House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Vancouver East (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Immigration March 9th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Prime Minister.

The government has allowed only very limited public hearings on the immigration legislative review. Already there is resounding opposition to the discriminatory and biased recommendations particularly as they pertain to language, education and refugees.

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that these recommendations will be rejected by the government and that legislation will not be forced through?

The Budget March 9th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, this morning we heard one of the government members describe the budget as remarkable. Just now we have heard another hon. member from the government describe this budget as an equity budget. I find this astounding.

I would like to ask the member to explain to the people of Canada that if this is an equity budget where in the budget is there a guarantee that pay equity will be provided for the women who work for the federal civil service. If this is an equity budget, why is it that only 7% of students will have access to the millennium fund? Why is it that there will be no increase in transfers for education to the provinces to ensure that tuition fees will not continue to skyrocket?

This is not an equity budget. I would ask the minister to explain to the people of Canada what he means by an equity budget?

The Budget March 9th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member and and heard her say that the budget is remarkable. What is remarkable is that this budget has absolutely failed poor kids in this country, it has failed the unemployed, it has failed women and it has failed students.

I would like to ask the minister, if this is such a remarkable budget, why is it that only 7% of students will be covered through the millennium fund?

If it is such a remarkable budget why is there nothing in this budget that addresses women's equality and pay equity? If this is such a remarkable budget, why is it that poor kids in this country will have to wait until next year to get a measly 80 cents a day through the national child benefit when we have heard repeatedly that what is needed is about $2 billion to ensure that those kids are helped.

What is remarkable is that this budget has failed.

Bankruptcy Legislation February 25th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, you might ask what a recent graduate in Regina who was forced into bankruptcy because of student loans has in common with the Minister of Finance. Neither of them believes yesterday's budget will really help students in debt.

Today I heard from a woman in Regina who was forced into bankruptcy largely due to cuts in education funding. She is one of the people the Minister of Finance claims to help in his budget.

But while the minister's speech was filled with rhetoric about the opportunity to learn, behind the scenes there are cynical plans to change bankruptcy legislation to protect the banks rather than students.

Students want to ask the Minister of Finance why he is sticking up for the banks at the expense of students by changing the bankruptcy legislation. Shame on the Minister of Finance.

Immigration February 24th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The immigration legislative review hearings are beginning in Vancouver this week. I have met with a number of local organizations. There is increasing concern because the minister has not allowed anywhere near adequate time for people to respond and be heard.

Will the minister give the community more time to be heard and assure us that the recommendations, as suspected by many, will not be forced through in a big rush?

Business Of The House February 23rd, 1998

Mr. Speaker, my question for the minister in December drew attention to the fact that yet another report graphically portrayed the tragedy of a million and a half Canadian children living in poverty in Canada.

There have been too many reports from the Canadian Association of Food Banks, the Canadian Council on Social Development, Campaign 2000 and others. All of these reports point to the same thing, that the Liberal government has failed to address poverty.

In fact, the situation is much worse than when this House passed a resolution unanimously in 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. The only thing that the Liberal government has offered and has announced about four times is the national child tax benefit.

But even the child tax benefit is woefully inadequate. The $850 million promised for the child tax benefit will not in any way compensate for the regressive policies of the Liberal government, nor the cutbacks in funding for social assistance of 40%.

As the benefit has been proposed, people on welfare will receive no additional funds. While the funds will initially be distributed to every child below a specified income level, provincial governments will deduct that amount from current welfare payments. This means that welfare poor children and their families will gain absolutely nothing from the government plan.

Despite government assurances that no child will be worse off under the plan, anti-poverty activists have real concerns regarding the implications and the messages that this segregation of working poor from welfare poor entails.

Without a commitment to a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda, the national child benefit is a band-aid solution that actually acts to depress wages and further marginalize poor people. Children are poor because their parents are poor. Eliminating child and family poverty will require a comprehensive strategy that must include other essentials such as job creation, housing, child care, training and post-secondary education.

The lack of affordable child care is a particular concern because the benefit is structured to push low income mothers into the workforce without providing funding for quality child care options.

The federal government has consistently put child care on the back burner despite promises to the contrary. There is no discussion and no plans that we have seen about strengthening child care as a complement to the child benefit.

We call on the government to review its child tax benefit and to acknowledge and recognize that this benefit is woefully inadequate and will not in any way compensate or substitute for the cutbacks that we have experienced.

If the government is committed to eliminating poverty in this country and helping poor children and their families, then we must at the very least ensure that this child tax benefit has adequate funds, is fully indexed and also applies to families on welfare.

Poverty February 18th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the members of the House for consenting to a further few minutes to conclude this debate.

I only regret that we could not have a longer debate beyond the designated time. I feel if we could have had some more debate in this House, we would have had an interesting dialogue and exchange of ideas about this motion that is before us today.

