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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

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-24, particularly in light of the fact that later this week, on Friday, I will be at a citizenship ceremony in Thunder Bay. I try to get to as many as I can. I have not been to all of them, of course, but I will be there.

A citizenship ceremony is a wondrous thing. It is filled with people who have worked long and hard and who have spent a lot of time, and in many cases a lot of money, to get to where they are at that citizenship ceremony. One thing that really stands out above all at a citizenship ceremony, as I know my colleagues will agree, is that it is clear from looking at the faces of these new Canadians that Canadian citizenship is something of enormous value. For everyone who is becoming a new Canadian on Friday, with their families, friends, and relatives in attendance, Canadian citizenship is really something that is an apex for many people in their lives at this point.

Unfortunately, with Bill C-24 and with many other things the government does, we see an approach that plays politics with the issue. We have seen that a lot with the government. I would like to take my time today to speak about the good—because there is some good that I can certainly agree with—the bad, and in some cases, the ugly in the bill. I will try to use my time wisely.

First, as a little background, we were hoping that the minister would commit to working with the NDP to bring real improvements to our citizenship laws. Instead, he opted to go on with a bill that in many cases is likely to be unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the committee rejected every one of our proposed amendments to the bill, amendments that perhaps could have made it good and good, instead of good and bad.

Canadians expect us to collaborate in this place and come up with absolutely the best bills possible for the benefit of all Canadians. However, since the 2011 election we have not seen that. We have not seen the collaboration that Canadians expect in this place.

Now, here is a bill that will likely be passed. It is a majority government. The Conservatives were not willing to listen to any amendments. On top of everything else, they do not care if it is challenged in the courts. They just want to go right ahead and do it and let someone else worry about it. That is not what Canadians expect us to do in this place.

Let me speak about some of the provisions that I just cannot agree with and some that I can. Let me start with the ones that I cannot.

Bill C-24 gives the minister many new powers, including the authority to grant or revoke citizenship of dual citizens. It should not be the job of the minister of citizenship and immigration to make these kinds of judgments. Before it was done by Governor in Council, by cabinet. It was done by a larger group of people. At one time, up until now, a judge would be involved. The judge would have to make some details known and make a determination of some kind. However, this government has a very strong tendency to develop legislation that concentrates more powers into the hands of ministers.

Needless to say, we condemn this practice. We do not trust the Conservatives, and by giving a minister new powers, we open the door to arbitrary and politically motivated decisions. The very idea of giving the minister, by himself, the power to revoke citizenship raises serious concerns, and it is on this principle that we can talk about this issue.

Another problem with revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens is that it would create two-tier citizenship, where some Canadians could have their citizenship revoked while others would be punished by the criminal justice system for the same offence.

Let me talk about how the minister, under the provisions of the bill, could revoke citizenship. If he or any staffer he authorizes is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that a person has obtained citizenship by fraud, until now such cases have all typically gone through the courts and cabinet, but that will not be the case anymore.

A person could be convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code, and these are serious offences, such as treason, high treason, or spying, or of an offence outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute a terrorism offence, for example, as defined in that section, or sentenced to five years imprisonment.

We cannot rely on justice systems outside of this country. We have a justice system in Canada that we believe is fair, honest, and decent, but frankly, some countries in the world do not have the same kind of justice system we have. To base the revocation of citizenship on something that may have happened in another country, and I will go into more detail about that later, does not make any sense at all.

The minister would have the authority under the bill to grant citizenship. At present, and I think I mentioned this before, it rests with the Governor in Council, which is the cabinet. Bill C-24 would transfer this power directly to the minister. This measure was introduced by the minister as a means of improving services for applicants by simplifying and speeding up the process. Specifically, the measure raises concerns, because the minister has indicated that the list of persons to whom he would grant citizenship would not be disclosed. Once again, we see the government's lack of transparency, and that should raise red flags. It certainly does with us, and it certainly does with the third party, and it should with all Canadians.

Bill C-24 provides no real solution to reducing the growing backlog and citizenship application processing delays. There has been some money allotted in the last two budgets to help speed up the process, but the fact remains that there are 320,000 applications still waiting to be dealt with.

Let me go back very quickly to Friday when I will be at the citizenship ceremony. The people who are becoming new Canadians this Friday in Thunder Bay are very fortunate and very, very lucky, because 320,000 people are still waiting to have their applications dealt with.

I do not want to belabour this point, because some other speakers have talked about it, but it is about the declaration of the intent to reside. The bill would introduce a requirement that if granted citizenship, a person would intend to continue to reside in Canada. I do not know what the government would do if a person became a Canadian citizen and then received a job overseas and was gone for two years working in another country and was not actually resident here in Canada. It is not addressed in the bill, and it is going to be a problem.

