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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was early.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for York Centre (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply June 17th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I am dividing my time with the member for Vancouver Centre.

Prorogation can be mostly for benign reasons but in this case it was not. Done arbitrarily and out of the government's own convenience, it was done to shut down voices that the government did not want to hear. That may be very human, but for a democratic society, for Canada, it is a big problem.

The Prime Minister does not like a lot of different voices, not in his caucus, not in his cabinet, not in committees, not in the bureaucracy, not in media, not anywhere.

During his now more than four years in office, think of any big public discussion his government has generated on the transforming issues of today and of the future, on the changing national and international economy, on global security, on climate change, on energy, on anything. Nothing. The Prime Minister does not like other voices. Other voices might be critical, embarrassing or inconvenient. They may simply be different from his own. He knows where he wants to go. He thinks he is right. So why do these voices matter?

Prorogation was just part of it. In his more than four years as Prime Minister, he has used and misused the power of his position, its rewards and punishments to entice an intimidate, to play on human weakness, to prop up voices he wants to hear and to shut down those he does not want to hear. All this may be very human, but for democratic society, for Canada, it is a big problem.

This past Monday we brought together about 20 community groups from across the country, some national and international and some small and local, that after years and sometimes decades of receiving federal government money to do important community services and to give voice to those who are less advantaged, to help them to live the way all Canadians should live, they had their funding cut. These were aboriginal groups, health groups, women's groups, learning and child care, international aid groups and others. However, this round table was not really about their funding cuts. It was about what the loss of the services and the voice they provided means to their communities and to Canada.

These cuts, this different understanding of the importance of public voice, represent a great change from previous governments, from the Liberal governments of 1970s and early 1980s, from the Progressive Conservative governments of the late 1980s and early 1990s and from the Liberal governments again until 2006.

When I was minister of social development, my responsibilities included those for seniors, people with disabilities, the volunteer sector as a whole and child care. People who worked for advocacy groups on these issues did so because they believed in these issues and knew that so much more needed to be done. These groups pushed hard. We got to know each other, maybe even trust each other a little, but these groups were intensely politically no-partisan and intensely issue partisan.

They had to deal with whoever was the government. At times they drove me crazy. Sometimes they were too right, uncomfortably right when it was not sure that I could deliver that right. Sometimes I thought they were completely wrong, that to meet their own goals and mine they wanted to go down the wrong path.

However, I knew what every party for decades had known, which is that these voices are part of the essential mix of voices necessary for a properly functioning healthy society.

Then in 2006 the Conservatives won. During the first three or four months there were signs of trouble for these groups but to them they hoped it was just a matter of getting used to a new government and a new government getting used to them. They had seen it before, whether a Liberal or Progressive Conservative government, and eventually they knew they would get through to that government and everything would end up roughly as it was. However, not this time.

There were cuts to the court challenges program, women's groups, literacy and child care, and aboriginal groups. The first groups in these areas thought they were the only ones affected. They kept waiting for the train to arrive at the station but I would tell them that the train was not coming.

The Conservative government thinks differently. It does not know why it should give money to these groups. It thinks it is its job to reflect the different voices in the country. It believes that if these issues had any real public support, people would give to these groups themselves. It believes that if any money does go to these groups, it should go directly to the people in need, to feet on the ground, not to mouths in corner offices. It cannot understand why any government in its right mind would support someone who just criticizes it anyway.

All this might be very human, but for a democratic country, for Canada, it is a big problem.

We all knew and the government knew what would happen next. For these groups, their effectiveness, their voices and their existences threatened, they would go nuts. Instead, most have gone quiet.

I think this even surprised the government at first, then it realized the power it had. Essentially it said to these groups, “You thought you were strong. You are not. You need our money and now you have a choice. You can go quiet and maybe get some money, but not likely and certainly a lot less, and by going quiet, you become powerless, or you can go loud and certainly not get any money and become powerless. What do you want, to be powerless or powerless?”

For the government it meant that it could keep its money and keep these groups quiet. Life does not get much better.

On Monday, together some of these groups told their story. Many others are still not willing to. There was also someone who took part but who decided to do so only by phone because a government contract was pending for a group she would like to work for and she did not feel that she could put herself or this group at risk by being identified. This is a person who has a reputation for fighting every fight, loudly, publicly and never taking a backward step. It is all about shutting down voices.

Another group, whose funding has not been cut, had intended to be there to show solidarity with the other groups because this group knows that but for the grace of one cabinet minister who has a personal interest in the issue that is its focus, its funding might be cut too. In the end, however, the group decided that it could not risk being there. In one way or another, again, it is shutting down voices.

The round table was not about groups losing their funding. It was about what the loss of funding means, what the loss of services and the voices that they provide means to local communities and the national community, and what it means to all of us.

Here is what some of them said. One said, “I am acutely aware that--today--there may be consequences associated with speaking publicly about social and political issues of importance to Canadians. ...few would deny that the "chill" is real and that this is a new development in Canadian democracy”.

Another person talked about organizations that are now afraid to be visible in a press conference and about groups that historically have had too few resources to act alone. The person said that they were divided by fear, divided by a race to survive financially. The person said that the result was distrust, fear and a lack of cohesiveness.

Another person said, “We are witnessing some of the most prominent organizations in this country being silenced, reduced. ...ensuring that the government will have little or no opposition to their actions and policy.“We are witnessing some of the most prominent organizations in this country being silenced, reduced, ensuring that the government will have little or no opposition to their actions and policy. It seems that NGOs have been given two choices--stay quiet and don't represent the challenges facing vulnerable Canadians or voice those issues and quietly disappear”.