I listened very carefully to the members from the other parties in the House in terms of their response to this motion. I would like to say that while I hear the Liberal members say that they are sensitive to the plight of poor Canadians, I really believe that the programs that have been put forward by the Liberal government are very superficial and do not even begin to address the damage that has been done since 1993.

The hon. member from the Liberal Party spoke about the child tax benefit as being a positive sign that things are improving. However the reality is that if this is an anti-poverty measure, why does it not apply to people who are on social assistance? Why will the child tax benefit not be fully indexed? If it was an anti-poverty measure, it would be.

In my riding we had a round table on youth unemployment. One of the concerns was brought forward by young people themselves. Because many of the government programs are not sustained and because they do not have a continuity in terms of training and moving people into good paying jobs, young people become very frustrated. They get into a program, it ends and before they know it they are back on the street or they are back in the unemployed lines.

The issue before us today is to set timetables, to set targets for a full employment strategy. I believe this can be accomplished if the government is seriously committed to it by a program of fair taxation, by a national housing program, by encouraging the provinces to adopt a minimum wage that is liveable, by ensuring that welfare rates are above the poverty line, and by reducing student debt.

We have not talked about the issues raised by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, where we see the greatest poverty in this country.

I believe that these are things that can be done by the House.

Poverty February 18th, 1998

Thank you for the reminder, Madam Speaker. As a new member of Parliament, it is something that takes a while to get use to. I appreciate the reminder and will continue with my remarks.

The finance minister has slashed $2.29 billion from post-secondary education. What this means is that by the year 2000 colleges and universities will have lost $3.27 billion due to Liberal policies. That is unconscionable, especially when we hear the hypocrisy that comes out of the mouths of Liberal members who profess to be concerned about the future of young people in this country. We need student aid today, not in the year 2000, not a millennium fund and not a scholarship fund. We need a national grants program and a tuition freeze.

If the Liberal members truly care about the future of young people and about poverty in this country, this motion is something that should be critically debated and acted on to show that we are serious about that commitment.

Instead of meaningful assistance, those who are on social assistance are caught up in a cynical public relations game.

In December 1997 the Minister of Finance described child poverty as a priority. However, based on the actions of the government to date and as the evidence shows, child poverty has not been a priority. It has been rhetoric. Child poverty has been increasing.

We have heard a lot of talk about the national child benefit but we all know that when the finance minister presents his budget next week he will be announcing the national child benefit for not the first time, not the second time, not the third time but the fourth time. Meanwhile poor kids in this country and their families have not seen a dime in terms of improved circumstances to relieve the poverty stricken measures that they live with in their local communities.

Whenever the Liberal government is called to account for this government's appalling record on poverty, it tries to hide behind the national child tax benefit. With these repeated announcements and exaggerated claims by Liberal ministers the fact is the truth is coming out that not one thing has changed. As I have pointed out in this debate tonight the situation has worsened.

The announcement by the Liberals on the child tax benefit does not even come close to making up for the 40% cut in federal transfers to social services and other programs since the Liberals took office.

Anti-poverty groups in this country have been outspoken. They have made it very clear that the $850 million that has been announced so many times is simply not enough to deal with even the limited program that the federal government has announced. And it does not apply to those on welfare.

It is important that we address and lay out clear and meaningful targets for the elimination of poverty and reducing unemployment. In the upcoming budget I believe there is a critical question that each of us has to ask ourselves. That is, will the measures that are outlined in the budget eliminate poverty, will they reduce poverty and unemployment or will they increase the growing inequalities that we have seen?

I would like to point out that there are good alternatives we can look to. An alternative federal budget was put together and presented by a group in Winnipeg, Choices and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It lays out in a much better way than what the finance minister has done in all of his years of dealing with this, very clear choices and targets that we can systematically move toward to reduce unemployment and poverty if we have the political will and if we have the fortitude to speak out. We must call for things like fair taxation and minimum wages, and for ensuring that the massive profits of the banks are reinvested in our communities.

I believe that we must set national targets. We must embark on a national housing program. What better program could we have to reduce unemployment, to pay people decent wages and also to fulfil a social need? That is a program for people who are living in inadequate housing.

I would urge the members of this House to take this motion seriously. I would also seek the unanimous consent of the House to have this voted upon.

Poverty February 18th, 1998


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should set targets for the elimination of poverty and unemployment, and should pursue those targets with the same zeal it has demonstrated for targets to reduce the deficit.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion I have introduced in the House. I would like to spend a moment to tell the House why I introduced this motion.

The reason for bringing this motion forward is to open up debate and critical thinking on this issue. If we are truly serious about poverty and unemployment in this country then we have to set a real plan and we have to set real targets in order to ensure that we do actually reduce and finally eliminate poverty in this very wealthy country.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East which has the lowest income community in Canada. My riding has been particularly hard hit by poverty and by unemployment.

For the last two decades Canadians have heard many promises about reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty in ridings such as mine and right across this country. The reality is that none of these promises has been fulfilled, not by a Conservative government and certainly not by the current Liberal government. Instead, the number of people living in poverty in this country has increased and unemployment has remained unconscionably high.

