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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was fact.

Last in Parliament April 2010, as NDP MP for Winnipeg North (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2008, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

September 14th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to raise an issue in the House following a question I asked in April of this year regarding a tragic situation in an aboriginal community in Manitoba.

The question I asked originated with the very tragic death of Chace Barkman, one of twin babies from the remote Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba. The twin babies were medevaced to Winnipeg to undergo emergency treatment for meningitis that went undetected at their local nursing station. One of those twins, Chace, died. As a result, our eyes and ears and minds are focused on what Parliament and the Government of Canada need to do to ensure that a death like this never happens again.

Unfortunately, the statistics coming out of first nations communities are so overwhelmingly negative that we do not have much hope that this situation can be turned around anytime soon. The government has failed in fact to take concrete steps to deal with the tragic circumstances facing children and all residents in first nations and Inuit communities across this land.

We have had our own studies. One done in March of this year, which should have alerted the government to the problems at hand, was entitled “Indigenous Children’s Health Report: Health Assessment in Action”. It showed, as many other studies have done, that children on reserve were far more likely to suffer chronic diseases, 14% of on-reserve children had asthma, and the list goes on. We have our studies, yet they do not seem to make a difference.

We turned to international bodies for their glimpse of what is happening in our country. The results are staggering. Let me just refer to the UNICEF report, a very recent report from 2009, that states the following:

The fact is, the numbers just don’t add up. In almost any measure of health and wellbeing, Aboriginal children – including First Nations, Inuit and Métis – are at least two or three times worse off than other Canadian children. As children, they are less likely to see a doctor. As teens, they are more likely to become pregnant. And in many communities, they are more likely to commit suicide. The result is a generation of children whose health and well-being is unjustly compromised.

Let us also remember that UNESCO has done a similar report suggesting that aboriginal children are among the most marginalized in Canadian society and despite some advances in almost every measure of health and well-being, aboriginal children, including first nations, Inuit and Métis, are at least two or three times worse off than any other Canadian children.

Is that not enough for action? Today, we have seen nothing from the government. In fact the whole landscape around the pandemic of H1N1 has only put further attention on the failure of the government to take action and do what is necessary in terms of an area where it has jurisdiction, where the federal government is ultimately responsible.

At the time of the tragic death of Chace Barkman—

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 14th, 2009

What is the total amount of government funding since fiscal year 1998-1999 up to and including the current fiscal year, allocated within the constituency of Winnipeg North, listing each department or agency, initiative, and amount?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act June 19th, 2009

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-433, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (appeals).

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to introduce this bill which takes a step toward ending the systemic discrimination against persons living with disabilities that now exists within our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

I want to thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie for seconding the bill and also for his ongoing work in helping people with disabilities overcome such discrimination.

The act currently prohibits on a regular basis people living with disabilities to become immigrants. It suggests that those with disabilities impose some sort of excessive demand on our society which by its very nature is inherently discriminatory.

This bill simply says there should be an appeal for people living with a disability who have applied for immigration but have been turned down to appeal that decision and to prove that they have abilities that ought to be recognized and that in fact they will not pose an excessive demand on our society.

Even though Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, applicants themselves are living with certain disabilities or family members with disabilities currently can be turned away without any appeal process. This bill allows for an appeal process that would give these applicants a chance to show that their abilities outweigh our prejudices.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Petitions June 18th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to present this petition signed by dozens of individuals from Winnipeg, Manitoba who call on the government to support the efforts of people affected by multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases and disabilities so they can remain part of the workforce and part of their own communities.

They point out that there are income security issues for people living with chronic disabilities. They call upon the government to address the shortcomings in many of our programs, and very specifically they ask the government to make employment insurance benefits more flexible so that people can work part-time. They call upon the government to make the disability tax credit refundable to help people with their income difficulties and to allow spouses to claim the caregiver tax credit.

Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act June 17th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, this is a historic day. This is a day when Parliament has worked well and produced a piece of legislation that will make a huge difference in the lives of Canadians everywhere. It will help save people from unnecessary death, reduce costs to our health care system and enhance the quality of life everywhere. It is a historic day for all members in the House because together we have accomplished something very significant.