The bill would prohibit the granting of citizenship to persons who have been charged outside of Canada with an offence that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence. Again, we would have the minister, who would be the sole arbiter now, if the bill were passed, of who could stay in Canada and who could not stay in Canada, which would depend partly on the justice systems of other countries. In other words, a person convicted of practising homosexuality in another country, and we know that there are many countries where this is illegal, would be prohibited from becoming a citizen of Canada. That just does not make any sense.

I see I have three minutes left, so I will try to be very quick here. There are some provisions we can support.

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act June 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member for Markham—Unionville was on CBC recently. He was being skeptical about the government's promise to reduce the processing time from upward of 36 months to under one year. He went on to say that it was just in time for an election year.

Is he really that cynical?

Conservative Party of Canada June 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, one has to feel sorry for the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. She left NATO documents in an airport, to be found by Sheila Copps.

However, after all, leaving NATO documents lying around is actually a bit of a Conservative tradition.

It was the member for Beauce, the then minister of foreign affairs, who first perfected the practice in 2009. Then the only defence was that the documents were classified but not that classified.

Now it is only Tuesday, but it has been quite a week so far for the Conservatives.

Just yesterday, the trial of a former staffer in a voter suppression scheme began in Guelph where dozens of Conservatives are expected to testify.

Bruce Carson's former escort was called as a witness for the preliminary inquiry in his trial.

Patrick Brazeau's legal team asked for more time before a pre-trial hearing on charges of breach of trust.

All the while, the NDP has been asking questions about privacy and climate change, while the Conservatives and the Liberals, as usual, hide behind secret meetings and magically invented rules.

Petitions June 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in the second petition, the petitioners are calling for a stop to the violence against bus drivers.

The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to amend the Criminal Code in order to establish a separate offence sanctioning the aggression committed against drivers of buses in their functions and establishing more severe penalties against their aggressors.

Petitions June 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present.

In the first petition, the petitioners draw to the attention of the House of Commons and the government the Canada Post plan to reduce services, including the elimination of home delivery to five million households, which is drastic, along with the increase of postal rates.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, many in the private sector, as evidenced by the statistics I gave earlier, do not even know how to read the resumés of people who have been in the Canadian Forces. It is understandable that a human resources director may not see how valuable experience as an infantryman is, for example, when it may not translate exactly into a particular business. I believe that as part of this bill, the government should be reaching out to private sector organizations, not just to public sector organizations, to ensure that veterans have the best opportunities possible.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, most Canadians do not realize that the RCMP is included under Veterans Affairs, and I think the government may think that RCMP veterans, in fact the large majority of RCMP veterans, have actually worked their entire lives and have retired at an opportune time from the RCMP. It does not address issues concerning RCMP veterans who are perhaps injured in the line of duty.

We do not have to talk about physical injuries. Just like members of the Canadian Forces, members of the RCMP are also subject, perhaps even more so, to certain injuries, such as PTSD, for example, and others that would put them on a new career track if they were included in this bill.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. As I said in my short speech, I believe that the bill does not go far enough. It focuses on a very small number of veterans in transition. He is absolutely right that even that small number of veterans may not have the opportunity to take advantage of priority hiring. It really is unfortunate. If the government had decided to implement some of the career transition recommendations made by the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General, perhaps we would be in a better position to help veterans.

I would be remiss if I did not mention again that, unfortunately, the government is balancing its budget on the backs of veterans, in spite of the good work of all parties on the new veterans charter, which will be tabled tomorrow.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laurentides—Labelle.

I support this bill at second reading. This bill, just as a bit of historical reference, is a reworking of Bill C-11, which previously died on the order paper. I certainly welcomed this new bill, thinking that it would go a bit further than Bill C-11. Unfortunately, while I am supporting it at second reading, there are some issues with this bill. It still does not go far enough in addressing the shortcomings of the previous bill, Bill C-11.

Bill C-11, the previous bill, and this bill, Bill C-27, are based on many criticisms levelled by veterans groups and the Veterans Ombudsman regarding the government's career-transition services. Unfortunately, this bill overlooks an entire group of veterans who have trouble transitioning to a new career. The vast majority of veterans do not have the necessary degrees to obtain a position in the public service, and of course, many are simply not interested in a career in the public service.

The bill would amend a number of sections and would offer priority status to members of the Canadian Forces released for medical reasons, placing them in the highest priority category ahead of both surplus employees and persons on leave. It also would increase the length of the priority entitlement period from two years to five years. It is important to note, and many people may not realize it, that Veterans Affairs also includes RCMP veterans. RCMP veterans would not be eligible for this new priority.