I would like to go back into history for a moment to the year 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously supported former NDP leader Ed Broadbent's motion to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. That was in 1989.

Now here we are in 1998 and despite what might have been at the time very good intentions of all the members of the House from all parties represented, nothing has changed. In fact, the situation has worsened.

Since 1989 there are now 538,000 more children living in poverty. The number of poor children has grown by 47%. We must recognize that children are poor because their parents are poor. Their parents are usually poor because they are unemployed or they are in a low wage ghetto because our minimum wages are so low or because the jobs that have been created have been part time jobs that cannot support a family at any decent standard of living.

As a result of this, the reality faced by a growing number of Canadian families is that the number of food banks in Canada has tripled and the proportion of the population relying on food banks has doubled. The number of Canadians filing for personal bankruptcy has tripled, which is something that affects small businesses as well as lone business operators. The number of low income persons in 1996 was 40% higher than it was in 1989. That is the tragic record of what has happened in our country since the motion was passed in the House of Commons in 1989.

We must ask ourselves what the root of the question is. At the root of the growing number of people living in poverty is the high level of unemployment. We have heard statistics many times that unemployment is at 9% or higher for 86 consecutive months. We talk about it a lot but it in no way describes the tragedy that is faced by individuals and families, by working people when they feel the devastation of unemployment. This is felt in the family, in the local community, by business, in the school yard, in our community centres, and on and on it goes.

There are 1.4 million unemployed Canadians and 5 million Canadians who live below the poverty line as established by the low income cut-offs. Of those who are employed, 18.5% have only been able to find part time work.

When it comes to youth the situation is even worse. The official unemployment rate for youth is 16.5%. That does not include young people who have given up looking for work. Even if we use the official statistics, youth unemployment is almost double the unemployment rate for adults. The reality is many young people who manage to find work are trapped in part time jobs that pay minimum wage.

I believe, as do all members of the New Democratic Party, that Canadians who are living in poverty or coping with unemployment should be able to expect support and assistance from the federal government and provincial governments. Instead, we have seen a growing trend of inequality and poverty in Canada. The most disturbing growing trend is poor bashing where government policies zero in and target certain sectors of the community. These policies say in effect you are undeserving, you are going to be put on a work fare program, you are going to be put back on the unemployment roll. That is the kind of mentality that has developed through policies we have seen from the Liberal government.

We have seen cuts to transfer payments for health care, education and social support. The programs announced by the government have only been skin deep and have done little to alleviate high unemployment especially among young people.

Many of the government's own policies contribute to growing inequality, poverty and unemployment in our country. The Bank of Canada's obsession with fighting inflation ahead of all other social issues has cost us thousands of jobs. We have lost something like 100,000 jobs in health care, environmental protection, education and public services as a result of the slash and burn approach of the Liberal government.

This government has gutted our employment insurance system. Unemployed people have a right to expect they can receive a decent income while unemployed.

The reality is that our current unemployment insurance system is now pushing more and more people into poverty. Eight years ago 87% of Canadians who lost their jobs and had paid into UI received benefits. Reports have been tabled in the House and the stories are horrific and shocking that now only approximately 37% of those people who pay into UI will actually receive a benefit.

People who are no longer eligible for employment insurance must now depend on social assistance. Unfortunately that too is becoming more and more of a tragedy. Social assistance as well has not been immune to the savage and violent cuts that have been perpetrated by the Liberal government in terms of transfers to the provinces.

The Conservative government's cap on the Canada assistance plan payments cost B.C. and Ontario alone $9.7 billion. While in opposition, the Liberals criticized the cuts as penalizing the poorest of the poor. Now that the Liberals are in office, they have simply continued the same old story with the same old policies that served to harm and penalize the poorest of the poor.

Between 1995 and 1997, the Liberals used the introduction of the Canada health and social transfer to slash federal funding for social programs by $2.8 billion.

Let us turn to education for a moment as another example of the growing inequality we face. We have heard a lot of debate in the House today about the announced millennium fund. However, the amount of money that is being cut from post-secondary education, more than $2.29 billion by the Liberal government in transfer payments, has had an incredible impact and is a growing crisis within our post-secondary educational facilities.

Under the Liberals post-secondary education has become a debt trap for students. The average student debt is now $25,000. Even the prime minister, in speaking to the Canadian Club, acknowledged that too many young people cannot afford to attend university or college anymore. Tuition fees have increased by 45% since the Liberals took power. Again, much of this is due to the cuts in federal funding.

Mr. Martin and his so-called fiscal responsibility has been carried out—

Education February 18th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister, in speaking to the Canadian Club, admitted too many Canadians are unable to attend college or university today because they cannot afford it.

The Prime Minister says that he cannot hide his enthusiasm for the millennium scholarship fund but students cannot hide their horror at having to wait another two years for help.

Will the Prime Minister rename the fund the 1998 fund so that students can get help today when they need it, not some time in the future?