For me personally, it is also very fulfilling. As a member who has been here for 12 years, plodding along and trying very hard to make change step by step, to actually see a small initiative come to fruition, a private member's bill become a government bill and the power of persistence over many years with the support of many citizens gives me great faith in this place and in the whole democratic process.

I want to thank all of my colleagues from all parties for their support around this initiative, in particular the members of the health committee who worked very co-operatively. We had some very good hearings. We heard from many witnesses and produced a bill, with a few changes, that is excellent by all accounts.

It is not everything we had hoped for. In the process of reaching this great moment in our history, we had to compromise. We had to bite our tongues and agree that we would not get everything we wanted in this bill. That was the case with respect to smokeless tobacco, which was an amendment I had hoped to introduce, and also with respect to the menthol flavour still being permitted, something which the Bloc had tried to remove from the bill.

In the interests of getting this bill through before the end of the spring sitting, have it become law before the summer and to have these dangerous flavoured tobacco products and individual cigarillos which are so enticing to young people removed from store shelves before the young people go back to school in September is a victory.

There are people aside from members of the health committee who worked very hard on this. I have to acknowledge the work of the health minister and her staff for recognizing a good idea and running with it. All members of her government saw this private member's bill a year ago when I introduced it. They decided to make it an election commitment and they followed through on it.

I want to thank her and her staff and, in particular, one of her assistants, Regan Watts, who helped shepherd this bill through the process and ended up with a broken knee just before the final hearings at committee. He certainly played a valuable role in bringing information to the committee and being a go-between for the minister's office and the committee.

I also want to thank the people in the department who never get much credit for their tireless work in fighting the spread of tobacco use and trying to reduce addiction to it.

There is a long-standing branch within government that has been vigilant about trying to reduce the level of smoking among all people, particularly young people. Specifically, I want to thank Paul Glover, the assistant deputy minister, who is with the Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Cathy Sabiston, the director general of Controlled Substances and Tobacco Directorate, and Denis Choiniere, director, Office of Regulations and Compliance with the tobacco control program.

Those three people and all of their staff have worked tirelessly for many years trying to strengthen our tobacco legislation, trying to reduce the amount of advertising that takes place and attempting to figure out how to stop young people from getting hooked on smoking in the first place. As they told the committee, they made great leaps from 1998 when the smoking incidence rate among young people was about 28% to the present where it is at 15%. That took a lot of legislation, a lot of regulations and a lot of controls on advertising. However, we are stuck at 15%.

At the moment we are trying to figure out how to get unstuck and reduce that level even lower, along come the tobacco companies with their clever ways to manipulate the marketplace and entice young people to smoke by putting on the market these lovely smelling, beautifully designed, trendy products, these individual cigarillos that are very enticing and do not appear to be harmful. However, they are as dangerous as normal cigarettes. In fact, they have higher amounts of nicotine, tar and other dangerous toxins in them and they are even more addictive than regular cigarettes. Young people were trying them. Despite all of the nonsense we heard from some of the large tobacco companies and some of the promoters of tobacco products, we know that young people were getting hooked on these products.

In 2001 there were about 50,000 of these products being sold on the market. Presently, there are about 80 million products being sold in the marketplace every day. That is a huge leap. We know that people are trying them.

Young adults are the age group with the highest smoking rates in Canada. We are trying to change that and deal with this pervasiveness of the tobacco industry to try to trap young people. The tobacco companies try to get them to smoke, because then they have a lucrative group they can sell to for the rest of their lives because they are addicted for a lifetime. Addiction to tobacco is deadly. It kills. It leads to cancer. It is absolutely devastating for individuals and families. We have an obligation to stop that kind of menace in our society.

The bill before us is also a lesson in terms of citizen participation and persistence of non-governmental organizations. We would not be here today with this bill, I would not have brought forward the private member's bill and the government would not have acted if it had not been for a whole number of groups, including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, Non-Smokers' Rights Association, Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac, Action on Smoking and Health, Northwestern Ontario's Youth Action Alliance and its Flavour...Gone! campaign, the Area Youth Coalition of Eastern Ontario which is part of the smoke-free Ontario initiative, public health unit staff who were so supportive of the youth initiatives, Sisler Teens Against Nicotine and Drugs, Manitoba Youth for Clean Air, the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance. There are many other individuals and groups who have been tireless about trying to stop the spread of these products on the market and ensure their prohibition.