Those words do not convey their full stories nor the tone of their voices. Their tone was one of sadness, anger, disappointment in themselves for being so weak in the face of their organization's survival, for turning against other groups, for turning selfish and greedy, for being so unlike what they ever thought they were. More than that, their tone was that of disbelief and denial. They could not believe this was happening. They could not believe it was possible to stop themselves before they could say what needed to be said. This was not Canada.

These groups knew their own stories and knew the stories of those in their own sectors but they were stunned by the other voices they heard and by how broad and how deep the problem went. I think it took so long for these groups to speak out because of this disbelief, because of a feeling that surely they were the only ones, that no one else would understand, and because to say something about losing their funding would sound to others like sour grapes and would sound self-serving, as if they really did not have the right to say something.

It is the same story for all the opposition political parties and for the media. We are losing our voice, but what right do we have to say something? It is called sour grapes and self-serving.

This is not, first of all, most of all, about us. It is about the public, about Canadians, and about how this country works. That gives us a right. That gives us an obligation.

National Hunger Awareness Day June 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, today is National Hunger Awareness Day, a day we hear the statistics of those who go hungry, but statistics do not tell the story, real lives do.

Pregnant mothers who do not have enough to eat are less healthy, are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have kids who are less healthy and less strong. Less healthy, less strong kids do not develop as quickly or as well.

It is as if this is a 100 metre race and the healthier kids begin at the start line, while these kids begin 10 metres behind. To them in their world other kids somehow always seem better and smarter. They are always ahead. Kids with less to eat are sick more often, they miss more school, and they fall further behind.

This is not fair. This is not Canada.

Today, as we think about hunger and its effects on our fellow Canadians, I hope we will also reflect on how as governments, on poverty and hunger, none of us have done very well, and for all of us this remains work undone.

Canadian Air and Space Museum Pioneer Award May 14th, 2010

Mr. Speaker on April 13, 1970, an explosion on Apollo 13 halted its moon landing mission, placing the lives of its astronauts in danger and forcing astronaut Jack Swigert to send one of the most famous messages in space history, his actual words being slightly different from the movie version, “Houston, we've had a problem here”.

What most people do not know is that a team of engineers from the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies had a solution in helping Apollo 13 get back to earth, determining the precise pressure necessary to provide an explosive charge that would spring the spacecraft into its re-entry.

The institute in my riding has also assisted in the design of Canadarm2.

Recently the institute and the members of its engineering team, Dr. Ben Etkin, Dr. Barry French, Dr. Phil Sullivan, the late Dr. Irvine Glass, Professor Peter Hughes and Dr. Rod Tennyson were awarded the Canadian Air and Space Museum's Pioneer Award for its involvement in the Apollo 13 return. Congratulations to all of them.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns April 23rd, 2010

With regard to the Southern Ontario Development Agency: (a) what grants or contributions have been awarded by the Agency since its inception; (b) how many applications for those grants or contributions have been received; (c) who were the organizations or individuals who applied for those grants; and (d) in which federal electoral district is each successful grantee located?

Criminal Code April 21st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, on the same matter, I intended to vote against the motion, but I voted for it. I would like permission to change my vote to against it.

The Holocaust April 12th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, in 1933 there were nine million Jews in Europe. Half a generation later, six million had perished in the Holocaust, others had fled for their lives, and only a few hundred thousand were left.

The incalculable loss, fathers, mothers, grandparents the children never had. Children, so full of learning, so full of possibilities, never the chance to live their lives. A next generation never born, and a next.

The incalculable loss to the Jewish people; the incalculable loss to all of us.

For us, never to forget the Jews and the Jewish people. But for us, too, never to forget how easy it is to push to one side any group of people, to separate, divide, cut off, then to demonize, hate and destroy.

The Holocaust happened then and there, but the Holocaust is a forever story for all of us.

Never again, and always to remember.

Israel November 19th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, virtually every Canadian knows the story of Israel, virtually every Canadian knows about the Holocaust and virtually every Canadian strongly supports the safety, security and sustainability of Israel.

What the Prime Minister has done routinely and repeatedly in recent years is to create division where none has existed. By trying to set himself up as the champion of Israel, he has pushed those who feel no less strongly to the other side of his divide, to those who are, in his words, not friends of Israel.

By focusing debate on himself, not on our deep and fundamental support for Israel, he has created doubt about and doubt in those who feel just as strongly. In doing so, he has weakened support for Israel across the country.

By seeking his own political advantage, he has acted not only to be destructive of his political opponents, he has weakened support for the community he purports to stand up for. That is not right. That is offensive.

Health November 6th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, this is pitch-in time. This is not about jurisdictions. It is about people.

When flood waters rise, it is about all of us doing whatever we can. That has never been the Prime Minister's approach. His approach is, “We will do this, and you will do that”, and that is the end of it. Except the government has not done its part, the provinces and territories are struggling and Canadians are not getting vaccinated fast enough.

What more, additional, different will the minister do now to deliver, not to her plan but to Canadians' needs?

Health November 6th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are not getting vaccinated fast enough. The minister says that she is right on plan but H1N1 sets its own timetable and, according to its timetable, it will peak about three weeks from now and there is no way the minister's timetable will meet H1N1's timetable.

What more, additional, different will the minister do now to deliver, not to her plan but to the pandemic's need, the people's needs?

Olympic Winter Games November 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is even worse in terms of the total number of stops: Bloc, 20; Liberals, 26; NDP, 27; Conservatives, 127. During the worst economic times in 70 years, far more money has gone into Conservative ridings. With people struggling, there was $45 million for signs, and now this, something no government anywhere would ever do.

I ask the Prime Minister, how is it possible that such a big-spirited country could have such a small-minded government?