The bill would give Second World War and Korean War veterans priority over other Canadian citizens. By expanding the definition of “veteran” to include military personnel having served at least three years, we would see a resurgence in the appointment of veterans to public service positions, and this priority would last for a period of five years. However, surviving spouses of former members of the Canadian Forces who served for three years would not get priority. This is in contrast to widows of World War II and Korean War veterans. We do not agree with these provisions as we believe that surviving spouses of all veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country should be given this preferential treatment. In designating several categories of veterans, it appears in this bill that we have abandoned the idea that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran, which is, if I can say, a cherished principle of the NDP.

One aspect that is overlooked regarding the length of the priority entitlement period is that it would begin on the day a member left the Canadian Forces. This means that if members wished to contest the reason for their discharge or the length of time between their service and injury, their priority period would be decreasing by the day. As members may be aware, these procedures can take years to resolve. Members who pursued these courses of action would be at a disadvantage compared to other members of the Canadian Forces who did not have to appear before an administrative tribunal.

We believe that the bill does not go far enough and that it focuses on only a very small number of veterans in transition who have the training and experience necessary to pursue a job in the public service.

The government must implement the career transition recommendations made by the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General. The government is balancing its budget clearly on the backs of our veterans and is proposing half measures that would not have a significant impact on the standard of living of veterans as a whole.

Rather than implementing the recommendations of the Veterans Ombudsman and the Auditor General, or even waiting for the revision of the new veterans charter, which will be tabled tomorrow in this House, so the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs could make recommendations about transition as a whole, the Conservatives chose to introduce a bill that applies only to a very small part of the transition program.

The priority entitlement period would end five years after a member of the Canadian Forces had been medically released. The eligibility period, as I said before, would increase from two years to five years.

We believe that an increased length of time is justified for veterans who wish to pursue university studies. For example, a regular veteran, a regular Canadian, would take about four years to get a university degree. However, in the public service, advanced degrees past the first degree are often key to getting a good job in the public service. Even with that increase, it might be too late for them to take advantage of this hiring priority.

Veterans Affairs Canada, together with the Department of National Defence, should explore other collaborative opportunities with organizations. Some of these were outlined in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman that came out in June last year. We should explore opportunities with organizations such as the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, and so forth.

It should be the job of the government, and part of this bill, to cultivate partnerships with organizations that specialize in job placement, mentorship, and internship opportunities, which, again, was indicated in the report of the Veterans Ombudsman. It should be developing affiliations with academic institutions and the provinces to translate military skills, experience, and training into civilian academic equivalencies recognized by provincial ministries of education. That was also from the Veterans Ombudsman.

It is pretty clear from the statistics that most departments do not hire veterans. A culture shift is required within government departments themselves. Of the few hundred each year who take advantage of priority hiring, 50% to 80%, depending on the year, will find positions in the Department of National Defence, not other departments. There should be a general effort made to ensure that this happens.

A universal deployment principle could be adjusted for Canadian Forces members who have been injured in the line of duty. The latest figures I have are from 2011-12. In that period, of the 942 medically released former Canadian Forces members, only 10% had a completed or partially completed post-secondary education. Nearly half of them had high school levels or less in education.

In the future, seven out of 10 jobs will require specialized post-secondary education. Therefore, the onus should be on the federal government to ensure that those opportunities are there for our veterans.

Equally interesting is that only 16% of the companies that were polled would make a special effort to recruit veterans. Clearly, knowledge and understanding of veterans and their experiences have not translated into the private sector.

Only 13% of the companies polled said that their human resources departments knew how to read the resumés of military applicants. That is understandable, because their training is a little bit different. I remember a few years ago, before the program ended when MPs had a chance to spend some time in the military, I was with the navy. I asked a question of the soon-to-retire captain of a ship. We were passing a cruise ship, and I said that there could be a cruise ship opportunity for him as a captain. He told me, quite politely, that his training really did not translate into being a cruise ship captain. People clearly do have to know how to read the resumés.

I would like to say one more thing about veterans, and Thunder Bay in particular, where the office recently closed. In 2012, 3,127 veterans were served in the Thunder Bay office, which is now closed. That office cost about $686,000 a year to keep open. All the veterans offices that were closed cost about $4 million. Strangely enough, that is the same amount of money, $4 million, the government is now spending on veterans advertising. There could have been some better use of that money.

Petitions May 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the last petition is from the province of Quebec, Montreal in particular. Petitioners are calling on the government to change the law regarding assault on bus drivers to move any assault charges from assault to aggravated assault.