That is what we have accomplished today as a result of their hard work, their determination, their wonderful campaigns such as Flavour...Gone! and advertisements that said to put an end to tobacco industry gimmicks. The Change the Rules campaign used the depiction of a strawberry milkshake with a cigarette straw to show what the industry is trying to do. I thank them all for their incredible contribution to our society.

We will continue to work on improving this law. We have a commitment from the officials in the department to continue to gather data on smokeless tobacco and tobacco chew products, to verify what the youth are telling us. Among certain segments of our population and young people in certain communities, as we have heard from other speakers, the level of using chew is very high. It is producing very dangerous consequences for the health and well-being of individuals, including serious teeth problems, mouth decay, cancer of the mouth and so on.

It is a problem that has to be dealt with. Even though we did not win that today, we have a commitment from the government to collect the data, review the information and come forward within a year with some suggestions on how we might include smokeless tobacco in the regulations so that those products are also captured by this prohibition on flavoured tobacco products.

Let us also remember that although the menthol issue may not be a big factor in terms of this whole industry, it is still there enticing people to smoke. We did not win an elimination of menthol in this bill, but I am sure the department will also keep track of information on that issue and bring forward recommendations as we proceed about how menthol may be enticing non-smokers to begin smoking and how it might pick up in terms of interest of young people once this bill is passed. We are going to continue to monitor that situation. We will be as vigilant as possible.

Today I am very excited about what this place has accomplished. We have come together over very important legislation and we have agreed with unanimous consent to put aside some of the regular procedures that a bill must go through in order to make this happen today. It will pass today and will go to the other place, where we hope it will be dealt with very promptly so that it can be given royal assent and take effect immediately.

Then, by the time young people return to school in the fall, when they walk by corner stores, they will no longer be tempted by the lure of these lovely-smelling cigarillos that look like lipstick and magic markers and appear so harmless but are so deadly.

Together we have a made a great difference. Together we will continue to save the lives of people and rid our society of tobacco altogether.

Patent Act June 12th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, that is an important question from my colleague, who is very familiar with this whole area and has much more expertise than I do. I believe that Canada had been a leader in the world on this issue. Since the failure of the application of the legislation, our light has grown dim in the eyes of the world. By correcting the flaws of the legislation and moving quickly, we cannot only show that we are leaders around the world but we can encourage other countries to follow suit.

Patent Act June 12th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member for Vancouver Quadra. I especially want to acknowledge her expertise in this area.

I do not have personal experience in terms of Africa. I was fortunate to be part of a Results Canada voyage to Bangladesh, where I learned so much about the importance of taking one forward step at a time, that some of the smallest efforts can produce the biggest rewards, and that for a few pennies a day we can get drugs to stop tuberculosis, something we thought we had rid ourselves and society long ago.

It is important that we take this step forward and start to flow the drugs. As for the timeframe, I believe that once the bill is through the House, including a thorough review at the committee stage, we should be ready to ensure its full implementation before the end of this year. I am hopeful that 2009 will be the year that we actually conclude this process and begin the application so that drugs actually start to flow.

I believe that the generic drug companies are ready, willing and able to embark upon immediate production, and shipments to other countries would begin as soon as possible. I know that with this initiative we will have made a huge difference.

Patent Act June 12th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I should put the question back to the member because in fact it was the government that committed to a review to ensure that all drugs were safe, that all drugs met the requirements as he is expressing today. The government has failed to carry out its commitments, so we are back today with legislation that is trying to redress this situation, address those problems, and to move forward the agenda.

It is clear when we have had only one shipment for one drug to one country in all of these years that something is wrong. I have identified those barriers to the problem. I have presented some very modest proposals to improve the situation so we can actually start to flow drugs as quickly as possible.

