Canadian wood products, which are, in some cases, up to 10%. Now, 10% might not sound nearly as bad as up to 47% for some seafood products from Canada, but 10% in a very competitive business means a lot of money on the bottom line for Canadian forest companies.

It is important to note that this free trade agreement would provide growth opportunities for value-added wood products, which would help develop good family-sustaining jobs in the value-added economy. As we move forward, this would be good for the forest and wood products in my critic area.

The Korean free trade agreement is different from the European and China agreements. I will highlight some of the differences, which might help to further explain why we are supporting this trade deal with Korea.

Unlike the China deal, the terms in the South Korea free trade agreement are reciprocal. I think that is a very important element to keep in mind as we move forward in this debate.

The Korea free trade agreement would not apply to provincial, territorial, or municipal procurement or crown corporations, where most Canadian procurement is located. That is good for businesses like Bombardier in my riding, Thunder Bay—Rainy River, so that if the City of Toronto, for example, decides it needs new streetcars, Bombardier can bid competitively and keep its 800 to 1,200 high-paying, family-sustaining jobs in Thunder Bay. That is a good part of this deal that is missing from other trade deals.

The Korea free trade agreement would not apply to or negatively affect supply-managed agriculture products, something the NDP has always protected with the belief—and I know this belief is probably right through this place—that we cannot forget that farmers feed cities in this country and it is important that they be able to keep and work their farms and, hopefully, be able to retire with that income.

The Korea free trade agreement does not contain any negative intellectual property provisions. When I say that, I am thinking of pharmaceutical and copyright, for example. Michael Geist has pronounced positively on the intellectual property terms of the Korea free trade agreement, calling it a “model” agreement.

While the Korea free trade agreement does have investor state provision, it contains transparency guarantees, and we are fully able to cancel that on six months notice. More importantly, particularly for the east coast of Canada, shipbuilding is exempt from federal procurement rules. Therefore, there are some differences, and those differences highlight why New Democrats can support this deal and have perhaps not supported other deals that the government has sought to make.

A question came up earlier in the debate, so I will say a few words about investor state dispute settlements. Quite frankly, an NDP government would not have included investor state dispute settlements in the Korea free trade agreement. Just as a side note, the investor state dispute settlement mechanism in this free trade agreement is also opposed by Korea's main opposition party. An NDP government would negotiate with South Korea to have it dropped. I heard the government say earlier that this is a mechanism that is in all modern free trade agreements. I am not entirely sure that it needs to be; so it needs to be looked at a little more closely.

One would think, as I am speaking, that everything is rosy between the government and the official opposition on this particular bill, but the fact of the matter is that New Democrats proposed six amendments at committee and the government, true to form, dismissed them wholesale. It decided to dismiss these amendments out of hand without a proper discussion or looking at whether these amendments might improve the bill. That is true to form, along with just about everything else that has happened for the last three and a half years in committees. It is unfortunate that the government has always been so heavy handed in terms of amendments.

There are some things New Democrats would like the government to do after this bill passes. We want the government to make sure it supports our automotive industry. We support breaking down trade barriers, but we believe government should provide the support that Canadian industry needs to remain competitive in a more open world economy.

New Democrats also agree with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and others that the government needs to do more than sign trade agreements. It must do more to promote Canadian exports, attract investment, and help Canadian companies penetrate the South Korean and other Asian markets.

The New Democrats want a strategic trade policy where we restart multilateral negotiations and sign trade deals with developed countries that have high standards and with developing countries that are on progressive trajectories. These are countries like Japan, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The bottom line is that this is not the precise agreement that we would have negotiated. There are some problems, as I have outlined, but we will support this free trade agreement.