Patent Act June 12th, 2009

moved that Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a real privilege for me today to begin to speak to a bill that has been the product of so many hours of work by community activists and NGOs right across this country and around world. I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-393, which is an act to amend the Patent Act and to ensure that we can flow drugs for international humanitarian purposes.

Our day to day work in this place clearly impacts upon every aspect of Canadian lives, but rarely are we, as members of Parliament, presented with so clear and direct an opportunity to save lives. We know that 14,000 people a day die from infectious disease, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and that these deaths are preventable because they can be treated with medicines that are on the market today. The dimensions of this crisis are almost impossible to comprehend, with the personal cost to victims' health, the cost to their families, the plight of those left as orphans, and the strain on grandparents thrust into the role of providers.

There are 33.2 million people living with HIV worldwide, 22.5 million, or 68%, live in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, 2.1 million adults and children died of AIDS, and 76% of them, or 1.6 million, were in sub-Saharan Africa alone. An estimated 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV worldwide in that same year, and again, nearly 90% were in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 13 million children have been orphaned by HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is now estimated that by the year 2010, as many as 20 million children will have been orphaned by AIDS worldwide.

Finally, without treatment, an estimated one-third of infants infected with HIV will die before reaching the age of one. Half will die before the age of two.

Tuberculosis patients and malaria sufferers are also losing their lives for lack of available medicines, medicines that are on the market today. Five thousand people die from tuberculosis every day, while more than one million people die each year from severe malaria, a disease relatively easy to treat with proper drugs.

This is mind-boggling when we think about it. It is a crisis that no Canadian wants to turn his or her back on. Everyone in this country wants to see Canada do its job and carry out its responsibilities on such a serious life and death situation.

Canadians were very proud when Parliament took action quickly five years ago, following the landmark decision by the World Trade Organization in 2003. It allowed more prosperous nations, like Canada, to offer humanitarian medical support to developing nations.

Canadians were very proud when Parliament unanimously passed reforms to the Patent Act in 2004, called Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, otherwise known as CAMR. That regime was created to provide a framework to use a system of compulsory licensing to allow generic drug companies to produce cheaper versions of the latest most effective drugs to treat infectious diseases even though they were still under patent.

However, we all became disillusioned. Canadians right across this country were very disappointed when we actually came to realize that this medicines regime produced practically no results.

Since that time, four years ago, when we passed the legislation unanimously in the House, there has been only one compulsory licence completed under that legislation. Last September, the first and only shipment went out. It was a shipment of 7 million Apo-TriAvir tablets, shipped to Rwanda by Apotex, Canada's largest generic drug manufacturer. That was an important shipment. It will help 21,000 people. However, given the statistics I just mentioned, it is a drop in the bucket. That has been the only shipment.

There is obviously something wrong with the legislation. I am here today to try to fix it. The burden of drug costs for the world's lowest-income nations has intensified. Despite the efforts of those like my former colleague, the hon. Alexa McDonough, Canada and other prosperous nations are shamefully not on track to meet our commitments to the United Nations millennium development goals, such as reaching 0.7% of GNP in international assistance by the year 2015, increasing our efforts toward the global fund, reducing child and maternal death, and reducing HIV-AIDS.

Other G8 commitments to reduce poverty have not lived up to their hype. As a final blow, the world is now in the midst of an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Within their own borders, the devastating loss of large numbers of productive adults to infectious disease has further compounded the already difficult road to economic security and stability. Countries are obviously even less able to cope with high drug costs for their citizens. I am sure that members of Parliament realize that Canadians will not tolerate us carrying on with a dysfunctional drug system that keeps cheaper drugs from getting to where they are needed.

Former UN special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa and respected Canadian Stephen Lewis has been at this for years, tirelessly. He has never given up trying to reduce the incidents of HIV-AIDS in Africa and elsewhere, and has never stopped pushing and prodding us to find solutions. He, like all of us, is concerned about the inaction under the legislation we passed five years ago. He said:

Delaying action is inexcusable when the path forward is so clear: streamline CAMR, get affordable medicines to those who are dying for them, save thousands of lives, particularly those of children with HIV. Every day counts,

Stephen Lewis is right. Every day counts. Canadian generic drug maker Apotex has made a priority of clearing up the mess. It has committed to making a low-cost version of an important pediatric AIDS medication as soon as this access to medicines regime is made workable. I want to remind members that, in sub-Saharan Africa, half of all the children born with HIV died before reaching their second birthday.

This type of drug, which is so needed, is not currently being made. If we could only change the rules, it would happen and it would improve the treatment of these children tremendously. Peggy Edwards, co-chair of the national advocacy committee of the grandmothers to grandmothers campaign, echoes the call for CAMR reform. She says:

Right now, African grandmothers are carrying the burden of caring for children orphaned by AIDS and dying of AIDS without appropriate medicines. Streamlining CAMR and getting affordable medicines to children with HIV would ease that burden considerably.

That is very well said. Let me also quote Richard Elliott, who is the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. I should mention that his organization has studied this process more than anyone and knows it inside and out. He says:

The current system just doesn’t work...The need is enormous, but CAMR just isn’t user-friendly in its current form.

That is why, in Bill C-393, I have drawn on the legal network's expertise and that of others knowledgeable of the strengths and weaknesses of the current CAMR system to come up with a workable proposal for change. It is a proposal that will get these drugs into production and to the children and adults who have been waiting for them for far too long.

Bill C-393 proposes critical changes to Canada's access to medicines regime. Let me mention a few of them.

It provides for a one licence system to replace the need for single applications for every drug, for every amount of drug produced, and for every country which is seeking medications. That is important.

It gets rid of the narrow list of eligible drugs in order that new medicines can be incorporated at the earliest possible time.

It gets rid of the two-year time limit on compulsory licences with only one reapplication allowed.

It lives up to our international trade agreements while dumping the CAMR's requirements that exceed WTO demands.

Finally, it discourages unnecessary legal action by allowing generic producers to correct minor errors within a limited time.

The reforms we are proposing today in the bill have been supported by many, including 37 humanitarian and health organizations in Canada. They have said so in their submissions to government. That we are here today aware of the problems with CAMR and with solutions to offer to resolve these problems is due to the ongoing effort of so many individuals and organizations.

I want to particularly thank the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Results Canada, Stephen Lewis Foundation and Oxfam Canada. I would particularly like to mention the incredible work of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign that now has more than 200 groups spread across Canada working tirelessly to raise awareness and rally support for these grandparents struggling for their own and their families' survival in sub-Saharan Africa in the wake of their children's premature deaths from HIV-AIDS. In Winnipeg, the group is named Grands 'n' More Winnipeg and I have been helped by discussions and information from Linda Watson, Irene Rempel, Enid Butler, Nancy Cosway and Shelley Coombes.

This spring, the grandmothers, as they have become known around this place, and I am wearing the pin that they have given to us all, brought petitions with more than 32,000 signatures to Parliament. We all had the privilege of presenting some of those petitions.

I want to cite the work of a present colleague of mine who formerly worked on this issue. The member for Windsor West was active on this file when Parliament first passed this bill a number of years ago.

In presenting the bill, I feel a great sense of responsibility. Normally, I have had the responsibility in this place to speak for my constituents in Winnipeg North. That responsibility is daunting in itself.

Today, I am speaking to this bill for millions of women, men and children who have a right to health, a right to life, just as we do, but who through circumstances of birth find themselves faced with serious conditions and diseases in countries unable to afford them the help they and their families need because of economic limitations.

As I have said, the challenges are unimaginable, but the spirit of the struggle is strong. We have a choice today, whether to break down a barrier that is denying them a future or to stay with the status quo and extinguish that spirit. I urge members to choose the former.

Health June 12th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, there is still no real plan, no real answers for Canadians. The same is the case with the H1N1 wherein it has revealed there are serious cracks in the system.

Years of neglect of first nations communities has produced the ideal conditions for this pandemic to take root, cramped living conditions, poor water, lack of drinking water, and the government cannot even get hand sanitizers to all first nations communities. Worse, Health Canada is now talking about closing nursing stations in the north.

Will the minister guarantee that no nursing station in the north will be closed and that, in fact, the government will fix this public health disaster.